Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017: my writing year in review

This year I had four pieces of writing-related news.

1. An audio book of Woman of Ill Fame was released in May from Tantor. Confession: I still haven’t listened to it! At some point I will do a giveaway for one of the downloads. Perhaps 2018 will slow down enough that I can listen to it myself. I’d love to hear the narrator blustering through some of Nora’s creative Irish swearing. And I liked very much the new cover they gave the book.

2. In February, the third book in my Y.A. trilogy The Arnaud Legacy was released by Kensington Books, titled Avenged. It’s written under my pen name Lynn Carthage. This was to protect teen readers from my other books (see unapologetic Gold Rush prostitute novel, above), but I decided it was okay to publicize from Erika to Lynn, just not the other direction. I love this spooky neo-Gothic series and heartily encourage it for grown-ups as well. The sequence is: Haunted, Betrayed, Avenged. I think it’s okay to jump into the series with either Haunted or Betrayed, but probably more challenging to start with Avenged.

3. The Murderer’s Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel launched in October. The book has received some wonderful trade reviews and some good press.

And thanks to Diana Gabaldon and Kathleen Kent for the fantastic bookjacket blurbs.

I did a big round of events in the San Francisco Bay Area, my courage rising despite intimidation by natural disasters (sorry if that sounds overblown...I love that line from Pride and Prejudice). The Santa Rosa wildfires affected attendance at two events (at one in Sausalito, Peg Alford Purcell’s lovely Why There Are Words monthly reading series, air quality was so bad I couldn’t stand outside for more than a few minutes. Litquake’s Litcrawl in San Francisco was similarly affected by the smoke). I felt awful for people who had lost much more than attendance because of the fires. One dear friend even came to my event although she had evacuated to a hotel; she wanted some “normal” in her life (and thank goodness, her home survived, as did Peg Alford Purcell’s!)

Then, more significantly, the hurricane delayed unloading at port of the cargo ship that happened to have my books on board. Again, I realize this is a very negligible “loss,” but it did mean that books were not available for two weeks of front table display at Barnes & Noble as previously scheduled, and undoubtedly affected sales. My sister had preordered on Amazon, and since the book was so delayed, she was sent an email offering to cancel the order. I shudder to think of how many people may have done just that. Luckily, my publisher had rush-ordered a substantial number of early copies, so we had enough to sell at the launch events. We held or participated in events at a haunted museum in Oakland, an art gallery after hours in San Francisco, and of course multiple bookstores. I had a great time talking about the bewildering, complex case that is the Borden family murders. It’s always cool to see what questions people come up with.

The Murderer’s Maid was my first stab (oh please, no pun intended) at writing a “marquee novel”—one about someone who is already famous enough that there could be some built-in readership. I’m excited that a movie about Lizzie Borden is showing at Sundance in January 2018. I cannot wait to see it! Even just a trailer would probably keep me happy for a week.

4. I made my first foray into the world of self-publishing by putting up my unsold novel House of Bellaver on Amazon as a Kindle-only book, in June. It's a literary ghost story with elements of Shakespeare, suffrage and serial killers--all things S! This book saw the insides of many editors' briefcases and had several of those breathtaking near misses...I got antsy and put it online as an experiment. I hope you will give it a look. Even if you don't own a Kindle or ereader, you can download Amazon's software for free and read on whatever device you use, including a desktop computer. To further honey up my pitch, each chapter begins with a beautiful historical image that relates in some way to the content of the chapter. Here's an example:

"Ghosts on the Stage" shows how a translucent image could be created for the audience

I’ve got some hard work ahead for me in 2018. I’m going to dig in on a manuscript I’ve been revising for a while, and also start a new one I’m really jazzed about. I wish I could remember the exact words from the movie Elf from the writer (something like, “I’ve got this one idea I’m psyched out of my mind about”). Well, better yet, here’s the clip!

In 2017, I presented at several conferences, the Gold Rush Writers Conference in downright adorable Mokelumne Hill, California, and Summerwords, a literary conference hosted by American River College in Sacramento.  I joined a new local group organized nationally by Jonathan Maberry called the Writers Coffeehouse and continued attending a small monthly meeting of local historical novelists. I did radio spots (I'll post clips in another blog post) for Beth Ruyak's Insight program on NPR's Capitol Public Radio in Sacramento, Rich Ehisen's podcast, Tim Weisberg's paranormal show Spooky South Coast, and guest host Joey Garcia on KFBK. Many writer friends had launches this year and have my congratulations and support, too many to name here. I feel invigorated by my community and by the privilege of being able to focus on what I love so sincerely: words.
Wishing you and yours the very best for 2018. Happy New Year, everyone!


Friday, December 29, 2017

A&E Interview about female killers

The arrest warrant referenced in the A&E piece

A&E TV interviewed me for its real crime blog about female Victorian killers: what motivated them, why juries may have found them innocent when they were guilty, and more. My favorite quote from the piece: "How do you go from serving on the Fruit and Flower Mission to pulverizing your stepmother’s head?"

The piece is called "Lizzie Borden: How could a prim and proper Victorian-era woman be accused of murdering her parents?" Check it out by clicking here. Thanks to writer Stav Dimitropoulos!

And if you want more about Lizzie, my novel The Murderer's Maid is now out and available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and any indie bookstore (you may have to order in advance at a local sellers), in hardcover and ebook.

. . . .

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Upcoming events in Northern California

The Murderer's Maid doesn't officially go on sale until Oct. 30, but you can get a beautiful hardcover at one of my events (rush ordered by Yellow Pear Press, so none shall go without!) The book is so beautiful: end papers with the Borden house floorplan, with a ghosting of Lizzie's face underneath (startling!), and in the endmatter there are multiple images from newspapers of the day. Remember, photography was not quite point-and-shoot in 1893, so the courtroom news was composed of drawings. We also have Lizzie's handwritten arrest warrant for you to pore over in the last pages.

I've done several events already, like Peg Alford Purcell's lovely reading series Why There Are Words. Peg and her husband rallied to produce the event, held monthly at an art gallery in Sausalito, despite the raging wildfires and the fact that....that night, they didn't know if their house was still standing. They had evacuated. I can only imagine what fortitude of spirit it took to go forward with the reading. (A friend of mine who attended was also an evacuee, who said she craved "something normal." When I first saw her at a restaurant beforehand, she nearly burst into tears because the "normal" was so very, very distant at that point. Hugs forever, friend!).

It was an amazing evening. Many times at readings with multiple authors, I enjoy some but not all of the offerings. That night, I loved everybody's piece. Either Peg's an amazing curator, the wine was very effective, or I was the B Team. It was a gem of a night.

And I can add the exulting postscript that the Purcells' home is fine, and my friend's home is too!

With Peg

That morning, I came down to breakfast to find that my husband and children had apparently had a great time at the hardware store. (I have to admit, the sight gave me a jump scare). So of course, I brought the hatchet to the event and we enjoyed hamming it up during intermission.

Bridget, me, Linda

I also participated in Litquake's amazing literary pubcrawl, aptly named Litcrawl. Another night with a roster of great readers, and then I got to indulge in a super burrito from my favorite taqueria in the world, Pancho Villa at 16th and Mission. San Francisco's still a great city, and I appreciated seeing so many people in the streets moving between the events when the air quality was so terrible from the fires.

With Lisa McGuinness of Yellow Pear Press and her husband Matt

Author Sarah Kuhn (who gave a great reading!), me, literary patroness Kat

With author Margie Yee Webb

So, now there are a few more events in October before I retire the hatchet. ;)

1. EBUG Local Authors Night, 6 p.m., Monday, Oct. 23 at 5701 Thornhill Dr. in Oakland's Montclair district. Put together by A Great Good Place for Books owner Kathleen Caldwell along with the famous Purple Lady Dale Marie Golden and Kim Merkin, the event features five readers, including the fabulous Cara Black.

2. Oh boy, this one. We're doing a book event in the haunted (did you catch that? haunted! Your chance to truly experience a Halloweenish moment) Pardee Home Museum in downtown Oakland. I'll do a slideshow both about the Pardee Home and the Lizzie Borden B&B in Fall River, Massachusetts, whilst you sip wine and partake of refreshments, then we'll leave the (also haunted) coach house to venture into the main house. There's been documented paranormal activity in this house, and it appears in a lot of California ghost hunting guides. Laurel Book Store will be selling books at the event. 6-9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 27; advance tickets required at:

3. I'm excited to return to Book Passage at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, 2 p.m. on Oct. 28. Come see me read, then take the ferry somewhere, or jump on BART or the cable car for that matter! I may have to walk along the Embarcadero to see my favorite yelping sea lions at Pier 39 afterward. Free event.

4. Diesel Books in Oakland is now the East Bay Booksellers, and I'm thrilled to be launching the book here. This is the cupcake event!

I staged this at the cupcake boutique, enduring quizzical looks. I brought the (edible) hatchet
and the squeeze tube of red gel frosting. Delish!

You too can have a macabre dessert, possibly in bad taste (but should taste good! pun intended but possibly unsuccessful?) I didn't actually know the hatchet was edible until my child, er, started eating it. I was all, "Spit it out!" but she knew better. This event includes wine, other nibbles, camaraderie, and a reading and signing. 3 p.m., Oct. 28, Diesel Books, Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, 5433 College Ave. Free.

5. That same night, I'll be part of SF in SF (Science Fiction in San Francisco) with Dana Fredsti and Loren Rhoads, moderated by Terry Bisson. I think this is the event I'll feel most comfortable reading the goriest scene (Bridget witnessing Mr. Borden's corpse in the very earliest moments after his death). A great way to end October (oh yeah, Halloween, too; I shan't forget. I've been pressed into duty fabricating a Dementor costume. I've watched a lot of Project Runway and there's a working sewing machine somewhere in my garage, so I feel completely competent to complete this task. I might even win immunity). This is another event that involves wine and the fun kind of networking and milling around that happens when they announce "doors open at 6 and the event starts at 6:30." This takes place at the American Bookbinders Museum (cannot wait to see that), 355 Clementina St. in San Francisco, Oct. 29. Borderlands bookstore will be selling copies of all the readers' books.

I hope to see you at one of these events. If you're a little further east, I'll be at Avid Reader in Sacramento on Nov. 18 at 3 p.m.

With all these bloody cupcakes and corpse talk, I want to let you know that an upcoming blog post will address how my novel is "bloodthirsty with a social conscience." There are redeeming features. There really are. It's not just a big hatchetfest (although there is that element, too...I just feel guilty about it). Stay tuned...and don't change pillowcases or take a nap when your daughter or stepdaughter isn't cordial with you.

. . . .

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fun memes for my book from Yellow Pear Press

This last quote about the ugliest part of human nature is from an interview I did with Rich Ehisen. He's a fantastic writer and journalist and we had a great talk! We also did a few quick Bumpers podcasts, including this one where I give my opinion on whether I think Lizzie Borden really did murder her father and stepmother:

Sunday, September 10, 2017

When someone you don't know reads your book

Jay Huguley

We write in solitude (although sometimes during Nanowrimo I hunker down in a cafe with a friend and we try not to talk to each other while we write on our laptops). It's a solo flight with our own imagination. And yet, the whole time, we're thinking and hoping that there will be people reading these words someday.

I have to report it is heart-stopping to see someone you don't know reading your book... (and heartwarming to see someone you do know). I owe huge thanks to Walking Dead actor Jay Huguley for instagramming himself reading a galley of my novel. He saw a post by my publisher about my book and responded, and of course they jumped on sending him a copy. It was incredibly generous of him to post that photo. And for me: a new experience. I've never seen a stranger reading my book.

An old writers group friend once said he knew he'd "arrived" when he was boarding a plane and, walking down the aisle, saw someone holding his novel. I've never had that happen to me. The closest was when I used to write a history column for a newspaper in Oakland called The Montclarion. I sat one day having coffee in Montclair (yes, I know, the newspaper title doesn't totally correspond to the neighborhood spelling; I've tried not to let it bother me) and saw someone at the next table reading my column which had a mugshot associated with it. After a bit he turned to me and said, "This is you, isn't it?"

That was a thrill, for sure, but seeing Jay relaxing on his sofa with his hand splayed over Lizzie's face: that was electrical.

Jay plays William Moody in the upcoming film Lizzie. Moody was an attorney for the prosecution, trying to get Lizzie convicted (unsuccessfully). He appears in my novel. Here's a little snatch:

He showed the courtroom Miss Lizzie's shoes, stockings, dress and skirt. Bridget did not like seeing a man holding up such personal items. The stockings still held the shape of Miss Lizzie's calves and instep; it was as if Miss Lizzie herself was lifting her skirts to show the world her legs.
Thanks again to Jay for the experience that feels like somewhat a culmination of my whole writing process. I wrote words, they were seen, they were digested.

. . . .

Saturday, August 12, 2017

My post for Doug: the Evergreen Air and Space Museum

Flying home from the east coast a few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be seated in the same row as Doug, and we talked for several hours like old friends. When he learned I was next going to Portland, Oregon, on a road trip and that my husband was excited to see the Evergreen Air & Space Museum in McMinnville, he told me he had flown several of the aircraft on display there. I asked him to write down the names so we could look for them.

Once there, it was indeed a wonderful scavenger hunt for my kids to look for these planes. So, Doug, I have some feedback!

The T33: This is parked in front of the space museum. (Let me pause and say this is an incredible facility with two huge hangars, one for air and one for space. I'll blog later about the space side).

The T33

And next on the list was the F102:

And the F106, similar to the 102, but with its tail pointing up:

The RF-4, a fighter bomber: there was a different version on the floor of the space museum, a docent told us, but we couldn't seem to locate it.

T28: the Evergreen had one but got rid of it.

T37: the Evergreen was supposed to get one, but never did.

The T38: well, I thought I was told by museum staff that it was this black one hanging from the ceiling but I must've misunderstood.

We were told The Evergreen will be getting an F16 from the Oregon Airguard and a Tornado, which was a British/German/French plane with Luftwaffe colors. (Actually, I just googled that because it seemed too odd; substitute Italian for French and it's correct!)

And you know what the Evergreen already has?

Yeah, the Spruce Goose. Which should be called the Birch Goose because that's what it's made of. The largest airplane ever made. It's hard to tell what you're looking at in this photo, but basically the large thing overhanging these people's head is just one wing. I'll blog about the Spruce Goose more later.

Back to Doug. It was amazing to see these planes in which you made surveillance runs during your many years of service. Thank you for your service to our country, Doug!

. . . .

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Guest post: Christine Verstraete on her new book

Today on my blog I welcome Christine Verstraete, who has written several novels inspired by the Lizzie Borden saga. Her first book cast Lizzie as a zombie hunter, explaining that Abby and Andrew Borden had to be struck down—they were undead. Her second has just released, and it focuses on a key member of the story, Dr. Bowen, who lived across the street and was called upon to assist in the earliest moments of discovery of Mr. Borden's body (if I may use the word "discovery" loosely....)
Without any further ado, here is Christine answering a few questions I posed, and some excerpts from her book. Welcome, Christine!

Hi Erika, thanks for inviting me to your blog!

What compelled you to write about Dr. Bowen?
Dr. Bowen is a fascinating character since, as you know when you start reading the Lizzie Borden trial transcripts, you realize that the doctor was quite involved in the aftermath of the Borden murders. Maybe too involved? So much isn’t explained about certain actions he and others took that you can’t help but read between the lines! One of the police officers at the trial testified that he saw the doctor burning a suspicious note. Even the newspapers described him at the trial as appearing rather protective of Lizzie. An interesting relationship that raises some questions, it seems.
The fun part of writing this book was taking the Borden story in a new direction. This was such an unexpected, horrific and shocking event for many reasons that I had to wonder: despite Bowen being a medical professional, how did this event really affect him? Did it haunt him? And did the history of Fall River play into the evil in the city?

Does Lizzie appear in this book also?
Lizzie is such an integral part of the story that you can’t leave her out, but she doesn’t appear in this book in person. However, she is one of the haunting elements of the story. That’s all I can say without giving it away!

About The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden’s Fall River:
The short supernatural-flavored mystery (141 pages) is on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and print.
Author website:

Gruesome deaths haunt the industrial city of Fall River, Massachusetts.
Dr. Seabury Bowen—physician to the infamous Lizzie Borden—swears he’s being stalked by spirits, though his beloved wife thinks it’s merely his imagination. But the retired doctor insists that neither greed nor anger provoked the recent sensational axe murders in Fall River. Rather, he believes the city is poisoned by bad blood and a thirst for revenge dating back to the Indian and Colonial wars.
Now, two years after the Borden murders, Dr. Bowen is determined to uncover the mysteries stirring up the city’s ancient, bloodthirsty specters. Can he discover who, or what, is shattering the peace before Fall River runs red? Or will he be the next victim?
Part mystery, part love story, The Haunting of Dr. Bowen reveals the eerie side of Fall River as witnessed by the first doctor on the scene of the legendary Borden murders.
An excerpt of The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, A Mystery in Lizzie Borden’s Fall River

    “Never did I say to anyone that she had died of fright. My first thought, when I was standing in the door, was that she had fainted.”
—Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893

“Why won’t anyone believe me? Why, Phoebe, why?”
Dr.  Seabury Bowen shoved back the shock of white hair hanging over his forehead and wiped a wrinkled hand across his stubbled chin.
His appearance, like his surroundings, could stand a bit of major housekeeping, not that he cared a whit.
“Here, it’s here somewhere,” he mumbled.
The old man rummaged among the giant pile of documents, books, and whatnot littering the large walnut desk in his study. Several minutes later, and after the search through dozens of loose papers, he saw the faded red book lying beneath a tottering pile. He pulled at it, sending the rest of the stack falling like so much unwanted garbage.
    The good doctor, but a shadow of his once- robust self, flipped the pages. He stared at the offending journal entry before setting the book aside with a heartrending sob.

Chapter One
    “I saw the form of Mr. Borden lying on the lounge at the left of the sitting-room door. His face was very badly cut, apparently with a sharp instrument; his face was covered with blood.”
—Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893

   The man reached toward him with long, lean fingers. Dr. Seabury Bowen blinked and tried to make out the features of the unknown figure standing in the corner. The unexpected visitor had a broad, dark face and what looked like a band across his forehead. Bowen stretched out his arm in turn and jumped when their fingers touched, the jolt surging through him like the electricity he knew would soon replace all the gas lights.
    “Seabury, dear, are you all right?” His wife, Phoebe, sounded concerned. “What’s wrong?”
    Bowen breathed hard. He bolted upright and held a hand on his chest, trying to catch his breath. Still stunned, he gazed about the room, disturbed at the odd shapes until he recognized familiar things… the bureau, the armoire, the paintings on his bedroom walls. He swallowed and nodded.
     “Ye-yes. I-I’m fine. A bad dream, that’s all it was. Just a dream.”
    “A bad dream? Dear, you’re breathing so hard, your heart must be pounding like a drum in Mr. Sousa’s band! Are you sure you’re fine?”
    The doctor took his wife’s hand and kissed it, relieved to feel his heartbeat return to normal. He had to admit his reaction worried him for a minute, too. “I’m fine now, Phoebe. Really, it’s all right. Go back to sleep. I’m too wrought up to rest. I think I’ll go downstairs and read awhile.”
    He gave her a loving smile before he rose and slipped on his robe, his thoughts in a whirl. To tell the truth, these dreams or hallucinations or whatever they were appeared to be getting stronger and more frequent. Not that he’d tell her, of course. It made Bowen wonder if he was losing touch with his faculties, something he’d never dare mention. Nor did he want to even entertain the thought, but he did. Am I going mad? Am I?

Here's Christine's first book:

 Enjoy the macabre reading!! And thanks for visiting today, Christine! :)

Friday, August 04, 2017

Mulling over 125 years of mystery: the Lizzie Borden murders

I hesitate to invoke the rhyme because it's been so overused (and is so tasteless) but it really is the best and most succinct summary of the events of August 4, 1892:

Lizzie Borden took an ax,
Gave her mother forty whacks,
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Lizzie Borden, acquitted of murdering her (step)mother and father with a hatchet, was found guilty in the court of public opinion. Schoolchildren taunted her with the rhyme as she continued living in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts (albeit in a much nice home, purchased with the funds she and her sister inherited upon their wealthy father’s death). They rang her doorbell at all hours and ran, screaming, before she could open it. They threw rocks at her windows.

Perhaps worse—since children’s thoughtless cruelty is a given—carriage drivers would meet the train coming in to Fall River and charge a fee to drive past Lizzie’s home, park outside, and loudly narrate the details of the crimes, which she surely heard through her walls.

Those details were horrific, such that her 1893 trial was considered the first “trial of the century.” Every major newspaper sent a reporter to sit in the crowded New Bedford courthouse and jot down each nuance of emotion that crossed her face.

The back of Abby Borden’s skull bore 19 blows, evidence of uncontrollable rage. It came out through forensics that she must have faced her attacker and known her fate: one poignant blow was on her forehead. Mrs. Borden had been killed first in an upstairs room and lay cooling for several hours until her husband Andrew came home from his morning tasks and lay down for a nap on the sitting room couch. The murderer attacked him while he slept.

His skull showed 10 or 11 cuts, roughly half of his wife’s, but proof that the killer was still furious hours later. Both skulls were displayed in court to show jurors the reality of that anger. They had been rendered down to bone by a doctor who boiled them, according to the later report of his young son who was upset at the morbid activity in his own kitchen. The Borden corpses had been secretly beheaded, without the daughters’ permission, during a second autopsy at a cemetery holding structure. The first had been performed in the Borden home’s dining room. Lizzie fainted in court when tissue covering the skulls drifted to the floor, prematurely revealing their placement in the doctor’s satchel. A juror was overcome by the crime scene photographs that testimony paused while peers tried to revive him. The facts of the case—and the murders of the elderly couple—proved uneasy to talk about.

What was Lizzie so upset about, if she was indeed the killer? Reputedly, her father’s miserliness, his spending money on his wife’s family, and probably general indignation that she would spend life as a spinster trapped in that house. Her oldest sister hadn’t married, and suitors were few and far between for Lizzie. It didn’t help that that August was insanely hot in an era before air-conditioning, that she had her period in an era before ibuprofen, and that a hated uncle showed up for a visit while her sister was away visiting friends.

Whatever the motive, the intervening 125 years have spawned dozens of books, several movies (including one to be released this year, with indie-movie goddess Chloe Sevigny playing Lizzie, and Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame playing the Irish maid Bridget Sullivan), and an incredible volume of speculation. Similar to O.J. Simpson, who is to be released on probation, Lizzie Borden faced a nation that suspected the jurors had been hoodwinked.

Visit the Lizzie Borden house in Fall River today and you’ll see crime scene reenactments, tours of the home and hear authors talk about the case. Its mystery endures.

Erika Mailman is the author of The Murderer’s Maid: a Lizzie Borden Novel, which looks at the case from the point of view of Bridget Sullivan, the only other person in the house that day besides Lizzie and her parents.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Happy Birthday, Lizzie Borden

On July 19, 2017, Lizzie would be 157 years old if she'd managed to outwit death somehow--her and Elvis, right?

Birthdays are important things. Some people take them more seriously than others; I personally always took the day off work and enjoyed the fact of my being on earth. Others prefer to pretend the anniversary doesn't exist, denying the onslaught of years.

It's interesting to note that the murders of the Borden parents took place a mere two weeks and two days after Lizzie's 32nd birthday.

I remember turning 30. It felt like a crisis: I hadn't accomplished any of the things I wanted to accomplish: publishing a novel (or 20), having children. I had my mid-life crisis early.

Imagine what it was like for Lizzie Borden, turning 32. In an era that only prized wifehood and motherhood for women, she had no suitors (that we knew about anyway). In a time period that freely threw around the pejorative word "spinster," she was one. As much as we feel sympathy for kids still living at home in their thirties today, imagine how it felt to live at home when you were jobless, powerless, feeling like you had no true "value" in the world other than your volunteering through the church. And with no wifi.

Lizzie volunteered sporadically, undertaking positions and then abandoning them. It has always seemed curious to me that she did not join friends at the seashore at Marion at the time of the murders merely because she needed to do a "roll call" as a volunteer leader. I can only assume a roll call means registering those who will serve on a particular committee and solidifying the responsibilities. Why did she feel that was so important, when she had preemptorily left other posts? If she had gone to the seashore, felt that healing connection to the sea, let the wind lift her hair off her neck, would some of her feelings of rage have abated?

In my novel The Murderer's Maid, I posit that she didn't go to Marion because she had her period. In those tamponless times, it would be no fun to soak cloths in a bucket--and maybe she'd be sharing a room with a friend-- and trying to hide the signs and smells (ordinarily, at home, the maid would deal with such unpleasant tasks). It is said that 1892 was one of the hottest summers on record.

Her roll call ended up having a much more deadly tally.

Well, anyway, happy birthday, Lizzie!

. . . . 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

History cruise on the Freda B. schooner

Last weekend I headed out with some friends on the schooner Freda B. out of Sausalito (north of San Francisco) for a history cruise. Captain Marina Lambchop comped me some tickets because she likes Woman of Ill Fame....lemme tell you, authors rarely get perks so I was delighted with this generous offer. Thank you a million times over! Unfortunately, Marina wasn't able to sail that day, but her co-captain Paul Dines gave an amazing tour with wonderful, funny narration.

Golden Gate Bridge towers lost in fog.
Sausalito was bright and hot and I scoffed initially at my having brought my down vest...but as we got out onto the bay and closer to San Francisco, it got cold quickly. I was soon very happy to have my vest and the blankets the crew very kindly handed out.

I helped haul up the sails and swallow the moon.

I call this coiffure "Bay Wind Flurry"

We learned so much from this tour and saw porpoises off the side leaping through the water (is that the right verb? Porpoises leap? I understand they often see whales too). We had incredible views of Alcatraz. I think my camera defaulted to this cool filter. Is my phone smart enough to recognize this historic structure and change its own settings??

The Rock. I still think you could swim to the mainland.

After repainting, someone was hired to redo the historic graffiti

And here is a neat triptych:

Alcatraz, sailboat, container ship: they can all share the bay!

Paul Dines told a touching story about the Liberty Ship Jeremiah O'Brien, docked in San Francisco at Pier 45. For the 50th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, the ship and its original crew sailed all the way back to France to be feted internationally, reviewed by the Queen and "piped" by other appreciative crews. This sturdy ship participated in D-Day and is one of only two Liberty Ships still functioning. Can you imagine this incredible vessel steaming 18,000 miles for six months? Without a single significant repair and arriving at each port ahead of schedule? I'm even tearing up a little typing this, thinking of those 70-year-old sailors back at their stations after so many decades.

Although we're now paying attention to something else, behind us is the admirable SS Jeremiah O'Brien

Paul Dines was great!

Paul Dines, narrating the history cruise

We passed by the home of Ghirardelli Chocolate, making San Francisco sweet since Gold Rush times...

I kind of need to make a port of call, stat!
...and here's some history. The brown house in the center was once Jack London's.

Jack had waterfront real estate at one time! And that is fog, not smoke (insert
"To Build a Fire" joke here)

And here's something I found truly fascinating. This stretch represents the last piece of untouched San Francisco coastline. Pretty amazing. This is what early sailors saw and had to figure out how to moor into (is that correct sailor talk?) Much of San Francisco's Embarcadero was plumped out with landfill (and yeah, there are sunken ships under the Financial District; here's a map of what's under there). I should've asked if this is near Clark's Point, where my character Nora disembarks in 1848 in my novel Woman of Ill Fame.

Last vestige of original coastline
My fun, history-loving friends, wrapped in blankets to ward off sea chills!

Me, back near sunny Sausalito. I could shed my blanket and down vest and unzip sweatshirt
to display the shirt a friend made. I wore a ship shirt on a ship!

The beautiful Freda B. back at dock
How, you may ask, can you take such a wonderful tour? It's so easy. Book through this website. What a wonderful thing to do on a date, if friends or family come into town, or to brush up on your local history. I hope you have as wonderful a time as I did!

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

Lizzie Borden's Perfect Storm

Today's clam shack at Rocky Point. Courtesy, Mary Thibault

I've blogged before about how intrigued I am with the idea that a very tiny action can have huge consequences, especially if there are many, combined such small things: the so-called perfect storm.

One of those in the Lizzie Borden case was the barbecue planned for the Fall River Police Department at Rocky Point Amusement Park in Rhode Island. Lizzie knew about the barbecue; did it occur to her that there would be fewer officers left locally to deal with murders or other issues that might arise while most officers were 30 miles away?

The park closed in 1995, but Google Maps says the distance from Fall River, Massachusetts, to where the park operated in Warwick, Rhode Island, takes 45 minutes by car. We can only imagine that by horse and buggy the travel time was much longer. The police department had essentially advertised its own diminished capacity.

Moreover, I learned from the wonderful blog Warps and Wefts that Abby Borden was intended to watch her little niece whose parents were to attend the Rocky Point picnic, but because she was feeling ill (food poisoning or just take the word "food" off the phrase? Anyone?) she didn't. I'm curious to know if the parents still attended and simply found another babysitter. I learn from the same blog post that George Whitehead, the niece's dad, was a teamster, not a policeman, so I'm not sure why he would be attending. Maybe he was friends with officers.

That blog post points out, "Due to the illness of Abby Borden on Wednesday, these plans were changed, and forever after, those interested in the case have wondered if the outcome of the morning of August 4th would have been very different had Abby Borden been able to assume the care of her little niece."

Indeed. Would Lizzie have had to kill the niece too? Or cancel her murderous plans? Errrr, I should probably point out that Lizzie was acquitted of the crimes.

Other "perfect storm" elements:

  • Lizzie had  her period in the era before ibuprofen and tampons. Anger. Grrr. 
  • Big heat that summer in the era before air conditioning. Anger. Grrr.
  • Lizzie was supposed to go to the seashore with friends but canceled. What if she'd gone and had a great time? Found a bunch of sand dollars?
  • Emma was away. What if she'd stayed home?
  • Uncle John Morse showed up unexpectedly to spend the night at the Borden home. Lots of people loathed him, including Abby herself. What if he hadn't come?
Et cetera.

It's a fascinating story with so many little rabbit holes to go down.

I included a brief mention of the policeman's outing in my book The Murderer's Maid: a Lizzie Borden Novel. I couldn't find much historical mention of what was on offer there in 1892, so I took a chance that the electric trolley would be running. The Ferris wheel seen here was not yet built. How do I know that? Because of Erik Larsen's wonderful book Devil and the White City, which talks about the unveiling of the first Ferris wheel in 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair. There is a connection between the World's Fair and Lizzie Borden, and I'll blog about that soon.

In the meantime, I hope you had a happy Fourth of July!
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