Wednesday, January 02, 2013

2012 in the rear view mirror (Chicken Ranch edition)

So, 2012 has come and gone, and, two days into this strange new year called 2013, finally have a chance to pause, catch my breath and take stock of my world. If I'm being honest, 2012 truly proved a mixed bag for me. This was the first year since 1996 that I had nothing published. Nothing. Nada. Zip. No interviews, reviews, short fiction, anything. I'm not terribly happy about that. Considering how much of my writing energy the Chicken Ranch book consumed during the past three years, however, I suppose it's not too surprising. I also experience a number of other setbacks--I learned, belatedly, an anthology I was to co-edit changed into a single-editor work, with that single editor not being me. Ouch. Then my fiction submission to that same anthology earned a swift rejection. Double ouch. I experienced the singular honor of having a speaking engagement cancelled because I was too expensive. A speaking engagement, I might add, I'd agreed to do gratis. I also had extended experiences with two separate publishers who conducted themselves in not entirely professional manners in relation to my Chicken Ranch book.

Suffice to say, by the end of 2012 I wrestled with a bout of depression. I figure I was entitled.

By far the biggest news of 2012 was my completion of the Chicken Ranch book. What I'd expected to take about six months' effort to knock out ended up consuming more than three years of my life (and counting) and tipped the scales at more than 110,000 words. Traffic to my website and blog increases weekly, and the Chicken Ranch Facebook page I set up continues to gain fans at a steady rate. I regularly receive random emails from folks curious about the book or--just as often--people who were involved with the whole Chicken Ranch affair in some manner or other who are eager to chat with me about it. Case in point: Just before Christmas I made a day trip to La Grange to interview former Fayette County Attorney Dan Beck, who'd been in office less than a year when Marvin Zindler descended on La Grange intent on shutting down the brothel. None of these new interviews are altering the book in any major way, but they are giving me additional perspectives and quotes with which to fill out and give more perspective to certain events and instances.

2012 proved a busy year on the Chicken Ranch front. The Wife and I traveled to Houston this summer to see the Theatre Under the Stars' production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which was magnificent. I'm telling you, folks, if you only know Whorehouse from the Burt Reynolds movie, do whatever you can to see it on the stage. Seriously. Burt's film, to quote Larry L. King, amounts to "Smokey and the Bandit Go to a Whorehouse." There's no comparison.

Speaking of which, Larry L. King, the legendary Texas journalist who penned the Playboy article "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and later co-developed it into the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, died in December. I never did manage to interview King, although I read so much of his writing that I feel like I knew him personally. His health had been touch-and-go in recent years, so his passing came as no surprise. Still, I wish he'd have lived to see my book published.

Another great passed away shortly after King. The character actor Charles Durning had a wide and varied career, but as far as the Chicken Ranch goes, his memorable turn as the side-stepping Texas governor in the Whorehouse film remains a true highlight in a movie remarkably devoid of them.

By far the biggest loss, however, had to be the passing of Miss Edna herself in February. I've already written about her extensively at the previous link, but I have to repeat that I had no bigger supporter in this crazy book project than her. I made a serious effort to tell her story as honestly as possible, and to a certain extent the book is her biography--although it goes far beyond Miss Edna's life. It will always be my regret that I didn't finish the book in time for her to see it.

It was after Miss Edna's death that I realized I've probably become--without intending to--the world's foremost authority on the Chicken Ranch. What a claim to fame, eh? Spending two days non-stop on the phone with media outlets such as the Houston Chronicle and Washington Post tends to drive the point home. I just hope they remember me when the 40th anniversary of the Chicken Ranch closure comes up later this year.

Another highlight of the year was my first academic conference paper presentation. In September I traveled to Nacogdoches for the fall meeting of the East Texas Historical Association, where I presented "The Last Madam: The Unexpected Life of the Chicken Ranch's Edna Milton" to a standing-room-only crowd. I was extremely nervous, being a non-academic, but the number of people who went out of their way to introduce themselves and compliment me afterward was truly heartening.

There were lots of other accomplishments this past year as well. I learned to scuba dive (although I haven't made my qualifying open-water dives yet). My son joined Cub Scouts, and we recently completed his first pinewood derby race car (it looks like a shark). My eldest daughter beat up a boy who was making lewd, sexual comments at her, thus earning three days detention at school and the admiration of her classmates. My middle daughter has become a very impressive pianist--the arrangements she plays aren't terribly complex, but she's really turned a corner and has started seeking out music on her own to play for pleasure. The Wife's photography business took off in a big way in 2012, and I helped shoot a sizable percentage of the 45 weddings she booked last year. In fact, I'm assisting her so much that I've enrolled in 9 hours of photography classes this spring at Texas State, to bring my modest photographic skill set up to par. I'll keep everyone posted on how that works out. And hey, the Aggies finally fielded a decent football team, and featured a Heisman Trophy winner to boot!

So, where do we go from here? With regards to the Chicken Ranch book--which seems to be the primary concern of most readers here--I am now starting the process of querying agents. Most of the big East Coast publishing houses won't even consider unagented manuscripts, so this is a crucial step. I ended up wasting a lot of time in 2011 chasing after agents, but this time around I have a complete manuscript, so hopefully we'll be more successful in 2013. Some people have encouraged me to short-circuit the process and self-publish. Which would make the book available for them to read quickly, I suppose. But I've been published. That's not my goal for this book. I want to get it in bookstores, I want it seen. And yes, I'd like to make a little decent money off of my writing for once in my life, is that too much to ask? Self-publishing won't do any of that, unless I'm willing to make book promotion my full-time job, and frankly, I'm too old for that. I'm ready to move on to other projects, such as the young adult SF novel I've been promising my daughters I'd write before they're too old to enjoy YA literature anymore. I've got half a dozen partial short stories that fell by the wayside over the years, victims of the Chicken Ranch book demanding more and more of my time. And there's that online fantasy serial, Memory, that also fell victim to the Chicken Ranch.

I've got lots of other writing I want to get to. God willing, I'll get to it all in 2013. I don't ever want to have another year devoid of publications.

Now Playing: Louis Armstrong The Essential Louis Armstrong
Chicken Ranch Central

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