Photos: Dolly (20th Century Fox/Handout/Getty Images); Run, Rose, Run; James Patterson (David Levenson/Getty Images)
Run, Rose, Run
In this Q&A with bestselling author James Patterson and country legend Dolly Parton, they talk about creating their "novel with a soundtrack." / BY Rosemary Counter / March 2nd, 2022
James Patterson has sold more than 425 million books, including thrillers starring Alex Cross, a Washington, D.C., psychologist and criminal profiler, and Michael Bennett, a widowed Manhattan detective with 10 adopted children. Then there are the children’s books, YA novels, romances and mysteries.
Parton, a fan of his Alex Cross novels, agreed to work with Patterson after he pitched an idea for a mystery about an up-and-coming singer named AnnieLee Keyes, who is mentored by the queen of country music, Ruthanna Ryder. Parton not only loved the idea, but sent him notes a few days later. Her songs are written into the story and vice versa, and Parton’s 12-song album, Run, Rose, Run, will be released March 7, the same day the book is published.
Before Parton, Patterson’s most famous co-author was former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who collaborated with him on two political thrillers: 2018’s The President is Missing and 2021’s The President’s Daughter.
Like the country music legend, Patterson heads a multi-million dollar entertainment empire. He is 74, she is 76. He is a philanthropist who supports children’s reading and literacy, too, donating a million books to students and US$7.25 million to school and classroom libraries.
In this excerpt from an interview with the authors over the phone from Nashville, they talk about Dolly starring in the movie, her goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, and their musical novel.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for length.)
Rosemary Counter: Good morning, everyone! How are you?
James Patterson: We’re terrible, we both have the flu. No!
Dolly Parton: He lies! How are you?
RC: I’m wonderful, but very nervous. I thought I should confess.
DP: We can hear you real good, can you hear us?
RC: I can, yes. Where are you guys in the world?
JP: We’re in Nashville.
DP: We’re in Nashville in the rain, and this is our first interview of the day so we’re getting all revved up.
RC: Let’s begin at the beginning and congratulations on the book!
Both: Thank you.
RC: Did you guys know each other before?
JP: We’ve been friends for a long time. We both do a lot for kids … and I said I have this rough idea for a novel, but I don’t know whether or not it’s good. Dolly said come down and let’s talk and see what happens.
DP: Well, we did talk and we decided that it might be a good idea, because I’m a Tennessee girl and know all about what James was talking about. He had gone to school in Nashville, so he knew the city and the music, so it just seemed to be a perfect thing. Once he had a good story, I decided I might write some music for it. That was my idea and we collaborated back and forth.
JP: That’s what’s really different about this book: It’s a novel about a young but very good country music singer trying to make it and she’s both a singer and a songwriter. All the songs in the book are also on the album. It’s kind of historic. I don’t think anybody else has done this before: a novel with a soundtrack. When I listened to the soundtrack, I thought, oh man, that’s so cool! You can really hear the book in the music and vice versa.
DP: We’re kindred spirits! All the songs are about situations in the book.
RC: It’s almost like you’ve invented a new genre. The musical novel?
DP: It is, kinda! Jim, as I call him, or JJ – you can call him Jimmy – I forget what I was saying. Oh yeah, he had a great line: “It’s a mystery and history.” He said that yesterday.
RC: Can you tell me a little bit more about the process? James, you had the idea?
JP: For a book, yes. We really did collaborate. One of the things that separates this book is the authenticity; you really do get a feeling for what it’s like for a young woman in Nashville to come in and feel that she has it, but you never know.
DP: I totally relate to both the younger character – having been young at one time – and the older woman who’s out of the business. Both are writing songs and doing their thing. I loved to have input on both those characters.
RC: I read those characters as two sides of the same coin: you pre-fame and you post-fame.
DP: I’d like this to become a movie and hopefully I’ll get to play the part of Ruthanna. That would be perfect.
JP: The interest from Hollywood has already been insane. We had, like, 70-something groups that wanted to do the movie and we’re down to six now. Any of the six would be a terrific partner.
RC: I have to ask, who do you think should play AnnieLee?
JP: I only know who should play Ruthanna.
DP: We don’t know yet. Some people are saying we need a young singer in the business who’s already famous, but we’re kind of inclined to look for that character.
JP: I think I should be in the movie.
DP: He has to play my boyfriend, Jack. He can play that. He’s a wonderful character too, so we’re going to need a handsome fellow for that. Hopefully, we can really make some magic between the young girl and her love interest.
RC: I think I speak for the whole world when I suggest Miley Cyrus!
DP: Yeah, we’ve talked about Miley. I love Miley and she’s my goddaughter and she’s a wonderful girl.
RC: Is there any part of Miley Cyrus that inspired the character of AnnieLee?
JP: No. I know of Miley, but —
DP: She’s so talented, but we’re not there yet! We’re just getting the book out
and the album. It would be a couple of years before a movie.
JP: I must say it’s really a stunning experience to read the book and listen
to the album.
RC: Dolly, how close are you to the Ruthanna character?
DP: I think I’m very close. There are differences, of course, mostly that I will not retire unless I’m forced to. I would never tell a young person that bad advice to “get out of Nashville, now.” I would never crush a young person’s dreams. But I relate to her so much in so many ways. She has her own studio, she keeps a band, she writes songs on a daily basis. But I really relate to both characters a great deal.
RC: I see you’re one of People magazine’s 2021 people of the year and one of Time’s most influential people. Are you comfortable with all this or is it all very surreal?
DP: Well, it’s all a great compliment and honour any time I get honoured for anything. But I don’t take it for granted, and I always say, “I count my blessings more than I count my money or my awards.” It’s always nice and you just hope that they don’t put you so high on a pedestal that they have to knock you off one of these days. I don’t think I’m all that, but I appreciate the accolades and I work hard.
RC: And what can we look forward to in 2022?
JP: More books and more music.