Monday, May 21, 2012

Chicken Ranch report no. 20

It seems the farther I progress on the Chicken Ranch book, the more headwinds I encounter. At times, it feels like I'm trying to plow a field of molasses the resistance the words put up is so strong. I understand why, though. The earliest chapters consisted, by and large, of straightforward chronological narrative and assorted anecdotes. Putting the pieces together and fashioning them into a seamless whole might've been challenging at times to get right, but the approach was not terribly complex. Now, though, I'm dealing with a number of different narratives, juggling a bunch of different perspectives and timelines regarding the actual closure of the brothel. Sticking with a strictly chronological approach won't work, because there's too much stuff happening simultaneously hither and yon. Different people and sources have conflicting accounts of how something went down. Other times, various sources agree about something that happened, but disagree over the dates or the people involved.

That might not seem like such a big deal, but as I'm trying to make this book the definitive, end-all, be-all "story of record" for the Chicken Ranch and related tangents, it makes a great deal of difference to me (and presumably those people directly involved). Relating the "true story" is pipe dream, though, an unattainable mirage, which is why I've avoided using that particular phrase when describing my project. Where there are multiple versions of how events unfolded, I've done my best to focus on those with evidence to substantiate it. Sadly, in many cases the only evidence I have is circumstantial, if that. Sometimes I have to deduce how we got from Point A to Point B with nothing more than gut instinct, guessing what course is most likely implied by the surrounding events that I do know happened. In at least one instance, I made a whopper of a jump because I had no other alternative. It made me very uncomfortable but to me, the hypotheticals could only unfold in one particular matter if I were to reconcile various sources. Imagine my delight when a new, first-person source dropped into my lap last week, confirming the overall timeline I'd constructed but also filling in some significant details I had not inkling of, not to mention giving me concrete names and dates with which to plug holes in my prose that I'd done my best to wallpaper over in the hopes nobody would notice.

As I push on to the end of the book--I have 11 chapters completed, with one under way and two to go--I can see some clear problem areas in hindsight. There are several large chunks of information that demand inclusion but simply don't fit in the narrative. I've spent a great deal of effort trying to work my way around the problem, but nothing is satisfactory. I strongly suspect at this point that the only resolution is to move these pieces to an appendix at the back of the book. I don't particularly want an appendix, but all together, this uncooperative information is nearly equal in length to a full chapter, so I don't see many alternatives. Leaving the stuff where it is won't work--it disrupts the narrative flow, and bogs down the reading experience. I'm also running into the problem of overlap. Now that I'm 11 chapters in, I've used some sources many, many times. This includes my first-hand interviews with Miss Edna and others, but also extends to several books, magazines and newspaper articles. I'm having to double- and triple-check to make sure I didn't use this particularly good quote for chapter 11 earlier in, say, chapters 4 or 5, where it'd make an equally good point. The reverse is also true, as I don't want to not use a great quote because I mistakenly thought I'd used it earlier, when I hadn't.

But that comes with the territory. I had not idea how demanding and complicated all of this would be when I first undertook this project, but it'll make for a much better book when all is said and done. It is particularly frustrating, though, knowing that getting bogged down has pretty much killed off any hope of my finishing up the first draft by June 1. With a bit of luck, I can finish this chapter by that self-imposed deadline, but the last two are realistically out of reach. Fortunately, chapters 13 and 14 should be straightforward and comparatively short, so I should be able to get them completed in June even with our vacation travel. The inevitable rewrites for the second draft will take some time as well, addressing the previously-mentioned problems I've identified as well as incorporating additional research information since unearthed, but after spending more than three years researching and writing this thing, the rewrite's going to be a walk in the park in comparison.

Enough of my bellyaching. Here's a sample of what I wrote last week, when I finally finished chapter 10. It involves a name most have never heard of, but believe me, he plays a pivotal role in the saga of the Chicken Ranch:

To Hancock, a former state trooper and Nacogdoches native, the prospect of continuing to bang his head into a brick wall with little chance of getting any results held zero appeal. There had to be a different approach, he reasoned, a different strategy that could succeed where others failed. And suddenly, a name jumped out at him like a lighthouse beacon through the fog: Marvin Zindler.

“We weren't ever going to close the thing down unless somebody other than the local officials got involved in it. The Governor wouldn't do it, because the local representative and senator were not going to stand for it,” Hancock explained. “So the only avenue left was just to get an aggressive person with the press to get involved in it. Marvin was just new at Channel 13, and he was about as wild... he was a little bit innovative in the way he handled things, and he was not afraid of the old devil himself.

“Marvin was kind of an odd duck at best,” he said. “I guess when I started out at the district attorney office he was one of my better friends. I was always attracted to oddballs, and he fit into that category.”
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