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For 20th book tour, Nicholas Sparks adds song

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Author/Producer Nicholas Sparks attends the premiere of Lionsgate's 'The Choice' at ArcLight Cinemas on February 1, 2016 in Hollywood, California.
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David Bean
J.D. Eicher
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'Two by Two' by Nicholas Sparks

To celebrate his 20th book, Nicholas Sparks wanted to do something unique. He sought a kindred spirit to tour with him, someone who would complement the emotional content of his stories, including the new novel “Two by Two” (Grand Central, $27).

Enter J.D. Eicher, a singer from Youngstown with a strong following in Pittsburgh. Eicher’s earnest and heartfelt songs seem to mesh perfectly with Sparks’ work.

“I just think that J.D. is phenomenal songwriter and a phenomenal talent,” says Sparks, who appears Oct. 4 at the Waterworks Mall Barnes & Noble in Aspinwall. “It was a lot of fun to work with him on this project. … For my 20th book tour, my opinion is it will be delightful to do something a little bit different.”

However unconventional the tour might be — Sparks admits he is curious to see how the pairing works over nine dates — it was a prospect Eicher couldn’t pass up.

“Creatively, professionally and personally, the opportunity to collaborate with Nicholas Sparks has meant so much to me,” says Eicher, who has written four songs as a “soundtrack” for “Two by Two.” “He is truly one of our generation’s great storytellers, and I am honored and deeply grateful to be included in this project.”

Sparks, who has sold more than 105 million books worldwide in more than 50 languages, certainly doesn’t need any help on tour. He really doesn’t even need to tour, given his ongoing popularity.

But meeting fans provides an opportunity to do some “limited market research.”

“I tend to ask people who show up what was the first novel you’ve read of mine, or what’s your favorite novel,” Sparks says. “It’s always great to simply thank the people who made my career possible, with deep gratitude and appreciation.”

“Two by Two” is Sparks’ 19th novel (he’s also co-written a nonfiction book with his brother, Micah Sparks, titled “Three Weeks With My Brother”). It’s about a single father who loses his job and must take care of his 6-year-old daughter. While Sparks admits to drawing from his own strong feelings about parenthood — he is the father of five, including twin daughters — he also tried to imagine the feelings of a parent who suddenly finds himself to be his child’s sole provider.

“I wanted to explore a couple of concepts about a guy who wasn’t around too much and felt like he wasn’t the dad he thought he could be because he worked too much and he wasn’t around all the time,” Sparks says. “He’s the kind of guy who is kind of nervous at the thought of having to spend the whole day alone with his daughter. … Life takes some turns, and here he is, put into this role of being Mr. Mom for a while. I thought it would be a lot of fun for readers to watch someone grow in that area.”

Sparks admits that after 20 books, it has become increasingly hard to find fresh and new ways of telling stories. He starts each book trying to find a new angle, a new viewpoint or character or even a new setting. It’s never easy. But when he does find a fresh idea, or when one of his books finds favor with filmmakers, such as 2013’s “Safe Haven” and 10 other movies, it’s all worthwhile.

Even if he is sometimes put in the position of being a romantic savant, a guy who understands the human heart.

“My answer is always the same,” Sparks says. “I write novels for a living. I write fiction, essentially. At the same time, as a writer, I tend to be fairly observant because you have to be if you’re going to create characters. And I also suppose I’m naturally empathetic, and that’s been honed through the career I have as a writer. … You have to be able to see both sides of a situation as it unfolds. So maybe I’m naturally empathetic, but maybe it’s also been honed by the writing process.”

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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