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Nicholas Sparks Reflects on The Notebook 's Legacy as the Musical Comes to Broadway

Nicholas Sparks is the bestselling author of 'The Notebook,' which has just been adapted for Broadway Credit - Brad Poirier

Nicholas Sparks is used to seeing his books come to life. More than ten of his bestselling novels have been made into movies, from Message in a Bottle (1999) to The Choice (2016). And, of course, there is the 2004 film The Notebook, based on Sparks' beloved 1996 novel. The movie, which starred Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, brought in more than $100 million at the box office and became a staple in the rom-com canon. Now, for the first time, Sparks is experiencing what it's like to watch his novel move from the big screen to the stage as The Notebook makes its Broadway debut.

The musical, with a book by Bekah Brunstetter and music and lyrics by Ingrid Michaelson, centers on the same story as the novel and movie, following the decades-long relationship between Noah and Allie, two people from very different worlds who fall in love. In the new adaptation, which opens on Broadway on March 14, three sets of actors play the couple over distinct periods in their lives; in the latest of these periods, Noah cares for Allie as she struggles with Alzheimer's.

Sparks spoke to TIME about the show, the enduring power of The Notebook's story, and his favorite romance novels.

TIME: What was your involvement in the making of the Notebook musical?

Sparks: I worked closely with the producers. When they were thinking about Ingrid Michaelson for the music, they sent me a couple of her songs to decide if she could capture this story in an original way and speak with a new voice. I thought, yes, of course. The one thing I've learned about adapting my work into different mediums, because I've had a number of films and now a Broadway show, is that they are different mediums. A novel is a story told with words. A film is a story told with pictures. A musical is a living, breathing version of the story told with song and dance. It’s important to realize going into any adaptation that some things work really well in one medium, and don't work in another.

Do you have a favorite song?

“Sadness and Joy” is pretty tough to top. I was thrilled that both the songs by Ingrid and the book by Bekah Brunstetter really complemented each other in a way that made the show feel whole and easy to follow. This is a show about the ins and outs of memory, and what we imagine our future might be. I thought they did that incredibly well. One of my biggest delights is how they incorporated humor into the show in the most wonderful way. It's not a comedy, but there are moments when you laugh and boy, they did an incredible job.

What was it like watching your book play out onstage?

The main thing I felt was awe. What surprised me most was that it wasn’t the book, and it wasn’t the film. It was its own unique version of this story.

The Notebook is a best-selling novel. The 2004 movie was a blockbuster hit. Why are audiences so drawn to this story?

There’s certainly a number of universal elements. It’s about life, passion, love. It’s about choosing to be who you want to be as much as it is about choosing who you love. Most people are familiar with the heartbreaking elements of Alzheimer’s. The story speaks to a universal desire to be loved no matter what, even when things are awful. With all of that said, I wrote the book. It's really up to everyone else to decide what it is about The Notebook that appeals to them. Is it the love? Is it the passion? Is it the decision that Allie made? Everyone might have some similarities in their answers, but there might also be some answers that surprise you.

What’s a memorable fan response you’ve gotten to The Notebook?

It was memorable for a sad reason. I was at a book signing, and a woman said, “My husband of 42 years recently died, his funeral is in three hours, and I’m wondering if you would be OK with me putting these passages in his coffin.” She had these copies of the passages that he particularly loved. I said, "of course." I’ve also received hundreds of letters from people who tell me, “This is the story of my grandparents” or “You wrote about my mom and dad!”

What do you make of the huge moment romance novels are having on platforms like TikTok?

As an author, I just want people to read, and not for my own selfish interests. Books have given me great joy in my life. When I find a novel that resonates with me, I end up treasuring that experience. That’s the greatest feeling in the world.

What are some of your favorite romance novels?

You’d start with Jane Austen, but then you’d go to A Farewell to Arms. If that was written today? It would probably be a best seller. I also like The Horse Whisperer and The Bridges of Madison County. I thought Outlander by Diana Gabaldon was really original and well written with such an epic feel.

Do you cry easily?

I cry less easily now than I used to. I was young when I lost my mother. Then, I lost my father and my sister in a seven-year period. I felt like I was cried out, because that’s what happens when you lose the people that are important to you. I’ve been blessed that my children have been healthy. If anything happens to them, I’ll be a puddle.

What’s a movie that’s made you cry?

Toy Story 3. The original Toy Story was the first film that my oldest son was able to sit through, he was 3 or 4. Then, Toy Story 3 comes out just at the right time, and Andy’s growing up just as my kids are getting ready to head off to college. It brought a tear to my eye in the very best ways.

If you could pick another one of your books to become a musical, which would you choose?

A Walk to Remember, because music was already part of that film. It’s a story that would lend itself well to the stage because it covers a brief period. Some of my novels cover months and months or they have multiple characters and multiple viewpoints. But no one's asked me about it. We’re gonna see how The Notebook does. I'm excited for people to see it—I think they're gonna love it.

Write to Annabel Gutterman at annabel.gutterman@time.com.