The morning of August 4, 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts started out like most any other warm summer New England day. But before noon, the prosperous mill town would be rocked by two horrifyingly brutal murders that continue to fascinate and mystify the American public and the world to this day. More than a century later author Erika Mailman has tapped into the infamous and terrifying legacy of the person accused but ultimately exonerated of those crimes, Lizzie Borden, as a backdrop to her new novel, “The Murderer’s Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel.” I sat down with Mailman recently to talk about the book, the craft of historical fiction and the public’s ongoing fascination with one of America’s most notorious crimes.
Open Mic: What is the official definition of historical fiction?
Mailman: It’s fiction about a time period that has be at least 50 years ago from the current time. It may be based on historical fact or it may be completely invented but it definitely evokes a bygone era and is squarely set in that time period. That of course includes the morals and paradigms of that era. For instance, in my witchcraft novel my main character believed in witchcraft because everybody in that era did and it would be really unusual to have somebody saying “well that’s such superstitious behavior, we don’t think that way.” So in historical fiction you must have everybody thinking and behaving the way people did in that time period.
Open Mic: And how did you come to focus your talents on historical fiction? Did you always love history?
Mailman: I love history! And it’s really funny because when I was in college I had a friend who was a history major and I was like, “really, that just seems so boring.” The one history class I did take I didn’t enjoy, but I’ve always loved historical fiction and I love thinking about the past. I think historical fiction is better than history textbooks at really bringing a time period to life so you can visualize it and really viscerally feel the time period, and that’s what I love.
To read the entire interview