Dolly Parton hit a trifecta with her latest project Run, Rose, Run – it’s a thriller, a studio album and will eventually be turned into a movie.
Parton wrote the album the same time she was writing the novel with author James Patterson.
Run, Rose, Run is about an aspiring country singer named AnnieLee. She moves to Nashville, trying to shake a dark past and make it big in music. She gets help from charismatic country star Ruthanna, who wears wigs and fake nails. Sound familiar?
“Ruthanna is very much my personality this day and time,” Parton said. “And I’m hoping to get to play her in a movie that we are going to make from the book … I don’t think I have to do too much acting on that one.”
Those plans are already in the works, with Reese Witherspoon announcing last month that her company, Hello Sunshine, will adapt the novel into a film.
Parton and Patterson spoke with NPR’s Rachel Martin about the book, which is out now.
The following interview has been condensed and edited. To listen to the broadcast version of this story, use the audio player at the top of the page.
Rachel Martin, Morning Edition: A lot of the scenes take place in this dive bar in Nashville. This is where Ruthanna first sees AnnieLee. I just love the description of the place.
Patterson: I went to school in Nashville and back then the Grand Ole Opry was still in town. And in those days it was kind of small honky-tonk bars and you could not sit in one for 15 minutes without somebody coming in off the street and just sitting down and singing.
Dolly, do you have your own memories of places like that?
Parton: Oh, absolutely. And I think there are still plenty of bars just like that scattered around throughout the country where there really are still honky-tonks. And we’ve got some upgraded ones in Nashville now because everybody has a bar. But yes, I’ve worked in every little bar. I’ve done everything in my lifetime … And so I’ve been in every bar, every kind of situation in the world. You kind of have to do that when you’re starting out in country music.”
When asked when she last visited a dive bar, Parton said with a laugh, “Oh, just the other day.”
AnnieLee can’t afford her own guitar, so she plays the guitar that’s at the bar. And I notice kind of a throughline in the novel. There are these instruments that carry a lot of significance. Dolly, is there a particular guitar in your past or present life that carries a good story with it?”
Parton: Absolutely. I had a little Martin guitar. When I was seven years old, I got my first guitar and I love that little guitar. I wrote songs all the way up till I left home at age 18. I put it up in the loft of a house that we had with all the intentions of when I got rich or could afford it, I was going to get it restored and keep it forever. But unfortunately, the loft burned out of our house – mom and dad’s house – and I lost my little guitar. So all through the years, I have still collected little baby Martin guitars because that’s still my favorite guitar.
I love the portrait that is drawn in this book of the character Ethan Blake. These are the kind of session musicians who make the industry work. They are super talented, but they aren’t the big stars. Dolly, why was it important for you and Jim to capture this in this book?
Parton: Well, I think that it’s very important that you tell the truth. And that’s kind of the way that it happens, even though, AnnieLee had a darker past than I did, of course. But almost everybody that comes here has a past and they’re always running to something, and some are running from something. But mostly they’re running to a future. And I certainly relate to the hard times of having to keep your eyes out for the snakes in the grass, the people that are out to just make money off of you, use you up, whatever. That happens all the time. But so I completely thought, what myself, that it is important for us to capture that. And James has done a wonderful job doing that, for sure.
Patterson: There’s so much talent – and Dolly knows this better than I do – there’s so much musical talent in Nashville and elsewhere, and so many people dream of making it. And some of them don’t make it. And that’s one of the things that drives this story.
At one point early in the book, Ruthanna is trying to test AnnieLee to see if she’s got the real stuff it takes to make it. And Ruthanna is describing how tough life can be as a touring musician, especially when you’re first starting out. And then, Jim, you wrote this line: Ruthanna says, “It’s not a normal way to live.” Dolly, have you given that warning to aspiring musicians?
Parton: No, I think that everybody has to walk that road according to their own rules and according to their own talent and what they’re willing to sacrifice. But Ruthanna, she had told her to go home, get out of the business, whatever, I would never do that because I’ll never crush another person’s dreams like that because I know how serious they are. But that’s another part of this book that I love, to show you that no matter how hard it is, that dreams do still come true.
Dolly, I need to ask, you were nominated to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Last month you released a statement saying, “Even though I’m extremely flattered and grateful to be nominated, I don’t feel I have earned that right…so I must respectfully bow out.” What do you do if, despite your objections, you’re still inducted?
Parton: Well, I’ll accept gracefully. I would just say thanks and I’ll accept it because the fans vote. But when I said that, it was always my belief that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was for the people in rock music, and I have found out lately that it’s not necessarily that. But if they can’t go there to be recognized, where do they go? So I just felt like I would be taking away from someone that maybe deserved it, certainly more than me, because I never considered myself a rock artist. But obviously, there’s more to it than that.
Kurt Gardinier contributed to this story.