Born in Omaha, Nebraska, when his father, who would go on to become a college professor, was still in graduate school, Sparks spent his early life moving around with his family until they settled in Fair Oaks, California. He finished high school as class valedictorian, attended the University of Notre Dame on a full athletic scholarship and graduated with honors, but the initial promise of his youth did not immediately follow him into young adulthood. For the first few years following his graduation he bounced around in a series of unsatisfactory jobs in sales, food service and real estate before landing work as a pharmaceutical salesperson in the early 1990s. Sparks had been dabbling in writing for some time, however. Sidelined by a track and field injury the summer after his freshman year in college, he coped with an expanse of unwelcome free time by writing his first novel, The Passing, which remains unpublished. In 1989 he wrote his second unpublished novel, The Royal Murders. In 1990, he had some success in coauthoring a book with Native American Olympic athlete Billy Mills, Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding, a parable about a young Lakota Indian who learns to heal after the death of his sister, but it didn't make Sparks a household name. That would not happen until several years later when, at the age of 28, he spent six months working on a new novel. That novel became The Notebook, and it changed everything. In The Notebook, an old man in a nursing home reads a story to an old woman, and it is gradually revealed that the story he is reading tells how the two of them met and were subsequently kept apart by their families and circumstances. Warner foresaw the chord the story would strike in readers and offered Sparks a $1 million advance for what would be his debut novel. They weren't wrong; The Notebook remained on the New York Times best-seller list for a year. Some critics called the book overly sentimental and treacly, but it resonated with a large popular audience. The same pattern of popular success and mixed critical response repeated itself for successive novels by Sparks, most of which feature star-crossed lovers as protagonists and rarely result in a happy ending. In fact, Sparks has claimed he doesn't write romance novels because his novels are not fantasies and tend to end in tragedy for the lovers rather than happily ever after. Often his characters make their own choices to be separated through some moral conviction, while others are driven apart by circumstance, and subsequently one of them meets with tragedy before they can be reunited. Sparks' second novel, Message in a Bottle (1998), tells the story of a woman who seeks out the writer of a message in a bottle she finds on a Cape Cod beach and the love affair that follows. It became the first of Sparks' many books to be made into a movie. In 1999, the film of the same name starring Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn, undaunted by lukewarm to negative critical reviews, opened at #1 during the weekend of Valentine's Day and went on to earn more than $100 million worldwide. That same year, Sparks' novel A Walk to Remember was released, and became the second of his books to be made into a film, this time starring Mandy Moore as a teenager with a terrible secret, in love with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Sparks has continued to release roughly one book per year to great success, and Hollywood has continued to take them to the big screen, including The Notebook (2004), Nights in Rodanthe (2008), Dear John (2010), The Last Song (2010), The Lucky One (2012) and Safe Haven (2013). While Sparks maintains that he does not write to formula and that he makes an effort to seek different types of protagonists, settings and plots, some critics persist in attacking his work for reusing similar tropes over and over. If Sparks does seem overly enamored of killing off his characters, it may lie in part in his own family history, which has seen more than its share of untimely deaths. Both his parents died before the age of 55, and his sister Dana died of cancer in 2000; Sparks has said that he based Jamie in A Walk to Remember partly on his sister. The loss of three immediate family members at relatively young ages over just over a single decade also led to Sparks' only nonfiction work, Three Weeks with My Brother, cowritten with his brother Micah Sparks about their trip around the world and their response to those deaths. While none of Sparks' novels are overtly Christian in theme, his work has been embraced by Christian groups for what they feel are strong moral messages, particularly for young people. Sparks himself has been forthcoming about his own faith as a Roman Catholic, and in 2006 he and his wife, Catherine, founded The Epiphany School for Global Studies, a nondenominational private prep school rooted in Christian principles that emphasizes travel and experience of other cultures. Sparks' philanthropy in other areas has been extensive as well, including the establishment of the Nicholas Sparks Foundation in 2011, which focuses on global education. Although the majority of the movies based on Sparks' novels have been penned by other screenwriters, Sparks turned his hand to writing for film with The Last Song (2010). In fact, the screenplay and the novel by the same name, published a year earlier, were developed in conjunction with each another. Sparks actually finished the screenplay, cowritten with his former college roommate Jeff Van Wie, prior to the completion of the novel. Both the film - which starred Miley Cyrus as the protagonist, Greg Kinnear as her father and Liam Hemsworth as her love interest - and the book tell the story of a 17-year-old girl sent to spend the summer with her estranged father, how their relationship is mended through a love of music and how she eventually falls in love. Sparks further signaled a shift from focusing solely on novels to an interest in other media in 2012, when he started his own production company, Nicholas Sparks Productions, with an eye to developing several television series for cable.