There are few more successful writers on the planet right now than Nicholas Sparks, whose 18 novels of romantic dramas and dilemmas have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. Add in the fact that the 11 film adaptations of his books have grossed nearly $900 million at the worldwide box office, and it’s clear that he has his finger on the pulse of a large and loyal audience.

But it wasn’t always that way for the devout Catholic, who was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and now lives in North Carolina, where many of his movies are filmed. Married since 1989 to Cathy, his Notre Dame University sweetheart, and the father of five children, Sparks was stuck in a career selling pharmaceuticals when he finally struck gold with his third novel-writing attempt, the much-loved “The Notebook.”

He hasn’t looked back since, diving into his writing career full time and becoming so successful that he’s even established his own film production company. His latest movie, “The Choice,” is his first independent production, giving him full control over the results.

The movie follows Gabby Holland, a spirited medical student, and lifelong ladies’ man Travis Shaw, who meet when Gabby moves in next door to Travis. Their attraction surprises them both, forcing them to upend their lives and setting them on a deeply emotional and occasionally humorous journey together. Anyone familiar with Sparks’ works will anticipate that a tough moral and romantic decision will inevitably be waiting for them. 

Sparks recently took time to discuss “The Choice,” as well as the choices that inform his own life and work, with The Tidings. 

THE TIDINGS: After all these books and movies, how do you keep things fresh?

SPARKS: Although there are romantic elements in them all, there are different themes, relationships with family and friends, and characters that keep it fresh. I’ll have an inspiration for something from anywhere — someone I know in my life, a theme I want to explore, something in the news, or something I’m interested in, like bull riding. Once I have an initial inspiration, I try to conceive a story that’s worthwhile. What kind of character might be best suited to tell a particular story — their age, their history and who they are as people? I’ll try a bunch of ideas.

THE TIDINGS: So what inspired “The Choice”?

SPARKS: “The Choice” was inspired by two inspirations that came together: One, [the character] Travis was inspired by my brother, a bachelor who had a good life with his friends, enjoyed his weekends and was perfectly content without having a serious relationship with a woman. [And two], I’ve written only one other novel that explores the concept of what happens after the honeymoon ends — “The Notebook” — but this story felt entirely different from “The Notebook.” “The Choice” deals with the concept of what choices are we willing to make when it comes to love?

THE TIDINGS: What originally inspired you to become a writer?

SPARKS: Two things. I always loved to read and I loved a good story, and then it occurred to me to just write one day. I wrote my first novel at 19, which was terrible, and my second terrible novel at 22. Then at 28, I decided to give writing another shot and I was fortunate to make it.

THE TIDINGS: What’s your creative process?

SPARKS: When I’m in the course of writing a novel, it works out to writing four days a week, five or six hours at a session, always with a goal of writing 2,000 words. That’s enough to finish a novel in six months. The other days, I’m thinking of what I’m writing. It’s like a job that’s around the clock. 

THE TIDINGS: How does your own personal life enter into your stories?

SPARKS: I think that in every story there’s a little bit of me in it, even though I do my best to create characters that are their own characters and stories that are their own. They have to come from somewhere in me, so my thumbprint is on aspects of those characters, especially in matters concerning faith.

THE TIDINGS: How does your faith impact your writing?

SPARKS: Although I have a big faith audience, I also write stories that take place in the south. Faith is part and parcel with the way of life that most people are attracted to here. I try to write about faith matters in a way that feels universal. I try to explore the big concepts, or have the characters touch on the big concept in a way that many or most people feel, without being offensive to people who just want a good read. Another way to look at it is that I think faith is more of a journey than a destination. It’s inevitable that faith waxes and wanes at many moments in life, and crisis tests it. What faith means to a person is reevaluated numerous times through the course of their lives.

“The Choice” (A-III, PG-13) is currently in theaters nationwide.