Interview with Jenni L. Walsh

    Today is the anniversary of the executions of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. To remember this event, I have interviewed Jenni L. Walsh, the author of Becoming Bonnie. Becoming Bonnie focuses on the early life of Bonnie Parker before her famous partner, Clyde Barrow. This is a fascinating interview about Bonnie and Clyde and the choices they made. I hope you enjoy reading this and that you will pick up a copy of Becoming Bonnie today! I loved it, and I can't wait for the sequel! Thank you, Mrs. Walsh!


This is your first novel. How long did it take to write and get Becoming Bonnie published?

     Yes! Becoming Bonnie is my debut! It was back in 2011 that I decided I wanted to try to write my first novel. The first two attempts didn't go so well, ha. My third novel resulted in representation with my former agent, but unfortunately that project never sold. Becoming Bonnie was my fourth novel with my second agent. I'd say it took about eight months to write, seven months for my agent to sell to a publisher, and around twenty months for Becoming Bonnie to be published after I received an offer from Tor. 

Why do you think Bonnie and Clyde are popular icons?

     There was almost this perfect storm surrounding Bonnie and Clyde during their crime spree that resulted in the duo becoming infamous. Bonnie and Clyde lived their life on the lam during the great depression. This meant that much of the United States was struggling financially. But a newspaper, which cost two cents, was readily accessible. Newspapers were so prevalent, in fact, that many homeless people used them to keep warm. Newspapers were often called "Hoover blankets," taking a jab at President Hoover, who many disliked. In these newspapers, headlines about Bonnie and Clyde were everywhere. But not only headlines, also self-taken photos of the duo in provocative poses. At the time, photos were beginning to be sent via wire/telegram. This meant that, in a flash, the iconic photos of Bonnie and Clyde, that are still commonly shown of the couple today, were in nearly every paper. It sounds a bit horrible to say, but many saw Bonnie and Clyde as a form of entertainment or as an escape from their own hardships. Many would read the newspaper to see what Bonnie and Clyde were up to, almost as if Bonnie and Clyde were stars in a soap opera.

What drew you to write about Bonnie specifically in your novel?

     I had my heart set on writing historical fiction, since that's what I typically read. Then, I wanted to write about someone iconic, because I'm often drawn to the "based on" or "inspired by" stories. After landing on Bonnie and Clyde, I knew I wanted to tell Bonnie's story. Partly because I thought I could tell a female's voice better than a male's, but mostly because Bonnie as a child was seemingly very wholesome. It made me very curious how Bonnie evolved from a good girl into a gangster's moll. In actuality, I couldn't find too much on Bonnie's background, but I was able to piece together that she could play the piano, she loved films, she sang at her church, she got straight As and won spelling bees, and she participated in talent shows and beauty pageants. All of those elements have been worked into Becoming Bonnie to help show her evolution as a character. I even changed Bonnie's name at the onset of the novel to Bonnelyn. I hope it has a wholesome sound to it, since that's what I was going for!

Bonnie and Clyde's story has been told many times through songs, books, and movies. How did you plan to breath new life into these notorious figures?

     It's interesting; I couldn't find a fictional book about the duo. As you said, there tons of songs, nonfiction books, and the award-winning 1967 film, but I saw my opportunity to tell this fictional tale within a novel. Of course, I still added some elements that would be unique to my own story. One element is that I have Bonnie pen a song with Clyde and the reader gets to see those verses as the story progresses. Another big element is that I put Bonnie in a speakeasy, so that's definitely a first for Bonnie and Clyde stories!

The character of Bonnie seems to be meticulously researched. How did you research her life?

     Thank you for that! I did pretty extensive research, including diaries entries, memoirs, nonfiction books, FBI files, documentaries, blogs on Bonnie and Clyde, and photos. Even still, most of the information I found on Bonnie was during the early 1930s when Bonnie and Clyde have their crime spree. As I mentioned, there wasn't a ton of information on Bonnie's past. I took what I could find, such as her being a middle child, her father dying when she was young, and being married to a boy named Roy prior to Bonnie meeting Clyde, and used those factual elements as guideposts. Then, I'd go back and fill in the rest. 

What the most challenging aspect of Becoming Bonnie?

     I'd say it was keeping Clyde present. Becoming Bonnie is very much Bonnie's coming-of-age origin story, so while Clyde is introduced in the opening chapters and is in the background (and sometimes the foreground) throughout the beginning/middle of the book, I make readers wait to officially meet Clyde until later in the book. But don't fret, you get full-on Clyde for at least a third of the book! And in the sequel, Being Bonnie, it's Bonnie and Clyde all the time!

Are there any facts about Bonnie Parker's life that surprised you?

     I think mostly that she did have some a wholesome start to her life. Bonnie was a gal who had big dreams for herself, but she was held back financially. While the Roaring Twenties were roaring for some people, Bonnie's family didn't have it so roaring. In my novel, Bonnie is very adamant that she'll have money and dreams one day.

If someone wants to know more about Bonnie and Clyde, what are some other books you may recommend?

     Blanche Caldwell Barrow is Buck Barrow's wife. Buck Barrow is Clyde's older brother. Anyway, I found Blanche's memoir to be really interesting. It gave an inside look at the Barrow Gang's crime spree.

Ultimately, what portrait of Bonnie do you want readers to take from your novel?

     A dreamer. Bonnie's dreams were the catalyst for all her decisions throughout the novel.

You are working on a sequel to Becoming Bonnie. Would you mind filling us in on what next's for Bonnie?

     Yes! I am so excited that I'll get to continue to tell Bonnie's story in Being Bonnie. It picks up where Becoming Bonnie lets off and quickly dives into the twenty-two month crime spree in which Bonnie and Clyde are infamous.

How do you reconcile Bonnie, the criminal, with the sympathetic Bonnie in your novels?

     Not that it makes it right, but I believe Bonnie to be a product of her times. I was also happy/relieved to learn that Bonnie herself never killed anyone. Even still, I wanted to be respectful of the fact that very real people with very real families were killed at the hands of the Barrow Gang and I tried to show Bonnie (and also Clyde's) remorse at the loss of lives. There's a real-life account of Clyde apologizing, which I latched onto and brought to life in Being Bonnie.

Do you think Bonnie was forced into becoming a criminal due to love and hardship, or could she have ultimately made better choices?

     Oh yes, she could have made very different choices. There are many people--then and today--who aren't dealt a good hand in life, but who make something positive of their lives. I try to show that both Bonnie and Clyde tried to lead honest lives and their hands were tied for them, but, at the end of the day, they are accountable for their actions. And, those actions could have gone differently.



       Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia's countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni's passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet. Becoming Bonnie is her first novel.

     Please learn more about Jenni and her books at jennilwalsh.com. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Also, check out my review of Jenni L. Walsh's novel:

Becoming Bonnie


Comments

  1. Fantastic interview! I loved Mrs. Walsh's insights into her research and writing of the book, and her opinion as to why Bonnie and Clyde were so iconic. Great questions asked. Always enjoy reading your interviews!

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