Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Introducing Chicken Ranch Central

After letting my website at www.JaymeBlaschke.com lie fallow and unused for the better part of the last two years, today I unveil a major renovation and redesign. Honestly, it's more along the lines of Extreme Makeover, because the only surviving element from my previous website is the URL.

Now known as "Chicken Ranch Central," my pages are repurposed to focus on my in-progress book on the infamous La Grange Chicken Ranch, but also contains more information regarding my other writing--both fiction and non--than ever before. And not content to just settle for a mere website redesign, I've also added:

  • A new Twitter account, so you can keep up with me on a moment-by-moment basis
  • A Facebook Fan page for the book project
  • A Yahoo! Announcements list for those who like their online communication to kick it old school (actually, this last one isn't new, but it seemed prudent to mention it here)

So check back early and often--fun developments are afoot!

Now Playing: The Smithereens 11

Monday, August 30, 2010

Armadillocon 32: Arboretum edition

The difficult thing about life is that it doesn't respect best-laid plans. To wit, I've had more and more conflicts disrupting my convention-going schedule in recent years. This year is the first time I missed Apollocon since the very first one (and I only missed that one because they didn't invite me). Conflict reared its ugly head again, forcing me to bow out of the Friday night festivities at Armadillocon 32. I did get to enjoy Saturday and Sunday, fortunately, but it's tough to get into a comfortable rhythm without a Friday primer. I got to see old friends like Amy Sisson and Rosemary Clement-Moore (below) only in passing, and even lunch with the No Fear of the Future gang was rushed because I had a panel to make. That was the weekend in a nutshell--everything was rushed for me, and leisurely sit-down conversations were notable in their absence.

The one possible exception to my frenzied pace was Lillian Steward Carl and her husband Paul (below). Old friend going back 20 years now, Lillian was an instructor at my very first writers workshop. The pace slowed down whenever they were around, and we got to catch up on family and other non-convention updates.

And then there's the Space Squid crew. What can you say about a specfic humor magazines that takes the anti-Kindle movement to the extreme by publishing their latest edition on clay tablets? Genius. Sick, twisted genius, but genius nonetheless.

I had two panels on Saturday, "The Trials and Tribulations of the Short Story" and "Steampunk: Literary or Social Movement?" Both were very well attended and the panelists quote engaging and knowledgeable. There was some particularly good back-and-forth on the short fiction panel, as we dissected what goes into making a short story more than just a fictionalized encyclopedia entry and how the form differs from, say, a novel. I must point out that it succeeded despite my ham-fisted attempts at moderating. The steampunk panel was wildly successful if for no other reason than several panelists came in costume and brought scratch-built steampunk toys. Scott Bobo and Renee Babcock, pictured below, attended neither panel.

Special Guest Michael Bishop, however, did attend. In fact, he was one of the best contributors to the short story panel, which also featured short fiction guru Howard Waldrop. I confess we veered more than once into "Let's talk about this awesome story Howard wrote and analyze why it's so great" more than once, but when the stories in question are "The Ugly Chickens" and "Custer's Last Jump," I think that's pretty understandable.

Saturday night saw Kasey Lansdale, the daughter of Joe R. Lansdale (His Ownself) give a concert. She's a country singer, and the girl's got some pipes. Her sound is something akin to Joplin meets Cline, with a dash of Reba. She's got a full album and a new EP out, and I swear I'm going to give both a proper writeup eventually, but until then, here's Oklahoma artist David Lee Anderson playing lead guitar in a wicked cool pic.

And finally, no Kasey Lansdale concert is complete without Mark Finn showing up to perform a heartfelt a capella duet of Finn's 2007 smash, "Don't Shoot That Monkey Down!" I'm telling you, folks, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. If that Lansdale girl knew what was good for her, she'd include that little ditty on her next album. I'm just saying.

Anyone interested in perusing a whole heck of a lot more Armadillocon 32 images should mosey on over to Lisa on Location. The Wife was in full-on pro photographer mode Saturday, and got a lot of good ones. Enjoy.

Now Playing: Dire Straits On the Night

Friday, August 27, 2010

Armadillocon 32 schedule

It's Armadillocon 32 weekend, and has been happening with alarming frequency of late, I have conflicts. Therefore I will not be in attendance tonight, when events kick into high gear with the traditional Friday night soiree. This is getting old, I assure you. Nevertheless, unless there are other obligations afoot of which I am currently unawares, I will be there Saturday and Sunday. Below is my schedule. Stop by and chat a bit if you're so inclined.

The Trials and Tribulations of the Short Story
Noon-1:00 PM Sabine

M. Bishop, H. Waldrop, L. Carl, J. Blaschke*, L. Antonelli, S. Allen
In the short story, you have 7500 words to introduce characters, set up the plot, develop the plot, and then wrap it all up. Our panelists discuss the agonies and rewards of the short story.

Steampunk: Literary or Social Movement?
2:00 PM-3:00 PM Trinity

G. Wilhite, J. Blaschke, R. Kelley*, M. Dimond, Mi. Finn, P. Jones
Is it more accurate to understand steampunk as a literary movement or as a social movement?

Worldbuilding: First Steps
Noon-1:00 PM San Marcos

J. Blaschke, N. Holzner, J. McKinney*, S. Brust, M. Nelson
You're building a world. What do you need to do first?

Now Playing: Billy Joel Greatest Hits vol. 1 & 2

Friday Night Videos

Today I'm in a Falco kind of mood, and all the Teutonic greatness that implies. You may think you know his song "Der Kommissar," but you're most likely confusing it with After The Fire's note-for-note cover. This one's pure Falco. Ja!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... OK Go.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Glass Houses

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The Republic of Turkey, established in 1923, is the successor state to the Ottoman Empire with a population of 73 million. Citizens 18 years and older have the right to vote, and Turkish women have enjoyed suffrage since 1933. Although the predominant faith of its citizens is Islam (roughly 75 percent being Sunnis with a 25 percent Shia minority) the nation itself is fiercely secular. This was made explicit in 1928 when the line "The Religion of the State is Islam" was removed from the Turkish constitution. Freedom of religion is protected for individuals, and while the existence of religious organizations is protected, they are forbidden from participating in political activity. Headscarves are forbidden in schools and civic/government buildings. The wearing of religious symbols are likewise forbidden. Right-wing, religious political parties have assailed official secularism at times, desiring to move Turkey in the direction of becoming an Islamic state. Four times the army has intervened with coups when theocrats gained the upper hand, restoring secular governments to power. The current ruling AKP party has strong Islamic ties and currently maintains a cautious relationship with the military, lest overt efforts to implement an Islamic state trigger another coup. It is interesting that secular Turkey is arguably the most stable, modern, diversified and prosperous of nations with Islamic-majority populations.

So when a religious conservative in the U.S. makes a blanket statement like "There is no separation of church and state in Islam" as if to cut off debate and silence critics with irrefutable, sage insight, I have to wonder what the speaker's point is. Is the U.S. superior to these heathens because we have separation of church and state? Or is this something for the U.S. to aspire toward? It's utterly confusing in light of the continual distaste this segment of the U.S. population holds for the concept of separation of church and state in the U.S. Never mind that the original assertion regarding Islam is patently false, and that the most theocratic Islamic states are also among the poorest and most oppressive in the world. Right-leaning fundamentalists are invariably supporters of the First Amendment's right to freedom of religion, as long as it is their religion. In that, I suppose, we can thank Puritan malcontents, who didn't land at Plymouth Rock for freedom of religion but rather for the freedom to establish a bleak, oppressive theocracy that would be considered a barbaric, draconian cult by today's standards. The First Amendment, apparently, should be subject to majority rule, a democratic vote, as evidenced by the right's railing against a proposed Islamic center to be built kinda sorta near the site of the World Trade Center. A project, incidentally, most New Yorkers aren't bent out of shape about. But since so many folk in the hinterland believe that religious freedom in New York City should be put up to a popular vote, let's just take it one step further.

The religious right--generally including, but not limited to, fundamentalist Christians--insist there is no "separation of church and state" in the U.S., that the framers of the constitution never intended such a concept (nevermind that Thomas Jefferson, he who wrote the constitution is also the selfsame person who coined the contentious "separation of church and state" phrase). The U.S. is a "Christian nation" (as opposed to a nation of Christians) and that Christianity is our defacto national religion, and any government action to the contrary amounts to religious oppression. Fine. Let's have a vote on that: What shall be our National Religion, fully in line with the right's interpretation of the First Amendment.

Counts votes.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are all proud members of the Catholic United States of America! What? Don't look so surprised--Catholics make up 25 percent of the U.S. population, or 68 million people. When it comes to democratic vote, it's not even close. Southern Baptists, the next-largest denomination in the U.S., total a paltry 16 million members, and Methodists check in with just a hair under 8 million. And you folks always wondered why Baylor and SMU couldn't ever sell out their football stadiums while Notre Dame has it's own television network! I expect all of you to get yourselves to confession right away, and your penance will be to pray the Rosary daily, pending the pope's encyclical on the matter. Now, now! It's no use complaining, the democratic vote was held fair and square, just as you insisted. Besides, you should be happy we Catholics exercised our democratic rights to save your souls from eternal damnation, Protestants being bastardizations of the One, True Religion after all. Only the Vatican wields the true authority of Jesus Christ, handed down in an unbroken succession from St. Peter the Apostle himself.

If you don't like it, you can always go to one of those blighted, secular states that practice the separation of church and state. Like Turkey.

Now Playing: Clandestine The Ale is Dear

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chicken Ranch: I take the Fifth

If anyone had told me that I'd be working on the opening paragraph for the Chicken Ranch book for more than a month, I'd have said "You're joking!" They probably would've answered, "No, you're joking!" But here were are at version number 5.

It occurred to me that a major element of the Chicken Ranch mystique came from the road trip aspect. It was located in rural Texas, but survived because of a steady stream of patrons from College Station, Austin, Houston and elsewhere. Capturing that heady experience, full of anticipation and mystery might be just the hook I need.
We were somewhere around Ellinger on the edge of Fayette County when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive..." And suddenly there was a terrible clucking all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge chickens, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to La Grange. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn leghorns?"

As always, this is a work in progress. Feedback is always encouraged. In case you missed 'em, here are my previous installments:
Version 4
Version 3
Version 2
Version 1

Now Playing: Aerosmith Pandora's Box

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Night Videos

OK Go is a band I've encountered before, and although their music is nifty, it's their videos that stay with me. They're visually creative in a way I haven't seen since the Talking Heads, only in a completely different manner. "This Too Shall Pass" is simply amazing for the intricate Rube Goldbergian set they've constructed. I *think* it's all legit, but with all the twists and turns it's possible they slipped a bit of camera trickery in, or rigged up backup triggers to keep everything going in case some element jumped the tracks. But still, wow.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Mike + The Mechanics.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Staying Home to Watch the Rain

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New plates

In the wheel of life, it came time for me to not only renew my car's registration, but to also get new license plates. Being the "throw caution to the wind" fellow that I am, I splurged on collegiate plates. But probably not the plate most of you would've expected.

Don't get me wrong--I still bleed maroon. It's just that a percentage is now Bobcat maroon. I did, after all, pull a 4.0 in my Texas State course load in photography. And, unlike A&M, Texas State still values its journalism department, and the bachelor's degrees offered therein.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Chicken Ranch: Fourth try

Hmm. This nut's proving tougher to crack than I thought. I've tried a formal, grand overview. That didn't work. I tried informal dialect. No dice. Metaphorical comparison/contrast was a non-starter. What am I missing? Wait a minute! I know what I've been doing wrong-- The Chicken Ranch is legend, larger than life. I've completely missed the mythic! Easily rectified:
In a house on a ranch there lived a madam. Not a nasty, dirty, swine ranch, filled with wallows of mud and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, cattle ranch with nothing on it but cactus or maybe a tumbleweed: it was the Chicken Ranch and that means comfort.

It had a perfectly rectangular door like a screen door, painted white, with a dull gray aluminum latch to one side. The door opened on to a half-walled hall like a parlour; a very shabby parlour with smoke, with panelled walls, and floors of formica, provided with naugahyde stools, and lots and lots of ash trays - the madam was fond of visitors.

As always, this is a work in progress. Feedback is always encouraged. In case you missed 'em, here are my previous attempts:
Version 3
Version 2
Version 1

Now Playing: Subvision and Guy Gross Farscape Soundtrack

Monday, August 16, 2010


I had my first pear harvest today. The winter we moved in to this house, I planted two pear trees--a Warren and a Moonglow. To my chagrin, I later discovered that the Warren is literally a late bloomer, and won't mature for several more years, whereas the Moonglow is precocious and ready to fruit at a tender age--as long as there's another tree to pollinate it nearby. So this year, frustrated by several years of fruitless blossoms, I pulled some flowering branches from ornamental pear trees and tried using those to pollinate. The end results were successful, but not overwhelmingly so. Not as many blossoms turned to fruit as I'd have hoped, and there was substantial fruit drop the first month. But today, with another pear tree about a mile down the road dropping a dozen fruit daily and my green Moonglow pears taking on a russet coloring, I decided it was time to harvest.

All told, the final tally was 12 pears--some enormous and some puny, with most falling in between. Some have soft fireblight spots on them, the result of my not spraying the tree this year to control the disease. The pears are still too hard to eat, but it is my understanding that in Texas pears ripen better off the tree than on because of the intense summer heat. I'm a big pear fan, so I've got them piled up around some bananas on the kitchen cabinet to hasten ripening. Some day I hope to have a big enough harvest to attempt perry/pear wine, but for now I'll be happy with a fruity snack.

MoonglowNow Playing: Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother

Generation gap

I know Monkey Girl and I have our differences. She's a strong-willed individual who's in those tumultuous preteen years in which she views her father as incompetent and it utterly frustrated by her parents' refusal to treat her as a full-fledged adult. But the severity of the generation gap really struck home with me last night when I tried to do some of that parental bonding stuff by watching a movie with her.

She got bored with Time Bandits.

I'm still a bit shell-shocked today, folks. I just don't know where to go from here.

Now Playing: The Beastie Boys License to Ill

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Night Videos

I was a huge Genesis fan in the 80s, so when Mike Rutherford set off to work on a side project, I was primed to like Mike + The Mechanics. What's interesting is that that band's music is so different from that of Genesis. "Silent Running" blew me away when I first heard it, and I've got most of their albums. The music trends a little low-key for me to utterly love the group, but the high points are spectacular. I believe I'm not going too far out on a limb when I say the band reached it's high point with "The Living Years." A very powerful song, particularly for those of us who've had to cope with domineering fathers in our lives.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Johnny Hates Jazz.

Now Playing: The B-52s Good Stuff

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Chicken Ranch: Take three

My second try at a more informal, revised opening to my book on the infamous La Grange Chicken Ranch went up last week, and although the response was generally positive, there were a few concerns raised. The voice, some felt, might be a little bit too rustic for modern audiences. Fair enough. On further review, it may well stray too far into Life on the Mississippi territory for a book with both feet planted firmly in Texas. So I started thinking about what made the story of the Chicken Ranch unique, and I struck upon all the contrasts and contradictions inherent in the tale. That was all I needed to go to town on this new, revised opening:
It was the best of brothels, it was the worst of brothels, it was the heaven of hedonists, it was the hell of chaste, it was the epoch of innocence, it was the epoch of corruption, it was the season of prostitution, it was the season of morality, it was the spring of mass media, it was the winter of rural isolation, we had whores before us, we had "Closed on Account of Marvin Zindler" before us, we were all going direct to the Chicken Ranch, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the La Grange of the 1970s was so far like the La Grange of the 2010s, that some of its noisiest residents insisted on its history being buried, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

How does the new approach work? There's a sort of rhythmic cadence that sets in there, doesn't it? Remember, it's still a work in progress--all of this can change!

Now Playing: Mike + The Mechanics Living Years

Monday, August 09, 2010

Danaus gilippus

I haven't done much photography of late, other than assisting The Wife on a number of shoots, but serendipity met happenstance and all that on Sunday. I was walking with Bug along a country lane outside of Bastrop when this colorful little fellow caught our attention. We watched it for a while, then continued our walk. I returned shortly with my camera and makeshift macro setup, and went about trying to capture this spectacular little caterpillar.

The results were better than I expected. In fact, I feel this is probably my single best effort at macro photography, and the attractive colors come dangerously close to "fine art" territory. So I committed a bit of composition in Photoshop, and the result is the high-faluting triptych above (click for a larger version).

For the curious and entomologically inclined, the caterpillar is that of the danaus gilippus species, better known as the Queen butterfly. They're closest relatives are the more famous Monarchs. I've never seen one before, and from the maroon and gold coloration, I'd assumed it was the larval form of a Texas State Bobcat...

Now Playing: Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra Pictures at and Exhibition

Friday, August 06, 2010

Friday Night Videos

Driving home Thursday night, this song came on the radio. I haven't heard "Shattered Dreams" in years, but I recall liking it a lot when it was a hit back in the late 80s. Never could quite figure out their bizarre name. What kind of statement were they trying to make with Johnny Hates Jazz? Ironic, maybe? They didn't stick around long enough for it to become a pressing issue on the national consciousness, so I guess we'll never know. Nifty video, tho.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The B-52s.

Now Playing:

TAAF state finals

Monkey Girl kicked all kinds of butt at the TAAF Games of Texas state swim finals! She swam Thursday in the 100 IM, and shaved an amazing 9 seconds off her qualifying time from regionals! That kind of improvement over such a short span is unheard of. She finished first in her heat, beating her closest competitor by two seconds, but we don't know how she fared in the final standings. The top 3 is too much to hope for, but considering this isn't even her best event, I'm very, very proud of her showing.

I can't say the same for the city of Waco, which is where the meet was held. We've been going to swim meets for three years now, and I've never seen such a wretched event. The finals were held at Waco Water Park, and I can't fathom a venue more ill-suited. Most of the place is taken up by water slides, wading pools and lazy rivers, acres of concrete and no shade whatsoever. Temperatures were pushing 100 degrees and there was no breeze, but they had a full contingent of life guards on duty--to keep people away from the water. Also to make sure nobody brought drinks in, to force folks to buy the park's overpriced concessions. AND pay higher admission prices than they would have to simply go swimming there, if they would actually let people in the water. They had water coolers placed here and there, but these were emptied quickly and by about 3:30 they just stopped trying to keep them filled and took them all away. At about 3 p.m. the first ambulance arrived to treat someone for heat exhaustion. Did I mention how overbearing, rude and condescending the workers were? Let's just say the woman in charge isn't someone the Waco Chamber of Commerce should put on their community's welcoming committee. Their ineptitude was astounding. There was only one competitive pool, so they had to block out time for the swimmers to warm up, then clear them all out before competition could start. Most venues have two pools, so swimmers can warm up shortly before their races. Not Waco. Which meant Monkey Girl warmed up at 2 p.m., then sat in the blistering heat until her race at 5 p.m. The P.A. announced events and heats only intermittently, and the big board was about two events behind the entire day. Confusion reined. The kicker is that at noon the Waco organizers distributed heat sheets to the competing teams, and it took an out of town coach to notice that the Waco folks, in their infinite wisdom, had scheduled eight swimmers per heat, but their pool only had six lanes. Pure bush league.

If you're reading this and have swimmers competing Friday or Saturday, it's not too late to pull out and save yourself several hours of pure misery. I've been to dozens of swim meets both as a parent and a sports reporter, and have never, ever experienced such a train wreck. Waco should be permanently banned from even bidding on a TAAF swim meet ever again. Seriously, folks, it was that bad.

Now Playing:

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Chicken Ranch: Take two

Okay, last week I posted a proposed opening paragraph for my in-progress book on the infamous La Grange Chicken Ranch. The comments were enlightening. Several people pointed out that the sentence structure tended toward complex, and there was a stilted, formal tone that didn't entirely suit the subject matter. Point taken. I've reworked the opening paragraph--keeping everyone's comments in mind--and come up with the following, which I feel is much less formal and more intimate, not to mention relaxed.
YOU don't know about Edna without you have seen a play by the name of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; but that ain't no matter. That play was written by Mr. Larry L. King, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Sheriff Jim, or the governor, or maybe the Aggies. Sheriff Jim - Fayette County's sheriff, he was - and the Aggies, and Governor Briscoe is all told about in that play, which is mostly a true play, with some stretchers, as I said before.

As always, I invite your feedback. This is still a work in progress, so everything is subject to change!

Now Playing: ZZ Top Tres Hombres