Jenni L. Walsh spends her days knee deep in words in Philadelphia’s suburbia. Beyond words, Jenni is a mama (of an feisty three-year-old, an on-the-go one-year-old, and a needy goldendoodle), a wife, a Philly and ‘Nova sports fan, and a lover of carbs and Swedish fish (ideally consumed one after another). Her debut novel, Becoming Bonnie, was released on May 9, 2017 from Tor/Forge (Macmillan), it will be followed by its sequel Being Bonnie which will be available in the summer of 2018. For the kiddos, Jenni’s debut middle grade series, Brave Like Me, is forthcoming from Scholastic (Fall, 2018) and will feature true stories from women who, at a young age, accomplished daring feats of perseverance and bravery.
Our interview focuses on Jenni’s journey as an author, Becoming Bonnie, and recognizes May 23rd as #BonnieAndClydeVersary — on this day in history: Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree came to an end.
Who isn’t intrigued by the history, romance, danger, and mystery that encompassed Bonnie and Clyde? From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh comes 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 (Add on Goodreads).
When you are writing, do you have beta readers? If so, how do you find them?
At this stage in my writing career, I’d say I more so have a tight group of critique partners than beta readers. Over the years, I’ve come to rely on some author friends to be my second set of eyes and to give me gut checks, and I do the same for them. It’s interesting because all of those relationships developed organically through different initiatives I’ve gotten involved with in the writing world. My book bestie and I used to share an agent together, but we’ve both since moved on to different agents. She’s always my go-to when I have something new written.
Are your characters for your works loosely based-on or inspired by actual people? For Becoming Bonnie is everything loosely based upon facts, or is it strictly fiction?
Becoming Bonnie is the coming-of-age origin story of how wholesome Bonnie Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. I’d say Bonnie is obviously fictional as it’s a novel and not a nonfiction account, but I tried to base it as accurately as I could on history. Of course there are deviations for storytelling purposes and there are areas in which I had to make a “best guess,” but those who are familiar with Bonnie’s background should be able to pick out the factual elements. The thing is; not much is known about Bonnie’s life pre-Clyde Barrow or their infamous crime spree, so I had to fill in a lot of gaps.
Do you have a basic outline that you follow when you are writing? Or do you wing it?
With a historical topic, I like to create a pretty robust outline with all the actual historical dates and events. But then I let my characters speak to me and take me where they want to go. I use the real dates/events almost as guideposts and then I fill in the rest.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I’ve recently been devouring books by Greer Macallister. If you’re into historical fiction, I would definitely check her out, along with Pam Jenoff, Crystal King, and Janet Benton.
Do you read other genres besides your own? What genre do you consider your work?
My book falls into the historical fiction and women’s fiction genre, and as a reader that’s where I spend the most of my time. For me, premise is king. And I tend to be drawn to premises in those genres, but I’ll read outside of my genre if the premise yanks me in.
How did you go about finding a literary agent? Did you send many query letters out? How much time did it take to hear back/edit/receive an offer from an agent and then a publisher?
I actually did a piece with Writer’s Digest where I outline much of my journey. But some of the specifics not included in that essay are that I queried well over 100 agents to get my first agent. The response time varied greatly. Some responded in an hour, some a week, some a month or more (this was the biggest camp), and some not at all. I ended up parting ways with my former agent and pursued new representation for Becoming Bonnie. That timeline was very different and I ended up receiving an offer five days after querying an agent. I got very lucky the second time around. And yes, I think luck has a huge part in publishing. It’s all about pitching/querying at the right time to the right agent/editor. Once my agent began pitching Becoming Bonnie to editors, the process took about seven months and I ended up with two offers of publication.
Do you listen to music when you write? Or do you have the TV on? Do you prefer silence?
Silence. Any noise distracts me to no end. I often write late at night when my husband and two kiddos are sound asleep. But, I do find inspiration in music, mostly Country music. I find the songs to be extremely visual and great at storytelling.
Which comes first? Plot/story or characters.
I’ll say… premise. I enjoy writing high-concept stories, which essentially means you can tell someone what the book’s about within a single sentence. I think having that succinctness helps me focus my stories. And, I’m finding that booksellers love it too. I’ve been in lots of bookstores lately and have overheard the employees telling people about my book. It’s very easy for them to say: it’s a story of how Bonnie becomes the Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde.
Once I have my premise figured out, then I’ll generally use the 3-arc process to figure out plot points. Then, I like to do this 3×3 rule within each chapter, which helps to develop both plot and characters.
What are some of your favorite TV shows/Movies/Music/Actors?
I watch a lot of HGTV, but as far as other TV shows, I loved The White Queen and I’m currently enjoying The White Princess. I’m dying for Outlander to come back on. Some of my favorite actors are Anna Kendrick and Elizabeth Banks. I’ll be honest though that I don’t have a ton of time for TV/movies at the moment, but when I do watch, I tend to go for the “women’s fiction” type of movies/shows.
When writing do you ever envision certain actors as you characters? If so, who?
Not necessarily as I’m writing, but I did dreamcast who my Bonnie could be and I’ve narrowed down whom I’d be eager to see as my version of Bonnie Parker to three wonderful actors, based on two main attributes. First, it’d have to be someone with a similar 5-foot-nothing stature, and, second, I’d want a gal with a great singing voice, because my novel includes original lyrics that my Bonnie and Clyde pen together. That leaves me dreamcasting Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), Aubrey Peeples (Nashville), or Darcy Rose Byrnes (Sofia the First, Y&R) as half of my Bonnie and Clyde.
How different is Becoming Bonnie from your previous novels? Any previews for Being Bonnie?
Becoming Bonnie is actually the fourth novel I’ve written, but the first to be published. The first two are fantasies, and no one will ever see them, ha. The next one was a historical fiction that answers the question: what if Anastasia Romanov actually survived the Bolshevik’s brutal attack? I adore this story and I actually plan to release it on Wattpad in July 2018, to align with the 100th anniversary of the Romanov’s assassination
I’m really excited for Being Bonnie, which is coming May of 2018. That’ll pick up where Becoming Bonnie leaves off and will quickly put readers into the infamous crime spree for which Bonnie and Clyde are known. If you’re on Goodreads, I’d love for you to add Being Bonnie to your to-be-read shelf!
Any general advice to debut authors trying to get published?
Keep writing, keep reading, and keep your fingers crossed. I know I’ve already mentioned this but so much of getting an agent or editor comes down to timing. All you can do is try to perfect your craft so that what you put out into the world is the best it can possibly be. There’s no need to rush an “almost there” manuscript into the hands of an agent or editor.
Any advice for writing with young children and trying to balance it all?
I sorta just want to laugh at this because I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m also constantly adjusting when I write, be it the morning or the evening. Right now, I write at night (mostly because my 1 yo’s sleep patterns can vary in the morning). But when I finally settle down in front of my laptop, I try to make the most of my time.
Do you miss your characters when a book is complete? Do you have a favorite character, or book of your own?
Definitely. Sometimes I still find myself adding southern dialect into my speech, even though I live outside of Philadelphia. Blanche is probably my favorite character from Becoming Bonnie. She’s sassy, fearless, and confident. So confident, in fact, that she often uses third person. I’m excited for readers to meet Blanche, and also see how Bonnie and Blanche banter together.
Is there a character of your own or of someone else’s that you think you are very similar to?
I think I’m similar to Bonnie on the basis that we’re both huge dreamers. Ya got to have dreams!
Interviewed by – Audra McElyea
Audra McElyea is a writer, personal trainer, blogger, contributor, wife and mom to two young boys. Her women’s fiction novel When Lilies Bloom is currently in the querying stage. She is a proud member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and she is the host of Women’s Fiction Wednesdays. #WFWed @WFWed
Her work has appeared in national online publications, including SheKnows magazine. When she isn’t endlessly editing her novel, you can find her in Tennessee cleaning up after two wild, little boys, or teaching Pilates. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads