Country singer, songwriter, and author Radney Foster made his country debut as half of the duo Foster & Lloyd, racking in nine hit singles before launching a solo career in 1992. Foster’s solo tracks “Just Call Me Lonesome” and “Nobody Wins” topped the charts and earned him household name in country music. In his over 30 years as a singer-songwriter, Foster has written songs for the likes of Keith Urban and Hootie and the Blowfish, and he has collaborated with Americana legends like EmmyLou Harris and Sara Evans.
After a brutal case of laryngitis and pneumonia stalled his ability to write songs in late 2015, Foster decided to try his hand at a different kind of storytelling: short fiction. It was during this period of vocal constraint that For You To See the Stars, a two-part project consisting of an album and a collection of short fiction, emerged. While the literature can be enjoyed independently, each story is paired with a track from the album to create a multimedia literary experience.
In anticipation of his visit to Main Street Books on Thursday, April 19th at 7 PM, Foster responded to a few questions from Main Street Books.
MAIN STREET BOOKS: You’ve said, “For me, the goal of writing is always to touch that one person so much that they wonder how I got a peek into their living room - how I understood exactly what they felt. More than just rhyming or having a pretty melody, I try to express a part of the human condition that can make someone want to laugh, cry, make love, or all of the above.” Do you think there are some facets of the human condition that are incommunicable?
RADNEY FOSTER: I think us humans are a creative bunch, and while I may not cover your particular condition, someone else will. You might decide no one has expressed what you feel and do it yourself. Each art form has its own strength at expressing what we go through. A film will touch you in a different way than a novel or a sculpture.
MSB: All of your stories are written in first person with the exception of “Another Dragon to Slay.” Why did you decide to narrate this particular story in third person? Relatedly, why did first person feel like the appropriate voice for your other stories?
RF: I wrote the song “All That I Require” before the story “Another Dragon to Slay,” and the story was initially a search to expand on the song. Both were written as a warning about how fragile democracies can be. I knew Sgt. Mota as a character first, so I started the story in first person, his voice, but it wasn’t working. I realized “Another Dragon to Slay" is more than his story; it is a nation’s story. It then made sense to write it in third person. I wanted you to feel the desperation of that entire platoon’s circumstances and by proxy, America’s.
MSB: In the foreword of For You to See the Stars, you write, “it was a fine thing to write and perform a hit song but what I was really after was art. When a hit falls from the chart, the artistry is what is remembered.” It sounds as though you’ve given quite a bit of thought to the purpose of creating, and that the value of what you’ve made is proportional to how deeply it has resonated with and affected other people. Not to get too existential here, but do you carry that philosophy with you in day-to-day life? In other words, when contemplating the legacy you’ll leave behind when you part ways with this world, do you measure your success in terms of lives impacted?
RF: I do think about the artistry of the task at hand, whether that’s writing, casting a fly, playing a guitar, acting in a scene, or making meatloaf. If I don’t care about it, no one else will. I do make a mean meatloaf.
Trying to measure impact will get you into trouble. Contemplating your legacy as an artist will really get you into trouble. Just make the next piece. I start most mornings with Jesus’ synopsis. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Still being there by the end of the day is the tough part.
MSB: Do you have a favorite story and a favorite song from For You to See the Stars? If so, what are they and why are you partial to them?
RF: That’s like asking me who my favorite child is.
MSB: Are any of your fictional characters based on real life characters? (If answering this question is going to get you into a heap of trouble with your great aunt or next-door-neighbor or local grocer, feel free to plead the fifth!)
RF: I’ve been reading “Bridge Club” at shows and bookstores, and at the very first reading there was a question and answer period. A woman asked, “Now this is supposed to be a book of short fiction, correct?” “Yes, ma’am.” “Well now, I want to know how much of that story is fiction and how much is the truth.” I pondered that a second and replied, “Well, my mother's name is not Evelyn.”
MSB: Were you surprised by how difficult (or perhaps how easy) the transition from lyrics to fictional prose was?
RF: Absolutely. There’s more solitude to it. I learned that I needed to treat every sentence with the same care I treat a lyric. There are only 200 or so words in a song. That’s both the beauty of it and the challenge. Five or six thousand words is a completely different ballgame. It’s a lot more work. Now I’m working on a novel. The story arc and the structure of lyric to short story to novel, are as different as sculpting to watercolors to oil on canvas. But hey, I ain’t scared.
MSB: When you’re creating, do you rely on other creative projects for inspiration? For example, listen to music when writing fiction or view art when composing music?
RF: I read, listen to music, see a play, visit a museum. . . for inspiration, like we all do. But I do that part first, then create. I’m a lousy multitasker.
MSB: Pretend for a moment that you could bring together any five people - living or dead, famous or familial - for a dinner party. Who would you invite and why?
RF: Tennessee Williams, for a million reasons.
Shari Smith, my publisher and friend, because she’s funny, smart, and she’d kick my ass if Tennessee Williams was there and she wasn’t invited.
Guy Clark, because he was a great poet, a friend, and a fan of words, stories, art, songs, food, and drink. He would make everyone at the table sing or read something new. He always did.
Thomas Merton, a monk and a mystic who challenged spiritual boundaries. Apparently, he was also a bit of a hell raiser when not cloistered.
Salma Hayek - she’s bicultural, bilingual, a studious actor, quite funny, easy on the eyes, and I have a crush on her.