Saturday, August 03, 2019

Bridget on the stairs: a post for the Lizzie Borden anniversary


This post is for the anniversary of the murders of Andrew and Abby Borden, husband and wife, killed August 4, 1892. Andrew's daughter Lizzie was accused and underwent a trial that was in all the newspapers of the day, a huge national spectacle that ended in her acquittal.

I had long been fascinated by this case and the idea that Lizzie might've "gotten away with murder," for surely she was convicted by the jury of the Public, if not by the jury of her peers (well, actually, the jurymen were not her peers; I blogged about that here).

The more I learned about the case, the more my interest circled around one individual whose role was consistently downplayed: the Irish maid Bridget Sullivan. Bridget had been in the employ of the Borden family for several years, had tried to quit a few times, and was the only person in the house that fateful day besides Lizzie and the victims.

Why was Bridget's role not larger in the trial? Because of her immigrant status. In the cartoon above, originally from Harper's Weekly and found in the book Out of Ireland: The Story of Irish Immigration to America, you can see how the Irish were deplored as they arrived in the 1800s, often hungry and poor.

This cartoon ran April 28, 1883, almost a decade before the Borden murders, but is a good example of how Americans viewed the arrival of the Irish. The cartoon's title reads, "The balance of trade with Great Britain Seems to Be Still Against Us" and its text says, "650 paupers arrived at Boston in the steamship Nestoria, April 15th, from Galway, Ireland, shipped by the British Government." The sails on the dinghy rowing out to meet the ship say, "From New York, the DYNAMITE," which I initially thought to be the wish to blast the immigrants into oblivion, but has a more complex meaning, referring to Irish-American activists who used dynamite in the fight for Irish independence from Britain.

At right is Bridget Sullivan.
At left is Kristen Stewart playing her in the movie Lizzie.


Sentiment was strong against the Irish. Many shops had signs in their windows stating, "Irish Need Not Apply." On the day of the Borden murders, Lizzie called out to Bridget to fetch Dr. Bowen across the street, but when he was not available, Lizzie did not then send her to the Irish physician who lived next door (nor the French one through their orchard on the next street). No. She sent Bridget to fetch her friend.

Hosea Knowlton who led the prosecution's case against Lizzie said that he felt Bridget knew more than she was telling, and yet there was no true surge of pressing her for information.

Bridget testified for the prosecution, and yet I'm mystified why she wasn't grilled to the point that she could let go of some very interesting information. Lizzie was seen burning a dress soon after she was told (in a blunder by the mayor) that she was suspected. Where did that flammable dress come from? It had been secreted in a kitchen cupboard next to the stove in which she burned it. The kitchen was Bridget's territory. How could something wind up in one of her cupboards without her knowing? Bridget knew about the tensions in the household and erratic behavior, yet held her tongue. Why? Politeness? Misplaced loyalty to... well, Lizzie wasn't her boss. The two victims were. Who knows what was in Bridget's mind?

The door with the clock is the cupboard in question.
The stove isn't original but stands where Bridget's stove stood.


I titled this post, "Bridget on the Stairs," because this is the most compelling detail of the case to me. Mrs. Borden was killed first, and lay undiscovered upstairs. Mr. Borden then came home from his morning errands, and could not seem to make his key work (hm, inside job?) so he ran the bell and Bridget let him in. As the two were at the door, Lizzie on the stairs behind them laughed. Bridget told the court so.

At a certain point on that staircase, you can see directly into the guest room where Mrs. Borden was then dead, halfway under the bed, crawling to get away from the blows that ruined her head. One's eyes, when one stands on the stairs, are at floor level with the victim. Perhaps Mrs. Borden's eyes were open, staring in terror at whoever stood on the stairs and laughed.

Me a few years ago on the stair where you can see the upstairs floor


Well, that is Lizzie on the stairs, not Bridget. Except that...after Mr. Borden's body had been "found" downstairs by Lizzie and the alarm given (and Bridget ran to fetch the best friend)...time passed and people began to wonder aloud where Mrs. Borden was. Lizzie actually asked Bridget to go upstairs and see if she was there. Bridget wisely refused to go alone, and neighbor Mrs. Churchill accompanied her. At the same place where Lizzie had stood and laughed, Bridget saw Mrs. Borden's body. She continued up and into the room to verify that Mrs. Borden was dead, perhaps hoping she was only injured and could be revived. Yet anyone who saw that crime scene would know Mrs. Borden would never rise again.

What you see standing on that stair. That's the bed the visitor is walking towards,
and the docent is lying on the other side. She isn't, however, halfway under the bed
as the real Abby was found.


I've spent a lot of time contemplating Lizzie on the stairs, but not so much Bridget. And now as the anniversary comes around again, I think about the betrayal involved in Lizzie forcing her servant to go upstairs to find Mrs. Borden's corpse (or...was it collusion? Or was Lizzie truly innocent? Agh, we will never know). After the autopsies --performed in the dining room-- the bodies remained in the house overnight. As did the living: Lizzie, Bridget, Lizzie's sister who came back into town upon receiving a telegram, and the friend of Lizzie's whom Bridget had fetched). Did Bridget again climb those stairs to aid the sisters? Or did she shun the staircase forever? (Her stairs, to the attic, were off the kitchen...the same stairs Andrew and Abby used).

Stairs have long been held to be symbols of transitions. If you dream of stairs, it can mean you are thinking of transition and change. For sure, the staircase played a dramatic role in the Borden murders. The jury, in fact, went to visit the house during the trial and each paused on the staircase to see the view that possibly meant Lizzie laughed in exultation looking at her victim. You too can climb the stairs if you visit the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast in Fall River, Massachusetts.

My novel The Murderer's Maid tells the story from Bridget's point of view, as well as including a modern-day narrative focusing on the issue of immigration.



 “A complex and riveting parallax view of domestic crimes, decades apart.” -Kirkus

“Those interested in the Lizzie Borden tale…will appreciate Mailman’s research and be rewarded with this new perspective.” -Booklist

“Erika Mailman writes a page turner of a thriller that will fascinate as well as terrify….Don’t read this at night; it will give you nightmares.” -New York Journal of Books
 
“Erika Mailman’s kaleidoscopic narrative melds true crime, historical fiction, and elements of a psychological thriller, all hinging on a singular question: ‘Who isn’t a survivor from the wreckage of childhood?’” -Foreword Reviews


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Freelancing

I've had some happy success with my freelancing recently. Here are a few articles I've been excited about in the last year or so. And yes, I need to blog about our most recent Paris trip, but in the meantime here is my piece about being there watching Notre Dame burn, a shock --and a sight I could've never predicted.


Our view of the fire, very soon after it started



Washington Post
"I Watched Notre Dame Burn"


This is the fence of St. Julien le Pauvre, referenced in the article,
that people were stuck behind


Rolling Stone:
"What Happened After Jonestown? In the wake of the mass suicide in 1978, friends, family and survivors had to face the aftermath of Jim Jones's cult."



The Millions:
"Death and the Poet: Inside the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast"

Oakland Magazine:
"Pixar’s Inside Out Is a Love Letter to Kids: Pixar’s latest delights with runaway emotions"

The Monthly:
"Donner Dinner Party: An Underappreciated Oakland Author Reports His Take on an Unusual Evening"

Diversity Woman Magazine:
"Ditch Your Comfort Zone: Traveling to a destination with a new mind-set can lead to the most rewarding vacation of your life"

The Writer Magazine:
"Keep your plot threads under control: When it comes to adding significant plot lines to your novel, you don’t want too many, or too few"

Parents Press Magazine:
"The Wide World of Birthday Traditions: In many ethnic communities, birthdays are celebrated with a lot more than cake and candles:"

Oakland Magazine:
John McCrea and Cake:

Sac News & Reviews:
Profile of Christian Kiefer:
https://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/love-perseverance-creative-grit/content?oid=27958433

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

8th annual Chin Up for Writers Day

Gulliver from the New York Public Library's collections


Yep, akin to Festivus, I invented my own national day, and it is on its eighth year: the National Chin Up for Writers Day. It originated as a response to a friend on Facebook bemoaning the seeming impossibility of achieving traditional publication, and each year I post a new take on it because it seems so important.

When you're in the rejection stage, it just feels endless. It feels like you can't refresh your email often enough. You wonder what agents are doing. You muse over whether the fact that your email account was pharmaspammed in the last few years means that your emails aren't actually making their way to agents' inboxes, because surely only something so drastic could explain why you aren't hearing back immediately with jaw-dropping interest.

In some ways, you actually deplore the arrival of Friday, because it means you have two days to live through until business hours start up again (but on the other hand, it makes Mondays something nicer than they normally are, because they become hopeful days! Cue the endless refreshing of email).

I've been there and I continue to be there, despite having six traditionally published novels under my belt from publishers like Random House and Kensington. And I too need to remind myself to keep my chin up, because it does seem harder than ever now to capture an agent's heart, mind and willingness to represent you.

Hope springs eternal, though, as I winch my chin up (I imagine a pulley system connected to my ears, something Lilliputians have hooked up to me as if I was Gulliver), and as I write this to you, dear reader, to keep your chin up, too.

It only takes one person to say yes. And in the meantime, while waiting, we can read beautiful books to learn from them, we can start a new project or turn wiser eyes on old ones, and we can even binge-watch The Haunting of Hill House while binge-eating leftover soda bread from St. Patrick's Day! Or is that just me?

Believe in yourself and your book.

That is all.


. . . .

Interested in previous year's posts?
First year
Second year
Third year

Sixth year: the year I forgot
7th year: I reposted year one, as an "evergreen" post. I never said I wasn't lazy.


. . . . 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Introducing the Mailstrom Writing Clinic


For nine years, I taught the online novel writing classes for mediabistro, including developing curriculum for an advanced class. When that company sold a few years ago, my time ended. I've wanted since then to start up my own classes, and that is happening now.

A maelstrom is a vortex or a powerful whirlpool, so I'm playing on my name with the class title of Mailstrom Writing Clinic. I enter the confusion and turmoil of a novel in progress to cheerlead students on, while also...you guessed it... cracking the whip.

Several of my students have gone on to find traditional publication: Lian Dolan, Lisa Beazley Kling, Jenny D. Williams, Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, and Barbara Barnett (there may be others; pardon me if I am missing you! And let me know so I can add your name). My class was featured in an article at Books Make A Difference; I love working with writers to spur them on to keep working on their book, to love it harder, to make the pages flow.

I'm opening up a small class, limited to eight writers, in March. If all goes well, I'll offer this class on a rotating basis, starting up in May when this one ends, and every three months henceforth. Here are the details for this upcoming class.


Welcome to the Mailstrom Writing Clinic
a vortex of cheerleading with a whip


These classes are intended for people who are already underway on a novel, who don't need help getting started but do need it to push forward to a final draft.

We meet online for 10 weeks, which includes:
  • Ten downloadable lectures aimed at craft issues and motivating you onward
  • The chance to share up to six double-spaced pages every week for peer and instructor critique
  • The opportunity to learn from others' work, by reading closely and offering up fair critique
  • A live, one-hour text chat on Wednesdays 5 p.m.PST/8 p.m. EST, which is fun and encouraging
  • Camaraderie with other writers on the same exciting journey
  • Accountability! Everyone loves a deadline, right?
  • An intimate environment (classes cap at eight students) to share your work privately
  • A cheerleader with a whip (me!) who loves inciting writers to productivity

Erika Mailman is the author of six traditionally-published novels (Random House, Kensington, and others) under her own name and the pen name Lynn Carthage. She has been a Bram Stoker finalist, a Yaddo fellow, and winner of several awards, including the IPPY gold medal for historical fiction. Her historical novel The Witch's Trinity was a San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book and appeared on Entertainment Weekly's list of "Wickedly Great Books about Witches." She holds an MFA in poetry and taught mediabistro's online novel writing classes for nine years, as well as teaching community college English and leading workshops at many national writing conferences, including the Writers Digest Novel Writing Conference. www.erikamailman.com and www.lynncarthage.com

Our first session is March 11-May 26, with a break April 15-21. The first chat is Wednesday, March 13, and the last is May 22.

The charge is $400, which must be prepaid by PayPal by March 8.
Financial details: If you are unsatisfied and wish to withdraw after our second chat, I will refund half the class amount. After that point, I cannot provide a refund. Please be aware that since the class is capped at eight, you may be taking a slot that cannot later be filled.

For more details or to register, contact me via email at erika {\\at\\} erikamailman.com.

Wa-kiiiiiiish!

UPDATE: WE'RE NOW on our second session of the class, which ends in late August 2019. We'll start another one in September. Stay tuned, or email me at myfirstname AT myfirstnamemylastname.com to learn more (remember, I'm spelled with a K!)


. . . .


Monday, December 10, 2018

Entertainment Weekly lists Witch's Trinity as #5 in their list of witchy reads



I was dazzled to learn that Entertainment Weekly listed my witchcraft novel in their fun list of Wickedly Great Books About Witches. I had pulled up the list for another project I'm working on and started clicking through, believing I was not even included on the list. I gasped when my own book cover showed up in the #5 slot.

Yay! Thanks, EW and authors Christian Holub and David Canfield, for including me. So many wonderful witchcraft books are out there. I love this genre and these writers. It's important to remember and learn from the horrific tragedies of the past, when simple bad luck could be blamed on the woman in your villageand she could burn or hang for it.



. . . . 


Monday, October 29, 2018

Malleus Maleficarum, the Witch Hunter's Bible


Modern edition of Malleus has a demon riding backward and a witch being
burned at the stake. My novel shows a similar demon on the cover.


In the very fun movie The House with a Clock in its Walls (based on the classic novel by John Bellairs, which I loved as a child), the warlock character Jonathan Barnavelt starts searching for books to help out in a bad situation. One of the books he's trying to find is the Malleus Maleficarum, an actual book that is known as the Witch Hunter's Bible.

It was written in/around 1486 by two German inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, who were wandering through Northern Germany to help towns with their witchcraft problems.

The title translates to "the Hammer of Witches"—i.e., the weapon which you can use to hammer them downyou can see the root of "mallet" in "malleus." 


Original cover of the Malleus Maleficarum

The book was written to assist if the two friars couldn't happen to be there in your village at the time a witch was ruining everything for everybody else. Says translator Montague Summers, "The Malleus lay on the bench of every judge, on the desk of every magistrate. It was the ultimate, irrefutable, unarguable authority."

This book is still in print today.

It discusses the things witches do (just flipping through, I am seeing chapter headings like, "How they are Transported from Place to Place" and "Here Followeth how Witches Injure Cattle in Various Ways"), how to question them, and how to pass sentence on them. It contains very legal language and is deadly serious in its pragmatic approach to an otherworldly crisis. The language in the sentencing parts is actually so legalistic and long-winded that I hesitate to include an excerpt! 


In this 1591 woodcut, witches bring children to the devil.


The book lays out 35 kinds of questions to put to a witch. Here's the heading for Question 34: "Of the Method of passing Sentence upon a Witch who Annuls Spells wrought by Witchcraft; and of Witch Midwives and Archer-Wizards."

It's like The Handmaid's Tale meets Dungeons and Dragons. The witch midwives "surpass all other witches in their crimes" and the archer-wizards (as in, archery) "constitute the graver danger to the Christian religion in that they have obtained protection on the estates of nobles and Princes who receive, patronize and defend them." Archer-wizards enchant weapons so they don't work right, while witch-midwives either kill the child in the womb or offer up the newborn to the devil (an example of this is seen in the woodcut above).

The book is a lightning bolt of shocking entry into the superstitious, ignorant medieval world. In my novel The Witch's Trinity, set in Germany during this time period, an elderly woman is so indoctrinated in this cultural mindset that when she is accused of witchcraft, she isn't completely sure if she's innocent.





As I continue to flip through my copy of the Malleus, I see passages I highlighted just because they blew my mind, and handwritten marginal notes where I had to vent. In a random flip-through, here is a pretty interesting section:

"An example was brought to our notice as Inquisitors. A town was once rendered almost destitute by the death of its citizens; and there was a rumour that a certain buried woman was gradually eating the shroud in which she had been buried, and that the plague could not cease until she had eaten the whole shroud and absorbed it into her stomach."

Yikes, rumours can be so vile! Hungry corpses are the worst!

If you're curious how it ended, the city's governor caused her to be dug up. The Podesta (an Italian official) cut her head off with his sword, "and at once the plague ceased." This anecdote is compelling not only for its eerie image of the woman eating fabric in her grave, but also because her exhumation was official and endorsed by the highest levels of city government.

If you're wondering why calmer heads didn't prevail, the very first part of the Malleus establishes that not believing in witchcraft constitutes heresy. So, to save your own skin, you'd become a believer, too.

I hope you've enjoyed this look at the very, very dark recesses of medieval justice. And hey: please vote in November!

*Note: as of this writing (Oct. 30, 2018), The Witch's Trinity ebook is on a Book Bub sale for $1.99 until Nov. 4. It is that price across all platforms (Kindle, Nook, Google Books, Kobo, etc.). Here are the links:

“A gripping, well-told story of faith and truth” (Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner): When a small German town falls on hard times, the townspeople blame
witchcraft — and an elderly woman whose mysterious visions leave her questioning what’s real… “Beautifully written” (San Francisco Chronicle).
 
Amazon
https://r.bookbub.com/et_active_check/83319?affiliate_batch=0&affiliate_label=a&affiliate_variant=author_deal_alert&mailing_id=25233&region=1&retailer_id=1&subscriber_id=15064178
 
 
Barnes & Noble
https://r.bookbub.com/et_active_check/83319?affiliate_batch=0&affiliate_label=a&affiliate_variant=author_deal_alert&mailing_id=25233&region=1&retailer_id=2&subscriber_id=15064178
 
 
Apple iBooks
https://r.bookbub.com/et_active_check/83319?affiliate_batch=0&affiliate_label=a&affiliate_variant=author_deal_alert&mailing_id=25233&region=1&retailer_id=3&subscriber_id=15064178
 
 
Google
https://r.bookbub.com/et_active_check/83319?affiliate_batch=0&affiliate_label=a&affiliate_variant=author_deal_alert&mailing_id=25233&region=1&retailer_id=4&subscriber_id=15064178
 
 
Kobo
https://r.bookbub.com/et_active_check/83319?affiliate_batch=0&affiliate_label=a&affiliate_variant=author_deal_alert&mailing_id=25233&region=1&retailer_id=5&subscriber_id=15064178
 


Photo credit: Petra Hoette


Links:

Random House: http://bit.ly/2BZrJf4
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/2dpMYKc

Follow Erika on Twitter: @ErikaMailman
and on Instagram: @ErikaMailman


. . . .

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Exclusive interview with Jody Matzer, actor in Lizzie the film!


Actor Jody Matzer, left, plays Deputy Fleet, right. Nailed the mustache!

Actor Jody Matzer is charming, humble, and energetically devoted to his career. Recently he landed a role in the movie LIZZIE with iconic indie goddesses Kristen Stewart and Chloë Sevigny.

He plays an 1892 police officer—Deputy Fleet— investigating events at the Borden residence. Possibly that includes (who knows?) looking into the dual hatchet murders of Andrew and Abby Borden, a true crime that took place in Fall River, Massachusetts. Chloë Sevigny plays Lizzie Borden, Andrew's daughter who was accused of the murders, while Stewart plays the Irish maid Bridget Sullivan, the only other person in the murder house that day besides the victims and Lizzie. 

The real Lizzie Borden, left, and Chloe Sevigny, right



The film debuted at Sundance this year and got snapped up for distribution by Roadside Attractions and Saban Films. It airs in a limited theatrical release with Landmark cinemas on Sept. 14: that's next Friday! 

I interviewed Matzer and learned more about the fascinating cold case file (Borden was acquitted) as well as insider information on what it's like to work with Stewart and Sevigny. 

Kirsten Stewart, left, plays Bridget Sullivan, right. Stewart has a little more "it girl" quality.
Q: What was it like working with luminaries like Kristen Stewart and Chloë Sevigny?
Matzer: In a word…intimidating. I have to start by saying that when I walked onto set in Savannah I was immediately impressed by how welcomed everyone made me feel. Such good vibes! Then the reality of where I was and what I was about to do hit me. Nothing can prepare you to walk onto set with the likes of Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Kim Dickens, Fiona Shaw and Jamey Sheridan.

Kim Dickens, left, as Lizzie's sister Emma, right, who was conveniently away from
home when murders occurred...


Matzer: My first day on set—my one and only scene—and I would be acting with these talented, seasoned pro’s! I was excited, nervous and struggled to find the eye within my hurricane of emotions. Luckily the cast was extremely gracious and patient as I found my footing.
          Fiona Shaw, who is just, simply put, one of the kindest people I’ve ever
met, on set or off, was genuinely interested in me as an actor and person
and we spent the morning chatting about the business and life. 

Fiona Shaw, right, plays the unlucky Abby Borden, left. You also know her as Harry Potter's aunt!


Matzer: Director Craig Macneill and I were speaking after the premier of Lizzie at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Craig asked how I was able to just walk onto that set and keep it together. He told me he was impressed I just came in prepared and nailed my scene. "If there were nerves," he added, "we didn’t see any."
          To that I would say, as an actor, you take that energy, all your nerves and
anxiety and fear and you use it to your advantage. Even though my character, Deputy Fleet, isn’t nervous or anxious in the context of the scene, I used my nerves to give him a stillness. It’s the energy Craig wanted from me as Fleet. He wanted my size (I’m 6’2") and quiet to speak volumes. So, in the end, it all came together. 

Jamey Sheridan, right, as ill-fated Andrew Borden, left.


Matzer: And let me say this, because I know people are eager to know. In regards to Kristen Stewart: she is professional, talented and kind. She walked right up to me, offered me her hand, smiled and introduced herself. She was shy but like the other members of the cast, welcoming and professional. Short answer? Don’t believe everything you read in the press.

Q: Had you heard of Lizzie Borden before being cast in this movie? Do you have a sense of the real life woman's guilt or innocence?
Matzer: I am a history buff as well as a fan of movies or television shows which have forensics science and criminology as a backdrop. I had certainly heard of Lizzie Borden and knew the story. In regards to Lizzie’s innocence or guilt, I think screenwriter Bryce Kass said it perfectly. When asked during the Q&A after the Sundance screening, if it was difficult to balance history and storytelling, Bryce said (and I’m paraphrasing here): "We have the courtroom transcripts from Lizzie’s trial. Every single one. She had a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor. So we have a pretty good sense of who she was through her words. We also know exactly what happened in the courtroom. What we don’t know…what nobody knows…is what really happened inside that house. That was the springboard for our narrative."

Bridget texts for help with laundry, cooking, & bloodstain removal


Matzer: I think the story/theory presented in Lizzie is extremely plausible. Suffice to say, it was a horrible, brutal crime. What would push someone to kill their parents in such a gruesome violent manner? It’s a fascinating subject.
          My theory? I think Lizzie Borden killed her parents. I think there was a
number of factors at play, including a compromised mental state, as well as
abuse.

Q: What the most surprising thing that happened on set?
Matzer: I am a professional actor. When cast in a project, I take my responsibilities seriously. I like to think I am thoughtful and respectful. I do the job and then I go home at the end of the day. My then agent had reminded me to be the actor I always am, the actor directors want to work with more than once. She told me to do what I always do: show up and do the job well.
          I don’t ask fellow actors for autographs or photographs. I give them their space just as I would want someone to give me mine.
          So when I walked onto the Lizzie set the first time, I was taken to my little dressing room. Wardrobe dropped off my costume. I had my sides (my script) and I was prepared to just sit in the quiet little room (one in a row of many) and study and prepare. I wasn’t going to venture out and explore or see who I could see. That’s just not how I operate.
          Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. I answered it.
          It was Fiona Shaw. She shook my hand and welcome me to set. So very kind. We chatted and then she left me to prepare, saying she’d see me on set.
          I sat back down and started going over my sides. There was another knock on the door. I opened it. It was Kim Dickens. We shared a similar conversation as Fiona and I had just minutes earlier. Kim left, saying, "See you on set."
          I sat back down. A minute or two later, there was a knock on the door. I opened it. It was Chloë Sevigny. We chatted. She said, "See you on set," and then left.
          It still brings a smile to my face. These marvelous, powerhouse actors
making a total stranger feel so absolutely welcomed onto set.
          Later, I was asked if I had been good. I simply smiled and replied: I didn’t bother anyone and stayed in my dressing room. 

Jay Huguley, left, plays attorney William Henry Moody, who asked a lot of probing questions
of Lizzie in the courtroom


Q: I'd love to hear about your audition process.
Matzer: It was pretty straightforward. The project was listed on a casting website. My then agent submitted my resume and headshot to the casting director. I was then offered an opportunity to audition. I did as much research as I could in that short period of time. I taped two different versions of the scene and they were sent to the casting director. There were no callbacks. My agent called a few weeks later telling me I’d been cast as Deputy Fleet.

Q: What do you think about how the police force of 1892 handled things?
Matzer: It was the 1890s. I think from a technical/forensic aspect, they did as much as they could. Their scientific hands, metaphorically speaking, to my understanding, were tied. Lizzie was the only person charged. I think that speaks volumes to how much they could do and how much they wanted to do.

Jay Huguley with a little light reading


Q: What did you do to prepare for this role?
Matzer: It must be said the character as presented in Lizzie is different from the real man. I of course researched what I could on Deputy Fleet. I first wanted to see what Deputy Fleet looked like. This is a quick superficial, vanity thing, though. As an actor you move past this curiosity and dig deeper and try to find any clue as to who the person you’re playing really was. I feel a sense of responsibility when it comes to portraying someone who was real. At some point, though, I had to blend what was known historically about Fleet and then find those traits we shared—the truth which lies between us. That’s my job as an actor.
          How do you do that when there are no audio or video references? That was the challenge presented to me. There are none. In the end, I finally decided he was an officer of the law. He was a man who was concerned about wrong or right. I had to keep things in perspective. This movie was not The Deputy Fleet Story.
          I only needed to consider the broad strokes of who this man was and what I decided was that he was no-nonsense, serious, practical and suspicious.
          From there, I let Craig’s direction, Kristen’s performance and Bryce’s dialogue guide me. Craig and Bryce both told me they were very happy with my performance as Deputy Fleet. I did my job. I’m very proud.
          In closing, I must say, Lizzie is going to blow people away. Chloë is brilliant as Lizzie. Hers is a raw, heartbreaking, tour de force performance. The entire cast is just amazing. I’m truly blessed to be part of it, even if in a small capacity. Lizzie is jarring, violent, touching and tragic. There are moments which will move you and horrify you. Lizzie is a gorgeous film thanks to the cinematography of Noah Greenberg. Jeff Russo’s soundtrack is a perfect complement to the story and imagery. His themes are unsettling and broken and mirror the tragic broken mind of the film’s center character.

  • Want to know more about Matzer? His website is http://www.jematzeractor.com/. He tweets as @MATZER_fella_64 and is on Insta as @Matzeractor.
  • Want to know more about the movie Lizzie, like watching the trailer and finding out if it's showing near you? Click here http://bit.ly/2PIwhtT and then at the top click on "Change region/adjust theater."
  • Want to know more about the character Kristen Stewart plays, the Irish maid who was there that day? My novel The Murderer's Maid tells the whole story from her point of view, along with a modern-day narrative about a woman who discovers her own strange connection to the case. [Disclaimer: my book has nothing to do with the movie, other than being another rare case of Bridget Sullivan getting some attention and credibility.] Check it out here:




“Erika Mailman writes a page turner of a thriller that will fascinate as well as terrify….Don’t read this at night; it will give you nightmares.” -New York Journal of Books
“Erika Mailman’s kaleidoscopic narrative melds true crime, historical fiction, and elements of a psychological thriller, all hinging on a singular question: ‘Who isn’t a survivor from the wreckage of childhood?’” -Foreword Reviews
“A complex and riveting parallax view of domestic crimes, decades apart.” -Kirkus
“Those interested in the Lizzie Borden tale…will appreciate Mailman’s research and be rewarded with this new perspective.” -Booklist

Follow me on Twitter @ErikaMailman or on Instagram @ErikaMailman.

Finally, I've blogged a lot about the case. Click below!



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