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.”
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.
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?!