The launch of a North Carolina author’s book this week will give economic development in eastern North Carolina a nice boost.

New Bern’s Nicholas Sparks’s “The Best of Me” made its way on to the bestseller lists before its official October 11 release date. It is bound to be another blockbuster for Sparks, who has sold over 100 million copies of his earlier books. Warner Brothers has the movie rights to the new book, and rumors have production beginning next year with Sparks as co-producer.

What does the new book have to do with economic development in the Coastal Plain?
First of all, the book’s royalty checks will go to New Bern, where Sparks lives. For every million copies sold, there could be three to four million dollars into Sparks’s mailbox. Plus the movie income, which could be considerable.

Secondly, like most of Sparks’s books, his stories are set in Eastern North Carolina, most often in and around New Bern. Sparks does not paint an idyllic picture of the region.  But the region he describes is small town America, close to the water, and full of mostly good people who would welcome new businesses.

Thirdly, and most important, Sparks’s success has given him the resources to live anywhere in the world. Having that choice, he lives in New Bern.

The message for people looking for good places to site their businesses: There must be something pretty good about this region.

Thomas Stith and Nick Didow at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise are working on strategies for economic development in the East. They tell me that there are lots and lots of good things already going on there. Talking more about those good things is an important sales point in attracting other good investments.

Nicholas Sparks’s continuing personal investments in the East can be a big part of that positive message.

Now about the book.

“The Best of Me” is set in Pamlico Country’s Oriental, not far from New Bern. Tiny Oriental is best known as the state’s sailing capital, but otherwise it is an undiscovered jewel, and, according to Sparks, a complicated and diverse town.

Sparks’s central characters, Dawson and Amanda, had been high school sweethearts, inseparable and deeply in love. But they came from different backgrounds, Dawson from a lowlife, petty crime family, and Amanda from Oriental’s aristocracy.

After high school, Amanda was off to Duke, marriage to a Durham dentist, and two children. Meanwhile Dawson was off to prison and then to a solitary life working on an oil rig, still so much in love with Amanda that he never had a serous relationship with another woman.

Both came back to Oriental to put to rest a beloved mentor. They follow his detailed instructions, which are designed to bring them back together to deal with their unresolved love for each other while they are putting the old man’s affairs in order.

They are drawn back to each other immediately. Strong feelings push to the surface. The question is whether and how the old romance can be rekindled without breaking up Amanda’s marriage and family.

Sparks’s clever plot and story-telling gifts will make readers rush to the end, where, with the help of a mysterious ghost and a student at Davidson College, they will find how Sparks resolves the challenge.

Sparks does not claim to write literary fiction. Neither did Charles Dickens or Mark Twain make such an assertion. Nor does Sparks claim to be another Dickens or Twain, but his similar ability to craft stories that hold readers to the page and develop characters that call for an emotional and sympathetic response make it quite defensible to put the three names in the same sentence.