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A Parliament of Crows – Part 3

IFD Publishing is reissuing Alan M. Clark’s historical novel A Parliament of Crows as part of its new boutique imprint Horror that Happened – Based on a True Story. This is a continuation of my experience re-reading the book.

You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

ParliamentCover

As the three Wardlaw sisters (renamed Mortlow for the purposes of this work of historical fiction) continue their reign of criminality, they alternate from being sneaky co-conspirators to being suspicious and intolerant of one another. Clark handles these back-and-forth changes in demeanor very well, as the women seem to delight in tormenting Carolee’s daughter and Mary’s remaining living son. They present a united front when investigated for their nefarious doings, but behind the scenes, they don’t seem to appreciate one another.

Tensions ratchet up as they take sides with one another, alliances always shifting, as they commit more and more murders, as they perpetuate more and more crimes of insurance fraud.

The horrific climax of the book melds the wretched turning point of the sisters’ starvation at the end of the Civil War and the turning point of the trial, and Vertiline’s illness in jail.

No one does well in the wake of these sisters, and this true tale is chilling in its cold-bloodness, stepped in historic culture.

An excellent work of historical fiction.

HTH-BasedonTrueStory

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A Parliament of Crows – Part 2

IFD Publishing is reissuing Alan M. Clark’s historical novel A Parliament of Crows as part of its new boutique imprint, Horror that Happened – Based on a True Story.  This is a continuation of my experience re-reading the book. You can find Part 1 here.

ParliamentCover

When the Civil War ended and their father died, the three sisters were left with nothing but worthless Confederate notes. They were destitute, and needed to find a way to begin to rebuild their lives, and pay their own way.

Clark deftly moves from the days of the trial and their time in jail back to the days that formed the women’s personalities, including hiding from freed, starving slaves and Union soldiers during the Civil War and beyond.

Carolee’s convenient marriage to a Civil War soldier set them up for a time, but Carolee wasn’t cut out to be a wife and mother. The three women all wore black, all the time, and looking much alike, were continually misidentified as one another. They made their way in the world, discovering that despicable crimes of insurance fraud and murder could pay that way.

The courtroom drama plays out with increasing tension as the prosecutors, looking into Orphelia’s death, make accusations that ignite indignation and therefore inappropriate outbursts from Vertiline. Is she her own worst enemy in every way?

 

HTH-BasedonTrueStory

Next week: Part 3

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A Parliament of Crows (Part 1 of 3)

IFD Publishing is reissuing Alan M. Clark’s historical novel A Parliament of Crows as part of its new boutique imprint, Horror that Happened – Based on a True Story.

ParliamentCover

I’m re-reading this fascinating bit of history that took place in Georgia just after the Civil War, and will review the work here in three parts.For creative license, the author has changed the names from Wardlaw to Mortlow.

The story opens with three Wardlaw sisters, Vertiline, Carolee, and Mary, on trial for the murder of Carolee’s daughter, Orphelia.  Between court sessions, they are housed in a particularly disgusting jail, kept in cells far from one another. Vertiline, the eldest, tries to keep control of the situation, or at least control of her younger siblings. Carolee and Mary. But of course she was not in control of anything. Not anymore.

Carolee and Mary, twins, have an almost supernatural connection of communication, but as the trial goes on, Mary appears to lose the will to live, and pressure mounts on Vertiline.

Clark draws on his vast experience and knowledge of Civil War society in this book, interspersing a lot of the women’s history in the war-torn south. There’s a reason the three were charged with this crime, and he paints a very disturbing picture of their upbringing with a father who was a harsh disciplinarian.

In the Author’s Note, Clark discusses the fact that very little information is available about these women and their personalities, or their inner lives. This is the fictional part. The horror of their lives and deeds is pure fact.

HTH-BasedonTrueStory

I’ll continue my assessment of this book as I continue reading.

 

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Lizzie Borden – Based on a True Story

Reprinted from the IFD Publishing site.

The outrageous is all the more extraordinary when we know it actually occurred.

My Wife, Melody, and I took turns reading the chapters of Elizabeth Engstrom’s Lizzie Borden aloud on a trip to the World Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis Minnesota over two decades ago. The drive from Nashville, Tennessee took fifteen hours. One of us drove, while the other read. Lost in Engstrom’s tale, a credible expedition into the hearts of characters from a different time, the drive flew by for both of us.

I had produced cover art for Engstrom’s collection from Tor Books, Nightmare Flower, and we met her at the convention for the first time.

Lizzie Borden
Lizzie Borden

In the novel Lizzie Borden, we have horror and history, two of my interests combined, and the perfect volume to launch IFD Publishing’s new imprint, Horror that Happened™. The mystery of a young “proper” Victorian-era woman being accused yet acquitted of the brutal mutilation and murder of her parents, had always captured my imagination, as it had the rest of the world.

Trial jury
Trial jury

In the 1890s, Lizzie Borden’s trial was a media circus, something we’re very familiar with today, but a singular event in Borden’s time. The circumstantial evidence of the case seemed to indicate that she’d done the deed. Though we cannot know the truth, I have always wondered about what might have moved Miss Borden emotionally to such a state that the act could seem reasonable. Of course, the murders look more like the product of frenzied lashing out than reason, but the efforts to avoid prosecution seem to indicate that there might have been planning involved.

Engstrom’s story took me back in time, and gave me a solid view of the world through the eyes of a very troubled Lizzie Borden. Her sensibilities were different from mine, but I could relate to her emotional state in each scene, a credit to Engstrom’s writing ability.

Andrew Borden, deceased


Abby Borden, deceased

I was so inspired by her approach with Lizzie Borden, I later began to write novels based on historical events. And, like Engstrom, I told dreadful tales. Many of my Horror that Happened novels will also be released under the new IFD Publishing imprint in the coming months. Following the release of Lizzie Borden on July 1, IFD Publishing will release on September 1 my novel, A Parliament of Crowsinspired by the crimes of the three Wardlaw sisters, Carolyn, Mary and Virginia, women who taught social graces while also committing insurance fraud and murder. Their trial, nearly two decades later, was the next media circus concerning the heinous acts of “proper” women.

—Alan M. Clark

Eugene Oregon

One of three imprint book badges
One of three imprint book badges

Horror that Happened, the new imprint from IFD Publishing, provides riveting stories in three categories: True Crime, Based on a True Story, and Lifted from the Past. We hope you will come back to IFD Publishing for your high-quality reading entertainment.

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Vegan Summerfest

I’ve wanted to go to Vegan Summerfest in Johnstown, PA ever since I found out about it three years ago.

But it’s expensive. Summerfest itself is not inexpensive, to stay in the dorms, to have your meals there, for the full five days. Plus, there is airfare. And I wanted to get in the door on the day it started (Wednesday) at 10am, which meant I had to go the day before and get a hotel room for a night.

VeganSummerfest2019

Man, was it worth it.

Vegan Summerfest is held on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus every year. (Note to organizers: How about alternating coasts?)  It begins on the first Wednesday of July. You can come for the whole Wednesday-through-Sunday conference, or you can be a weekender, starting at 5pm on Friday. I highly recommend the whole shebang. Stay on campus, eat at the vegan cafeteria (more about that in a minute), walk through the afternoon thundershowers to various talks in various campus buildings. Be there. Be present. Soak it all in.

There were over 60 presenters, including some of the heavy hitters in the medical community like Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, and Dr. Michael Greger, author of How Not to Die, and moving force behind www.nutritionfacts.org and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, as well as Dr. Ted Barnett, of Rochester Lifestyle Medicine. Doctors, nutritionists, chefs (check out Chef G.W. Chew’s YouTube videos! He gave fantastic, hilarious food demos!), lots of people who run vegan associations and giant VegFests to give tips on how to get started and how to keep the momentum up.

 

How Not to Die

 

There were talks about the Biblical imperative of veganism, the Philosophy of Food (one of my favorite talks by Dr. Mylan Engel), talks about diet and cancer, diet and diabetes, diet and ethics, vegan athletes, even a naturalist who talked about how bats are integral to the food system.

There were products to buy, of course, t-shirts and hats, magazines, and a huge bookstore.

The days began with nature walks around campus, and/or yoga. Then breakfast (more on the food in a minute). Then 45-minute classes with 15-minute breaks to get to the next one, likely in a different building, all the way to lunch. After lunch, more classes, until dinner. After dinner, there were plenary sessions, entertainment, and then parties and sky watching with telescopes for those who were up late and still eager for more. The last night, after the plenary session where Dr. Greger debuted his new talk on How Not to Diet (also the title of his forthcoming book), and he was inducted into the Vegan Hall of Fame (his name to reside alongside Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Klaper and other vegan lifestyle luminaries), there was dancing until the wee hours with a great DJ.

T.ColinCampgell

T. Colin Campbell, PhD, author of The China Study. Still going strong at 85 years old

But let me tell you about the food.

When you walk into the cafeteria, you’ll see a giant semi-circle serving bar. For breakfast, for example, there might be roasted potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, vegan sausages, a tofu scramble, muesli, and oatmeal. All of this would be at three different stations, and in between would be condiments: nutritional yeast, raisins, flax seed, etc. Beyond that semi-circular station is a fruit bar, with all kinds of fruit. Beyond that is the SOS (salt, oil, sugar free) bar, with exactly the same breakfast food, only SOS free. Next to that is the gluten-free bar, with exactly the same breakfast food, only gluten free. On the other side is a gigantic soup and salad bar, three times a day. At lunch and dinner there is a pizza oven, with nonstop pizzas coming out that were thin-crusted and delicious. And in the adjacent room, there is the raw bar, with amazing frozen desserts. Wonderful desserts every day. And all of this is prepared by university staff under the direction of celebrity vegan chef Mark Reinfeld. This was gourmet food. Outrageously good. Al is currently enjoying all the new culinary tricks I discovered.

GWChew

Me fan-girling on Chef GW Chew. Photo by Chuck Phillips

The lodging was in dorm rooms. Two twin beds, two desks, two dressers. I stayed in a room by myself, but two rooms shared a bathroom. My through-the-bathroom roommate was Diane, with whom, I was delighted to discover, I had a lot more in common than just our vegan lifestyle.  That was another thing, it was kind of like summer camp. Diane and I hung out together, and the first day we met Chuck, and then it was the three of us, sharing notes and handouts at meals after our various sessions. We made fast friends for life.

Liz,Chuck,Diane

Me, with Chuck and Diane, after dancing on Saturday night

Yes, campus-wide wifi. And free shuttle to the Johnstown airport.

The programming was remarkable, with something for everyone. It was hard to choose which sessions to attend, as few were repeated, and there were at least five going on simultaneously. But we did our best.

All of this was made possible for me by the generosity of my good friend Dianna Rodgers. Dianna was a passionate vegetarian, and she died last year, leaving me some money in her will. What a sweet and unexpected gesture. That money, and another surprise windfall came at just the right time and it was just exactly the right amount for tuition, lodging, and airfare. I know Dianna would be pleased at how I used her generous gift.

Dianna

Dianna Rodgers. I so miss you, my friend. 

The whole experience was inspirational to say the least, and I am already scheming on the budget to find my way back to Summerfest next year.

Here’s to your health!

eattherainbow

Eat the Rainbow

 

 

 

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What Really Happened?

One of the interesting things about the Lizzie Borden  story is that the whole family always kept the interior doors locked. In order for Lizzie to get to her own bedroom, she had to unlock her sister Emma’s bedroom door, walk in, lock it behind her, and then unlock her own door, go in, and lock it behind her.

LizzieBordenPhoto

Lizzie Borden

What kind of family dynamic would result in this type of behavior?

It appeared to me, which informed the way I constructed the narrative, that each member of the Borden family lived in their own little world, not communicating on any meaningful level with anyone else.

Truthfully, very little is known about the personalities of the Borden family members. What is known has been written up in psychological journals, legal assessments, and endless (annual) speculation.

Before embarking on the journey of writing this book, I read everything that I could find, everything available, in law libraries, in university libraries, and in all manner of fiction and speculation.

My theories about what happened that day are influenced by fact, but are unquestionably fiction.

lizzie cover

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Lizzie Borden

My publisher is re-releasing my book, Lizzie Borden, as the first in their new Horror that Happened line.

lizzie cover

In celebration, I am posting the Prologue to that volume here.

Prologue – April, 1865

“Come over here, Lizzie. Sit beside me. That’s my girl. Your worm still on the hook?”

Little Lizzie Borden, age five, sat down on the stream bank and lifted her fishing stick to show the pale worm to her father.

“Good girl. Put it back down there now, and we’ll wait for a big trout to come and eat it.”

Slowly, feeling sorry for the worm, Lizzie lowered her stick. Her papa had whittled the stick for her the day before up at the farmhouse. Tied onto the end of the stick was a length of black fishing line, and tied onto the end of the line was a hook. Stuck onto the hook was a worm, a big one they’d dug out of the stream bank. But then it was happy, fat and red, and now it was kind of skinny, shriveled and white. Lizzie didn’t think too much of fishing.

“Isn’t this peaceful?”

She looked up at her father. Then she looked downstream for sight of Emma. Emma was squatting at the edge of the water, looking intently into its depths. She’d been like that for what seemed like hours. Lizzie was always amazed at the way Emma could be absolutely still for the longest time. Waiting was something Emma could do very well. Lizzie had no patience at all. But then Emma was fifteen. Emma knew everything, and Lizzie was sure that when she turned fifteen, she would be able to wait, too.

The country, at first, seemed silent, but then Lizzie heard the stream running, the flutter of the reed that had been caught in the water. She heard birds clucking and chirping and a sudden flutter of wings, she heard the underlying hum of all the insects as they went about their business.

Maybe Emma wasn’t waiting after all. Maybe she was listening.

It felt odd to be away from home, out in the country, all the way out at the farm. It was odd to have Papa home all day long, but that’s what they called a vacation. Lizzie loved the farm. She loved being out here with Emma and Papa. Mother was back at the farmhouse baking wonderful fruit pies. Lizzie had helped pull stalks of rhubarb with their gigantic green leaves. She wiped the dirt off one of the red stalks and took a bite. Just the right kind of sour that tasted good and made her mouth wrinkle up and go dry. With lots of sugar, Mother would turn that into a glorious pie. Then, Mother said, when they came back with their mess of fish to fry up, she’d be cooling those sweet pies on the windowsill. Lizzie had grabbed her fishing stick and was the first one ready to go. She wanted to get back home to those pies.

She looked down at her shoes. They were new, a pretty brownish red leather, but she was sure she’d get them dirty here and vacation or not, Mother would be cranky about it. She lifted up her fishing stick again to look at the worm.

“You have to leave the worm in the water, Lizzie. The fish won’t bite it if it keeps flying out of the water like that.”

“He’s cold.”

“He’s not cold. He’s a worm. Put him back.”

She let the worm go back down into the water. She leaned over and watched him disappear into the green.

“Isn’t this nice,” Papa said, and leaned up against a rock “Spring is my favorite time of year. The sun is hot and the air is cool. Everything is green and fresh—” he put his arm around her— “and I’ve got my best girl right here by my side.”

Lizzie leaned into his side, resting her head against his chest.

He stroked her hair. She closed her eyes.

“We have a nice mother, don’t we?”

Lizzie nodded. Her eyes felt sleepy.

“Yes,” he said, smoothing her fine blonde hair from her forehead. “We have a nice mother now, and Emma is old enough to take care of herself as well as you, and things are back to being normal.”

He reached down and took off his shoes, then his socks. His long toes were white and hairy, and his toenails were long and cracked. Kind of yellow. He wiggled them.

“This is the kind of day that you should try to memorize, Lizzie,” he said. “Look around you and see everything. Focus on everything. The way the water runs so shiny and fast in the middle of the stream, yet swirls slowly near the bank. The way the reeds grow in the shallows here. The color of the new leaves, the dampness of the earth. The clouds… This is the kind of day that you put in your heart and you remember during those times when life isn’t quite so good, when life turns hard and mean, you pull out this stream bed and you and me under the clouds…”

Lizzie looked around because she knew he wanted her to. Then she put her head back against him, hoping he’d start to talk again so she could hear his words through his chest instead of through her ears.

“I have wonderful dreams for you, Lizzie. Wonderful dreams. Do you want to hear?”

Lizzie nodded. She opened her eyes for a moment and thought she saw a fish come up and take a gulp of air on the other side of the bank, showing her its big orange mouth. Her eyelids were getting heavier and heavier in the warm sunshine. She’d tell him about it later.

“You’ll be beautiful when you grow up. Your blonde hair will be long and luxuriant. You will live in a big house in the hill with a nice view, and have many, many friends. Dozens of friends. Famous friends.”

Lizzie could feel him talk more than she could hear him. Her ear rested on the side of his chest and she loved the vibrations of his deep voice.

“I’m going to make us rich, Lizzie, very rich, very, very rich, and you will have your pick of thousands of eligible young men who will come courting. But you hold out for the very best. You’ll have a substantial dowry, and you should have the very best husband. The very best.”

Lizzie dreamed about the little rag doll that Emma had made for her.

“Lizzie, are you asleep?”

“Hmm?”

“Lizzie, I have to know. When you are so rich and popular, and I am such an old, old man, will you still love me?”

“Of course, Papa,” she muttered, her voice thick.

“You will?”

Lizzie looked up at him and she couldn’t tell if he was joking with her or not. He had a queer expression on his face, as if he didn’t know if he was joking or not. She nodded, then settled her head against him to hear his vibrations some more.

“That’s good, Lizzie,” he said. “That’s very, very good.”

Lizzie wanted to look at her worm again, but as she brought the stick up, something grabbed it from down below and began to pull on it.

Papa!” She came wide awake in an instant, holding onto the stick with both hands. “Papa!”

“He laughed. “It’s a fish, Lizzie! You caught a fish! Hold on tight and bring him up. Have you got him? Do you need help?”

Lizzie put her bottom lip between her teeth and held onto that stick as tight as she could. She dug her heels into the soft mossy grass at the edge of the bank and pulled up on the stick that was wiggling with life on the end of the line. Something silver flashed in the water below her.

Then her father’s hands were on her waist and he helped her to stand up. “Okay now,” he said. “Easy. Just bring your stick up and swing the fish right over here onto the bank.”

When she was steady, he let her go and stepped back.

She swung the fish—a big one!—onto the bank and began to giggle as it flipped and flopped, its pink-striped speckled sides flashing and throwing off raindrops in the sun.

My fish. My beautiful fish.

“Look at my fish, Papa. I caught a fish, Papa. Emma, come look!” she said, but Emma was already standing there, tall and gangly, staring down at the fish.

“You certainly did, Lizzie. A beauty, too.” Andrew Borden picked up a rock and slammed it down on the fish’s head.

Papa, no!” She grabbed onto his arm, but he shook her off and so she watched in horror as the bleeding fish flopped a few last times.

“It doesn’t hurt, Lizzie. It’s just a fish. We have to kill it.”

Again, he smashed the rock onto the fish’s head. Again. And again. He just kept doing it, over and over again, and when he finally stopped, beads of sweat stood out on his forehead and where the fish’s head had been was a red, pulpy mass.

“There.” He stood up and threw the rock into the stream. “Good catch, Lizzie. Let’s take this home and have Mother fry it up for supper.”

The fish had lost its shine, the day had lost its magic, and even Lizzie’s new shoes weren’t so nice any more, she noticed as they walked back to the farmhouse. Her father carried the fish by the tail because she wouldn’t touch it; it had been so beautiful and full of life just a moment before. He could have just let it die, it could have just died, or it could have flopped back into the water, that would have been all right, too. Anything, anything but smashing its head in with a sharp rock.

And Emma smiled.

Lizzie came to the dinner table that night, but she wouldn’t sit next to her father and she wouldn’t look at the fish. She kept her little fishing stick, though, and vowed to remember this day just like her papa had told her to.

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