James Patterson is known around the world as one of the greatest authors of all time. With over 100 books on the New York Times Best Sellers list, it’s no wonder Dolly Parton was thrilled to receive a personal invitation from James to co-author a novel with him.
These two creative geniuses have combined their talents to bring us something incredibly special. In this interview, James tells us about the writing process and shares what it was like to collaborate with the world’s most beloved entertainment icon on “Run, Rose, Run.”
You have written well over 100 New York Times bestsellers, and you’re widely known as one of the most diverse writers of our time. What was your inspiration for this particular book?
I’d always admired what Dolly does to get people reading–adults and kids. Dolly’s also a gifted storyteller. Every one of her songs is a story. I thought we’d make a good team. As it turned out–I was right. I’m enjoying being on Team Dolly.
Did you develop the plot or the characters first?
I don’t think you can separate the plot and the characters. Dolly and I developed both in layers, or drafts. The plot kept getting thicker, and the characters kept getting more complex and interesting. I think readers are going to really enjoy our book.
Who is your favorite character in Run, Rose, Run?
It would have to be a tie between Ruthanna and AnnieLee. Ethan wouldn’t be far behind. One of my rules is that you have to be incredibly involved with your heroes–and really despise the villains.
What was it like to collaborate with one of the world’s most beloved superstars, and what was your favorite part about the process?
My joke about Dolly and everyone who works with her is that they’re incredibly nice, incredibly smart and relentless. Man, do I love that. My grandmother used to say, ‘Hungry dogs run faster.’ I think Dolly and I are hungry, in a good way.
What is your typical process for co-authoring a book?
I don’t have a “typical” process for co-authoring, but it usually starts with a long outline, which goes through several drafts. One of my jokes is that the other author and I alternate words. The one thing that always holds true is that the co-authors and I work really hard to make the best book we can. I know that’s what happened with “Run, Rose, Run.”
You and Dolly share a passion for literacy. You are known for campaigning to make books and reading a national priority. When was this passion ignited in you, and how has it affected your approach to writing?
Whenever I appear at a school or conference for librarians or teachers, I’ll say 'I’m here to save lives.' That’s what happens when you get kids reading at grade level. It gives them a chance to finish high school and go to college, if that’s appropriate, and get a better job when they get older. My mom was a teacher, and she always told the kids at school that she was there to help them look through windows, not look in mirrors.
Has music been an integral part of your life?
Yes, indeed. I like country, but I’m a rock n’ roll junkie. I was actually at Woodstock–and I was an usher for nearly two years at the Fillmore East. When I was at Vanderbilt, I also spent a few evenings at the original Grand Ole Opry.
When did you start writing?
I think when I was a year and a half. But you probably mean when did I start writing stories. I think I started composing them in my head when I was four or five. I started writing them down on paper when I was fourteen or fifteen.
Who has been the most influential person in your life with regard to your love of writing?
About a thousand unbelievably talented novelists and non-fiction writers who I’ve read–but in particular, my grandmother. She told me I could do anything I wanted to do–except maybe play basketball in the NBA. Actually, she didn’t say ‘maybe.’
Both you and Dolly are philanthropists. Is there a charity or cause that you are especially passionate about?
I concentrate on charities that help kids become better readers, help bookstores to survive and help students who want to be teachers get through school without too much debt.
Now available for pre-order, the “Run, Rose, Run” novel will be published simultaneously in hardcover, ebook and audiobook and will release on March 7. The album, also available for pre-order, is slated for a March 4 release.
Dolly Parton is truly one of the most diverse creatives of our time. She’s a quintessential dreamer who simply never stops reaching for the stars and somehow always manages to sprinkle stardust on her faithful following of ardent fans. Dolly doesn’t just dream big dreams for herself. The beauty of who she is and what she does is that she brings us all along on her magical journey.
So when world-renowned author, James Patterson, reached out to her about collaborating with him on a novel, Dolly did what she does best. She created another work of art for us to treasure. We sat down with her for a Q&A to give you a behind-the-scenes look into the amazing collaboration on the forthcoming book, “Run, Rose, Run,” that she and James are releasing into the world on March 7.
We know how passionate you are about literacy. Your children’s book, Coat of Many Colors, is a favorite among children enrolled in your Imagination Library book gifting program, but you’ve also written autobiographical and inspirational books for adults. Was it a dream for you to write a novel, and how did this project come about?
The way this came about, James Patterson called me out of the blue and asked if I would like to write a book with him. I thought, 'What in the world does James Patterson need me for? He's doing all right.' I told him, "Well, I don't know...I've never thought about it. I've read all of your books but have never thought about writing one with you. What would it be about?" He said, "Well, let's get together and we'll figure something out." So he flew to Nashville, and we visited for a long time. We realized we liked each other a lot. I told him I couldn't be involved in anything that I'm not personally very involved in. I don't want to just put my name on something and it not be something I've really contributed to. He said he had always thought about writing a book about Nashville, which I do know something about. So we came up with the idea of what it would be about. He went back home and started writing, and I started thinking about it. We exchanged ideas and before we knew it, we had a book going, and now we have a novel.
Did you draw any inspiration from your own musical journey when writing this book?
I had to draw a lot of inspiration from my own musical journey, with all of the ups and downs, the heartaches, the tears and the joys. I've been at it a long time and been through it all. So yes, I drew a lot from my own musical journey.
How did you come up with the title?
Well, I did not come up with the title. We kicked around so many different titles. I'd have a few and he'd had a few. One day he called and said "What do you think about 'Run, Rose, Run'?" I said, "Wow, I love it." She's on the run, and you realize that AnnieLee Keys is actually Rose McCord, thus the title is "Run Rose Run.” To me, I thought that was absolutely a great title.
Which of the characters do you relate to most, and why?
I relate to both of the characters, the young AnnieLee Keys(Rose McCord) and Ruthanna Ryder, who is the older person and is just kind of who I am now, with my own career and mentoring people, writing, having my own studio and not touring. There are a whole lot of similarities in both of those characters for me.
How did co-authoring a book compare to co-writing a song? Were there any similarities?
Any time you work with anybody, whether it's a song or book, it's a very creative process. You have to think about the subject matter; where this should land and where that should land. So it's very similar, but you just don't have to rhyme so much. Your mind is allowed to be a little freer as you go, because you don't have to keep it down to two and a half minutes for radio or that sort of thing. So you have more freedom in writing a book than you do a song.
What was it like to co-author a novel with the iconic James Patterson?
It was amazing. James Patterson, as we all know, is one of the greatest writers of all time. I was honestly kinda floored—and flattered—when James asked me to work with him. And it was fun. When he came down to my little place at my office the first time we met, when I saw him get out of the car and come up to my doorstep, I thought ‘I like this person.’ You know how you just know if a person feels right? You just get a feeling or some sort of aura about everybody. I thought, ‘He's so relaxed, so smart, so at peace, so in control of who he is.’ And I felt there was no BS about him...even though he is fun and has a crazy sense of humor like me. So we have really wound up being good friends. I am sure we'll always be in touch long after this book.
You teamed up with Kelsea Ballerini and a stellar cast to record the audio book. How did that come about?
I love Kelsea Ballerini. Usually if I've written a book, I'll read the whole thing myself. But we thought 'Wouldn't it be great to have the characters take on their own personality?' I read the Ruthanna—the older woman—part. Then we thought, ‘Who should we get to read the AnnieLee Keys/Rose character?’ Of course, Kelsea's name came up, and we all said ‘YES!’ She's very sweet, and I thought that was a good call.
Tell us about the 12-song companion album that is releasing simultaneously with the book. Did you know from the beginning you wanted to release a companion piece, or was it an idea that came organically during the process of writing the novel?
Early on, when I started writing with James and, of course, we couldn't be together every day, we had phone calls and exchanged emails and all the ways you work when you're older people like us. He would send me ideas, and I'd send him my thoughts. I thought, 'I bet I can contribute to this more by writing a lot of my thoughts about the characters and their situations in a song.’ So I started writing songs and sending them to him. He said “Wow, this is a great idea. I can expand on the characters and get more in-depth on who they are and what they're actually thinking from a woman's point of view, especially the AnnieLee and Ruthanna songs.” And the male character, Ethan, I know him, because I hung out with all of these guys in the music business—Porter, Kenny, Merle Haggard and all the greats. I've been in it a long time, so I related to all of these characters. I thought, 'I can write songs for all of them.’ So I started doing that, and James loved it. Then I thought, 'Wow, this is a really good album. I can put these songs in an album. Nobody's ever really done a soundtrack for a book that I know of.' So I thought it would be a great vehicle for promotion and marketing to have both of them come out together. James and I have a very strong publicity and marketing department, plus the publishing company. Everybody got on board, and we've really made it work for us, I think. I'm excited about that. You can listen to the album and know what the book is about. And if you read the book and listen to the songs, you really completely know what it's all about and kinda link them. It's kind of a little fun thing all on it's own, something different.
Your breadth of writing is unparalleled, from songs to Broadway musicals to movies to books. Can we expect more novels like this from you in the future?
I really don't know. I had always thought that I would write novels, but I thought it would be when I was older. Then I realized I am older. (HA!) So I don't know. It will depend on how things go. I'm a creative writer, and the spirit has to hit me on what I'm going to write about, but it's certainly not off the table. I don't know if I'll write another one with James. I think once is enough for something that great, but I'm not saying we won't. But we do think this is going to turn into a movie, so we'll be working together for years just on this one book. Whether or not I write another novel depends on how smart I am when I am older. If my mind will do it, I might.
Both you and James are known as philanthropists and giving plays a central role in who you are. Tell us about your beloved Imagination Library and how it all began.
As you know, I am very involved in a lot of things. I am proudest of the Imagination Library. Most people know how it started, I know you do, but for those who don't, the Imagination Library is a program where we send books to children once a month from the time they're born until they start school. They get the book in their mailbox with their name on it. They learn to love to read and love books. It's a wonderful thing. I think it's so important, because what inspired that was my own Dad, who couldn't read nor write. It was the same for many of my relatives from the mountains who didn't get a chance to go to school, because they had to work hard and help provide for their families. Plus, the schools were sometimes miles away, and they were usually one room schools. So a lot of people didn't get an education. My Daddy was so smart, but that always embarrassed him and kinda crippled him in a weird sort of way. That always troubled me, because he was so smart and I loved him so much. So when we started the Imagination Library, I thought, ‘I'm gonna get Daddy in on it and let him feel important.’ So I would take him with me and involve him in any way I could. He lived long enough to see the Imagination Library doing good. I'm a person of faith, so I believe there's life on the other side. So I just always know when all of those great things happen with the Imagination Library and it gets so much publicity, I feel like Mama and Daddy are looking down and trying to help bless my work. I don't know what all of James' inner feelings are about charities, but I'm sure he has many of them as well, based on some sort of truth and personal emotion. I will always try to do my best. I believe that when you are in a position to help, you should help.
Now available for pre-order, the “Run, Rose, Run” novel will be published simultaneously in hardcover, ebook and audiobook and will release on March 7. The album, also available for pre-order, is slated for a March 4 release.
When Dolly's mother took a box of rags that someone had given her and sewed them into a patchwork coat of love for her daughter, she didn't know she was setting her on a path that would become one of the most beautifully woven tapestries in the history of American music.
Dolly began songwriting at the tender age of five and has been on a magical journey of melody and rhyme ever since. Songwriting is part of the fabric of who Dolly is. For songwriters, some songs can take years to write, while others can be crafted in just a few hours. However, there are those special few that are woven in what seems to be a moment's time. Dolly's beloved "Coat of Many Colors" is one such song.
The year was 1969, and she was on tour with country music legend Porter Wagoner, who was widely known for his iconic rhinestone-clad stage clothes. She was riding on the tour bus when the inspiration for "Coat of Many Colors" overcame her. Ironically, the only paper available to her was Porter's dry cleaning receipts from his designer, one-of-a-kind coats, so she grabbed a pen and started writing! The song that poured out of her soul that day was about her own one-of-a-kind coat; a coat that gave her determination and wrapped her with confidence in the riches of a mother's love.
As the song says, Dolly's mother told her the Old Testament story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. Just like Joseph rose above the cruelty of others in his youth and went on to achieve his purpose in life, Dolly rose above the scoffers in the schoolyard and lives her life to encourage others to rise above their circumstances and to dream more...and it all started with a box of rags and a mother's love.
Footage courtesy of Country Music Hall Of Fame And Museum Nashville
Dolly Parton performs "Coat Of Many Colors" after her induction to the "Country Music Hall Of Fame." Alison Krauss & Union Station were on hand during the ceremony to lend their beautiful talents to the performance.
Artist illustration by Lacinda Smith.
If you had gone from cabin to cabin across the mountains of Appalachia in the 1940s and 50s, you would have observed a wide variety of activities. You might have caught a glimpse of a young boy watching his grandfather whittle a slingshot handle from a piece of white oak. On down the dirt road, you may have seen a mother lovingly teaching her children how to churn butter. Up the mountain on Locust Ridge, however, something extra special was happening at the Parton’s Tennessee Mountain Home…
In the Smoky Mountain morning light, there was a little girl with great big dreams of becoming a star. Her stage, the front porch, had been there all along, but she needed a microphone. She knew it would require a little more creativity —she’d have to make one. She searched through a pile of tobacco sticks, trying to find just the right one to use as her microphone stand. She tried three or four and finally found one she could wedge between the weathered wooden slats. With her stand securely in place, it was time to find her microphone. She loved all things shiny and knew just what she would use. She removed the label from a recently discarded tin can and smiled at her reflection as she held her first microphone in her little hands. In a crowning moment, she balanced it atop the tobacco stick. She paused to take a deep breath, and that’s when the magic began.
If you had been there, you may have simply seen a little girl in her favorite cotton dress singing her heart out to her younger siblings and throwing some extra feed to the ducks and chickens to ensure a captive audience. If you could have seen it through little Dolly’s sparkling eyes, though, it would have taken your breath away! The wings of her imagination carried her to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. She swayed to the rhythm of her heartbeat in a beautiful shimmering dress and sang into the famed WSM microphone to a sold-out crowd at the Ryman auditorium.
“I just pictured myself out there in the big world singing songs I’d written, performing to people and getting out of the mountains and just traveling around.”
It was a window to her dreams. Singing meant the world to her, and she was determined to take her music beyond the hills of her home.
With that same cadence of determination, that’s exactly what she did! Now an American music icon and longtime member of the Grand Ole Opry, the spirit that fueled her front-porch-dreams has propelled her from the beloved stage of her childhood to untold numbers of sold-out performances in venues all over the world.
“That little tobacco stick and tin can have carried me far.”
Everything she envisioned on that front porch has become a reality, and though she may use many different microphones during her performances today, none could ever compare to the one of her youth…a tin can and a tobacco stick.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Dolly's most beloved accomplishment, her Imagination Library, a book gifting program that has mailed more than 70 million free books to children all around the world. Dolly is quick to tell you that although her father, Lee Parton, was one of the most intelligent men she's ever known, his inability to read was her inspiration for Imagination Library. The program was started in Sevier County, Tennessee, where Dolly was born and raised, and continues to touch the lives of children around the globe.
Her father may have been unable to read the words "determination and generosity," but his life certainly defined them. Each morning, he left for a hard day's work in the mountains of East Tennessee carrying with him a green lunchbox that his children affectionately referred to as "Daddy's dinner bucket." When his weather-beaten hands opened up that box, his kind heart compelled him to save a portion of his lunch to share with his young children. When he returned home in the evenings, they were eager to greet him and see what he had saved for them. Oftentimes, it was part of a bologna sandwich or a piece of pie. To most people, a fragment of a sandwich and a stale piece of pie may not seem like much, but the children would take those tasty treats to a hideaway under a blackberry bush and have a picnic fit for a king.
When remembering her beloved father and the story of his dinner bucket, Dolly said,
"Our sweet Daddy worked so hard for all of us. At night we used to take turns rubbing Daddy's cracked, hard-working hands with corn silk lotion and we soaked and washed his tired old feet. My sister Willadeene sweetly (and jokingly) dried them with her long beautiful hair. If Jesus could wash the feet of his disciples, at least we could do it for Daddy. If you're lucky enough to have great parents, it's truly one of God's greatest gifts. Happy Father's Day to all the good daddies out there...and to the bad ones, too. Maybe they weren't lucky enough to have a Daddy as good as mine."
For years, that routine continued, day in and day out, as he worked tirelessly to provide for his wife and twelve children. On the day he finally retired, and with that same spirit of generosity, he gave his lunchbox away to another hardworking man, Oscar Dunn.
Dolly's younger brother, Randy, dropped by the studio and shared this wonderful memory with us for Father's Day and sang a little bit of the "Dinner Bucket Song," a song that Dolly had actually written about Mr. Lee's dinner bucket.
Many years later, with the dinner bucket being little more than a memory, the Parton family said goodbye to their beloved daddy who passed away just a few weeks before Christmas in 2000. He was laid to rest in the beautiful mountains he loved so dearly.
It was a difficult Christmas for all of the kids after saying their final goodbyes to their daddy. Randy, Dolly's younger brother, was in for a special surprise on that Christmas Eve. On that cold night in December, Randy’s wife Deb handed him a brown paper bag. He opened it and discovered one of the greatest gifts he had ever received...his daddy's dinner bucket! He was overwhelmed with emotion. Unbeknownst to Randy, Deb had made arrangements with Oscar’s sweet wife Faye and son Grant to bring Mr. Lee’s lunchbox back home to the Parton family. Memories flooded his mind as he examined it closely. What he found, a surprise much sweeter than any piece of pie, was that his father had learned to write his name and had scratched it into the green paint on that old dinner bucket.
That priceless green dinner bucket represents the immeasurable determination and generosity of a hardworking man whose legacy is not only etched into the hearts of his children, but also into the hearts of countless children around the world...and the story goes on...one page at a time...