NEW BERN, N.C. - Nicholas Sparks was selling pharmaceuticals and writing on the side when he got his big break with the mega-hit love story "The Notebook" in 1996.
"I didn't tell anyone at work, I didn't know if I could write a second story. I didn't know if anyone was going to buy it," Sparks told CBN News.
Not only did people buy it, Hollywood came calling and soon Sparks and Tinsel Town had their own romance going.
Hitting the Jackpot
"I was just a nice, middle-class guy - it's like winning the lottery!" he said.
Sparks may be one of the world's most famous authors, but here at home in New Bern, N.C., his family helps him keep both feet on the ground.
"Around here I'm not a famous author. I'm Dad," Sparks said. "I'm a writer, sometimes I'm a grouchy writer when it's not going well."
Author Nicholas Sparks talked at length with CBN News Reporter Wendy Griffith about his best-selling novels, and the movie adaptation of his book, "The Last Song" starring Miley Cyrus. Click here to watch Griffith's entire interview Sparks.
But Sparks admits that he does pray quite a bit while writing.
"Frequently! Only sometimes it's more yelling," Sparks said, laughing. "I kind of have the belief that I can tell God anything, and if I'm angry, He's going to know it for goodness sakes when I get stuck!"
"Of course I thank Him when things go well, I feel very happy, man that was great! Let's just do that day after day," he added.
Epiphany on Education
Success has allowed Sparks and his wife Kathy to build the house of their dreams along the Trent River here in New Bern. It's also allowed them to give their five children an education second to none.
With only one high school in town and a 40 percent drop-out rate, public school was not an option for their kids. So several years ago, Sparks and his wife invested $10 million of their own money to start The Epiphany School - a private Christian school for grades 5-12. The school is open to all faiths.
"Yes, we say we are open," Sparks explained of the school's inclusiveness. "However, we expect everyone here to live their lives in agreement with the greatest of all the commandments, which is 'love God and love your neighbor as yourself.' And it just creates a very inclusive school."
"It was kind of a whim at first - let's make our own school," Kathy, Nicholas' wife, added. "Turned into 240 kids...and it's just great to see all the kids blossom and they're doing so well."
Here at The Epiphany School students not only receive a top-notch college-prep education, but are also encouraged to discover their God-given gifts and talents.
"Each student is wrapped up in a package by God," Matt Buckwalter, Epiphany's middle school director, said. "And when they come in the doors, it's our job as teachers to create an environment and begin to help them open up those packages and find out where their gifts are."
Learning by Seeing
There is also a huge emphasis on learning by seeing first-hand.
"For instance, the students would learn about the Holocaust, Sparks explained. "My son, he's a sophomore, read the diary of Anne Frank just like all the other high schools."
"Well today, my son is getting on a plane, he's flying to Poland, Checkoslovakia, Hungary," he said. "He's going to actually go to Auschwitz. He's going to go to the Jewish quarter in Krakow, he's going to go to Burkanow in Checkoslovakia. He's actually going to see these places that he read about.
"And we try to do this at a very low cost for the students," he said. "So if you come in as a freshman, by the time you graduate you will have visited 23 countries on six continents and spent 213 days abroad."
Students also take turns leading prayers in class. And, of course, writing is very important here.
"So every class, every class, every test has a writing component, even your math test," Sparks said. "We emphasize strong core mathematics. We use Rosetta Stone to teach a foreign language - all of our kids take Latin in middle school and then they move up to Spanish - an immersion program for them to really become fluent in the language."
Sparks said major universities seek out his students because of their high SAT scores.
"We have 100 percent admittance into college and average enormous sums in scholarships when they get there because it is a very rigorous school, it's vigorous, a lot of writing, mathematics," he said. "Kids come out fluent in a foreign language. It's a school that really embraces the concept of a global education."
Not Wasting Talent
As for Sparks, he's now busy writing his sixteenth novel.
"I think part of the best way to honor God is to take your gift and do it again - just keep going," he explained. "People say, 'Why do you write? (You) don't need to write anymore.' I think it's a sin, I think it's a sin to waste. That was the gift that I was given, God gave it to me for a reason, so I will write until I guess I feel the calling not to."
And teaching children to uncover their gifts is a major theme at The Epiphany School.
"It's the journey of life," Sparks said. "And it's our belief that everybody is given gifts by God and it's up to you to find them."