Friday, December 21, 2012

Larry and the Whorehouse

Writer Larry L. King has passed away.  He'd been living and working for years in Washington, D.C.  But he was a Texan born and bred, and one of the great characters of the Lone Star State

Even if you never heard of him, you've probably heard of his most famous piece of work: the Broadway musical Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.  He got a credit for the book on that one, but his history with this (mostly) true story went back to 1974, when he wrote an article about the closing of one of Texas's most famous whorehouses, the Chicken Ranch, for Playboy Magazine.

If you don't know the story, here's the basics:  while prostitution was illegal in Texas by the 1970s, there were still plenty of whorehouses around.  One of the most famous ones was located outside La Grange, Texas - halfway between Austin and Houston.  It was called "The Chicken Ranch" because during the dark days of the Great Depression, they would accept chickens or other livestock in lieu of cash.

Everyone seemed to know about the Chicken Ranch; it's clientele included football players from the University of Texas and politicians from the state capital, Austin.  In his Playboy article, Larry L. King claimed that many politicians could drive from Austin to the Chicken Ranch “without headlights even in a midnight rainstorm.”

But in 1973, a crusading Houston television reporter - KTRK's Marvin Zindler - broke the story on air.  Despite the support of the local county sheriff, the public embarrassment forced the government to close the Chicken Ranch for good.  When Zindler encountered that county sheriff, the lawman broke two of Zindler's ribs and tore off his white bouffant toupee!

(I lived in Houston for about seven years, and I recall Zindler well.  Every Friday he broadcast the Houston Health Department inspections of local restaurants in what Zindler called his "rat and roach reports."  He loved to bellow, "And there was SLIIIIME in the ice machine!")

In 1978, King's Playboy article on the Chicken Ranch was made into a very successful Broadway musical.  It was radically altered into the 1982 film version starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds.  King hated the film, but it helped make him financially independent.

Of course, these three events - the Playboy story, the Broadway musical, and the movie - took up only a fraction of Larry L. King's career.  (Four things, actually: King released a collection of articles on the entire affair in 1982 called "The Whorehouse Papers.")  I'll talk about the rest of his career in my next post.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Jane Austen Death Match

Even though I was first published over twenty years ago, I still get my share of rejection slips (or emails).

And every fiction writer has "problem" stories, that no one seems to want to publish.  This is more common when the story doesn't fit neatly into a single genre.

I've read this story, "The Jane Austen Death Match," several times in front of live audiences.  I KNOW it gets a good response.  But no one wanted to publish it.

Until today.  It's now online at Clever Magazine.  You can read the story here.

Now to tell the literary journals who were considering this story that it's no longer available.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dodging a Bullet

A freelance writer is always on the lookout for the next writing gig.  An article, a column, a book, a ghostwriting gig...whatever pays the bills.

But you don't take every offer (unless you're desperate).  As I was going through a box of magazines today, I found one that reminded me of a job offer I did NOT accept - not at the salary I would've been offered.

I'm not going to name names, but I was once offered a job with a small publisher who was a legend in his field.  As an audition, he asked me to take a grammar test and to rewrite a badly-done article.  I aced both.

Once he decided he wanted me to work for him, he turned on the charm.  He told me what a shame it was that I wasn't working full-time as a writer.  And he offered me a job.

The job would have required me to move to his city.  I thought about it, then sent him a note with the salary I required to make the move and work for him.

Evidently, I named too high a salary.  He never even responded to my note.

The magazine I found today had an interview with someone else who worked for this publisher.  He describes the publisher as a megalomaniac on par with movie producer Robert Evans.  And in addition to being an overbearing, controlling, self-aggrandizing slave driver, this publisher was cheap.  He never would have paid me what I asked for.  He actually paid highly-trained, college-educated employees at minimum wage!

So I dodged the bullet on that one.  But, at the time, when the publisher didn't even try to negotiate with me on a salary, I was depressed for weeks.   I told myself, "if I hadn't asked for so much, I could've worked for a legend!"

Now I'm glad it turned out the way it did.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Blog Post Per Day

I did it!  I wondered if I could manage to post an entry on my blog every day in November.  Did I have thirty things to say?  Thirty satisfactory blog entries?

It turned out that I did.

(OK, a few posts went up after midnight, not on the designated day.  Close enough.)