August 12, 2021 10:32:33 am
Written by Alexandra Alter
In February 2020, James Patterson flew to Nashville, Tennessee, to visit Dolly Parton.
She was a fan of his “Alex Cross” thrillers, and he had a proposal for her: Would she work with him on a novel about an aspiring country singer who goes to Nashville to seek her fortune and escape her past?
Parton loved the idea. Two days later, she sent Patterson notes on the plot — along with lyrics for seven new songs that she wrote, based on the story.
“She didn’t want to get involved in something just to put her name on it. She really wanted to be involved,” Patterson said in an interview Wednesday. “She’s not going to do something if she doesn’t think she’s going to do it well.”
In March, Little, Brown plans to publish “Run, Rose, Run,” a collaboration between Patterson and Parton, in print, e-book and audio editions. The novel, about a young singer with a dark secret that inspires her music, draws on Parton’s experiences in country music.
Parton will simultaneously release an album, also titled “Run, Rose, Run,” featuring 12 new songs inspired by the novel. The songs are “based on the characters and situations in the book,” Parton said in a news release, and the lyrics are threaded throughout the novel.
The creative partnership of Patterson and Parton — a thriller writer known for his often grisly plots, and a musician beloved by Americans of all political and geographic persuasions — struck some observers as odd. (“Huh,” “WHAT” and “Yo, What?!” were common reactions on social media, as was enthusiastic befuddlement: “I’m weirdly into this!!!”)
But Patterson noted that he and Parton have a good deal in common. “We both consider ourselves storytellers,” he said.
Both of them came from small towns and overcame the odds to build entertainment empires. They’re both in their 70s, and neither shows any inclination of retiring soon. They both have nonprofits dedicated to childhood reading and literacy. Both of them are prolific writers in their genres.
“She didn’t mess around, and neither do I,” Patterson said. “We both get down to business and chop wood.”
In the news release announcing the book, Little, Brown seemed giddy over the commercial prospects of a multimedia project targeting Patterson and Parton’s audiences: “This dual release will mark the first time a #1 best-selling author and an entertainment icon who has sold well over 100 million albums worldwide have collaborated on a book and an album.”
Patterson has long relied on a stable of collaborators to meet his frenetic publication cycle. According to his publicist, he’s written 322 books and sold some 425 million copies. He’s worked with around 35 co-writers and currently has multiple books on the bestseller lists, including “The Shadow,” which he wrote with Brian Sitts, and “The President’s Daughter,” a political thriller he wrote with former President Bill Clinton. It is a follow-up to their previous novel, “The President Is Missing,” which sold more than 3.2 million copies worldwide.
But joining forces with a celebrity as popular as Parton could generate even more interest in the forthcoming book. She is one of the few public figures with seemingly bipartisan appeal, celebrated by some as a working-class Southern hero and venerated by others for her support for LGBTQ rights and unapologetic kitsch. (Parton created her own theme park in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, “Dollywood,” which includes a water park, dinner theater, roller-coaster rides and a replica of her two-room childhood home.)
“People love her,” Patterson said, stating the blazingly obvious.
After their initial meeting, which was casual (“No agents, no lawyers,” Patterson said), Parton and Patterson spent the next six to eight months hashing out scenes, going back and forth on chapters and notes. Parton nicknamed him JJ, short for Jimmy James, he said.
They kept the project secret, though Parton, in an interview with The New York Times late last year, let slip that she was a fan. When asked to name three writers she would invite to a dinner party, she listed him along with Maya Angelou and Charles Dickens.
“First would be James Patterson,” she said. “Since we’re both in entertainment, we could write it off as a business expense.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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