Sunday, November 06, 2016

Texas Book Fest in the rear view mirror

What a weekend that was! I trekked up to Austin on Saturday and Sunday for the Texas Book Festival and had an excellent time, despite the fact that I didn't make it onto any official programming. Saturday was a bit of a challenge--heavy rains blew through in the morning, drenching everything. To make matters worse, I overslept and got a late start. Amazingly, I found a parking space pretty quickly but things went south right after that. The Arcadia/History Press booth was supposed to be in a tent along 11th Street, between Brazos Street and Congress Avenue. This proved problematic, because there were no tents set up in that area. I ended up hiking through every single tent, lugging my vertical Chicken Ranch banner and a box of wayward Images of Spink County books that'd been sent to me by mistake. In 100 percent humidity and 80 degree temperatures, I was drenched by the time I finally found the proper booth in tent no. 2 on Colorado Street--pretty much as far from the original location as possible.

Once I got settled in, though, the fun began. Another author, Caroline Gnagy, was there signing copies of her book, Texas Jailhouse Music. I confessed to her that I didn't even know that was a topic that could be made into a book! We had a fascinating discussion of the Texas prison system of the 1930s and the radio shows that originated there. Then, amazingly, Caroline introduced me to Skip Hollandsworth, who just happened by. I've read Skip's work for years but never met the man. He bought a copy of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch the moment he saw it, and we had a nice conversation about his fascinating book, The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer. That's Skip in the photo above, with History Press' marketing guru Mimi Gryska. As the afternoon wore on, I saw many friends--some new, some old, and some I hadn't seen for decades. I signed a bunch of books. The head of the Texas State Library and Archives stopped by, and was delighted to see how many of their photos had made it into my book (he was even more delighted that I'd give them proper credit on all of them!). It's nice to make a good impression.

My sleep that night was interrupted by by my eldest daughter, who burst into our bedroom at 4 a.m. to announce, "Sir Hill just released a bat into my room!" Those who've followed me for the past year know that the two lost kittens we rescued last year have grown into black panthers, and they take delight into capturing rats and other critters only to release them in the house and what chaos ensue. Sure enough, a very freaked out Mexican freetail bat was in Monkey Girl's room, flying in frantic circles, trying to find a way out. Sir Hiss watched in fascination from the bed, springing up every so often in an attempt to snatch the flying critter out of the air. I pulled on a pair of leather work gloves and grabbed a pool net off the back patio, and after a few false starts, was successful in netting the bat out of the air. Friends, that little bat did not like being caught. I took it outside and released the net, and that little bat took out like... well, it wasn't sticking around. Fortunately, nobody touched it and the animals are all up to date on their rabies shots. If you ask me, though, that little bat had nothing wrong with it other than the humiliation of being caught by a cat. And no, I wasn't able to get back to sleep.

Sunday was supposed to feature heavy rain all day, but amazingly enough, the rain held off for the most part, despite some very heavy storms hitting north Austin. The strong outflow from the storms made for some significant wind and blew at least one information tent into a nearby tree. Other than that, the breeze cooled things down and was quite welcome. The threatening weather kept a lot of potential patrons away, but I still signed more than a few books. One woman happened upon us and was very excited to see my book--The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was her favorite movie and she'd tried to learn as much about the real history as possible--but like me, found there simply wasn't much information available. She thanked me profusely before happily heading off with her copy. Another woman, who'd purchased a book the day before, sought me out to tell me she'd read it all night and gotten all the way to chapter 10--more than halfway through it. She like the book. Really, really liked it, and discussed at length the state of prostitution in Texas through most of the 20th century, and the exploitation that existed. The fact that so many careers were forbidden to women at the turn of the century tragically made prostitution one of the few viable career paths for single women trying to support a family. Another woman, from the Texas A&M Press, had read my book and came by to tell me how much she enjoyed it, and that she felt I'd done an excellent job of making such a complicated topic clear and understandable. She also expressed a great deal of frustration upon learning that the A&M Press held by book for consideration for an entire year before deciding to punt--neither rejecting nor accepting it--mainly out of worry they'd be accused of glorifying prostitution were they to publish it.

I talked with lots of people, and signed more than a few books. I was a great experience, and if History Press will have me, I'll be back again next year.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Johnny Cash The Essential Johnny Cash
Chicken Ranch Central

No comments:

Post a Comment