Fiction Fears vs Nonfiction Fears

This week’s topic is about the Debs’ fears when it comes to someone reading our books. Besides the “please don’t hate my book” fear, I’ve got a big bag of fears as both a fiction and nonfiction author.

I’ve got a few books in the works. Next year the follow up to BECOMING BONNIE releases. That one, called BEING BONNIE, is also fiction and completes Bonnie Parker’s story, diving into her infamous crime spree with Clyde Barrow. Yes, lots of Clyde, guys. Also in 2018, I’ll be beginning a narrative nonfiction series with Scholastic called BRAVE LIKE ME. This one isn’t for adults, but for middle graders and will feature brave women who, at a young age, completed daring feats of perseverance and bravery. The first two books, hitting shelves (the same day), will feature Bethany Hamilton and Malala Yousafzai.

Writing these stories — as far as pressure and fear — have been very different.

With the nonfiction series, there’s obviously a pressure to get it correct. It’s nonfiction, after all. But these book are also intended to be narrative. By definition narrative nonfiction is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Essentially it is fact-based storytelling, where I put my characters into a scene and speculate into thoughts, emotions, and dialogue. It’s fun, but also challenging. And something I panic, thinking I got a characters reaction wrong or botched a thought process. Here’s hoping I nailed it. I guess we’ll see next fall…

With my fictional series about Bonnie and Clyde, there was less pressure to get it correct. Mainly, because there isn’t much known about Bonnie Parker’s past. So, I didn’t have a huge arsenal of information at my disposal. I took what I could find, and filled in the rest. I had to fill in a lot. But it was lots of fun building on reality. There’s also less pressure to “get it right” because there are so many conflicting stories, anecdotes, and accounts related to the infamous couple. For example: a shoot-out… a witness tells it as version A, the police tell it slightly different in version B, the newspaper in Town A tells it as version C, the newspaper a town over (who wants their own claim to fame) tells it as version D, a Barrow Gang member who is later on trial tells it as version E (when he’s trying to get a lesser punishment), and Bonnie and Clyde tell it as version F (as in… they are F’ed. That was my attempt at a joke). So when trying to tell my story, I tried to be as factual as possible, while knowing that the facts sometimes differed depending on where I found those facts. And, with BECOMING BONNIE, so little was known about her background that I often relied on version G: my own.

So what was my fear with my Bonnie and Clyde series? Well, for starters, in BECOMING BONNIE, I wanted people to believe my transformation story of how Bonnelyn becomes Bonnie. So far, the response has been good (sigh of relief). For BEING BONNIE, the worry is a little different. Bonnie and Clyde can be polarizing figures. I saw one lady say she had “zero interest” in reading about the duo. Fair enough. Not your cuppa. I’d actually prefer for this lady not to read the book because she’d probably be unhappy the whole time. No one wants that. I’m guessing her lack of interest has to due with the fact that Bonnie and Clyde were actual people who did actual bad things. The world isn’t short of novels where fictional people do bad things. But when it’s real life (for me at least) it can be harder to digest that brutality. Very real people were hurt, and I wouldn’t want to be disrespectful in any way in relation to the victims or the victims’ families.

There are anecdotes of the real-life Bonnie and Clyde being remorseful. In one instance, actual dialogue in a memoir where Clyde Barrow apologized after killing a constable. I latched onto those moments tightly and made sure to bring it through into my book. And not because I want my characters to be more likeable, but because I felt like I had to do it for myself. I wanted my characters to know what they were doing was wrong, even if my Bonnie justifies her actions as she goes along. I don’t know if that makes it better or worse, but I hope I’ve handled the story in a tasteful way. I guess we’ll see next summer…

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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 (Tor Forge/Macmillan, 5/9/2017) 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. BONNIE, telling Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree story, will be released in the summer of 2018. Please learn more about Jenni's books at jennilwalsh.com.