Book Addiction: Becoming Bonnie

My latest book addiction is Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh. I devoured this riveting novel in less than two days because I couldn’t bear to put it down. Evocative and honest, Jenni L. Walsh’s prose will immerse readers in the darkness and glamour of the 1920s, through the desperation of the Great Depression and the sultry jazz rhythms of Doc’s, the speakeasy where Bonnie Parker works. Going by Bonnelyn, she’s a wholesome, intelligent girl with big dreams. But as the Great Depression and strictures of prohibition show their teeth, she’s able to adapt to the pepper of gunfire. Bonnelyn is a likable, relatable narrator, and I felt like I knew her. And when she meets Clyde Barrow, his self-assurance and loyalty won me over, too. Thank goodness there’s an upcoming sequel, because I need more of these characters. Plus, it’s been optioned for a TV show!

One of my favourite aspects of the book is Bonnie and Clyde’s shared musical interest. They even write a song together, an adventurous, true-to-character ballad that I wish I could hear for real. I also enjoyed the relationship between Bonnelyn and Blanche, her sharp-tongued but pure-hearted best friend.

This is an extra special blog post, because Jenni kindly agreed to an interview. Welcome, Jenni!

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

Interestingly enough, Becoming Bonnie isn’t the story I first sought to tell. Driven by my desire to write the story of that iconic figure, I first began writing my own version of Bonnie and Clyde’s 1930s crime spree. I quickly put on the brakes, realizing my first challenge: I needed readers to understand who Bonnie really was at her core. What made her tick? What was her background? What were her aspirations, at the beginning and the end? Why was she so loyal to Clyde Barrow? So I put what I’d written aside, hoping to one day use it in a sequel, and started over, going back five years to tell Bonnie Parker’s origin story, which also allowed me to drop Bonnie into a 1920s speakeasy in the middle of a foxtrot. Now that was a good time (and a pleasant surprise!).

What was your favourite scene to write?

As Meghan mentioned, Bonnie and Clyde pen a song together in Becoming Bonnie. It was such a fun element of the story to write, so I’d like to share a snippet of the scene where Clyde reveals their first verse.


Clyde settles himself on the couch, then the instrument on his knee. He pats the spot beside him, pauses with his fingers ready to strum. I sit and fold my hands in my lap, watching as he clears his throat, swallows, clears his throat again. Clyde’s head tilts down, and he looks up at me from under his lashes.

“I started this here song a while ago, but she ain’t done,” he says. “Was hoping you’d help me finish her.”

“Me?”

His fingertips slide down the strings once, letting the soft sound vibrate ’round us. “You’ll see.”

He goes back for more, a dark melody forming with each stroke, and moistens his lips. Clyde says, more than sings, “Death is a five-letter word, with a five-finger clutch.”

His head stays down, his jaw relaxed, eyes closed. “It cornered him, pitting him against the bigger man . . . By the throat, edging closer, nearing Death’s final touch.”

The rhythm quickens, the beat an unexpected surprise.

Then there she was, light in the dark, defying Death’s plan . . . She stared it down, held on tight, fired off a shot all her own . . . Ohh”—he draws out the word, as if taunting Death—“Oh, oh, oh, death for the boy has been postponed.”

Clyde’s fingers shift to a higher pitch on the guitar. He smirks and sings from the corner of his mouth, “’Cause lean closer, listen close . . . How the story ends, no one knows . . . But one thing’s clear, you’ll see . . . Bonnie and Clyde, meant to be, alive and free.”

That last line, that last note hangs between us.

I forget how to breathe.

“That’s all I got for now,” Clyde says softly. “Thought maybe we could do the next verse together.”

“Together?” I wring my hands, staring into the eyes of Clyde Barrow, the criminal, the charmer, the . . . boy who wrote me a doggone song to show me how he cares.

“Yeah, Bonnie. You and me. What do you say?”

© 2017 Jenni L. Walsh


This plot element became doubly fun when a friend put the last line of the chorus into sheet music for me!

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

My process is slow. Real slow. I’m one of those authors who has to get a line/paragraph just right before I move on. Then, I’ll often go back to add in new details that’ll support the new scene I’m working on. It takes me forever to complete a first draft. The upside is that my first draft is usually pretty clean and ready for a second set of eyes. As far as when I write, I got to wait for the a’ok from my bosses (my 1-year-old and three-year-old). My oldest gives me the stink eye when she sees my laptop out, so I generally only write during naptimes and at night, unless my husband is distracting them on the weekends.

How can we stay updated on your book news?

I have a newsletter (and a firm no-spam rule)! I also have three books, one of which is the sequel to Becoming Bonnie, coming in 2018 that I’d love to tell you about, if ya want to sign up here. You can also catch me on Twitter and Facebook, along with my website.

From the book jacket:

From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh, Becoming Bonnie is the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie’s life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.

 

Author Biography

​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.

For the mamas, Becoming Bonnie is her debut novel that tells the untold story of how church-going Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. The sequel Being Bonnie will be released in the summer of 2018.

For the kiddos, the Brave Like Me series is her middle grade debut that features true stories from heroic women who, at a young age, accomplished daring feats of perseverance and bravery.

 

 


Okay, now everyone go check out this book so we can talk about it!

How cool are these mugs?!

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Bad Decisions in History: featuring a Flood of Molasses

When you imagine a flood, you probably picture something like white-capped water spilling over riverbanks or water swirling through the street from a broken pipe or hydrant. Almost certainly something with water, anyway. Not molasses – but that’s just what happened almost a century ago in Boston, Massachusetts.

Bad decision: Failing to properly test the molasses storage tank, which was also poorly constructed; hiding proof of existing leaks.

The idea of molasses flooding the streets is ludicrous, almost amusing, even – until the magnitude of this disaster becomes clear.  The molasses tank was located at the Purity Distilling Company. At over 50 feet tall, the storage tank had a holding capacity of just over 2 million gallons, which is quite a lot of molasses.

The affected area is circled

In January of 1919, the tank failed, while containing tons of molasses. As the rivets of the tank burst, reportedly making a machine-gun like sound, the entire tank collapsed with an earth-shaking rumble and unleashed a tidal wave of molasses that was 25 feet at its highest point, and which crashed through the streets at about 35 miles per hour (56 kilometres). It really gives a different meaning to that old saying, ‘slower than molasses in January’, doesn’t it?

The force of the molasses damaged nearby buildings, shoving them right off their foundations, and tipped a railroad car off the tracks. The area was flooded with a depth of up to 3 feet of molasses. People and animals who had the misfortune to be in the flood zone struggled and thrashed to escape the sticky, viscous liquid. Horses apparently succumbed like flies on fly-paper, and people who were swept off their feet by the initial blast fought to free themselves. Bystanders, police, Red Cross, and army personnel soon waded into the waist-deep mess to help pull out survivors, while others tended to the injured. After four days, the search for victims ended. Many of the deceased were difficult to recognize because they were so coated in molasses. Altogether, the flood claimed 21 lives, injured 150 more people, as well as killing or wounding several horses and dogs. For months afterward, many people suffered from a cough after breathing the sweet, molasses tainted air. The clean-up took weeks, and it’s said the area still smelled like molasses on hot days for years afterward.

How did a terrible disaster like this occur? It was partially to do with the molasses itself, which can be fermented to produce rum, which means that fermented molasses can contain ethanol, the active ingredient in alcohol. Outside factors such as the air temperature also played a role; the temperature rose significantly during a short time period, and would have assisted in raising the pressure within the tank.

These two are the uncontrollable factors, but there were negligent items that contributed to the disaster. The storage tank was also cheaply constructed, and had not been sufficiently tested. An inquiry after the flood proved that standard safety tests for the time, such as filling the tank with water to check for leaks, had never been conducted. In fact, the tank had been leaking the whole time, and it was painted brown in an attempt to hide the leaks (which seem to have been fairly well known anyway, for local residents allegedly collected leaking molasses for their personal cooking use). As well, an investigation many years later found that the steel was only half as thick as it should have been (even for 1919’s less strict building standards) and it did not contain manganese, which mean the tank was quite brittle.

After the disaster, local residents of Boston joined a class-action law suit against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, which had since bought Purity Distilling. The company attempted and failed to attribute the disaster to an explosion caused by anarchists, and ended up paying hefty settlement fees.

Outcome: 21 deaths, 150 injuries, more deaths and injuries in animals, a gigantic mess that took weeks to clean up, prolonged coughs.

 

Smashed vehicles and debris sit in a puddle of molasses on Commercial Street on Jan. 16, 1919, the day after a giant tank in the North End collapsed, sending a wave of an estimated 2.3 million gallons of molasses through the streets of Boston.

 

Looking for more Bad Decisions in history? Click here, or use the Category sidebar to jump there.

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Book Addiction: Feast of Sorrow

I was lucky enough to read Crystal King’s Feast of Sorrow in advance of publication – which is tomorrow! Set during ancient Rome, Feast of Sorrow is a sweeping, decadent tale that tells the story of Thrasius, a talented cooking slave, as he enters the kitchen of Marcus Gavinus Apicius, a wealthy and ambitious gourmet with designs on becoming the culinary advisor to the Emperor. The intertwined elements of dangerous political intrigue and luscious feasts lured me in right from the first page, and I kept turning pages late into the night, riveted.

In between biting my nails over Apicius’ unpredictability and sympathizing with Thrasius’ sense of honour, I also found myself craving some of the delicious meals prepared in the story. Since Crystal King has compiled a few of the recipes on her website, readers can even try a few of the dishes. She also agreed to an interview on my blog, making this an extra special post. Welcome, Crystal!

What was your inspiration for Feast of Sorrow?

I was reading a book about banquets throughout the ages, FEAST by Roy Strong, and came across an anecdote about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the extraordinary way in which he died. I thought it was so unusual that I had to be the one to tell the story of how he ended up the way he did.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

It took me awhile to find my voice for the book. I rewrote the first 15 chapters three different times in different points of view. It was necessary, but frustrating. I also ended up killing off a whole bunch of characters that I never expected to. I would look up from an afternoon’s worth of writing and think, wow, I didn’t expect THAT person was going to die.

Did you try cooking any of the fantastic meals featured in the book?

Not a whole banquet because that would be outrageous, but I’ve cooked many dozens of the individual dishes. My husband and I regularly make Parthian chicken for dinner.  There’s also an ancient cracker recipe that I make a lot for parties. The honey fritters are super easy and amazing too. In fact, I have a whole cookbook that I created as a bonus for book clubs reading the book that features all sorts of recipes of my own interpretation but also some from famous chefs. More information can be found on the Book Club section of my site.

What was your favourite scene to write? 

That’s difficult. I think that some of the most important and best scenes of the book are also the hardest for me to write. But I suppose that one of the darlings of the book is the curse scene, when several of the characters go to an ancient Roman cemetery to put a curse on someone. I struggled finding an agent because of the book’s length and it was a scene that my writing group and agents suggested I cut to help with the length. I hung on to it though, and while it used to be much longer, I managed to keep it. And while I can’t find the original reference now, the curse itself is an actual Roman curse that I found in some history book, which I modified just slightly to accommodate the person cursed and the family doing the cursing, plus the right Gods for the book.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

I wish I had a strict schedule. I go in spurts with my writing, depending on what is happening in my life or other deadlines that I have. I work full-time in marketing for a software company so writing at night is too taxing for my poor brain. I tend to work on weekends, usually devoting an entire Sunday to spitting out a chapter or two. I do like writing in cafes, on trains, libraries and other places from time to time to switch things up.

How can we stay updated on your book news? Readers can sign up for my mailing list and follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and at my site, crystalking.com.

From the book jacket:

Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.

On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome’s leading epicure.

Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.

 

Author Biography

Photo by Wayne E. Chinnock

Crystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US. A Pushcart-nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her M.A. in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She considers Italy her next great love, after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. 


 

Crystal is also happy to connect with book clubs, so if you’re a member of one, or looking to start a book club, I definitely recommend Feast of Sorrow. How fun would it be to read the book and then cook some of the meals? Contact information for book clubs is at this link.

 

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Flash Fiction – Letters

I felt drawn to this beautiful, evocative photograph as soon as I saw it – the letters could contain so many secrets! The story that resulted ended up a little darker than I expected, though.

Photo via Visual hunt

The effort of moving the massive oak desk leaves me winded, with a dew of sweat on my forehead. Even with its drawers emptied, it wasn’t easy to drag its bulk sideways. It’s easy to imagine that the ancient desk was here before the house, that the walls of this study were propped up around it. It’s at least as old as the house; the soaring bird silhouette of the vineyard’s logo, designed by my great-grandfather, is scratched onto one corner.

I turn my attention to the loose floor board, the reason I’d needed to move the desk aside. It creaks as I prod it with my finger, but seems simple enough to hammer back into place. Small maintenance for century-old house.  The board resists the claw of the hammer, until I use both hands to lift and straighten it. An entire foot-square section of floor lifts up instead, hinging like a jaw over a gaping mouth. In shock, I nearly drop the hammer.

The small wooden box fills up the hollow space under the hidden trap door. I carry it carefully to the desk, and my fingers fumble over the latch. The papery smell of old books ghosts through the air, carrying a whiff of dust and a tinge of almonds. It isn’t books inside, though. Not exactly. Gently, I spread the contents out on the desk. An old diary, photographs of the vineyard in its first years, back when the California wineries were all new, and a packet of letters bound with crumbling black thread.

Fascinated, I pour a glass of wine and sit down at that sprawling desk, first examining the photographs. The binding of the diary threatens to dissolve under the lightest touch, and I must turn the pages very slowly. The string fastening the letters snaps under the barest pressure of my fingertips, and the letters themselves turn out to be the most illuminating of all, once I manage to decipher the twirls of faded brown ink.

My neck aches, and the clock chimes an echo of hours passed. One sip of ruby wine remains in my glass, which seems fitting. I swirl the glass idly, watching the crimson droplets scatter in the golden lamplight. One last taste – if I share the contents of the hidden packet, it would be the last vintage I bottled, the last produced by the vineyard under my name. The details of these papers would transfer everything to the overlooked but true heirs of the vineyard’s legacy.

I drink that mouthful. Against my dry tongue, it tastes bitter as old family secrets.

Replacing the floorboard cubbyhole is easy. I hammer it all the way down, so it can’t be lifted again, its hollow space, now empty, hidden forever. My head throbs when I lug the desk back into place. As I shove the packet of sepia-toned papers into the fireplace, the old book smell sweetens to vanilla, mingling with smoke and the sour emergence of a chemical odour, probably from the photographs. That bittersweet perfume lingers in my nostrils even when the ashes break to dust under the fire poker.

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Imaginary Interview: Ophelia

Recently, I was watching Upstart Crow, a funny, reference-filled show about Shakespeare before he becomes famous and it inspired me to write another ‘Imaginary Interview‘ post, this time featuring Ophelia. She seems like an especially fitting character to write about since my dislike of Hamlet is well documented here on my blog.

So, let’s imagine that we’re sitting in expensive, squashy chairs and sipping artisan chamomile tea or something, listening to Ophelia open up about her brief teenage crush on Hamlet and how it changed her life forever.

Ophelia sits primly in the chair. It’s really lovely to be here, chatting. I’ve never been interviewed before. No has ever been interested in my opinions before. She smiles, but lets her long hair swing forward to hide half her face.

It’s about time then. Would you like to talk about Hamlet?

I suppose. I mean, he definitely had, like, a profound effect on my life. Falling silent, she gnaws her lower lip and stares off in the distance.

Did you love Hamlet?

Ophelia blinks, gaze focuses again. Love him? I don’t think so…I thought at one time that I did. At least, I wanted to. I guess I tried to, like, convince myself that I did. Look, growing up, I’d always had this idea that Hamlet and I would be married. He talked about it sometimes, and my father my brother Laertes also thought we were a couple. I think my father approved at first, because of course Hamlet was a Prince, and it would be a good match for me. Her voice drops a bit. A better match than I expected. I mean, I could have been Queen someday if I married Hamlet, and that seemed, like, too good to be true.

But Laertes didn’t want you to marry Hamlet, right?

Right. He told me that Hamlet’s love was fleeting, that he would never be able to commit to me. It really hurt, actually. Maybe I was just being insecure or something, but it made me feel like he wasn’t saying that Hamlet couldn’t love anybody. It felt like he was saying Hamlet couldn’t love me. Like no one could, like I wasn’t good enough. Ophelia curls up in the chair, tucking her feet under her. So, I broke things off with Hamlet. I had to. My father and my brother told me too, and I couldn’t go against them. I was always very obedient to them – after all, my father was the head of the household. But then Hamlet came to see me, and he seemed just, like, completely stricken. He was all pale and disheveled and kept saying weird things.

And your father believed your rejection of Hamlet had driven him insane?

Yeah. And I won’t lie, that was a bit of a confidence boost after what Laertes said. He made me feel like Hamlet would hardly even notice if I stopped talking to him, and now he was clearly having issues. When my dad sent me to talk to Hamlet, I thought maybe I could cheer him up, that we could work things out. I thought maybe I’d still end up marrying him. She sighs, and irritation sparks in her eyes. But then Hamlet was sooo rude. Like, he was such a poisonous hunch-backed toad. Ophelia flushes scarlet. I’m so sorry. I know I shouldn’t use language like that – it just slipped out. I guess I have a lot of anger about this still. But Hamlet said some really cruel things. He basically called me a (her voice drops to a whisper) whore. And, for propriety’s sake, I felt like I had to pretend I didn’t quite understand all his double meanings, but come on. I’ve been to plays and heard poetry. That Shakespeare guy is super inappropriate sometimes. And, another time, Laertes made this whole speech about virtue and kept going on and on about flowers – it was actually kind of disgusting. I knew what he was talking about and I didn’t need this lecture from my brother, of all people. I never did anything wrong, really, and I always just wanted to please everyone…She trails off, and seems agitated.

Anyway, Hamlet kept saying awful, crude things to me, even during a play. He seemed like a totally different person, although I guess to be honest, I didn’t know him all that well before. I mean, how well can you really know someone? But now he was someone I didn’t like. Ophelia straightens in the chair, twisting her fingers together so hard that her knuckles look white. And then he murdered my father! I know dad shouldn’t have been hiding behind the curtain, but it was a small deception. Not worth killing over. Hamlet ran him through with a sword without even checking behind the curtain to see who it was! Can you imagine? Her voice rises. I can’t even. What a horrible, stupid man.

Was he very remorseful, do you think?

I don’t think so. Well, I don’t know. It was very upsetting to me. I confess that I wasn’t paying much attention to Hamlet or anyone after that. I felt quite mad with grief. Like, I was so crazy that I wandered around singing these crude songs and handing out flowers. Her voice cracks. Father would have hated those songs – that’s why I sang them. I kept thinking that maybe, if I said enough bad things, he’d just show up and scold me, like old times. Crazy, right?

And then you went to the river…

Ophelia nods. Yeah. I didn’t have a specific purpose in mind when I walked there, but as I stared down into the water from a tree branch – I climbed it because I knew Father and Laertes would disapprove – I kind of realized that I would never be free. Hamlet and Laertes would just keep dictating my life and I couldn’t stand either of them at the moment. I thought about jumping into the river. I’m not sure I would have gone through with it, but then the branch broke – I know, convenient, right? And then the river was pretty fast, and my dress got quite heavy, and suddenly I didn’t have a choice anymore. She looks very sad.

What’s your greatest regret?

I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh, but honestly, sometimes I feel upset that I drowned before Hamlet died. He died from my brother’s poisoned-tipped sword. My brother died too, but first he and Hamlet forgave each other. I can’t help but wonder, sometimes, if my life would have been better if I lived and Hamlet didn’t. She scowls. Did you know that, after I died, he went on and on about how much he loved me? I was dead, and he still made it about him! You know, I think my biggest regret is that I had no agency at all. I know this was a play – I’m not totally oblivious – but why couldn’t I have been given more exciting lines? Like Juliet – she died too, but at least she tried to take charge of her future. She made plans, even if they went wrong. I didn’t get to do anything. Shakespeare could have done better, you know?
 

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Return of the 40K Word Slump

A short post today, because I’m fighting a sense of panic that I’m lagging behind on my current work in progress, even though I don’t have a scary deadline and I’m almost half done. I’m in that 40K word range, which is unfortunately where I tend to hit a slump, so I think that’s likely a factor in my vague sense of alarm. The 40K mark is like a bandaid that needs to be ripped off. I just need to get it over with!

I feel like I’m writing this book slower than my last one, but I think it’s because I’ve also done more early revisions than usual. I always do rolling edits, so by the end, it’s not really a first draft because I’ve already gone through and fixed most of the places where I missed a word or somehow said ‘taunting’ twice in the same sentence. (I ashamedly fixed that one yesterday). Sometimes I think of it as a ‘first-and-a-half’ draft, because the writing is cleaned up a bit, but big things like pacing or characterization probably still need revisions. This time, I’m struggling with timelines and flashbacks, and I keep changing my mind about where certain scenes should fit into the story. I’ve debated sticking outlines of all the scenes up on the wall so I can see them all at once, and shuffle them around like puzzle pieces, but I haven’t got quite that desperate yet.

Thank goodness I’m not alone in reworking structure – this very timely post on Writer Unboxed on mid-book structural revisions helped me a lot. It uplifted me when I was feeling a bit defeated, and now I’m ready to pour some coffee (of course), put on some music, and face this 40K word/plot slump. Avoiding it has been fun (I’ve read a lot of fantastic books in the last few weeks) but it can’t go on forever.

Anyone else struggling with elements of a project? What tactics do you use to regain focus?

Photo via Visualhunt.com

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Bad Decisions in History: featuring Alboin, King of the Lombards

Through history, most royal marriages were made for political rather than romantic reasons. Sometimes this worked out well – both halves of the married pair got what they wanted, which was usually strategic alliances, wealth and power. Sometimes it was rather disastrous, especially if it involved a marriage by conquest as was the case for Alboin, King of the Lombards, and Rosamund, daughter of the leader of the Gepids.

Bad decision: Marrying the daughter of one’s conquered rival and treating her as such, like an enemy instead of a new ally, taunting her with the victory.

First of all, ‘who are the Lombards?’ you might be asking. Or, ‘I’ve never heard of the Gepids.’ Honestly, neither had I until started looking into this bad decision in history. Briefly, The Lombards, a Germanic people, ruled most of the Italian Peninsula from about 568 to 774. The Gepids, an East Germanic tribe, were rivals of the Lombards.

Alboin had been king of the Lombards since 560. As kings often did, he liked to conquer territory, and had successfully captured some of the territory that the Gepids previously held. In retaliation, Cunimund, the King of the Gepids, launched an attack to try and take back this land. In the ensuing battles, the Gepids were defeated. Cunimund himself was slain in 567, and his decapitated head taken back to Alboin, along with a high-ranking prisoner –  Cunimund’s daughter, Rosamund.

This woodcut of Alboin is from 1493, about 900 years after his death, so who knows if it’s accurate. I imagined him a little less wizened and a little more warrior-like. 

Alboin needed a male heir to succeed his reign, and since he was a widower, he decided to marry the daughter of his vanquished enemy. It was absolutely not a love match. Rosamund hated Alboin, who in turn was known to be cruel to her. Supposedly, Alboin liked to walk around with Cunimund’s skull hanging from his belt for all to see. Seems a bit of a bulky way to taunt someone, but was probably quite effective. During a banquet, Alboin reportedly forced Rosamund to drink from her dead father’s skull. Since skull cups were sometimes used as trophies or ritualistic items through history, it’s quite possible this story is true. If Alboin had the skull at a banquet, evidently worked into a cup form (which would involve removing the lower part of the skull), it seems safe to assume he probably drank from it himself at times.

Rosamund was not entirely without resources, however. As the daughter of the late Gepid king, she undoubtedly had some loyal supporters, even if many of them were prisoners. She took a lover, a man called Helmichis, who was Alboin’s arms bearer, and together they plotted Alboin’s death. As the story goes, they needed a third accomplice, and attempted to enlist the aid of Peredeo, a man known for this strength. Peredeo refused, so Rosamund seduced in him the disguise of a servant. After learning that he had committed adultery, even if unwitting, with Alboin’s wife, Peredeo agreed to help kill the king rather than risk his retribution.

It’s difficult to say if all of these colourful details are true, but if so, they certainly showcase Rosamund’s determination to avenge her father. The plan went forward; Alboin went to bed drunk after a feast, and Helmichis and Peredeo entered his chamber with murderous intent. Alboin sprang out of bed, but since Rosamund had also ensured that his sword was removed (or tied to the bedpost, in some versions of the story), he was forced to defend himself with nothing more than a footstool. It’s unclear if Helmichis or Peredeo struck the killing blow; both have been assigned as the sole murderer in various accounts.

Alboin’s death struck a blow to the new Germanic entity he’d been creating through his consolidating his conquered territory, for he had no fitting successor. I have a feeling this probably would have pleased Rosamund. This is the end of Alboin’s bad decision; he treated his wife so badly that she had him assassinated. The rest of Rosamund’s story is dramatic though, so we’ll cover that, too.

In the aftermath of the assassination, Rosamund and Helmichis married. He most likely planned to succeed Alboin on the Lombard throne, but received little support from the various duchies of the kingdom. Rosamund and Helmichis were forced to flee – but not before collecting most of Alboin’s stash of treasure. Rosamund supposedly took another lover, a man called Longinus, probably in an attempt to secure another powerful ally. Or perhaps she was tiring of Helmichis; considering the arc of their relationship, one has to wonder if there was ever really any affection between them or if they were just using each other for their own goals. Longinus wanted to marry Rosamund, but that pesky Helmichis was in the way, so she decided to poison him.

Here’s a suitably sinister depiction of Rosamund

As a seasoned murderer himself, Helmichis suspected Rosamund’s plan. He forced her to drink the poison first, and then consumed the rest himself afterward. I bet you didn’t see a Romeo and Juliet style double death coming! I certainly didn’t.

I’m starting to wonder if the real bad decision here is getting involved with Rosamund, queen of ruthlessness.

Outcome: Lots of murder, lots of ulterior-motive seductions, a setback to a growing empire.

 

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