Jeremy Marsh is the ultimate New Yorker: handsome, almost always dressed in black, and part of the media elite. An expert on debunking the supernatural with a regular column in “Scientific American,” he’s just made his first appearance on national TV. When he receives a letter from the tiny town of Boone Creek, North Carolina, about ghostly lights that appear in a legend-shrouded cemetery, he can’t resist driving down to investigate. Here, in this tightly knit community, Lexie Darnell runs the town’s library, just as her mother did before the accident that left Lexie an orphan. Disappointed by past relationships, including one that lured her away from home, she is sure of one thing: her future is in Boone Creek, close to her grandmother and all the other people she loves. Jeremy expects to spend a quick week in “the sticks” before speeding back to the city. But from the moment he sets eyes on Lexie, he is intrigued and attracted to this beautiful woman who speaks with a soft drawl and confounding honesty. And Lexie, while hesitating to trust this outsider, finds herself thinking of Jeremy more than she cares to admit. Now, if they are to be together, Jeremy Marsh must make a difficult choice: return to the life he knows, or do something he’s never done before—take a giant leap of faith. A story about taking chances and following your heart, True Believer will make you, too, believe in the miracle of love.

    Inspiration for True Believer

    As the number of novels I’ve written increases, it’s become increasingly difficult to conceive of original stories. After all, love stories are among the oldest of all genres and have their roots in the Greek tragedies. Still, originality is one of the most important considerations of the genre, and for this story I chose to use the theme of ghosts. Ghosts, however, have been used in dramatic stories for centuries. One need only to remember Hamlet by Shakespeare or A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens to realize that, and film has only added to the genre: Think Ghost, starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, one of the all-time classics. How then, could I include a ghost story, without being accused of cliche? The answer to me seemed obvious: to make it an anti-ghost story, in which neither character believes in ghosts, but decide to investigate what is probably an explainable situation. This then, is what I decided to do. I knew I’d be blamed for “lessening the mystery” (by making it explainable), but it was either that or being blamed for being cliched. Sometimes, it seems, an author can never win.

    Once I’d made the decision, however, the next difficulty was in making the next aspect of the story somewhat original as well. In most of my previous novels, either one or both characters was looking to fall in love. In this story, again for originality, I wanted neither character to be lonely or upset that they hadn’t found someone yet.

    My next step was research. Though I’ll be perfectly honest when I say that research generally comprises a small part of my work, I did find myself doing quite a bit of research into two different areas. The first was what might be causing the mysterious lights, particularly in eastern North Carolina. The second regarded Jeremy Marsh and exactly what it was that he generally wrote about as a debunker. To accomplish this, I read or skimmed approximately thirty books, looking for legends and ghosts in North Carolina. While I did find some interesting stories and legends, most were simply that: stories that seemed to have faded away over the years. After some time, however, I discovered the legend of the Brown Mountain lights, a mysterious phenomena of lights that occurred regularly in western North Carolina. Not only did I read about the legend in detail, but I was also able to find a scientific explanation by someone who’d spent a great deal of time investigating them. It seemed to be the perfect scenario that I needed—with one exception. Note the name of the legendary lights—Brown Mountain lights. This was a problem; in eastern North Carolina, there are no mountains. In fact, there’s barely even a hill anywhere within a hundred miles of the coast; the biggest inclines around tend to be freeway overpasses. Yet, the Brown Mountain lights were perfect, and as a novelist (not a non-fiction writer), I’m allowed certain privileges, one of which is the ability to “lie” for the sake of the story. Thus, I created a fictitious town with a fictitious mountain (Riker’s Hill).
    (Note: For all those who want to come to Eastern North Carolina to visit Boone Creek and Riker’s Hill, please don’t bother. Really and truly, it’s all made up.)

    Pamlico County, NC

    Pamlico County, NC

    Pamlico County, the county that inspired the fictitious city of “Boone Creek” is a coastal land with wide-open spaces and calming expanses of water. The county was historically an entry point for English explorers who, in the 1500s, entered the area through the Pamlico Sound. Today, the natural environment plays an important role in the county’s economy, which is tied to farming, fishing, forestry and tourism. Because Pamlico County is so peaceful and harmonious with the natural environment, it is becoming a significant destination for recreation and retirement. “Boone Creek,” imagined by Nicholas Sparks to be like many of the small towns in the area, is the ideal location for Jeremy Marsh, the ultimate New Yorker, to find respite – and mystery – in the creeks, woods, and marshes of Pamlico County.

    The second step was Jeremy Marsh and his career as a scientific debunker. Fortunately, I’ve seen every episode of the X-files, I was raised by a father who loved horror stories, I’ve read everything by Stephen King, and I’ve long had a love for legends and superstitions. Jeremy’s thoughts, in most ways, resemble my own regarding supernatural phenomena. He doesn’t believe in UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, teleportation, psychic abilities, tarot reading, fortune telling, faith healing, vampires, werewolves, goblins, demons... in his view, unless it can be proved (and with the exception of God, whom he believes in for scientific reasons), he doubts its existence. For those who are curious, I’m exactly the same way.

    As for Lexie (named after my daughter, by the way), I decided to model her character after her my wife. For those who want to know what Cat is like... well, here she is.

    Boone Creek, despite being a fictitious place, also played a prominent role. It was the first time I’d attempted to make the “setting” a “character” (something commonly done in much ‘Southern Literature’) and I hope you think I succeeded. As crazy as it seems, Boone Creek is the kind of place where I’d feel right at home.

    True Believer - audio excerpt

    Book FAQs

    • Have you sold the film rights?

      Yes. Rights have been sold for both True Believer and At First Sight.

    • Is Boone Creek a real place?

      No, Boone Creek is entirely fictitious. In my imagination, I placed it somewhere in Pamlico County, but that’s as far as it went.

    • Was this novel inspired by any family members?

      No. Like The Guardian, True Believer was fictitious. Lexie Darnell, however, was modeled after my wife.

    • Have you ever seen a ghost?

      I think so. I’m sort of like Jeremy in that I’m a skeptic, but I once visited a house of a friend that may—or may not—have been haunted. All I know is that I regularly saw movement from the corner of my eye, but when I glanced that way, I would see nothing at all. My wife, too, had some strange experiences while we were there, as did the owners. My wife and the owners, by the way, were certain it was a ghost.

    • Why did you decide to write a sequel to True Believer?

      Three reasons: first, I wanted to give the story—in its entirety—the number of pages it deserved. Second, I’ve always wanted to write a story about ‘what happens next?’ In my previous novels, my characters fell in love, but I’ve never had the opportunity to explore what happens after the initial stage of the relationship. And third, my goal as a novelist is to surprise the reader by telling new stories in different ways, and a novel with a direct sequel was something I’d never done before.

    • Where did you get the idea for the mysterious lights in the cemetery? How about the legend that Doris tells Jeremy?

      The lights in the cemetery were modeled after the Brown Mountain Lights, mysterious lights that have appeared for decades in western North Carolina. The legend was a figment of my imagination