Sidney Sheldon Heading to Nashville

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw can consider themselves warned: The next big lyricist in country music’s hometown could be a guy who knows more than a thing or two about writing a hit.

Author Sidney Sheldon is packing up for a visit to Nashville to embark on a career as a songwriter, something he gave up on when he was 17 years old in favor of creating films, TV’s I Dream of Jeannie, and a slew of best-selling novels.

“I worked two movies with Irving Berlin. I never told him that I almost replaced him as America’s top songwriter because I didn’t want to make him nervous,” says Sheldon.

The author spoke with about his latest book, The Sky Is Falling. He also revealed his plans for the near future, which include a jaunt to the country music capital, where he’s, “going down to meet some people” with the intention of making some music.

My Life as a Frog

So what does an 83-year old guy living in Los Angeles and Palm Springs know about country music? Sheldon’s first job wasn’t roping cattle. He started out as a movie theater usher in Manhattan.

He went on to pen tales of international espionage in novels like Windmills of the Gods and Rage of Angels, in which lawyers battle the Mafia. So he can draw on that experience to create the sort of colorful, cowboy-hat wearing characters one would expect in a country song.

And considering he’s won a screenplay Oscar for 1948’s The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer and a Tony in 1959 for Redhead (which starred Gwen Verdon, who died Oct. 18 at age 75), he’s more than proven his versatility.

Sheldon says he’s already written a batch of songs, with titles including “A Poem,” “If I Could Build Me a Man” and “It Was a Frog.”

No, the frog song is not a homage to Kermit. But it could end up as an anthem for married men who have been caught in the sack with another woman. Sheldon explains that the song’s leading man offers up a fairy tale of an excuse when he’s found with another woman: “Sweetheart … don’t judge me in too big a hurry, here’s my side … On Main Street a talking frog said pick me up and when he woke up it was a beautiful [lady].”

Sheldon insists his own wife is safe; the lyrics are not autobiographical. “No I’ve never had that experience, [if] I take a frog to bed when I wake up it’s still a frog.”

He may not be capable of transforming frogs into people, but Sheldon certainly knows how to transform a novel into gold. He’s sold 300 million copies of his books worldwide, and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most translated author around, having been printed in more than 120 languages.

“I’m always amazed … I can’t visualize 300 million of anything,” says Sheldon, who thinks his global appeal is a tribute to his characters.

“My characters are very real to me, I feel every emotion they feel, and I think if there’s any one reason for the success of my books [it’s that] my readers feel that way,” says Sheldon.

He also sticks to universal personality traits while striving to entertain. “I try to make my books very exciting with a lot going on with twists so that the reader never knows what’s going to happen.”

New Fiction, TV and an Autobiography Sheldons’ current best-seller, The Sky Is Falling, revives his character Dana Evans, a popular Washington, D.C., reporter introduced in the 1997 book The Best Laid Plans. “I had not intended to use her again, but she did!”

The plucky heroine stuck in his mind long enough for him to write her a new international adventure, in which she travels to Eastern Europe to investigate the suspicious deaths of five members of an elite family reminiscent of the Kennedys.

Quite an intricate plot considering he had nothing in mind. “When I begin a book I have no beginning, middle or end, I have absolutely no story … And I dictate to a secretary and as I dictate, the story beings to form,” says Sheldon.

His experiences do come into play, as he prides himself on incorporating authentic details for the half-dozen locations visited by Evans, including Paris, Brussels and Moscow.

“I have been to every one of those countries, I will not write about a meal … [unless] I’ve been to that restaurant,” says Sheldon.

Such authenticity will help out when writing his autobiography, which is also among his future plans.

“I like to keep busy, I have to do it all when I’m young.”

And he’s not kidding. Along with the country music and autobiography, he is also interested in returning to TV by writing a new series. With so much variety on his agenda and past credits, just don’t ask him to pick favorites among his endeavors.

“I’ve done so many different things, theater, TV, motion pictures, novels, it’s like saying which is your favorite child — I loved doing it all.”