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Dolly Parton shares the fascinating story behind her collaboration with world-renowned best-selling author, James Patterson, on “Run, Rose, Run.”
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.