NEW! The Lizzie Borden Podcast Episode 10: Parallel Lives and the Fall River Historical Society

Today we will be talking with the Fall River Historical Society curators Michael Martins and Dennis Binette who will discuss the story behind their phenomenal book Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River, published by the Fall River Historical Society in 2011.

Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River is a ground-breaking work and arguably the only professional biography of Lizzie Borden. Michael and Dennis worked on this book for approximately ten years, tracking down material related to Lizzie and the Borden family, cultivating relationships with owners of private collections and descendants of those who knew Lizzie, and piecing together a vast puzzle: a portrait of Lizzie Borden, Fall River’s most notorious resident and historical mystery.

Parallel Lives received a starred review from Kirkus Review, one of publishing’s highest honors, and Kirkus declared it one of the best books of that year. It is certainly one of the best books for a hard core Lizzie Borden enthusiast. Here to help us gain some insight into Parallel Lives are the co-authors and curators of the Fall River Historical Society, Michael Martins and Dennis Binette.

Listen to the Podcast here or subscribe to the series on iTunes.

 

NEW Podcast Episode 8: The Historic Fires of Fall River

Fall River, MA  has been described as  “a city built to burn.”  In this episode Dr. Stefani Koorey takes the listener through the major conflagrations that destroyed large swathes of Fall River throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.  This episode also takes the Lizzie Borden Podcast on its first detour away from Lizzie Borden’s personal story, however it remains in Lizzie Borden’s city of Fall River, which has its own richly textured and fascinating history. Fall River’s nineteenth century textile boom brought with it a series of fiery disasters. The Big Fire of 1843 left more than one thousand people homeless and destroyed two hundred buildings, as well as more than twenty acres of land. After the Steiger Store Fire of 1916, mill owners pressured the city to replace its horse-drawn brigades with more modern fire engines. The intense heat from the Kerr Mill Thread Fire of 1987 melted hoses as first responders battled the blaze. Author Stefani Koorey chronicles these and other  historic infernos of the Spindle City and celebrates the community’s resilience in the face of adversity. Click here to listen.

Lizzie Borden Author and Podcaster Richard Behrens interviewed by UK’s The Guardian

Author Richard Behrens finds Lizzie Borden's photo (lower left) in the Sherlock Holmes Museum ona recent trip to London's Baker Street

Author Richard Behrens finds Lizzie Borden’s photo (lower left) in the Sherlock Holmes Museum on a recent trip to London’s Baker Street

Lizzie Borden Girl Detective Mysteries author and Lizzie Borden Podcaster Richard Behrens finds Lizzie Borden’s photo (lower left) on the wall of Rogues in Sherlock Holmes’ bedroom at 221B Baker Street. Perhaps Mr. Holmes knew something we didn’t, as she was acquitted of the crimes of murdering her father and step mother!  Lizzie Borden herself visited London while on her European Grand Tour for her 30th birthday, just a few years before the infamous murders.

Recently Richard was interviewed about the lasting fascination with Lizzie Borden in the UK’s Guardian Newspaper. Read the story here.

NEW Lizzie Borden Podcast: Uncle John Morse with Joe Radza

23017445_119566315824Listen to the fourth episode of The Lizzie Borden Podcast, produced and directed by Richard Behrens for Nine Muses Books.   In this Episode Joe Radza discusses the dramatizations at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast this August 4th and his role as John Vinnicum Morse.

John Vinnicum Morse (1833-1912) was the brother of Sarah Anthony Morse Borden, who was the wife of Andrew Jackson Borden, and he was the biological uncle to Lizzie Andrew Borden.  Sarah died when Lizzie was very young,  but “Uncle” John stayed in touch with the family even after Andrew remarried a few years later, marrying Abigail Durfee Borden who then became Lizzie Borden’s step-mother.

Morse was a guest in Andrew’s house on Second Street the morning the murders occurred, arriving the previous afternoon.  His alibi, however, was air-tight since he left early that morning to visit some relatives on Weybosset Street, who later corroborated his story.  He left Andrew and Abby Borden who had just finished breakfast and were preparing to perform their daily chores.  When Uncle John returned early that afternoon, both of his hosts were dead, brutally murdered with a hatchet.  For several days he remained confined to the house on Second Street.  When he ventured out to mail a letter, he was surrounded by a hostile crowd and had to be rescued by the police.  He testified at the Inquest, the Preliminary Hearing, and the Trial.  He was never seriously suspected to be the murderer but many researchers have doubted that he was entirely innocent.

Interview with Richard Behrens

How did you first come up with the concept of Lizzie Borden being a girl detective?

I happened to order a few old Nancy Drew books over EBay. My intention was to read them for fun since my sister had all of them when I was growing up and I had read several when I was in grade school. Reading as an adult, they are so breezy and a lot of fun, but I was surprised how much sinister stuff was in them. The older 1930s Nancy Drew smoked and actually carried a gun. So I decided to sketch out a spoof of the genre, just for fun.

I made up a girl detective living in the 1930s. Her father is a big attorney in town and she has a kooky house maid and sidekick pal from school, etc. But when I wrote a few pages and read it back, it seemed too much like the original, like I couldn’t spoof it because it already had that comic edge to it. The only thing I could do to make it funnier was to place it in another century.

I toyed around with a few time periods. For a while I wanted to do London during the time of Queen Elizabeth, so the girl detective could be the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Southampton and have access to people like Shakespeare and solve the death of Christopher Marlowe. But I admit I got lazy and felt it would involve too much research.

I had already been reading about Lizzie Borden and visiting the Bed & Breakfast and all that Fall River stuff was fresh in my mind. So I sketched out a girl detective in New England during the 1890s. She can solve the Borden murders, I joked.

Then it hit me like a thunderbolt. Why not make her Lizzie Borden? After writing a few pages I had myself in stiches and I knew I had hit upon something with great entertainment value. The Borden Family turned out to be a better source of satire and drama than an Elizabethan theater company.

Did you have any hope at that point of getting it published?

I felt it had great commercial potential. The title alone made everyone crack up. But it was still a few years before books like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and all those Jane Austen monster mash-ups so I wasn’t quite sure. Besides I had to write the stories first and see how they turned out. Fortunately, I had an offer from The Hatchet magazine, the journal of Lizzie Borden studies, to pursue this and had help from a few people who knew a lot about the historical Bordens. Talking to them and visiting Fall River gave me a lot of inspiration. I began publishing the stories in The Hatchet and its sister magazine The Literary Hatchet and felt content with that for a few years. The concept was still taking shape.

What did you have to do to prepare for writing about Lizzie Borden?

I chatted up everyone I knew who had connections with Fall River or the historic house. I visited the Fall River Historical Society, studied as much Fall River history as I could, and read thousands of pages of primary source material including the murder hearings, the trial transcripts and the few books that could be historically trusted. Two of the best references are Lizzie Borden: Past and Present by Len Rebello and Parallel Lives by Michael Martins and Dennis Binette of the Fall River Historical Society. So many books out there are junk, especially the true crime paperbacks. The best book for an introductory experience is actually a graphic novel called The Borden Tragedy by Rick Geary. It’s accurate, extremely well drawn and scripted.

The challenge was that I wasn’t writing about the murders, but about a time period nearly twenty years earlier. I had to really get to know the 1870s as Lizzie and her family would have known it.

You eventually progressed from short stories to novels?

Yes, the first five short stories, two of them novellas really, were published by PearTree Press in 2010 and it brought to the end the first stage of my effort. The second stage, now that I had established the characters, the setting, and had hit upon an appropriate tone, was to enlarge the fictional universe. The Minuscule Monk was a sixth short story that had grown in scope to a full-length novel. I had been reading a lot about the Kansas-Missouri border wars and it seemed as if an extended flashback to another time and place was appropriate. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote two Sherlock Holmes stories that had extended flashbacks to the old West and Pennsylvania mining towns. For half of those novels, Holmes doesn’t’ even show up. I liked the idea of having all that back story.

Why did you start Nine Muses Books?

The scope of the project had grown to the point where I needed to dedicate myself entirely to the Girl Detective. The e-book market has grown exponentially in the past few years and the traditional relationship between writers, readers and publishers has completely changed. Putting out all this material in such a short time period is an experiment, one that I hope will reach new readers and keep them amused. It also encourages me to work harder on new material.

After The Minuscule Monk, what can expect?

There’s more short stories coming. The next novel is called The Wilmarth Immovables and it has a lot to do with Shakespeare, patent medicine, and the origins of vaudeville.

The last question I have is the obvious one. Did Lizzie do it?

Well, that’s a question for the sixth novel! I do plan to cover that.

OK, fair enough. What about the real Lizzie Borden?

I have no idea. The more I studied the crime, the less obvious it seemed. Everyone has to make up their own minds.

Richard Behrens to appear in Ric Rebelo’s Lizbeth on PBS

Ric Rebelo, a Fall River-based documentary filmmaker, has interviewed Richard Behrens for his new film Lizbeth: A Victorian Nightmare. He has generously seen fit to include Richard in the film. The interview was conducted in early August at the Lizzie Borden B&B in Fall River. The documentary will air on New England PBS in late October.  Please enjoy this preview.