By Mandi Bierly
Updated February 14, 2014 at 07:38 PM EST
The Notebook Kiss

If you’re looking for a romantic movie to watch over Valentine’s Day weekend, you can get seven of them in the recently released Nicholas Sparks Limited Edition DVD Collection, which, for the first time, unites Safe Haven, The Lucky One, Dear John, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle, and The Notebook. Sparks chatted with EW about some of their signature moments, the challenges of topping sex scenes, why the ending of Safe Haven really shouldn’t have shocked you, and what’s next.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The adaptations of your novels always include what I like to call “the wet kiss.” Do you have a favorite?

Nicholas Sparks: [Laughs] There are all sorts of versions of the wet kiss — under a shower, in the rain, in the ocean, in the river. We’re running out of them. I say this because I have two more films getting ready to film. No favorites, but I will say that it’s kind of a requirement to come up with one. It’s part of what you expect when you see the film. We work to get a new version of it in there. With every film, there are significant discussions about, “Well, we’ve gotta make our love scene better than X.” Then they reference basically every movie that has been made before that of mine. [Laughs] Oh yeah, we spend time talking about how to make it different, how to make it new, because it’s a goal. It’s a goal for the director to make it new. It’s a goal for the cast to make it new. They want to see if they can top it. They know they might not, but there’s always the fun in trying. You can top it in different ways, because some strike you as more passionate, but others might strike you as more sensual. Others might strike you as more real and everlasting.

What’s the most hilarious conversation you’ve had?

It’s literally every film. I mean… OK, let’s see, The Best of Me [starring James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan] starts filming March 6 with Relativity. I’m working with [producer] Denise Di Novi, who previously made with me A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle, Nights in Rodanthe, and The Lucky One. The Longest Ride with Fox should start filming in June. That is with [producer] Marty Bowen, with whom I’ve worked on Dear John and Safe Haven. We should be done with the script in the next three, four weeks. We should get a director attached and start going out to casting in March, April, May. So we all know everything that’s been done in the past. I can remember talking to Denise very specifically for The Lucky One [starring Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling], and the conversation was, “You know, when these two make out, we’ve just gotta make it hotter.” “So let’s put them in the outdoor shower.” These are the kind of conversations we have.

There was that moment after the outdoor shower when Schilling puts her hand down the back of his boxer briefs. That was super sexy and kind of shocking to see in the trailer. I was like, “Well done!”

Yeah. Absolutely. No question about it.

There’s always a date on a body of water, but The Notebook‘s canoe and swan scene is the most iconic.

They all have their interesting truth behind what you see. We have that beautiful canoe ride, and they go out, and of course, all of this is being shot in the winter, so it’s 30 degrees. I mean, it’s utterly, brutally cold. The water is ice cold. But how we got the swans to circle around the canoe was we got these baby swans six months earlier, and we’d row the canoe out, and throw a little bread out there. So as the swans aged, they knew to swim to the canoe.

That is amazing.

Neat, right?

[SPOILER ALERT!] Let’s talk about Safe Haven [starring Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, and Cobie Smulders]. Were you surprised that moviegoers were shocked by the twist at the end?

To me, that’s what makes movies fun. It’s that little twist at the end that ties everything together. I wasn’t surprised that people were surprised, because we wanted it to be a surprise. I guess the surprise came in from the fact that the novel had been out for two years and sold millions and millions of copies. You could have read the book, but more people see films, which is great.

I think most movie romances have a bit of magic in them, on some level, so I was surprised people were like, “She’s a ghost! It’s supernatural! This is crazy!”

But really it wasn’t, because if you’d read the book, you’d know that Jo is a character that could have easily been a ghost or that little voice on Katie’s shoulder, and maybe she had a subconscious peek at a photograph. It was the same in both the novel and the film. We had the rules, the ghost rules. We literally listed out ghost rules prior to even writing the script. They went something like this: The ghost could have been, in retrospect, a figment of her imagination. In other words, the ghost could never say anything that she didn’t already know, and she could never be seen in public with the ghost. The ghost could never interact with anyone else.

What’s the movie moment that you think has made audiences cry hardest in theaters?

It had to have been A Walk to Remember. I mean, look, everybody is sad in The Notebook. They die, but they’re also older and they die together. You knew they had a good life together. When Jamie Sullivan [played by Mandy Moore] dies in A Walk to Remember, it’s a little 17-year-old girl and a sweet girl, too, on top of it. That’s just truly heartbreaking.

[SPOILER ALERT!] Is there a death that stands out as most memorable to you?

There’s the moment in Dear John when his father is dying, and you realize that the letter that you thought that John [played by Channing Tatum] had been writing to Savannah [Amanda Seyfried] was actually the letter to his father [Richard Jenkins]. Or in Nights in Rodanthe, when [Diane Lane] realizes that Richard Gere’s not coming back. Or the scene in Message in a Bottle, where Theresa Osborne, played by Robin Wright, goes into the house and you realize that Garret Blake, played by Kevin Costner, had removed the shrine that had been dedicated to his wife. You knew he was ready to move on. These were all very poignant moments, and to me, they’re poignant primarily because they’re not manipulative, they really evoke reality, and because the feelings inspired by those particular scenes were earned. Landon [Shane West in A Walk to Remember] with his father [David Lee Smith], when he realizes that his father is paying Jamie’s medical bills and hugs him — that was earned. That was set up throughout the film, and to me, that’s what makes all those scenes particularly memorable.

How much say do you have in casting? And do you have a favorite casting story?

I have a ton of say in casting. These aren’t casting stories, but still… I was sitting there in, I think it was in 1997. I wasn’t very well-known. The Notebook had been published, but no movies had come out. I’m sitting there in my living room getting ready for Christmas Eve children’s mass. We’re Catholic. The family’s getting ready to go. It’s now about 3:30 in the afternoon, and the phone rings. I pick it up, and he says, “Nicholas Sparks?” I say, “Yeah.” He goes, “Hi, this is Kevin Costner.” That was pretty trippy, OK. So we had this nice conversation. I said, “Honey, I think I’m gonna be a little bit late for mass. I’ll meet you there.” Right? So then, I don’t know, three weeks later, minding my own business, the phone rings. I look down, and it says, “Paul Newman, Connecticut.” I pick it up, and it’s Paul Newman, and he’s asking advice: “Hey, if I want to learn what these old crusty fishermen are like, where should I go?” I’m like, “Well, I’ll tell you what. Let me make a couple calls, and I’ll find out for you. I sent him down to McClellanville, South Carolina, so he could hang out on the pier with these guys. These are very surreal moments in my life. [Laughs] I’ve had some amazing auditions as well. I mean, if you saw Rachel McAdams in her audition for The Notebook, it’s on YouTube, it’s so good. What we like to say is that most of these people who’ve been in the films have chosen themselves for the film.