Unlike most of my novels, Nights in Rodanthe was not inspired by specific people in my life, other than the names of the two lead characters. That year, when my mother-in-law was visiting, she came up to me and asked if I knew what she wanted for Christmas. “No,” I said, “I don’t,” and she quickly responded, “Paul and I would like our names in one of your books.”
Hence, the names of the major characters became Paul and Adrienne, and of course, because they were my in-laws, I wanted to write the type of story that they would not only enjoy, but that would not offend them as well.
Now, when I say that in some ways, this story parallels that of the relationship between my wife and I, I don’t mean to imply that everything that happened in the story happened in real life. Rather, as I had with my other novels, I took the true events and modified them to make the story as interesting as possible.
So how was the story of Paul and Adrienne similar to the story of my wife and I?
For starters, my wife and I met in the same way that Paul and Adrienne did, though, of course, for us, it happened on Spring break. (I know, I know… but hear me out.) We were both in our senior years—I was at the University of Notre Dame and Cathy was at the University of New Hampshire, and like Paul and Adrienne, we’d both traveled to a small coastal town in the hopes of a respite, when we met for the first time. I sensed something kind and wonderful about Cathy almost immediately, though Cathy (like Adrienne) was a little bit more hesitant in her feelings for me.
Like Paul and Adrienne, we had a lot of things in common—Cathy and I were both were middle children from Catholic families, both of us had an older brother and younger sister, both of us were majoring in business, and ironically, both sets of our parents celebrated their anniversaries on August 31. But more than that, I was drawn to her common-sense view of the world, her views on the importance of family, her ability to laugh and listen (all elements of Adrienne’s character and the way Paul sees her). On the day after we met, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, because I knew even then that I’d never find someone so perfectly matched for me as she was (again, just like Paul). So I told her how I felt. And Cathy’s first response when I told her that we’d be married someday? She laughed and suggested “that I get another beer.”
Like Adrienne, she didn’t believe it was possible. But it was.
Like Paul and Adrienne, we were only together for five days before we each had to go back to our “other” lives. And like Paul and Adrienne, we wrote letters and made phone calls to each other in the months we were apart. I wrote at least once a day, and shared my hopes and dreams with her. I wrote love letters, I wrote letters to let her know what I was doing, and I wrote letters that described a future life together. In fact, some of the letters quoted in the book were drawn from the letters I’d originally sent Cathy. And like Paul and Adrienne, despite the fact that we couldn’t see each other, our love for each other grew stronger during this period apart, and as the flap of the novel proclaims: love comes at any age, at any time, and often when we least expect it.
In other words, for those of you who don’t believe that love can blossom as quickly as it did for Paul and Adrienne, I just want you to know that it can, and it’s as real as love that takes years to form. And if you don’t believe love can grow stronger, even if you’re not together? It did for us, and my wife and I have been married since 1989.