Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Armadillocon looms

Okay, this is nuts, but Armadillocon is in July this year. I know, I know, that mid-summer date is tough to wrap your head around, but the convention is sure to be a great deal of fun, as always. I've got a fairly light panel load this year, and the entire programming schedule may be viewed on the official website. Here's my slate for the weekend:

The Still Changing Definition of Urban Fantasy
8 p.m.-9 p.m., Trinity
A. Bishop, J. Blaschke, C. Neill, N. Holzner*, S. Leicht, A. Marmell
This subgenre label has been around for decades -- but would War for the Oaks or other classic works even fit in today's category? What does it mean, and what does it include and exclude? How is it changing, and how is it likely to change in the future?

Alternate History: The Way Things Weren't
11a.m.-Noon, Sabine
B. Mahoney*, P. Griffin, J. Blaschke, J. Rountree, S. Utley, H. Waldrop
What are the touchstone tales of what might have been? Why is this even considered science fiction -- and what about fantasy alternate history? What does it take to write a good alternate history?

Learning from Others' Mistakes: Writing Errors to Avoid
4 p.m.-5 p.m., Sabine
J. Blaschke*, J. Cheney, U. Fung, S. Lynch, J. Moyer, W. Spencer
You don't have to make every writing error personally. How do you use others' failures as a way to improve your own work?
There's also one other panel that I'm sure to attend, "Apes and Zeppelins" on Friday. There's a story behind that. Last year, during one panel on apes in science fiction, the cover for the ultra-rare Zeppelin Stories pulp featuring the mind-bogglingly awesome promise of "Gorilla of the Gasbags" came up. Only a few copies of this pulp exist, all in the hands of private collectors. Nobody in out SFnal circle has ever read the story, although I believe Jess Nevins has a scan of the first page. On the rare occasions a copy of the issue comes up for auction, it sells for thousands of dollars. The story has attained a certain "Holy Grail" status because of its unattainability. So during the panel last year, Joe R. Lansdale (his ownself) threw out a challenge to everyone there: Write a story based on that cover imagery before the next Armadillocon. Now seriously, how am I going to pass up a chance to write a Zeppelin story? With a gorilla? I accepted, as did half a dozen other writers there.

Gorilla of the Gasbags, the cover story challenge thrown down by Joe R. Lansdale

Alas, I don't think I'm going to succeed in meeting the challenge. One reason is that I've been, you know, killing myself trying to get this Chicken Ranch book finished. That takes priority over everything else, no matter how much fun it may be. The other reason is that the convention is significantly earlier this year, robbing me of precious writing time. I've started my story, yes, and made good progress, but will it be finished by Friday? Not terribly likely--although I do have some nifty passages I'm quite pleased with. No, the apes-and-Zeppelins story is a fun interlude I'm allowing myself before I dive back in to the second-draft rewrites of the Chicken Ranch book. If all goes well, I'll put the short story to bed next week and get back to the book right after that. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else came up with, and hope they don't mock me too harshly for falling short of the challenge.

Apes and Zeppelins
9 p.m.-10 p.m., Trinity
C. Brown, B. Crider, S. Cupp, M. Finn*, R. Klaw, J. Lansdale, J. Nevins, D. Webb
Last year Joe Lansdale tossed down the gauntlet at the Apes in SF panel, challenging all comers to produce a story worthy of a classic cover from Zeppelin Tales: "The Gorilla of the Gasbags". Our valiant panelists discuss their responses.
Now Playing: Mozart Festival Orchestra The Best of Mozart
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chicken Ranch report no. 25

I'm A Friend of Sheriff Jim bumper sticker, sold to raise money for Sheriff Jim Flournoy's legal battles against Marvin Zindler following the closure of the Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas.

IT IS DONE! After three years of research, dead ends, frustration and occasional triump (plus lots and lots of writing) I have completed the first draft of my exhaustive history of the infamous La Grange Chicken Ranch! Excuse me while I take a breather.

The final tally? A quick calculation shows a word count of roughly 112,000 words, which by my estimate is close to quadruple the content of any other book published about the Chicken Ranch (Larry L. King's The Whorehouse Papers is substantive, but focuses mainly on the development of the Broadway play rather than the history of the brothel the musical is based on). Believe it or not, I could easily have written another 20,000 words. Why didn't I? Well, a lot of that material is tangential, or focuses on details not wholly relevant to the overall story. Some anecdotes are repetitive, illustrating the same point something else did more effectively. Length and readability are definitely a consideration. I've already mentioned here that certain passages I quite liked had to be cut to improve the flow of the narrative. All the detailed information in the world is useless if the reader can't force their way through boring, tedious prose.

Here's the table of contents for the book. I'm not ready to announce a title yet, but this should be a fun little tease. Especially considering the fact that my initial outline when I began the actual writing nine months ago had just 12 chapters. That brings an added layer of truth to that first chapter, doesn't it?

Table of Contents

  1. A History That Grows in the Telling
  2. Faye Stewart, a.k.a. Jessie Williams
  3. Miss Edna
  4. Trixie, the Throw-Away Dog (and Other Societal Rejects)
  5. Hullabaloo!
  6. Big Jim
  7. Everybody Who’s Anybody
  8. What Doesn’t Kill Me...
  9. The Wagon Wheel
  10. Marvin Zindler, Eye! Witness! News!
  11. Wheels Within Wheels
  12. Not With a Bang
  13. Hell to Pay
  14. Didn’t See THAT Coming
  15. Enduring Legacy
The job's not over, though. Not by a long shot. I've got a short story I'm going to write this next week before attending Armadillocon in Austin, and that will give me a break from the Chicken Ranch and allow a little distance from the work. After that, it's time to jump back in for second draft revisions. Some chapters I won't hardly touch. Others, such as "The Wagon Wheel," are up for major, ground-up overhauls. Once the second draft is completed, I'll be ready to send it out to my beta readers for additional feedback. Hopefully by then I'll have a publisher.

Writing a book ain't all fun and games, kids. Writing fiction isn't any easier than writing non-fiction, and vice versa. Both forms can be stubborn and maddening and offer a whole lot of seemingly insurmountable challenges--just of a wholly different sort. But the mountain itself is climbed, I've reached the peak. It's all downhill from her.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Delicate Sound of Thunder
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Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Night Videos

Folks, it looks like I have some fairly significant news to share later today. Not saying what it is, but I'll let the boys from ZZ Top give you a little hint.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Dave Hill.

Now Playing: Stan Getz Volume 10
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chicken Ranch report no. 24

Author Jayme Lynn Blaschke at the Chicken Ranch, La Grange, Texas.
I last posted an update on my writing progress. Since then, I did indeed finish Chapter 14 (in record time!). I have since thrown myself headlong into writing Chapter 15--the final chapter of a book originally outlined with only 12 chapters--and I can't say it's been smooth sailing. The chapter's title, "Enduring Legacy," gives some hint as to what I'm up against. There are many, many rumors, falsehoods and strange (if not bizarre) pop culture appearances by the Chicken Ranch that need to be addressed. You, dear readers, would simply not believe how many times the Chicken Ranch injects itself into some media story by virtue of only having existed, and subsequently elevates that story into a Major Event. Seriously. It is nuts. It also goes a long way toward explaining why we're still so fascinated by a little country brothel that closed down 39 years ago.

There's a little bit here, a neat story there, a strange happening off to the side... all of these vignettes, incidents and happenings are fairly small, but taken together become an unwieldy mass. The chapter lumbers along, growing far larger than it should be, and I still have several pieces left to include. The finish line, after more than three often agonizing years, is teasingly within sight. But like Tantalus, I feel like that ending continuously moves just beyond my reach. I have to finish it soon--I have a short story for Joe Lansdale due next week at Armadillocon. The final chapter will have to be cut, and probably cut heavily to keep it from bogging down, but that's what second drafts are for. Right now I'm focused on finishing this marathon known as the first draft, and praying I don't pull a charlie horse on the final 50 yards.

Oh, and here's a bit of what I wrote yesterday, just to tease a little:

Toward the end of 1999, a group of former Texas A&M students decided to throw a Y2K party for around 100 of their closest friends. Aggies being Aggies, during the early planning stages someone suggested they hold the party on the site of the old Chicken Ranch, as a nod toward the historical ties between the school and all-male student body.

“I come from a long line of Aggies who have been reputed to have visited the Chicken Ranch in its glory days,” said party organizer Ray Prewitt, explaining the allure of the long-closed brothel. “My father and all my uncles went to A&M, and just being around them and their classmates, some story always pops up.”

Just for the hell of it, Prewitt tracked down Ron Jeffrey, the owner, and asked if they might rent the property for the party. To Prewitt’s surprise and delight, Jeffrey said yes.
So, yes, shenanigans ensue. But not the particular shenanigans you might expect if you hadn't heard the story before. And this is how legends grow...

Now Playing: Stan Getz Volume 7
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Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Night Videos

I don't know who Dave Hill is. Supposed to be a funny guy or something. He's written a book, Taseful Nudes, which I also assume is supposed to be funny. I bring this up only because until a few minutes ago, I had absolutely no intent or desire to buy or read said book, but then I saw his book trailer, which is a defacto music video. And is awesome. I might now have to go out and buy several dozen copies. Maybe I can talk him into writing a Chicken Ranch theme song, huh?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Suzanne Vega.

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chicken Ranch report no. 23

Chicken Ranch brass tokenI am very tired today. Drained, even. That's what comes from too many consecutive nights of writing until 1-2 a.m. Which is what I've been putting in, trying to get these last few chapters done so that I can finally complete the first draft of this book that's consumed three years of my life. Amazingly, Chapter 14, which is the current piece under construction, has progressed at a far faster clip any any preceding it. I suppose I was due, what with Chapter 12 taking a month to write and 10 almost as long. And that's not even counting the Chapter 11 not included in any outlines, that I had to invent and write after sections of 10 and 12 insisted they belonged together, not apart.

All in all, Saturday-through-Monday I've written more than 7,000 words, by far the most productive run I've had on this project since the beginning. Those aren't Robert Silverberg numbers, sure (heck, he'd whip out 7K works an hour) but I'm not what you'd call a fast write. Three days, and I've got a nearly complete chapter on my hands. The mind boggles. If I can somehow get my addled, sleep-deprived brain to squeeze out a few hundred good words this evening, I can start on the final chapter, 15, and maybe finish up the entire first draft before the end of the weekend. That would be a Good Thing.

Here's a sample of my production from this latest eruption of literary genius (he said, tongue firmly in cheek):

During the early hours one September morning in 1973, somebody snuck up to Edna Milton’s home and keyed her car.

Following her divorce from John Luke in 1971, Miss Edna’d moved out of the home they shared outside of town. Just a few months before Marvin Zindler began his television broadcasts exposing the Chicken Ranch, she’d placed a down payment on a modest, ranch-style house on South College Street in La Grange. A member of the community and major contributor to local charities for more than two decades, Miss Edna figured she’d earned acceptance enough to live in town.

That acceptance lasted only until unwelcome media attention arrived. Overnight, Miss Edna became a pariah.

“I went to get my car, and somebody keyed it. I didn’t even know the word keyed--I just kept looking at it and looking and it and I thought, ‘Well, somebody’s gone and put some serious scratches on my car,’” she said, anger rising at the memory. “If you get in an accident that’s one thing, but for somebody to come to your home and do that, that’s terrible.”
Words cannot express how ready I am to get this first draft done, once and for all. Yes, revisions still lurk ahead, but I'll burn that bridge when I come to it...

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Passion: Music for the Last Temptation of Christ
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Saturday, July 07, 2012

Chicken Ranch report no. 22

I am happy to report that Chapter 11--the new Chapter 11, cobbled together from sections of Chapter 10 and what was Chapter 11 but is now Chapter 12, plus additional materials--is written and done. I know, I know, this gets confusing. The Wife gave it a read, and gave it a thumbs up, noting only a few minor typos to correct. No dull infodumps, no confusing or muddled passages, no tangential meanderings. In short, she found it an engrossing read (and this is a woman who has heard a lot about the Chicken Ranch over the past three years). This comes as a great relief to me, as this chapter brought together several different timelines and information critical to understanding the entire Chicken Ranch scandal as it happened back in 1973. Most of what's contained in this chapter has never seen print, and that which has been published is brought together and connected in a broader context. Through the Freedom of Information Requests I filed and the interviews with some of the behind-the-scenes players I tracked down, I feel like I am contributing something substantive and original to Texas history. I feel--and this is bordering on hubris, I know, because I am not and never will be a Woodward or Bernstein--for the first time in my somewhat lackluster career, that I've committed (unwittingly perhaps) genuine investigative journalism.

This whole story is taking on the feel of that fable from India about the five blind men and the elephant. There are many stories about the downfall of the Chicken Ranch floating around, some of them factual, some of them less so, and many are contradictory. That doesn't make them wrong--only incomplete. Nobody, and I mean nobody, from Governor Briscoe to Marvin Zindler to Edna Milton to Sheriff Flournoy, ever saw the whole picture. And even so, I know there are angles and incidents and circumstances that are escaping me now, even as I poke and prod and stick my nose in any little nook and cranny I can find. But I can say with confidence this is the best that I could do at this time. Here's a sample of the juicy stuff contained within Chapter 11, just to whet your appetite:

Hancock decided he needed witnesses to testify against the Wagon Wheel in court. When a bus from Houston pulled up to the brothel one night and disgorged 35 conventioneers, Hancock thought his case made. He’d simply wait for them to finish their revels, then pull the bus over as it left and take their names and statements. The bus drove around behind the Wagon Wheel to park, and Hancock waited all night for it to drive back out. It never did--instead, the bus sneaked away via a back road.

“I thought I was a pretty good investigator, and I lost a damn bus with 35 folks on it. I didn’t know where it went!” Hancock said, laughing at his own youthful ineptitude. “That’s the funniest thing that ever happened to me, because we were going to stop it and see who was on board. We were so naive as to believe they didn’t know what we were doing or why we were there.”

Now, I've got to get back to work. I'm at that awkward early stage in writing a chapter where organizing my information and reference materials is all-consuming, not to mention the fact that my memory is already betraying me by pointing me to the wrong sources for clearly-remembered quotes and events. This is an occurrence I've grown all too familiar with throughout the writing of this book. The good news is that there are only two more chapters left for my memory to continue playing tricks on me.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Division Bell
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Friday, July 06, 2012

Friday Night Videos

I've never been much of a Suzanne Vega fan. "Luka" didn't do much for me and "Tom's Diner" strained just a bit too much for that hipster indifference to really connect. But "Blood Makes Noise", wow. That is a bizarre, freakishly original piece of music that can be an aggressive earworm if you let it. If all of her songs were as slam-bang inventive as this, I'd be her biggest fan. To be honest, I still can't figure out why this wasn't a bigger hit. I aboslutely love it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Go-Gos.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd The Wall
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