The novel was written during two periods, spring and summer 1996 and spring of 1997. In between, I went on a major book tour for The Notebook and was largely away from home for months at a time. With so many interviews and signings, I had no time to work on it.
When I was about halfway through with the novel (early spring 1997), my agent suggested that we send what was written, along with a detailed outline for the remaining half of the novel, to my agents in Hollywood for presentation to various studios. My agent suggested we change the title from Letters to Catherine to Message in a Bottle, since my original title sounded too much like a correspondence. They ended up being right. It was sold in that as-yet incomplete form to Warner Brothers, with Denise DiNovi producing. I finished the first draft of the novel in June 1997. The final editing was complete by August 1997, and the novel was released the following spring.
The novel didn’t need much major work with the exception of trimming, and the first draft was fairly close to the final product. The one major issue I dealt with during the editing process was making Catherine, the deceased wife, a more integral part of the novel. In the first draft, she was largely a shadowy figure and my editor felt we needed to “breathe life into her ghost” for the novel to take on a richer meaning. To do that, I added various snippets of their life together in memory form, and worked those into the narrative. These snippets had to tell a story as well, and I decided to add in the fact that Catherine was pregnant when she died, which made Garrett’s grief all that much more understandable. I also added a couple of dreams, to more fully explore their relationship.
A couple of small, yet interesting points: Theresa was named after my agent, Theresa Park, then of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates (she left in 2005 to start her own agency, The Park Literary Group). Catherine is the name of my wife. One of the dates in the letters is the date of my wedding anniversary. Garrett’s name was chosen with care, because Theresa had to be able to find him in a city the size of Wilmington (100,000) based on limited knowledge. The name couldn’t be too common, or too strange. “Garrett” seemed to fit the bill. Deanna was named after a friend who wanted her name in a novel.