To say I’m a Nicholas Sparks fan girl is an understatement. As most of you know, I up and moved across the country to the setting of his novels to write the first draft of Waiting at Hayden’s. So during my recent book tour, where I traveled through the South and then the East Coast introducing shopfiction™ to bookstores, I knew I had to stop in his hometown.
The drive there was filled with excitement. And lots of missed exits and wrong turns (hence why I ended up having my sister’s friend, Mike, join me on the second half of my book tour as my driver). Mike routinely asked me how I navigate the world without someone helping guide me. His parting words on the day he left were, “Stay safe out there,” as if I were going off to battle instead of returning to life without his logical mind to remind me to do practical things like look both ways before I cross the street.
But somehow, someway, I found my way to New Bern, North Carolina. I could see the sign welcoming me before the town came into view and not only did I get butterflies I actually started to CRY.
When you really think about it, this stranger has influenced my life more than most people I actually know. Had Nicholas Sparks never existed I might not be an author. I doubt I would have ever moved to the South. Then again I might be married with 2.5 kids and a house with a picket fence instead of holding out for my dream home on the marsh and someone who resembles a character in one of his novels to marry me…so I’m not sure if his influence has been a good or bad thing, but my point is, the man’s made a big impact.
So I see the sign and it says, “Welcome to New Bern home of…”
Of course, I’m thinking the sentence will end with, “Nicholas Sparks,” but apparently Pepsi was also born there and I guess that’s a bigger deal to most people than a guy who writes love stories. I take this as a good sign that maybe not everyone is visiting New Bern with my same goal in mind and maybe Nicholas Sparks is just a regular guy who I’ll bump into while in the town grocery store (or maybe at a clothing store outside the grocery store. Obviously, I wouldn’t visit a grocery store in New Bern when I don’t even visit those in Newport Beach. Unless, of course, I’m buying flowers or cheese…)
I decide to make my first stop the New Bern bookstore, thinking maybe he hangs out there, surrounded by books.
My Ribbed Knit Dress (avail. in marigold & black)
“Do you know Nicholas Sparks?” I immediately blurt out when I enter.
The friendly girl behind the counter informs me he’s only been in once or twice. But she showed me where I could buy a signed copy of his book. Unfortunately, one costs about a bazillion dollars and since I’m not exactly a Nicholas Sparks bestselling author yet, I ended up with a discounted signed copy autographed to a woman named Rita who had resold her copy to the store. Peachy.
I left feeling a bit discouraged. And anxious. It had been a big day. A big week. I’d been on TV twice (scary!). I was driving all through North Carolina alone (a hazard to all on the road, including me). I had to have a Starbucks barista that morning help me unzip the dress I’d worn on TV because I couldn’t reach the zipper. And because of all this I began starting to breathe pretty heavily.
I couldn’t, for the life of me, calm myself down.
Oh my God, I started thinking. I’m having a panic attack on the streets of New Bern, in my idol’s hometown. Lovely! What if I bumped into him now? How terrible would that be?
I ran straight to my car. I hadn’t had a panic attack since high school. And in high school when I got one I ended up getting Bells Palsy, a slight facial paralysis.
So where does my mind go? I’m obviously convinced that’s what’s happening.
The only good news is I learn that the hypochondriac in me seems to actually have a sense of direction. I make it to the hospital in five minutes flat and burst in through the doors, crying.
But no one seems concerned about this. What everyone wants to know is where I got my dress.
I’m baffled. I’m in the ER and that’s the question I’m getting. I sob and tell them, “Thank you. I wore it because I was hoping to meet Nicholas Sparks today. I’m a fan.”
It occurs to me that maybe he’s actually here and that’s why I had this random panic attack so I’d come to the hospital and meet him. But there are no sightings. And finally, after I’ve given four people details for where they can find my outfit online, someone admits me.
As is the case every time I’ve ever been to the doctor nothing is actually wrong, but I feel calmer now that someone who knows something about medicine has examined me.
I have an hour drive back to my hotel, but I can’t depart without leaving something behind. So I find The Nicholas Sparks’ foundation and I drop off a signed copy of my book and a letter that I’m still hoping one day might reach him.
Did I fan girl too hard? Absolutely.
But I like to think Nicholas Sparks would have been proud. My visit to his hometown included most elements of his stories: a hand written letter, a hospital visit, a little drama, some suspense. The only thing missing is that happily ever after ending.
Here’s to hoping he’ll write back.