PW: You've written more than 250 songs, many of which have been recorded by well-known artists. Why did you decide now to write this book, Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller?
Marshall Chapman: I've had the idea for the longest time but I always thought I'd never slow down enough to do it. I started writing it in 1998, after my last CD had been out for about a month and they pulled the plug on the record label. At that point in my life and career I thought, I can't go through this anymore. So I started writing and after 30 pages I realized it wasn't a song.
PW: Did you get advice from any writers as you started writing?
MC: Novelist Lee Smith was my mentor from day one. I sent those first 30 pages to Lee and she was very encouraging. Her first comment was, "You might want to paragraph."
PW: You use 12 of your songs as a starting point to tell stories about other artists like Willie Nelson and Jerry Lee Lewis, but you also talk about yourself and your family. How did you decide which stories to tell?
MC: I started by picking the songs that had the best stories, and with some songs it was an excuse to write about people who were real characters. After I finished the first draft, Lee Smith, my agent and another writer, Dave Hickey, all said that I needed to write more about my background. Then I ran it by Peter Guralnick and he said, "Hell, you don't have to write anymore, who you are comes through in every line." But I went back and wrote what is now the first chapter, which is about my upbringing. I really like that line in Stephen King's On Writing, where he says you should write a book with the door closed and then edit it with the door open.
PW: Did anything about the process of writing a book surprise you?
MC: Writing this book was so much harder than writing songs. It's lonely. That's unlike being in a songwriting community, where you might write a song, sing it to friends, maybe sing it to an audience in a club with other songwriters singing their new songs.
PW: How did you get your book deal?
MC: After I'd written about four chapters, Lee called me one day and asked my permission to give them to a literary agent, Joelle Delbourgo, who had been an editor at HarperCollins.
PW: The book cover shows you lying on your stomach, naked, and raising your middle finger at the photographer. What's the story behind that?
MC: I didn't choose that cover, and people who know me are going to find that hard to believe. My editor wanted a picture per chapter, so I sent about 75 pictures and that was one I sent sort of as a joke. Slick Lawson, who died about a year ago, took the photo in the 1970s when I was living in a house in Nashville that I write about in the second chapter.
PW: What was your reaction when you saw the final cover design?
MC: My editor called and said, "The cover is here, are you sitting down? It looks great. It's that picture of you naked." I went into a panic, thinking I'll have to break up with my husband and my mother's going to take me out of the will. But once I saw the actual cover art, I was equally shocked at how much I liked it. I thought, this is perfect, because with this kind of book you're really exposing yourself. Also, Lee Smith and I had a discussion about how there are actually two ways to shoot a bird and the one I'm shooting is very ladylike. I'm sure that will please my mother.