This is the fifth in an ongoing series where I interview authors of books that I have read. My questions are in bold/italics.
I am super fortunate to have an ongoing relationship with the publisher Merit Press. I get to read and review a large portion of their catalog, so I get to have advance copies of so many good books. One of the books I received recently is called Wanted: Dead or In Love by Kym Brunner, an updated and interesting take on Bonnie and Clyde. To read about it and take part in the giveaway (which ends this coming Wednesday), be sure to read my review.
How did you choose the subject matter for Wanted: Dead or in Love?
The idea for the novel began when I was home in the summer a few years back and heard how the FBI had captured someone called “The Barefoot Bandit.” Turned out he was a handsome nineteen-year-old young man who had been stealing small planes, semi-crash landing them, and escaping unharmed––apparently barefooted, too. I asked myself, “What if, while he was trying to elude the Feds who were circling overhead in helicopters looking for him, he chatted up a pretty girl sunbathing by her home? What if she invited him in for some lemonade, unknowingly aiding him to escape capture, and subsequently fell for him before she knew he was a wanted man?”
Shortly after starting a rough draft along the lines of that premise, I went on a ghost bus tour in Chicago. We were driven around and shown where large numbers of deaths and/or grisly murders had occurred––many of them gangster-related. It was then that the idea popped into my head about incorporating Bonnie and Clyde into the book. How long did they know each other before Clyde Barrow admitted his criminal history to Bonnie Parker? What made her decide to join him instead of finding a new beau to date?
Those two ideas melded into one story that became Wanted: Dead or In Love.
Have you always been interested in Bonnie and Clyde?
Not per se, but living in Chicago, you see a lot of pictures of the legendary gangsters in various bars and museums. I had seen the 1967 movie “Bonnie & Clyde” a few times with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty on the movie classics channel, and always thought that the legendary outlaws were a pretty daring and interesting duo. While we were on the ghost bus tour, the narrator mentioned that Dillinger (who may have been gunned down in Chicago––there’s some controversy surrounding his death) thought Clyde Barrow was a punk, which is what got me thinking about Bonnie and Clyde for my own story.
How much research did you do in the lives of Bonnie and Clyde?
Before I even wrote a word of the new premise, I read a ton of articles about them, scoured FBI photos and documents, and listened to forty hours of research in a book called Go Down Together – The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn. I also checked several websites while writing the story to make sure I got the 1920’s vernacular or a particular detail correct. My agent, Eric Myers of the Spieler Agency, is an aficionado of that era, and perused my novel with an expert eye, letting me know when I’d missed the mark. Although I wasn’t writing a non-fiction title, I really wanted Bonnie & Clyde’s memories to be true to life, so I hoped I accomplished that.
Did you always intend to make the actual Bonnie and Clyde characters be a part of the novel and the modern world or did your writing just lead to that (as opposed to someone just thinking they were Bonnie and Clyde or trying to emulate them)?
Once I had the idea of Bonnie and Clyde in mind, I knew I wanted to do a contemporary twist with them in it, as opposed to writing classic historical fiction set in the past. In my first draft, Monroe and Jack had alternating chapters, but then I realized halfway through that they were telling the same story and had the same agenda, so I tried having Clyde narrate. Immediately, his voice clicked in my head and my critique group couldn’t get enough of him. I knew then that I’d stumbled onto something that might be compelling for readers.
Jack never seemed fully developed, though I can understand that in those circumstances, it is completely logical that he would be in a constant state of panic. He seems very one-sided; though, as the reader, you have to feel compassion for someone who gets pulled into something out of his control. Was it your intention to make him an unsympathetic character so readers would prefer Clyde?
In the early drafts where Monroe and Jack alternated chapters, Jack was much more sympathetic and developed. But yes, once I switched to having Clyde Barrow narrate chapters and my plot changed direction, Jack’s personality had to change as well. I hoped to show that every person in the world is multi-faceted––not all positive or negative traits––but somewhere on a continuum.
Would you consider Monroe and Clyde to be the main characters?
I found myself enjoying the chapters in Clyde’s voice best. His unfamiliarity with the modern world isn’t hokey and it doesn’t sound like a cartoon. Bonnie was a close second. Did you enjoy writing those more than the others?
For sure! Writing well is difficult at best and plotting gives me headaches, but writing Clyde’s lines were quite entertaining and sort of rolled off my fingertips. I always used my “Clyde” voice when reading those chapters aloud to my critique group, and I still can’t read his sections without hearing his voice in my head.
Why did you make the way Clyde and Bonnie could see/hear/respond in the bodies of Jack and Monroe different?
It was borne out of the necessity of writing dual first-person POVs more than anything else. I also liked the idea of letting the reader experience what it felt like to have someone trying to take over your thoughts and body, as well as the one being trapped and trying to get out. Both viewpoints allow you to see the desperation of the individual to ditch the secondary person.
SPOILER ALERT: One thing that really bothered me and nagged me throughout my reading was the fact that Clyde/Jack harms a woman very early in the book. I have to say that I kept wondering how in the world this would be resolved. Especially since this is a YA book, were you trying to declare from the beginning that this story wouldn’t necessarily have a happy ending?
I had two basic reasons for this: first and foremost, I was intent on making the story details authentic throughout. I remember being kind of shocked to learn that Clyde didn’t seek violence, but would resort to it if necessary. He was more about getting money. He often kidnapped his victims, brought them out of town and set them free miles away, rather than killing them. I’m not condoning Clyde’s real-life behavior in any way, but the scene with the woman felt like that would be how he would handle things––getting his way without killing someone.
Secondly, I wanted readers to experience that horrible queasy feeling you get when you’ve done something wrong and can’t go back and change it. That even though we say to ourselves and to our friends, “Go ahead and do it. You only live once!” that there are some things that you do today that can affect you for the rest of your life. That’s real life. Unprotected sex can lead to babies or STDs, texting while driving can lead to serious or fatal accidents, just as criminal activities can leave you with a permanent record. I wrestled with many different endings of the novel, but the way I finally ended the story felt right to me.
How long have you been writing? How did you get started?
I’ve been writing ten years and have written five novels during that time. I remember attempting to write a novel a decade before that, but didn’t know what to do, so I quit. I mentioned my desire to write books for kids to a friend of mine, who encouraged me to figure it out. I bought “The Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books” by Harold Underdown, who encouraged readers to join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), along with specific steps to guide a novice writer through the steps from start to finish. I did join SCBWI way back when, and am thankful for all of the guidance, opportunities, and friendships I’ve made through this amazing organization. I’m currently a co-leader for the Northwest Suburban SCBWI-IL group and host monthly critique groups.
Did you make a conscious decision as to the genre you would write in?
I knew it would be YA, and have some element of romance in it, but this was my first foray into magical realism. I dreamed up what I hoped was a unique premise and in order for it to play out, it had to involve some sort of supernatural bent. I’m most comfortable writing stories that feel like they could happen to anyone, so contemporary with a twist sounds about right.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Write, of course! Since I’m a full-time teacher, the only time I can write is when I’m not working. But I also love going to the movies, watching reality TV, drinking wine with friends, and playing games. I’m super competitive though, so watch out!
What’s your next book about? What’s the title? When does it come out?
It’s a little crazy but after waiting ten years for my first yes, four months after my agent sold Wanted, I sold a second novel, One Smart Cookie, to Omnific Publishing. It came out two weeks after Wanted (July 15th) and is a humorous YA romance about an adorably inept teen girl named Sophie Dumbrowski who lives above the family bakery. Sophie has only dated three boys in her life––a moron, a liar, and a perv. In her desperation to find a decent guy she allows her spirit-loving grandmother (Busia) to make a deal with Dola, the Polish spirit of love, in exchange for getting along with her man-hungry mother. You all know how that’s going to work out, don’t you? So while this one is humorous and heartwarming, early reviewers have told me they read it in two days and couldn’t stop laughing. That’s my ultimate goal, to write satisfying page-turners, so that statement me very happy.
You can find Kym around the web-o-sphere in some of these places:
Would love to have readers follow my blog––I’m usually pretty good at following up and engaging with readers who comment, so stop by!
I’m also a member of Uncommon YA (http://www.uncommonya.com ) and Darkly Delicious YA (http://www.darklydeliciousYA.com ––two collective YA author websites that I write monthly blog articles for, along with a host of a dozen or so other really talented authors.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog today! Your questions were super insightful that were delightfully different than most interviews I’ve done. I appreciate the time and effort you went through to make this a unique experience!
Aw! So nice. It was my pleasure to interview you! Thank you so much for taking the time to give me such thoughtful answers!
Now be sure to join the giveaway! Last day is WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 6th!