Tag Archives: Lizzie Borden

Why do we read True Crime stories?

The world abounds with true crime stories. Dateline, a show on NBC, is all about that. The Epstein horror show is all about that. When people go missing, we all engage about the search, and (hopefully) successful recovery. If the recovery is ultimately not successful, then we obsess about the perpetrators and demand their comeuppance.

But all of those things would continue to happen without all the attention we pay. Why do we pay attention like we do?

My new book, Divorce by Grand Canyon, is all about that. Why? Because I’m as fascinated as the rest of you. I got my start when I was doing research on the famed Lizzie Borden case (still unsolved). I wrote a novel about her.


But that doesn’t explain my (our) fascination.

On my website, I try to explain why writers write, and why readers read. I hold to this explanation, as it’s the best I can do.

Why write?

Writing is a process by which we can answer the unanswerable questions about ourselves. We don the skin of a character (who is of us, but yet not us) and we throw them into situations that we find difficult, challenging, or abhorrent, and we watch our characters (ourselves) as they endeavor to climb their way out. We watch them make decisions that we would never make and watch them reap the rewards, or suffer the consequences. And by so doing, we not only hold the mirror to ourselves, but speak our truth.

Writing is a calling.

We write because we must.

Why read?

We read because we lead lives of desperate calm. We go to great lengths to avoid conflict, yet fiction is all about conflict. When we go to bed at night and pick up a book, we slide into the shoes of a character embroiled in outrageous conflict and we learn about ourselves as we watch that character act or fail to act, in ways we would or we would not, and cheer as they triumph or despair as they fail. All along the way we say to ourselves, “I would never do that,” or “I would love to do that,” all the while knowing we would never, could never. This is the nature of escapist literature; we learn about ourselves as we live vicariously through the thrilling escapades of others.

Reading is a passion.

​We read because we must.

While this addresses an aspect of fiction, I believe the same holds true as we try, in vain, to figure out why killers (particularly serial killers) do what they do. It’s interesting to me, and it’s likely interesting to you, too.

Divorce by Grand Canyon is published by IFD Publishing, as part of their Horror That Happened imprint.


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Lizzie Borden on Tour

My publisher, IFD Publishing, is launching a new line of books, Horror That Happened. My Lizzie Borden book was re-released under this new imprint, in the Based on a True Story category.


We decided to do a blog tour with Silver Dagger Book Tours to promote this new release of a much-published book.

The first step was to decide when to do the tour, and how long the tour should last. We chose the entire month of July. Now I say a month is too long. I can blog, and post on social media, but my universe is small, and I can only annoy my readers/followers so much. A month of such posts turned out to be too much for me. Two weeks would have been perfect.

lizzie cover

Maia, of Silver Dagger, did a stellar job. She asked me for all kinds of materials, from answers to interview questions, to history behind the writing of the novel, to personal information. This, she parceled out to her bloggers, who quite faithfully posted the appropriate information on the day they said they would. Maia also posted it all on her Silver Dagger website, which got quite a bit of attention. Could be the $25 gift card we offered to participants. Could be she just has a nice following.

This was not the first time I’ve done a blog tour with Maia. When Benediction Denied came out through ShadowSpinners Press, the publisher set me up for a tour with her. This was in Maia’s earlier days and most of her bloggers turned out to be geared toward the romance market. Definitely not a good fit for my dark fantasy Labyrinth of Souls book. But Maia has grown her business and branched out into what appears to be all genres.

The results aren’t in, of course. Did I get book sales? I won’t know yet for a while, as Amazon reports their book sales in a weird way. But I can tell you that I also blogged about it several times on the Shadow Spinners blog and on my personal blog, and the publisher also did a fine job of blogging, all during the month of June. I think I picked up north of 30 new subscribers to my personal blog. So it’s all good.

Fortunately, this coincided nicely with a bump in Twitter subscribers because When Darkness Loves Us has had an astonishing resurgence with its new publication under the new Paperbacks from Hell imprint from Valancourt Books, curated by Grady Hendrix.

WhenDarknessLovesUs_PFH_Small - F

There is more news, but I will keep that for another post at another time. Suffice to say, it’s good to have a whole new audience for my favorite books. Consider booking a blog tour and report back your successes.

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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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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?”


“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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Horror That Happened

My publisher, IFD Publishing, has opened a new imprint, Horror that Happened. I’m delighted that the first will be my perennial bestselling Lizzie Borden.

This is the official announcement:

IFD launches New Imprint: HORROR THAT HAPPENED

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


Horror that Happened provides riveting stories in three categories: True Crime, Based on a True Story, and Lifted from the Past.


lizzie cover

The imprint will be launched with the release of Elizabeth Engstrom’s Lizzie Borden under the subcategory, Based on True Story. In the novel, Engstrom imagines an intimate view of the life of Lizzie Borden during the period surrounding the murder of her parents.


On September 1, 2019, IFD Publishing will release within the same category, A Parliament of Crows, by Alan M. Clark. The novel is inspired by the lives and crimes of the infamous Wardlaw sisters, 19th century American murderers.


 Following that, in the True Crime category, will be Elizabeth Engstrom’s Divorce by Grand Canyon.


Lifted from the Past will include unsettling works in the public domain, such as Jack London’s The People of the Abyss, and various writings about the Bell Witch from the 19th century.

We hope you will come back to IFD Publishing for your high-quality reading entertainment.


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About Audio Books

I have come slowly to audio books.

While I love to listen to music on my iPod while doing this or that — pulling weeds, washing dishes, puttering around — I have always thought that reading should be a quiet activity, a reward for having pulled weeds, done the dishes and done all the necessary puttering.

But I’m changing my mind about that.

Lizard Wine Audio cover

Several of my books are now available in the audio format, and I have discovered that I enjoy listening to audio books. My favorite way to listen, of course, is still sitting quietly–so I knit and listen. But I can also listen while pulling weeds, doing the dishes and puttering.

Lizard Wine is now available as an audio book, narrated by the astonishing Voice of America, Jim Tedder. This is one of my perennial bestselling thrillers, and Jim brings a very nice depth of emotion to the narration. You can download a sample and then decide whether or not you are interested in listening to more.

Baggage Check, my latest thriller, is also available, narrated by Roger Wood.

baggage check audio cover

Lizzie Borden, of course, is also available as an audio book. As is my very first book, When Darkness Loves Us.

Lizzie audio cover

Sadly to say, my time to read for pleasure has shrunk in the past few years, but with audio books, I can “read” while driving, and while I’m doing almost anything else.

And, like browsing in a bookstore, I can “sample” a book before I buy or borrow.

Audio books have changed the way I read. I’m sorry that my life has come to this type of multi-tasking, but that is the current state of affairs. Maybe some day I will have a hammock and the type of leisure time to while away the day with superb fiction, but that isn’t my world today.

The point is, whether I have headphones or a tablet or paper book in my lap, whether I’m listening or reading, I’m still engaging with wonderful literature.

And that is my lifeblood.

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Contest! – Book Giveaway!

For the month of April, everyone who responds to my Blog or Facebook page will be entered into a contest to receive an autographed book.

I’ll be giving away one copy each of Lizzie Borden, York’s Moon,  The Northwoods Chronicles, Black Leather, The Alchemy of Love, Suspicions, and When Darkness Loves Us. (Winner to be determined by random drawing)

Let me know which of my books was your favorite, and which book you’d like to win!

Contest ends April 30, 2013 at midnight. Winners’ names will be posted here and on the Facebook page. I’ll contact you privately for your mailing address.

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