“Men must come up to you all the time and say, ‘You’re making my job so much more difficult.'”

That was the charge I leveled at spectacularly successful romance novelist Nicholas Sparks when the author came to the Twin Cities a few weeks ago to promote The Lucky One, the newest film based on one of his tear-jerking bestsellers.

It was meant as a light ribbing, of course, though I’m sure there have been more than a few unfortunate boyfriends and husbands who have either been subjected to or compared against the heroes of The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Dear John and now The Lucky One, in which Zac Efron plays Logan Thibault, a U.S. Marine haunted by the picture of a woman who he believes saved him from death more than once while on tour in Iraq.

Yes, it was a light ribbing. I mean, if I really wanted to get the guy, I would’ve brought up the much-ridiculed performance he gave to USA Today a few years back, in which he appeared to be comparing his writings favorably with Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and dismissed the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian, The Road) with the snipe, “Horrible.”

But hey, to each their own. After sitting with Sparks for just a few minutes, it became all too clear to me that the man is 110 percent comfortable with what comes out of his mouth, much less his word processor. He’s a fast talker — which may or may have not rubbed off from his brief time living in Watertown, Minn. as a child (“I was the world’s biggest Minnesota Vikings fan!”) — and knows his target audience. He told the table of journalists curious to know how he goes about writing female characters that he’s based them all, in part, on his strong, smart, beautiful, totally awesome wife. Audible sighs from the table.

Sparks also displays an enviable knack for evading any potential landmines in the conversation, such as mine.

“Zac Efron said that to me,” said Sparks with a laugh, in response to the couched accusation that men, in general, have nothing but contempt for the books the women they’re courting or married to read so voraciously.

But Sparks insists that men shouldn’t feel so intimidated by the likes of, say, Noah Calhoun (the hunky saint at the center of The Notebook), no matter how unrealistic their unwavering devotion may appear at first blush.

“These are good guys,” he admitted, “but if you look at Logan, or you look at Noah, or you look at Langdon Carter [from A Walk to Remember], none of these guys are perfect. Langdon’s movie starts with an accident and he is not a nice guy. Logan has PTSD. You meet a guy and he says you you, ‘I walked across the country, because I’ve got a picture and you were in it.'”

I’d argue, of course, that coping with post-traumatic stress disorder is not much of a measure by which to judge someone’s character and, in fact, probably makes Logan an even more attractive romantic prospect to certain readers. His affliction is yet another piece of the puzzle that Sparks sets up in The Lucky One to make it all too clear that there is only one correct choice for Beth Clayton (the woman in Logan’s lucky picture, played by Taylor Schilling). But Sparks quickly switches gears and basically asserts that very point.

“My point is that none of them are perfect, but they do have this nobility to them, and an integrity, and when push comes to shove, they are the kind of guys that will do the right thing. To be quite frank, I do know a lot of guys like this,” said Sparks. “You look at this guys that go to horrible jobs every day to provide for their families, they raise nice kids, they’re there even if they’re tired. All work is not glamorous and fun.

“Heroism is measured in various ways,” he finished.

He’s got me there.


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