The Challenge of A Bend in the Road
A Bend in the Road was a challenging story to conceive and a difficult
story to write, though in all honesty, the reasons had more to do with events in
my own life than the process of putting the words down on paper. Originally, I'd
intended to start writing my new novel in January, 2000 but there were two
major events that made work of any kind difficult.
First, my third son was born on January 11th; within days of that event, I learned that my younger sister, who'd been battling cancer for years, had just been given a few months to live. I live in North Carolina and my sister lives in California and I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could; I also wanted to bond with my new child and the push and pull, the wonder of life and tragedy of death, made concentration of any kind difficult. Every ninth day, I flew to California to stay with my sister for four days, and those trips continued through the end of May when she finally passed away. My sister, for those who don't know, was the inspiration for Jamie Sullivan in A Walk to Remember, and she was not only a sibling, but along with my wife and brother, my best friend as well. Her loss, along with the death of both my parents, were without a doubt the most difficult things I've been through.
Despite the travel, despite the stress and lack of sleep due to the new baby, I nonetheless did try to write. I wrote half a novel in those six months, though I realized that the story simply wasn't working. My deadline was in January which gave me six months to write an entirely new story, and my editor came down to help me conceive of something that might work.
Knowing that all of my novels have come from family events, my editor suggested we start there and because my brother-in-law was on my mind, the first character became a young widower who had to raise a child on his own. This was Miles Ryan, and from there, I was able to pin down a plot that I thought might work. The end result is A Bend in the Road, and in many ways, I think it's my best novel to date. It's both poignant and suspenseful, and I hope that those who read it will find it a story that moves them.
Inspiration for The Rescue
It's taken a while, but I've finally come to the firm understanding that no
matter how long I live, I'm never going to have things figured out. My life for
instance. If I stand back, chin in hand, and evaluate the things that have
occurred in the first 34 years I've been around, I can't help but realize it's
been one incredibly unpredictable ride. Up and down, shifting and tilting,
suddenly spinning when I least expect it -- at no time have I even had the
chance to sit back and enjoy the thing without worrying what may be coming with
the next gyration.
It's easy to imagine that everything in my life is wonderful; that I walk down the street as rose petals fall gently from the sky. And I'll admit that I consider myself very fortunate with regard to the success I've achieved in the publishing world. But a big part of the success comes from the stories themselves, and their origins have been anything but easy. I've suffered through the loss of both my parents (my father was the inspiration for Garrett Blake, in Message in a Bottle), I've watched my younger sister struggle bravely with cancer, only to pass away in the end. (She was Jamie Sullivan, in A Walk to Remember.) I watched two wonderful people who taught me what true love was really all about die within months of each other, (Noah and Allie in The Notebook). And I have a son who provided the original inspiration for my latest novel, The Rescue.
My fourth novel was my most challenging novel to date and though I won't go into many details (since I do want you to read the story), I can say that this is a novel that closely parallels my own life over the past four years. All the feelings, all the emotions, all the dreams and fears of Denise Holton (the main female character in The Rescue) are the same as the ones that my wife and I went through at various times; the sacrifice she made for her child was the same one that my wife and I had to make as well. It was a special book to write, and hopefully, you'll find it a special book to read.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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