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Dolly Parton and James Patterson Dish on Their Fun New Thriller

The best-selling writer and music legend tell us how they created ‘Run, Rose, Run’

spinner image dolly parton and james patterson in a recording studio
Courtesy Dolly Parton

If one definition of creativity is finding a way to connect things that are seemingly unconnected, then pairing thriller writer James Patterson with the perpetually joyful country music legend Dolly Parton has to be among the most creative book-writing partnerships out there. And it worked beautifully for the novel Run, Rose, Run, out March 7, with an accompanying soundtrack by Parton out March 4.

spinner image left dolly partons album run rose run right the book run rose run written by dolly parton and james patterson based on the album
Butterfly Records / Little Brown and Company

While Patterson, 74, is the mastermind behind the novel’s fast-flowing plotlines and cliff-hanger chapter endings, you can hear Parton, 76, loud and clear in the two main characters. AnnieLee Keyes, a feisty young singer, hitchhikes her way to Nashville carrying little more than “big dreams and faded jeans” (the title of one of the songs). Then there’s Ruthanna Ryder, a seasoned country-music megastar who takes AnnieLee under her wing. It’s suspenseful and fun, with a hefty dose of romance.

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spinner image dolly parton and james patterson sit on a couch
Courtesy Dolly Parton

How did this collaboration come about? 

JP: I’ve always admired Dolly, and I had this germ of an idea for a novel. And so I contacted her, and she said, “Well, come on down and let’s talk.” 

DP: And we talked and we talked and we talked — and we really found that we liked each other, and I really liked the idea that he had. Of course, I moved to Nashville when I was 18, so I understood the young character AnnieLee. And now that I’ve been in the business so long, I relate to Ruthanna. He had all these great ideas. 

JP: Dolly contributed a lot to exactly what the story should be.

DP: Well, but you’re the one that gets all the mystery in there. I didn’t have as mysterious a life as either one of those women did.

What was the writing process like?

DP: He would send me pages, then I would get great ideas for songs, and send the lyrics back. But he hadn’t heard any of the music, with the instruments and the melodies, so I invited him down for a big listening party. I was just a nervous wreck, hoping he’d like the music, but it really turned out good.

JP: When we met, she said, “I’ve written thousands of country songs. I could write one right here standing on my head. Want to see?” And I’ll tell you, right after that meeting, Dolly sent songs and I was, like, Damn, I better get going here. And sometimes you would write songs that would give me ideas for a couple of new chapters, or for just a phrase.

DP: It was probably a good year and a half, I guess, from our first initial meeting until we got it in the book.

James, you’ve collaborated on books with so many people, including Bill Clinton. How did this compare?

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JP: They’ve all been good. And one of the things about both Dolly and President Clinton is they brought authenticity to the book. “Here’s what would happen.” “This is what it would feel like.” So there’s that similarity — but she is a lot more fun.

DP: And Bill Clinton can’t write a song worth a flip! [Laughs.]

JP: It’s worked out great. I mean, here we are — we’re both over 40, and I don’t think we’ve been better at our game. The album is just spectacular.

DP: Well, thank you.

And will there be a Run, Rose, Run movie someday?

DP: Actually we’ve got people now wanting us to do a feature film with it. And hopefully I’m going to play the part of Ruthanna. I’m looking forward to that.

Do you have any actresses in mind for the role of AnnieLee? 

DP: Well, we’ve talked about that a lot, but we don’t know yet. People are suggesting different names like Miley [Cyrus] or some of the young singers in the business.

JP: It’s a great part. It’s a star-making part. 

DP: And she’s a firecracker.

Can we look forward to another James Patterson-Dolly Parton book someday?

JP: Maybe. We’ll see…

DP: I always wake up with new dreams every day. And same with him. We don’t know what we’re going to do tomorrow. And I love that.

Christina Ianzito is the travel and books editor for and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes health, entertainment and other stories for She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing.

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