In 1985 Sparks penned his first novel, The Passing of Wind, while home for the summer between freshman and sophomore years at Notre Dame. It was never published. In 1989 he wrote his second novel, also unpublished, The Royal Murders. In 1994, over a period of six months, Nicholas penned what was to be his first published novel, The Notebook. He was discovered by literary agent Theresa Park, who picked The Notebook out of her agency's slush pile, liked it, and offered to represent him. In October 1995, Park secured a $1 million advance for The Notebook from Time Warner Book Group. The novel was published in October 1996 and made the New York Times best-seller list in its first week of release.
After his first publishing success, he wrote a string of international bestsellers, all of which were translated into over thirty-five languages. Four of his novels have been made into films: Message in a Bottle (1999), A Walk to Remember (2002), The Notebook (2004), and Nights in Rodanthe (2008).
Sparks has written an unsold screenplay adaptation of his novel The Guardian. He has the sold screenplay adaptations of True Believer and At First Sight.
Nicholas Sparks was born on New Year's Eve in Omaha, Nebraska to Patrick Michael Sparks, a professor, and Jill Emma Marie (n e Thoene) Sparks, a homemaker and an optometrist's assistant. He has one living sibling, brother Michael Earl "Micah" Sparks (1964-) and a deceased sister, Danielle "Dana" Sparks (1966-2000), who Sparks has said is the inspiration for the main character in A Walk to Remember. Sparks was raised as a Roman Catholic and is of German, Czech, English and Irish ancestry.
Because his father was pursuing graduate studies when Nicholas was a young child, Nicholas lived in Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Grand Island, Nebraska, all before the age of eight. In 1974 his family settled in Fair Oaks, California and remained there through Nicholas's high school career. He graduated in 1984 as valedictorian from Bella Vista High School and went straight to college, having received a full track and field scholarship from the University of Notre Dame. As a first year student in 1985, Nicholas's relay team set a still-standing school record for the 4 x 800 meter relay. He majored in Business Finance and graduated with high honors in 1988.
Nicholas met his wife, Cathy Cole (from New Hampshire), during spring break in 1988. They married in July 1989 and moved to Sacramento, California. Having been rejected by both publishers and law schools, Nicholas chose to try his hand in various careers over the next three years, e.g. real estate appraisal, waiting tables, selling dental products by phone and starting his own manufacturing business. In 1992, Sparks began selling pharmaceuticals and in 1993 he was transferred to New Bern, North Carolina, where he wrote his first published novel, The Notebook, in his spare time.
Nicholas and his wife currently reside in New Bern with their three sons, Miles Andrew (b. September 17, 1991 in Sacramento County, California), Ryan Cote, and Landon, and their twin daughters, Lexie Danielle and Savannah Marin. Sparks has donated a track to New Bern High School and contributes to local and national charities. He also contributes to the Creative Writing Program (MFA) at the University of Notre Dame by funding scholarships, internships and annual fellowships, and he and his wife donated $10 million to start a Christian private school that emphasizes travel for its students and teaches evolution.