BackStory: Five Questions with Cathy Ulrich
Author of Something That Can Never be Held
What inspired you to write ‘Something That Can Never be Held’?
I recently got a new book about Bonnie and Clyde (side note: it’s fine, but nothing compares to Jeff Guinn’s Go Down Together). Between that and this concept I’ve had on my mind lately, mono no aware, roughly the transience of things, but more often translated as “the ahhness of things,” which, isn’t that nice?, I wanted to write how Bonnie might have felt at the end.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
I had to cut a line about Bonnie being carried to the car. It just didn’t work with the rhythm and the sparseness of the final product.
People might think of gangsters as leading glamorous lives, but it was hard and cold and rough. They spent hours on the road, going without sleep. At one point, Clyde wrecked one of their stolen cars and Bonnie was burnt down to the bone before she was pulled out of the wreckage. She was never again able to walk without help.
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
I’m terrible with the exact dates, but I’d love to visit early Hollywood, when Buster Keaton was working on his short films, like “One Week” and “The Boat.” It would be amazing to watch the master at work.
How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?
It depends on the situation!
In this case, it was very important because I’m writing about a real person — I remember reading a story about John Dillinger learning of the death of Bonnie and Clyde and becoming worried about the fate that lay in store for his girlfriend, Billie Frechette. This story has always bothered me because, by the time Bonnie and Clyde were killed, Frechette was already in prison, but the story had them still on the road together. I understand, of course, the writer’s intent, but at the same time, I keep thinking, “but that’s not right!”
If I were inserting fictional characters into real-life situations, I think I’d be a little less worried about accuracy, but since this is a real person who lived and breathed and wanted, I want to stay as true to her story as possible.
Cathy Ulrich would like to be photographed in her best dress. Her work has been published in various journals, including Tiny Molecules, matchbook and Lunate Fiction.
Photograph of Bonnie Parker, found by police on 13 April 1933 in an abandoned hideout, courtesy of the US Library of Congress (cph.3c34474).