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Steve Earle writes his first novel

March 4, 2011 |  4:18 pm

In our spring preview coming in this Sunday's paper, book critic David L. Ulin talks to Steve Earle about his debut novel, "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive." The book, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, will hit shelves in May, a week or two after Earles' album of the same name hits.

If the title of Earle's book sounds familiar, it should -- it was the last song recorded by Hank Williams before he died in 1953, at age 29, in the back of a car after taking a fatal combination of alcohol and drugs. Ulin writes:

That lonesome death, because of drugs and alcohol, centers the novel, which revolves around a character named Doc, a physician fallen into heroin addiction, who gave the singer his final injection. Ten years later, Doc is living in a San Antonio flophouse, performing back-alley abortions, haunted by his failures and his sins. "I'd always heard," Earle notes, "that there was a doctor traveling with Hank when he died. When I buckled down, I discovered that Hank had been seeing a guy named Toby Marshall, who was not a doctor; he was a quack who claimed to be able to cure alcoholism with chloral hydrate. But I thought it would be more interesting if my character was a real doctor, so I went with that."

Earle is, of course, known as a musician, one whose past struggles with substance abuse were widely publicized (he went to prison in the early '90s, and was paroled in 1994). But he doesn't see writing a book as being all that different.

"I've always written stories," he says. "My songs are stories. A lot of people wonder how to write a story in three minutes. With a book, you have to figure out what to prolong and what not to."

Still, he admits, "Wrestling a novel to the ground was about 100 times harder than I expected. In the middle of it, I swore I'd never do it again. But now that it's done, I've got another idea."

There's more to the book, which includes young Mexican immigrants and an unexpected turn into magic realism; read the complete article about it here. And after the jump, another music video from Steve Earle: his 1988 breakthrough hit, "Copperhead Road."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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