Nicholas Sparks talks 'Safe Haven'

From left, Noah Lomaz, Julianne Hough, Mimi Kirkland

From left, Noah Lomaz, Julianne Hough, Mimi Kirkland and Josh Duhamel star in Relativity Media's "Safe Haven," in theaters February 14, 2013. (Credit: Relativity Media)

Nicholas Sparks is one of those fellows people love ... and love to hate. He's been called "a master of romance," with 16 novels (and another just completed) and seven films based on his work (earning a worldwide gross of nearly $750 million). His success is staggering. Yet others complain about the treacly situations, the sameness of plot.

Sparks just sighs. He's heard it before.

His eighth film, "Safe Haven," starring Josh Duhamel as Alex, a widower with two kids, and Julianne Hough as Katie, a mysterious newcomer to town, opens Valentine's Day. And, sure, it has "elements you expect to see in a Sparks film -- we all know what they are," he admits, chuckling.

Nice-looking couple -- check. Small North Carolina town -- check. A beach, a packet of heart-wrenching letters, lovers caught in a sudden rainstorm -- check, check, check. The trick was to balance that with the addition of something new, letting the audience "drift into an almost different style of movie without being aware of it ... till they find themselves inching forward in their seats."

"Haven," you see, is also part thriller: Katie is running from a violent past, and interspersed with all the typical lovey-dovey stuff are cold, calculating scenes with a city detective (David Lyons) who's hot on Katie's trail.

This marks a new genre for Sparks, but if there's one thing he knows, it's how to write a novel that will make a good film. He's got it down to a science.

"There's no question when I'm conceiving my next novel, I keep film in mind," says Sparks. "So I might reject ideas that would be fine in a novel but won't work on film."

Don't expect any of his books to ever be filled with lots of characters (they inevitably get cut for a two-hour film) or exotic locales (too expensive to shoot), or introspection (it tanks on-screen).

He also looks to his most recent tales as a guide. He dreamed up lovers in their 20s and 30s for "Haven" given that his previous novel and film -- "The Last Song," starring Miley Cyrus -- featured teens.

Sound like writing via remote control?

"I wish it was easier -- it's not," he says, chuckling again. "It's just as hard to write a novel now as it was when I first started."

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