With more than 23 books—all New York Times best-sellers—author Nicholas Sparks has crafted more than a few memorable characters: Bryce Trickett in The Wish, Dear John’s titular protagonist, Paul Flanner in Nights in Rodanthe, and who can ever forget Allie and Noah of The Notebook. But underpinning each of these fated (and some fateful) romantic tales is another character, just as powerful as ones taken to screen by Kevin Costner or Diane Lane: location. Sparks writes about the places he knows and loves, more often than not, taking readers to small towns and coastal idylls of North Carolina. In his latest novel, Dreamland, Sparks brings his signature writing style—teeming with hope, love, risk, redemption, the pursuit of dreams—to a whole new destination: The Hotel Don CeSar in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Dreamland wends the love story of musicians Colby Mills and Morgan Lee with that of Beverly, a woman on the run from a battered marriage. Setting this story at the famed sprawling pink resort (also affectionately known as ‘The Pink Palace’) on the beaches of St. Petersburg, Florida allows Sparks the opportunity to intimately share a beloved destination he’s been visiting for years, with his legions of fans.
Good Grit: We understand you’ve been regularly coming to The Hotel Don CeSar for almost a decade. This place must really speak to you, and now it holds pride-of-place in one of your novels.
Nicholas Sparks: Yes, the Don CeSar plays a central role in what is essentially a two-story novel. Much of the activity is centered around the Don and things to do within the St. Pete Beach area. Of course, I set it at the Don because I have stayed at the Don many months of my life and I have enjoyed each and every one of my visits here.
Good Grit: this sounds like quite a ritual—how long do you stay when you come? Do you have traditions around your visits here?
NS: I stay for a month. I come down because I have a friend here who is big into fitness and he runs me through a bunch of exercises, for several hours a day, seven days a week, for 30 straight days. We visit the various gyms in the St. Pete beach area—we do a kickboxing class here or a spin class there. We alternate a work out on the beach with one at a local park. We’ve also done a work out on the bridge, doing lunges all the way and all the way down. So after all that, my “traditions” usually involve time in the hot tub, an afternoon recovery walk on the beach or a visit to the spa for a massage.
GG: It sounds like the Don CeSar is a place where you can really reset yourself.
NS: I think it is important in life to set aside periods of time where one can really focus on one’s physical health, spiritual health and mental and emotional health because so often those things get put on the back burner. Life is so busy and filled with challenges. I am fortunate that I can do this, when I am between writing novels. Sometimes friends join me for part of the time here too which I really enjoy.
GG: It is easy to see why you love it here. But in thinking about Dreamland, we’re curious—who fell in love faster, Morgan and Colby or Nicholas Sparks and the Don CeSar?
NS: Ha, good question! In the book, Morgan and Colby fall in love over the course of just two days. For me, on day two here, I am still trying to figure out which of the restaurants on property I prefer most and at which time! I love that I can sit at The Rowe Bar and watch a football game or sit outside and watch the sunset. You also have the Beacon Pool Bar which is another entire experience—I love having that choice.
GG: This hotel, The Pink Palace as it is also known, is a charming historic property, set right on snow-white sand—seems to be a real respite.
NS: If you are looking for a place with a beautiful beach just steps from the hotel, to just go walk and almost feel a bit alone at times, this is that for me. You can come back and stay in a gorgeous space and have that whole experience.
GG: And then you have all of St. Pete which we notice also plays a supporting role in Dreamland.
NS: Yeah, in the book, Colby and Morgan take advantage of the Dali Museum and go kayaking—both of which are great things to do here.
GG: In addition to travel, we understand you love reading too. What are your preferred genres?
NS: I read a lot of the commercial authors you probably know (Stephen King is a favorite) and then I read a lot of biographies—but they have to be non-political and non-celebrity-driven—anything but that. I can do political, but they have to have been dead for a long time, like Abraham Lincoln or Alexander Hamilton. I also read a lot of sociology-type books, like Missoula by John Krakauer.
GG: Would you say that you are a naturally-curious person—are all writers curious?
NS: I think a certain level of curiosity is required to be a writer but how much? I think that that has less to do with writing and more to do with how one is born.
GG: Are you drawn to curious people?
NS: Most of the time, yes. But not every conversation I have, has to be deep-and-meaningful. Sometimes it is nice to just talk about how nice the sunset is and hear, “do you want another glass of champagne?”
GG: Switching gears a bit, spirituality plays a big role in your work and in your life. What does that look like in your daily life? Do you pray before you write?
NS: I pray every day. I thank God for the gifts that I have been given because I do believe that every individual has God-given gifts. I start by saying “these are my intentions for the day. Allow me to surrender.” And I pray by name, for those who have loved or befriended or mentored or inspired me, into becoming the person I am today. It takes me about 25 minutes.
GG: These prayers have a way of being intentional and of keeping those people you mentioned, close to you and the role they play in your life. If not, there could be the tendency to become complacent.
NS: I believe so. But perhaps complacency is one of one’s gifts.
GG: That is an interesting take, to see complacency as a gift. Tell us more.
NS: Complacency can also be seen as acceptance. The happiest people are those who just accept. It is almost like surrender. Not always, but it can be. It depends on the circumstance. Imagine you are on a plane that is going down and you have just a minute left. Do you scream or are you complacent? You decide.
GG: Music plays a central character in Dreamland as much as Morgan, Colby, Beverly and the Don CeSar. Do you create playlists for different times on your own life?
NS: I like to have my kids make playlists for me—it is a way we can connect. You have this moment, where for maybe thirty minutes they are learning what your favorite songs are, and you listen to a few together. It might inspire a conversation like “this song reminds me of when I was in high school, or this one reminds me a good friend or a memorable night out spent dancing.” What a wonderful thing to get to share with your children and allow them to get to know you better, on another level.
NOTE: As part of the book release, The Don CeSar will debut a bookable package that allows travelers to experience elements of the property + destination that are featured in the book. This includes luxury accommodations, $250 spa credit, a three-course dinner for two at Maritana and a welcome amenity of chocolate strawberries, sparkling wine and a copy of Dreamland. https://www.doncesar.com