Wednesday night was a special one for fans of the novel and film adaptation of “The Notebook” — Nicholas Sparks’ story of Noah Calhoun and Allie Nelson — portrayed on the big screen by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.
It was also a special night for those who swooned over heartthrobs: Kevin Costner, in the film adaptation of “Message in a Bottle,” Channing Tatum, in “Dear John,” and other characters in any of the author’s New York Times bestselling books and films.
Or rather, those who managed to snag one of the 1,500 tickets to see Sparks talk about his life and new book “Every Breath” at Westminster High School — as the event hosted by the Carroll County Public Library system and Sykesville-based A Likely Story Bookstore sold out within two days.
“This is our first book signing!” Lisa Sloam said waiting in the long line with her daughter, Hannah, 17, around 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 17. “She wanted to come so I am accompanying her. We are so excited.”
The mother and daughter duo stood wrapped in sweaters to protect themselves from the autumn chill in a queue that extended down the sidewalk around the school and looped.
Both are fans of “The Notebook” film and have seen countless other adaptations of Sparks’ books, said Lisa Sloam, so of course they had to come.
And maybe it could bring other famous authors to Carroll County, she said.
In front of them in line was Hanover, Pennsylvania, resident Stacie Newman, who brought with her a paperback copy of “The Notebook” for Sparks to sign for her daughter.
“She quotes it all the time,” Newman said holding the mass-market paperback book wrapped in a plastic bag. “And I love all his books and movies.
“My favorite is ‘Message in a Bottle,’ ” she said.
Gaithersburg residents Cara Witmer and Beatrice Hanson were also waiting to get their signed copies of Sparks’ new book and listen to him talk.
Hanson owns a home on Sunset Beach in North Carolina — where Sparks’ new book, “Every Breath” takes place. Although her favorite book by Sparks is “The Notebook,” the new novel literally hits her close to home.
At the center of “Every Breath” is the Kindred Spirits mailbox, a mailbox on a North Carolina beach equipped with paper and pens for passersby to write notes of all kinds, she said.
“It’s a fairly small island, quiet, where this Kindred Spirit [mailbox] is,” said Hanson. “It’s a little oasis, like a bird sanctuary, quiet and peaceful. There’s something about it you can kind of just look out at the waves.”
Hanson writes a letter and puts it in the mailbox every year, she said, is getting a signed copy of “Every Breath” for her sister who wrote one this summer while visiting from Austria.
“It brought her closure for a new beginning,” she said pulling up photos of the mailbox in her Facebook feed.
For anyone who didn’t know the story of the secret mailbox on the beach, Sparks explained it to the crowd in the Westminster High School Auditorium that night.
“It’s been around since 1983,” Sparks said. “Anyone who goes there can write a letter and put it in the mailbox, and anyone who goes there can read anything that's been placed in the mailbox.
“So it’s a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon,” he said. “You walk to this mailbox — it’s a beautiful, peaceful walk. You sit on the bench and you can read some of the most beautiful love letters, or stories of loss or redemption, or just kids talking about their vacation. Just whatever anyone can write, they’re welcome to put in.
“And it plays a central role in the story of Hope and Tru,” the main characters in “Every Breath,” Sparks said.
The new book, is a love story in the traditions of “The Notebook” and “Nights in Rodanthe,” he told the crowd, as it is told in two parts. But as with all of his books, there is an element of tragedy.
“Loss is part of life,” he told the crowd, “and I always like to say, it’s one of the saddest things, but all love stories … personal love stories, all of your love stories ... I don’t care if it’s a romantic partner, child, parents or a dog, I don’t care. One hundred percent of those, by definition, will end in tragedy. Because life ends.
“And the greater the love, the more it hurts,” said Sparks. “And if it doesn’t hurt, it’s not tragic, it wasn’t love. Every day people die around the world, but when it’s your child, your mom, your best friend, it’s tragic.”
He used the characters in “The Notebook” for an example.
“What if you're Noah and Allie in the movie and you die at exactly the same time?” Sparks asked. “Alright. If you remember, Noah and Allie had children. It was tragic for their children.
“All love stories — because love is beautiful, and real, and inspirational, and it’s what feeds our soul — they all come to an end,” he said. “Love and tragedy go together. All of my novels try to remind you of that simple truth. And it’s a sad truth, but it’s the truth. and I think it’s one of the reasons why [my stories] tend to resonate, because on a subconscious level we understand that.”
The author also told the crowd that his favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla, if he orders take-out it will be Chinese food, and that although the pressure is on for the famed author to be the most romantic date — his advice for anyone in the crowd navigating the wild world of dating is to make sure it’s something they will enjoy.
“My motto on a date,” Sparks said, “I’m going to pick something that I think would be really fun, that I’m looking forward to do. It could be anything: a baseball game, a museum show. I could go to a play, I could go to a comedy club, it’s just the main thing is that I'm going to be happy doing it.”
The crowd laughed.
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“That way if the date doesn’t work out too well, I know that I still had a good time,” he said.