Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

So, David Bowie died three weeks ago now. The week of his death I got swamped and didn't get around to posting a Friday Night Video. The following week, Glenn Frey died, so obviously I had to salute Mr. Frey. Which brings us to today, with Bowie's brain-twistingly weird "Lazarus" video. This is a man who clearly sees the Reaper at the door and is determined to go out on his own terms. Kind of amazing. Now, I've never been a huge Bowie fan. I find him interesting as an artist and like some of his music well enough, but his work's never struck that primal chord in me that it has in so many others. That's fine--many people don't get my fascination with Ray Davies and the Kinks. Regardless, this song and video amount to the ultimate mic drop. It's packed with so many eyeball kicks that it borders on sensory overload, and fans will be analyzing and arguing over the symbolism for decades to come.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Eagles.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chicken Ranch report no. 57: Pattern recognition

There's a popular saying that no work of art is ever finished, only abandoned. Now, I don't have hubris enough to claim that Texas' Legendary Chicken Ranch: Truth, Lies and Legacy of a Lone Star Whorehouse is actual art, but regardless what anyone classifies it as, the saying is holding true.

How else to explain my efforts these past few days, frantically researching and rewriting a section focused on the Wagon Wheel--the second, lesser-known brothel in Sealy that was closed at the same time as the Chicken Ranch? Efforts that are kind of insane, given that my final deadline for turning in the completed manuscript to the History Press is little over a week away? In all honesty, I could work on this book for another 100 years and there'd still be information and detail missing, that I'd know I could uncover if I just had a little bit more time.

Human beings are very good at pattern recognition. Crazy good. It's an evolutionary development that's allowed our species to develop nifty tricks such as abstract thought, inferring from incomplete data, developing "hunches" that prove factual once all the evidence is gathered. That last one is often subconscious, our brains responding to patterns we're not even aware we're seeing. Good journalists often have this ability in spades. The downside is that people are also very good at seeing patterns where none exist, which explains a lot of the insane conspiracy theories to be found online. But that's neither here nor there.

Back when I started research for my book, I had an inkling that the Wagon Wheel was more significant in the story of how the Chicken Ranch was closed than had been widely reported. No great leap of insight on my part there--just observing the lack of information that came from a news media fixated on the more easily-packaged semi-amusing story of the Chicken Ranch. And to be honest, there's just not that much information on the Wagon Wheel available. Even the one photo of the Wagon Wheel from 1973--its "Closed on Account of Marvin Zindler" sign--that can be found online is mistakenly attributed to the Chicken Ranch.

Early on in my research, I came across a 2001 issue of the Texas Ranger Dispatch, which mentioned gamblers from Galveston trying to set up a casino in Sealy. Immediately, my Spidey-senses went off: pattern recognition at work. Could this motel be what became the Wagon Wheel? I dug and poked and prodded for years with this at the back of my mind. Other, circumstantial evidence seemed to support that idea, but my strongest piece of "evidence" was my inability to identify any other failed motels in the Sealy area from that era. I went to Bellville a few months ago and tracked down copies of the warranty deeds from that property in the Austin County Clerk's office, which proved much more challenging than I anticipated. Some of the deeds were missing, but one I did find from the 1990s included a list of previous transactions for that property. Unfortunately, none of the names matched any of those I had as being involved with the Wagon Wheel in any fashion. Dead end? Maybe. Did I have the wrong property? Unlikely. Plus, the transaction dates listed lined up nicely with the chronology I'd constructed through other sources.

Earlier this week, whilst doing some line edits on the manuscript, I came upon that section and decided to take another look at the deed. The pattern was there, I just needed to connect one more dot. So I started Google-stalking the individual names on the deed. Dead end. Dead end. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. with that name, dead end. But then, one little hit, inconsequential, really. But a person by one of those names--P.J. Salvato--lived in Galveston in the 1950s. Okay, that's interesting. Poke some more. Prod a little. I found out that name was referenced in the Nov. 20, 1957 issue of the Galveston Daily News. Those aren't terribly easy to come by, but I found one. And, lo and behold, that headline at the top of this blog greets me on the front page: "Gaming Charges Quashing Asked." Pattern much? The article talked about indictments brought by Attorney General Will Wilson against gambling interests on the island, and right there next to legendary gambling kingpin Sam Maceo was my man, P.J. Salvato. The man whose family was a major operator of vice in Galveston County, second only to the Maceo syndicate. The man who bought the Wagon Wheel while under indictment in Galveston. The man who, as soon as the Texas Rangers destroyed the erstwhile Sealy casino, sold it again to those who would turn it into a brothel.

Game. Set. Match.

I know it doesn't sound like much, but I am inordinately excited about making this connection. It's something that's eluded me for the past six years, yet furthers my argument that the story of the Chicken Ranch very much ties in closely with pretty much every other aspect of Texas history--and the so-called Free State of Galveston was a major aspect for more than 50 years. It's there. It's documented. It's real. I just hope readers enjoy learning about these interconnected revelations as much as I have enjoyed uncovering them.

Now Playing: Django Reinhardt Chronological, Vol. 1
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Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I know it's been fashionable to hate on the Eagles for several decades now, but I've always liked the band despite the fact that all the members are pretty much straight-up jerks. Of those jerks, I've always had a particular fondness for Glenn Frey. So obviously, it came as a shock when he died earlier this week from complications stemming from chronic rheumatoid arthritis, pneumonia and other afflictions. He was only 67, and it's disconcerting to realize that I am now older than he was when I saw the Eagles in concert back in 1994. "New Kid In Town" is a song I've deeply loved since I first heard it when it came out in 1976--I'd have been six or seven at the time, and it got heavy airplay on country radio stations back in the day (I got to listen to both kinds of music growing up: Country and Western). Oddly enough, for many, many years I believed this was a Jimmy Buffett song, and even after learning it was indeed an Eagles song, I was convinced Buffett had released a cover back in the 70s. Amazing how one's mind plays tricks on you, even in the face of all evidence. In any event, Frey delivers this one with masterful nuance, and I don't think anything can diminish my love for it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... 38 Special.

Now Playing: The Eagles Greatest Hits vol. 2
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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

David G. Hartwell (1941-?)

This morning I woke up to terrible news about David Hartwell, the editor who's been involved in pretty much all facets of science fiction publishing for much of the previous half-century. He suffered severe brain-bleeding and a fall down the stairs yesterday (I'm unsure of what order) and has been reported to be near death or passed on multiple times already. He is not expected to recover.

Hartwell was known for--apart from the many excellent authors he published--garish ties and spectacularly questionable fashion choices he wore at the many conventions he attended. My selection of colorful vests worn at such events is influenced at least in part by Hartwell. I've attended numerous conventions he was a guest at, but unfortunately I don't seem to have many photos of him. This shot with Peter Beagle from the World Fantasy Convention in 2006, which were happier times for all concerned.

I'll leave it to others to lay out his career and contributions. I didn't know him that well, or ever work with him professionally, but he was always friendly to me. My one good David Hartwell story also took place at that 2006 World Fantasy Con. I'd produced a big batch of homebrew beer for Mark Finn to celebrate the release of his Robert E. Howard biography, Blood & Thunder. I'd also recently started dabbling in mead, and brought several bottles of that along as well. I had some hot jalapeno metheglin with me, I believe, along with several bottles of "Holiday Spice Metheglin," which had ginger and cinnamon and nutmeg and who knows what else in it. Let me be clear that whilst I am a competent enough homebrewer where beer and ale are concerned, my mead making skills are far inferior--especially back then, when I had no clue what I was doing. So, late one evening I find myself in one of the room parties (or perhaps the con suite) giving out samples of my mead, and Hartwell walks in. During the ensuing conversation, he takes a cup of my holiday spice, says something vaguely nice about it, and sits down to continue whatever conversation was ongoing. At some point, he asks for a refill. Knowing full well who he is, and my very low position in the genre publishing food chain, I apologize for the poor quality of my mead and offer to get him something else.

He looks at me, laughs and says, "I drank more than my share of terrible mead in the SCA. Believe me, this is much better stuff." I swelled up a little with this. I can't ever say I sold him any of my work, but I can say I served him mead that wasn't nearly as bad as stuff he'd willingly consumed in the past, and that's something nobody can take away.

Now Playing: The Eagles Their Greatest Hits
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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Chicken Ranch report no. 56: Deadlines!

I hope every one of you had a great Christmas/Chanukah/Festivus break, whether it was a day or a week. While my time away from work was pleasant, I haven't had the luxury of much leisure time at all. In fact, I'm up past midnight more often than not these days. Why? Deadlines. Deadlines are a harsh reality/rude awakening/buzzkill when one has a for-real publishing contract. I've worked as hard on the Chicken Ranch book the past six weeks as I have at any point in the past six years. And I had my biggest deadline thus far today.

Those keeping score at home may remember me mentioning that Texas' Legendary Chicken Ranch: Truth, Lies and Legacy of a Lone Star Whorehouse would contain some photos. Oh, yes. During the writing process for this book, I always had it in the back of my mind that it might have a small photo section with maybe a dozen photos. Nothing too elaborate. Well, my publisher, History Press, wanted more--a lot more. Today, you'll be happy to hear, I delivered to my editor exactly one hundred photographs and illustrations! Whew! If you're thinking that sounds like a lot of photos, you're right. It is a lot. And I've sorted and arranged them, edited them to conform with print guidelines, created more than a few of them myself, whilst tracking down the rights holders for others and securing publication permission. That's a tremendous investment of time, and the kicker is that I'm nowhere near finished writing all of the cutlines to accompany them (fortunately, the deadline for those is still a few weeks away).

Want to hear something insane? I could easily have turned in twice that number of photos. Choosing what stayed in and what got cut was a lot more difficult and time-consuming than I expected. Don't feel you're missing out, however. The majority of the photos that didn't make the cut were either of marginal physical quality, essentially duplicated something another photo did better, or was more tangential to the overall story than photos that did make the cut. That's amazing when you stop to consider there just aren't that many historical photos of the Chicken Ranch floating around (and far, far fewer of the Wagon Wheel). In fact, I only have three photos of the modern ruins included, whereas when this started, I expected those to be in the majority. Only two photos are reprinted from Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch, which I found more than a little surprising.

This book's going to be well worth the wait. But first--more deadlines for me!

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Pulse
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Friday, January 08, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Come with me now to those halcyon days of 1982, where long-haired Southern rock group 38 Special was desperately trying to differentiate the 80s from the 70s, country from disco and themselves from Lynyrd Skynyrd.I'm afraid they weren't entirely successful on any of those counts, but "Caught Up In You" is a good song and the video is a fun watch, in a well-intentioned trainwreck kind of way.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Kinks.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Relics
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Sunday, January 03, 2016

Happy Birthday, Miss Edna

Miss Edna Milton Chadwell last Madam of the Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas and inspiration for Miss Mona Stangley of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Today would've been Edna Arretha Milton Chadwell's 87th birthday. Miss Edna passed away in February of 2012, the last surviving madam of the infamous Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas, and inspiration for Miss Mona Stangley and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Not many people will realize today is her birthday. Far more will commemorate the birthday of famed fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien today, and honestly, I'd never realized before now that they shared the same birthday. Somehow, I suspect Miss Edna never read The Lord of the Rings, although she did keep an extensive library at the Chicken Ranch for her working girls to read during off hours.

I'm still working on pre-press preparation of my long-promised history book, Texas' Legendary Chicken Ranch: Truth Lies and Legacy of a Lone Star Whorehouse (coming this summer from the History Press). My deadlines are looming large for me, now that we've reached January. January 2016! Amazing to think that before this year is out, my Chicken Ranch history book will be a reality. That's heady stuff. I'll have more updates on that, soon. Nobody supported this project more than Miss Edna, and I'll always regret that she didn't live to see it published.

I can't hardly wait. Of course, if you, dear reader, can't hardly wait, there's always my companion volume, Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch, available to tide you over. It's available in both hardcover and softcover. Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch takes readers on a photo tour of the existing ruins, so for those planning on pre-ordering Texas' Legendary Chicken Ranch when it's available, overlap is not something to be concerned about. These are two very different books. In case you wondered.

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