Is Sparks an inspired artist or calculating marketing guru? Perhaps both.
As any one of his interviews proves, he is highly intelligent and well-read. And he seems to have a sense of romance - He wrote 150 love letters while wooing his wife of 24 years, Cathy Cote.
But Sparks, 47, also is a brilliant tactician who chose to write for a particular market niche. Asked why he specializes in love stories, Sparks says on his website, "I chose that genre because there was little to no competition.
His cleverly structured, poignant, if at times soppy and maudlin, stories are marketed for an audience he knows intimately. Yet he respects them enormously. There's no irony in the books, no cleverer-than-thou authorial condescension.
His Hollywood career is blossoming: Plans are afoot, he said in an Inquirer interview in February, to adapt every one of his other novels. ( The Longest Ride is due on Valentine's Day 2015.)
"I always write knowing this will be a film," he said. "It's a process of building the story up to be great for both novel and film."
It's hard not to admire Sparks for his honesty. He's a craftsman. He's good at it. And if the hundreds of reader testimonials posted on Amazon.com are any indication, he leaves his customers satisfied.
Sparks was matter-of-fact, direct as he discussed his tactics and technique in a recent phone interview. He said he approached each new book with a plan: To give readers something new, to flesh out types of characters they've not met before. And to give himself new technical challenges.
Set in North Carolina, as are so many of his stories, The Longest Ride interweaves two love stories.
It opens with a car crash. Ira Levinson, a 91-year-old "Southerner and Jew, and equally proud," is stuck in a twilight consciousness after crashing his car. Neither awake nor passed out, he begins a dialogue with his late wife, Ruth, spending the time recounting their love story as it first blossomed in Europe in the 1930s, was tested by the Nazi invasion, and matured in America.
At the same time, just a few miles away, college senior Sophia is nursing a broken heart. Her life takes a radical turn when she falls for real-life cowboy Luke, a ranch hand who quit school to become a champion bull-rider.
The novel bounces and dances from one story to the other until they meet up, crash, clash, and splash, in a surprise ending.
"I wanted to do a dual life story, something I never had done before and to blend them in such a way that it would provide a wonderful surprise at the end," Sparks said. "And I wanted to create a brand-new character with Ira, the first Jewish character I have written and also one who is much older than me."
Sparks, whose late sister Danielle's widower is a rancher, also had never written a bull-rider before.
Did he research Luke's vocation firsthand?
"No I've never tried it," he said laughing, "but I did take my son mutton-busting when he was 5."
Mutton what? "You take these little kids and put them on young sheep," said Sparks. "They have to hold on while the sheep runs."
As do Sparks' fans. They hang on for dear life as he races through the world, spreading his brand of gold dust, those shining speckles of hope and light.
Nicholas Sparks: "The Longest Ride"
7:30 p.m. Friday at the Free Library, 1901 Vine St. Tickets: Auditorium sold out. $6 for live simulcast Information: 215-567-4341 or www.freelibrary.org/authorevents