Sparks was born on December 31, 1965, in Omaha, Nebraska, to Patrick Michael Sparks, a professor of business, and Jill Emma Marie Sparks (née Thoene), a homemaker and an optometrist's assistant. He was the middle of three children, with an older brother, Michael Earl "Micah" Sparks (1964–present), and a younger sister, Danielle "Dana" Sparks (1966–2000), who died at the age of 33 from a brain tumor. Sparks has said that she was the inspiration for the main character in his novel A Walk to Remember.
He was raised Roman Catholic, and is of German, Czech, English, and Irish ancestry. He and his ex-wife are Catholics and are raising their children in the Catholic faith.
His father pursued graduate studies at University of Minnesota and University of Southern California, and the family thus moved a great deal. By the time he was eight, he had lived in Watertown, Minnesota, Inglewood, California, Playa Del Rey, California, and Grand Island, Nebraska which was his mother's hometown during his parents' one year separation. In 1974 his father became a professor of business at California State University, Sacramento, and the family settled in Fair Oaks, California, and remained there through Nicholas's high school days. He graduated in 1984 as valedictorian from Bella Vista High School, then enrolling at the University of Notre Dame, having received a full track and field scholarship. He majored in business finance and graduated with honors in 1988. He also met his future wife that year, Cathy Cote from New Hampshire, while they were both on spring break. They married on July 22, 1989 and moved to New Bern, North Carolina.
Sparks was inspired to start writing by a remark from his mother when he was 19 years old.
While still in school in 1985, Sparks penned his first (never published) novel, The Passing, while home for the summer between freshman and sophomore years at Notre Dame. He wrote another novel in 1989, also unpublished, The Royal Murders.
After college, Sparks sought work with publishers and to attend law school, but was rejected in both attempts. He then spent the next three years trying other careers, including real estate appraisal, waiting tables, selling dental products by phone and starting his own manufacturing business.
In 1990, Sparks co-wrote with Billy Mills Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding. The book was published by Feather Publishing, Random House, and Hay House. Sales for this book approximated 50,000 copies in its first year after release.
In 1992, Sparks began selling pharmaceuticals and in 1993 was transferred to Washington, D.C.. It was there that he wrote another novel in his spare time, The Notebook. Two years later, he was discovered by literary agent Theresa Park, who picked The Notebook out of her agency's slush pile, liked it, and offered to represent him. In October 1995, Park secured a $1 million advance for The Notebook from Time Warner Book Group. The novel was published in October 1996 and made the New York Times best-seller list in its first week of release.
With the success of his first novel, he moved to New Bern, North Carolina. He subsequently wrote several international bestsellers, and several of his novels have been adapted as films: Message in a Bottle (1999), A Walk to Remember (2002), The Notebook (2004), Nights in Rodanthe (2008), Dear John (2010), The Last Song (2010), The Lucky One (2012), Safe Haven (2013), The Best of Me (2014), The Longest Ride (2015), and The Choice (2016). He has also sold the screenplay adaptations of True Believer and At First Sight. His 2016 novel, Two by Two, sold about 98,000 copies during the first week after release.
Sparks and his then-wife Cathy lived together in New Bern, North Carolina with their three sons, Miles, Ryan, and Landon; and twin daughters, Lexie and Savannah, until 2014. On January 6, 2015, Sparks announced that he and Cathy had amicably separated. They subsequently divorced.
Sparks donated $9,000,000 for a new, all-weather tartan track to New Bern High School along with his time to help coach the New Bern High School track team and a local club track team as a volunteer head coach.
Sparks contributes to other local and national charities, as well, including the Creative Writing Program (MFA) at the University of Notre Dame by funding scholarships, internships and annual fellowships. In 2008, Entertainment Weekly reported that Sparks and his then-wife had donated "close to $10 million" to start a Christian, international, college-prep private school, The Epiphany School of Global Studies, which emphasizes travel and lifelong learning. In his spare time, Sparks volunteers at his local retirement home. He was later sued by the headmaster of this school who accused Sparks of homophobia, racism and anti-semitism. Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding (1990), Nicholas Sparks and Billy Mills.
The Notebook (October 1996)
Message in a Bottle (April 1998)
A Walk to Remember (October 1999)
The Rescue (September 2000)
A Bend in the Road (September 2001)
Nights in Rodanthe (September 2002)
The Guardian (April 2003)
The Wedding (September 2003)
Three Weeks with My Brother (April 2004)
True Believer (April 2005)
At First Sight (October 2005)
Dear John (October 2006)
The Choice (September 2007)
The Lucky One (September 2008)
The Last Song (September 2009)
Safe Haven (September 2010)
The Best of Me (October 2011)
The Longest Ride (September 2013)
See Me (October 2015)
Two by Two (October 2016)