The Chicken Ranch ProjectWhy in the world are you writing about the Chicken Ranch? I can't count the number of times I've been asked this over the past year. It's a good question. The short answer is, "Because nobody else is." The slightly longer answer is, "Because I don't trust anybody else to do it right." The complete answer is a bit more involved.
I grew up in Columbus, Texas, and can't recall not knowing about the Chicken Ranch over in La Grange. Seeing as how the brothel closed in 1973 when I was just 3 years old, it took me a while to figure out that it was a bit more than a place where they raised a bunch of chickens. When Universal filmed much of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas a few miles down the road in Hallettsville, that was big news amongst me and my friends. Hollywood was practically next door! When I begged my folks to take me to see it, they answered with an unequivocal "No!" When I demanded a reason why, they said the title was reason enough. Puzzled, I looked up just what a whorehouse was, and thus was introduced to a whole other world of vice. I was pretty much a sheltered kid, you'll figure out.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. When KTRK-TV reporter Marvin Zindler died in 2007, Texas media was awash in retrospectives of the crusader's career. The Great Chicken Ranch Scandal was naturally front and center. This got me to thinking that I'd never really learned the real story of what went on. Sure, I'd seen that movie my parents wouldn't take me to, but somehow I didn't think Burt Reynolds' singing had much basis in fact. My wife, Lisa, who'd grown up in Bastrop, Texas, right on the other side of La Grange, was curious as well, and gifted me with what little published literature there was on the subject. To say that the printed matter was lacking would be a kindness.
For such a famous event in Texas history, there was darn little documentation of it. Even the former location of the property was confused and contradicted by various sources. Rumor stood for fact, gossip for truth. For the better part of two years I brooded on the matter. I'd forget about it for a while, then it'd resurface and I'd complain to my wife that somebody, somewhere needed to interview all the folks who were involved first-hand to get their side of the story before they all went the way of Zindler. Sheriff Jim Flournoy, one of the pivotal players in the affair, had already passed away in the 1980s. Governor Dolph Briscoe passed away in 2010. Finally, my long-suffering wife had all that she could take. "Quite bitching about it," she said, "and write the damn thing yourself."
So, here we are, for better or worse. I never set out to write a book on the Chicken Ranch--I'm a science fiction writer, for crying out loud, with some interviews on the side. But the realization finally sank in that the unwritten book would haunt me until I got it out of my system, so I gave in, put on hold the various short stories and novels I'd been working on, and jumped in with both feet. I've invested more than three years of my life into researching this thing, and have untold hours of recorded interviews to back me up. It's not been easy, but hopefully before too long I'll have the finished product in a bookstore near you. And if you've got a sense of humor and a little time to spare, I invite you to check out some "abandoned" Chicken Ranch book projects I've uncovered in my research by other writers.
Frequently Asked QuestionsWhen people learn that I'm researching and writing a book on the Chicken Ranch, they invariably have questions for me. Here are some of the most common:
When's the book coming out? Sometime in 2013, God willing and the creek don't rise.