Posts from Pumpjack Press authors and contributors about culture, books, economic and social justice topics, history and more, with the occasional poem and short story.

Five questions for Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall about Bonnie and Clyde

Why do Bonnie and Clyde have such a hold on the American imagination? 

Americans love outlaws, especially when they stand up to authority. And, why wouldn’t we? Our national origin story is about standing up to unjust authority. Think of the Boston tea party when Americans tossed British tea into the harbor, a criminal act of defiance against the monarchy. Bonnie and Clyde, in their early days at least, fit this narrative—they were imprisoned by poverty yet thumbed their noses (and guns) at the banks and robber barons of the Great Depression. Plus, they were hopelessly, tragically in love and willing to go down together. Bonnie and Clyde have been elevated to a timeless symbol of America itself—an anti-authoritarian, we’ll-do-it-our-way, gun-slinging Romeo and Juliet. Although, this symbolism conveniently ignores, for the most part, the fact that they were thieves and murderers.

What gave you the idea to make Bonnie and Clyde spies? 

The historical accounts of their days on the run as bank-robbers demonstrated a set of “skills” that would serve them, or anyone, exceptionally well in a covert capacity—they were cunning, creative, fearless, had absolute trust and faith in each other, and were willing to use violence when it suited their needs. Equally important, their criminal history made them expendable. As their handler, Sal, says in Resurrection Road, the first book in the series, “You don’t use good dogs to guard a junkyard. You use the meanest dogs you can get a collar around.”

Bonnie and Clyde are historically-documented killers. Do your books glorify crime? 

No, not at all. In fact, the books wrestle with the implications of their crimes. Bonnie and Clyde are forced into a situation where their actions serve the common good. As time passes in the series, they mature and are exposed to different people and situations and begin to comprehend in a meaningful way the impacts of their crimes. In the books, Bonnie and Clyde are proxies to explore the thorny issues of atonement and forgiveness—questions we as a society also wrestle with in terms of how we design our justice system.

Why are Bonnie and Clyde relevant today?

The 1930s were characterized by unprecedented income and wealth inequality, homelessness, and poverty. Sound familiar? We see a role today for storytelling to remind readers that during the 1930s and beyond, the government reined in the more destructive aspects of capitalism with innovative policies and worker protections. We want to inspire people across the political, cultural and economic spectrum to think creatively together to solve our current challenges. And to do it before hopelessness leads to violence and more wasted potential. 

Are parts of the story grounded in history (other than Bonnie and Clyde surviving)?  

Yes, all three plots are anchored in little-known events from that era.

In the first book, Resurrection Road, the outlaws race to save President Franklin D. Roosevelt from an assassin trying to scuttle the New Deal—a tale inspired by the real-life attempt that anarchist Giuseppe Zangara made on FDR in 1933. The president survived, obviously, but the mayor of Chicago died. 

In Dam Nation, the second book, Bonnie and Clyde are dispatched to save Hoover Dam—a 1935 federally-funded New Deal project that put thousands of people back to work—from unknown forces trying derail the construction. The plot has roots in historical facts about shady aspects of the dam’s erection that were kept under wraps for years. 

In book three, Radioactive, set in 1945, the duo is deep undercover at the Hanford site (in Richland, Washington, part of The Manhattan Project), trying to protect atomic secrets from Russian and Nazi nationals during World War II. The book mirrors the actual spying our wartime enemies undertook on American soil in eastern Washington during this pivotal time.