In 46 years of being a professional writer, Tom Carter has already left quite a legacy. The best-selling author has written autobiographies for artists such as Reba McEntire, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Ralph Emery as well as novellas with Britney Spears and LeAnn Rimes. Nine of his books have been on the New York Times or USA Today bestseller lists - places where Carter is hoping to see his tenth in short time. Releasing in early 2017, his newest novel, Nashville: Music and Murder, is a thriller set in Music City and follows the story of starlet Maci Willis. Without giving anything away, Carter kindly took the time to discuss the novel, writing independently for the first time and what’s ahead.
You have written many memoirs, is Nashville: Music & Murder your first thriller?
It is. It’s actually my first solo attempt at fiction as well. I had done collaborations for short novellas with LeAnn Rimes and Britney Spears, but this is my first attempt at making up a compelling story. So if the book is a hit I get all the glory and if it isn’t….I’ll blame it on you (laughing).
What can you tell us about the plot of the novel?
It’s a thriller, a mystery - hopefully Nashville’s answer to John Grisham. The story involves a female country star who is performing in an arena, and as you know when artists play arenas or big stadiums, there are spotlights which don’t allow them to always see the faces of the audience. In my novel, the antagonist happens to be in the audience. He is deranged and obsessed with Maci Willis, the protagonist - and he has a gun. He inches his way to the stage, climbs onto the stage and shoots Maci. He’s quickly apprehended and taken into custody, and everything is thought to be over. But, it happens to Maci again, and still again. Here we have a non-controversial G-rated artist who all of a sudden is being stalked fatally and as we go through the storyline there are small turns and large turns that weave into a pretty compelling read.
Sounds very interesting. Do we learn more of Maci’s backstory as the story unfolds?
Oh, yes, we do, but if I told you that people won’t buy the book (laughing).
Living in Nashville and being involved with the industry, did you pull from things you’ve seen and or experienced to inform the story?
Well yes, I was pulling from people I know and have known. Years back, there was a time when entertainers and their band members all dressed alike, and during that time, Loretta Lynn had a stalker. He followed her from town to town taking it so far as to go to a tailor and have a suit made like the suits worn by her band. As the band walked out and went to their respective instruments, he was able to walk out with them; his intent was to be on stage when Loretta came on and do hostile things. Then, in the 90’s, Tammy Wynette had a perpetual stalker which I wrote about in a posthumous autobiography with one of her four daughters, Jackie Daly. Tammy's stalker came to her mansion and would put threatening notes into the spirals of her wrought iron gate. Sometimes he would get over the gate and once he set the house on fire. Eventually, Tammy was abducted and beaten savagely. More recently, when Taylor Swift’s popularity broke she bought home in a suburb of Nashville and two males would climb over her fence and try to get into her home - on more than one occasion. I have watched the vulnerability of these female country stars and took legitimate and true information and wove it into this fictional novel that we're talking about today.
When did you initially get the idea for the book and how long did it take you to write it?
The idea began in the 90’s. I wanted many times to sit down and write, but I never had the time because I was doing all of those collaborations. I finally got a window to sit down and write the book which took fifteen months working about 4-5 hours a day.
Being that this is the first time you have written something that is not a collaboration, did you enjoy writing by yourself?
Writing this way was something new for me, and I did enjoy it, especially when I got into a groove. When I write, I’m trying to process a dozen thoughts simultaneously because I might be planning a plot turn in chapter three, but then I’m also wondering how I’m going to turn it around in chapter nine. It makes for sensory overload, and that became a rush to me as I was compiling all of these 76,000 words.
You know, this is a book that’s really a first of its kind. The MusicRow neighborhood is the creative hub in Nashville. It is to Nashville what Hollywood is to Los Angeles, but the difference is that since about 1936 eighty-seven novels have been written and set in Hollywood, with many adapted into motion pictures, but no significant novel has ever been set on MusicRow where this story unfolds.
It is really a first of its kind. You mentioned books turned into motion pictures. The collaborations with LeAnn Rimes and Britney Spears were made into television movies, can we expect something similar with Nashville: Music and Murder?
As you mentioned, those novellas were adapted for prime-time television and aired on CBS and ABC. The collaborations I worked on about Merle Haggard and George Jones are being adapted into feature films and we're hoping for the same for this book.
Many times when I speak with an artist I ask about their album title and cover art. Extending that to this book, why did you choose to title it Nashville: Music and Murder and does the female on the cover represent Maci?
Well, I wanted the title to be somewhat of a synopsis of what the story is about – it is set in Nashville and it involves music and murder. I didn’t want people to think it was a G-rated book derived from the Walton family; I wanted people to know it is a thriller and a mystery.
The girl on the cover is representing Maci; her real name is Cassie Morehead and she is the sister of Jason Aldean.
Finally, have you started planning another novel or memoir?
I have three projects underway, I just haven’t decided which one I’ll take. I have to make up my mind soon though because I would like to launch a new one sometime in November.