It had been in my mind for some time to write another short love story, a story that harkens back to the poignant emotional intensity of The Notebook. I suppose I’d been thinking about it since I was working on The Rescue, but as much as I tried, the pieces just didn’t seem to come together. In all love stories, there has to be an element that keeps the characters apart in order to create drama, and throughout the course of my career, I’ve tried never to use the same element twice. Thus, it gets progressively harder and harder to write new novels, but in the end, it’s what makes a story memorable. If I don’t have the “conflict,” I don’t have the story, and for the life of me, I couldn’t come up with something new to keep the characters apart.
I also wanted to write a story using characters at mid-life because it’s something I haven’t done (with the exception of The Notebook, in which they’re elderly, not middle-aged). It’s a great age to write about, simply because so many family elements can come into play between the characters. People at that age are being pulled by their children (who are becoming adults) and their parents (who might be in need of additional assistance), both of which create realistic obstacles to new relationships.
Yet, as I said, for a long time, the story didn’t seem to want to come together.
In the meantime, I wrote A Bend in the Road and the first draft of The Guardian. The Guardian was a tremendous challenge for a number of reasons. I won’t go into those here, other than to say that the first editorial letter was the most disheartening letter I’d ever received from my editor. It was obvious that The Guardian would require a great deal of re-writing, but I was tired of working on the story and needed a break from it.
My mind then returned to the story I’d been thinking about, and suddenly everything began to click. Within days, I suddenly knew exactly how to tell the story. I knew the characters, the setting, and especially and most importantly, the “conflict” that would keep the characters apart.
I then had a choice of which novel I wanted to publish first—do I go back to work on The Guardian, or do I write the new story that eventually became Nights in Rodanthe?
Because I had no doubt that I could have either story ready by September, there were a number of business decisions that came into play in making the final decision. I looked at the “pattern” of my novels, and noticed that I tended to follow a long book with a short book, and I thought it best to keep that pattern. The Rescue was long, A Bend in the Road was long, and The Guardian was long, which meant that Nights in Rodanthe would more than likely be short. I thought it would be best to publish a shorter novel in between those three long ones, and that favored writing Nights in Rodanthe.
There was also the fact that although The Guardian is a wonderful and exciting book, it was different in that it had a “dangerous” element to the story. Though I was confident that everyone would enjoy the novel, I didn’t want my readers to think I’d strayed too far from the type of novels that I originally wrote. Many authors do exactly that—stray too far—and lose readers in the long run for doing so. Again, that realization favored the writing of Nights in Rodanthe, which in many ways—characters, settings, structure, etc.—is similar to my original novel, The Notebook. I wanted my original readers to know that I hadn’t forgotten that they were the ones primarily responsible for my success, and I wanted to give them a novel that I knew they would enjoy.
But it was mid-December and the book was due in February. The question then became whether or not I could finish the novel in time. I made the decision to give it a try.
Thankfully, most of the novel came off without a hitch. I worked five days a week, and wrote a couple of thousand words each day. By the end of January, I had completed 75% of the novel but I hit a snag regarding the structure. After coming up with an original idea, structure is always the most difficult part of crafting a love story.
The problem was this: as the story was structured, I knew that Paul and Adrienne separated about three quarters of the way through the novel, but Paul had promised that he’d be back in a year and that they would be together after that. I also knew that I wanted the novel to not be much longer and everything up until the point of their separation was written with that in mind. It was also obvious—from the very beginning of the story—that Paul and Adrienne never got back together. The reason, of course, was because Paul had died (and I knew that from the very beginning), yet because Adrienne was telling the story to her daughter, there’s no doubt that “where is he?” would be one of the first questions Amanda asked.
To sustain the suspense, however, I couldn’t let the reader know what happened for about the first quarter of the novel. The reason I had to keep the suspense that long was simple: once the reader finds out what happens to Paul, the conclusion of the book is anti-climactic. To keep the story moving, I simply couldn’t provide the answer to that question right away. Nor could I simply have ended the story a few pages after he’d left the house, or the novel would fail on a structural level.
Now, pages and page of “stalling” is actually quite hard to do in short novel. As I worked through that final section, one page at a time, I honestly felt as if I were on a “tight-rope.” Could I make it to the other end? I didn’t know, yet I had to, or the novel would be lost. If you glance through those pages, you’ll notice that I covered Adrienne’s opinion about her house, what had happened in the last fourteen years—including aspects of her job and her relationship with her former husband, what had happened in the immediate aftermath of Paul leaving the house in Rodanthe, letters, conversations… and, of course, it all had to flow and seem perfectly natural, so that the suspense continued to build. Let’s just say that it was a whole lot harder to do than it probably seemed to the reader. But in the end, I think it worked and I was pleased how the final section had come out.
The other major problem had to do with how to tell the reader that Paul had died. In a conversation? In a phone call? I made attempts at both of those, but neither seemed to be create the emotional intensity I desired. In the end, I came to the decision to use a letter, as I had in some of my previous novels. While you may think that using a letter from Mark had always been planned, it wasn’t. In fact, I struggled with what to do for a few days, until the obvious came to mind.