Whore Stories: "Whorestorian" Tyler Stoddard Smith Talks Marvin Zindler and Rasputin's Penis

Categories: Books

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A friend of mine recently tweeted that it got pretty embarrassing pretty quick to read the infamous erotica novel 50 Shades of Grey on public transport. Imagine carrying around a book with the giant title WHORE STORIES on the cover, which is exactly what I've been doing for the last few days, stealing chapters from the newly-release book here and there while getting my hair done, standing in line at Target and waiting for lunch at the Murphy's Deli downtown.

The book takes a look at famous and infamous whore throughout history, and gives equal attention to men and women. It also names names -- there's an entire chapter dedicated to people who prostituted before their prime, including Bob Dylan, Nancy Reagan and Malcomn X.

The book's author, Tyler Stoddard Smith, has written for Esquire, The Morning News, Utne Reader and McSweeney's, to name a few. As a result, the short chapters meld historical facts with Smith's brand of sarcastic comic commentary, which makes for a quick and easy read. Since Smith is also a Houston native, we reached out to him to ask about his inspiration for the book, the seedy streets of H-town, Snoop Dogg's pre-rap career and Rasputin's penis.


AA: In the intro to the book you talk about your parents driving you down Main Street to look at the prostitutes in order to get you to fall asleep. That reminded me of the Tom Waits song Fannin Street. Have you heard it?

Smith: My parents and Tom Waits had an arrangement: Mom and Dad got Main; Waits got Fannin. I have heard the song. Tom Waits is one of the few artists left who sounds convincing when he sings/talks about riding on trains.

AA: You also say it was your agent who came up with the idea that your first book be about hookers. Is this true, or did you have some fascination/background knowledge of prostitutes already? Because I kind of imagine you like watching Jeopardy and getting psyched when one of the categories turns out to be "Famous Whores."

Smith: It's true that my agent came up with the idea for the book. But, as I did research, I found a trove of unbelievably tawdry, outrageous and funny material. As someone interested in both history and humor, the subject of prostitution seemed like one of the more appealing intersections of the two.

I think everybody is fascinated in some way by prostitution. Some people are horrified of prostitution; some are curious; others are uncomfortable and, as it turns out, lots of people are paying customers. Some of the world's most vaunted performers, politicians, artists and aristocracy have been prostitutes, but the business of prostitution continues to carry such a stigma.

I want to hear Alex Trebeck utter the phrase "famous whores."

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Rasputin
AA: I was pretty impressed by the story of Blanche Dumas (note: a woman with two vaginas). Not her biography, per se, but the fact that she found someone like Juan Baptista dos Santos (note: a man with two penises) to be with. There really is someone out there for everyone, isn't there? Did you have a favorite bio, or was there one that really blew your mind?

Smith: There should be someone out there for everyone. I don't have a favorite. I love them all. However, of all the fantastic tales I came across, the journey of Rasputin's penis was particularly Byzantine, even poignant at times. It (Rasputin's penis) may be in Russia. It may be in California. Once it was mistaken for a cucumber. Nobody knows where it is for sure; it's like the Amelia Earhart of penises.

"Being a hooker does not mean being evil. The same with a pick-pocket, or even a thief. You do what you do out of necessity." -- Samuel Fuller, American director and screenwriter

AA: I love the quote near the end of the book by Samuel Fuller. At times you come off really sympathetic to the women and men in the book, and other times you seem utterly disgusted (I'm thinking Snoop Dogg here). I also know you've traveled a lot. What are your views on prostitution laws in the U.S., and how do other countries views, in your opinion, differ from America's? Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Smith: Absolutely I'm a feminist. I'm disgusted by the way Snoop Dogg talks about women, but I've never met the man. The Snoop I'm writing about, passing judgment on, lampooning if you'd like, is the Snoop on paper, on video, on CDs, etc. If I were writing a book about interesting Pop Warner football coaches, I'd probably include Snoop in that. By all accounts he's a great coach and a good father. But that's not my focus. I'm writing about Snoop as a pimp. My disgust in the book is reserved for hypocritical assholes Jimmy Swaggart and Eliot Spitzer, although I do take a few shots at murderous prostitutes, violent pimps and such.

On the whole, I'm sympathetic to prostitutes and prostitution. As I'm sure you know, many countries are far more enlightened in their policies toward prostitution than the U.S (putting aside a few individual counties in the state of Nevada). I believe in rights for sex workers; insurance for sex workers; free testing and so forth. Legalization and effective regulation can eliminate many of the problems associated with prostitution, including violence, degradation, STDs and drug use. It's definitely time to decriminalize prostitution. My book is not about the legal side of things, but that's how I feel
personally.

In your entry on Jessie Williams and Edna Milton (of the La Grange Chicken Ranch) you have a lot of vitriol for Marvin Zindler. Any reason why?

Smith: Actually, I loved Marvin Zindler. Who could hate him? He was a Houston institution. But he was also a completely comic figure who took himself way too seriously as a muckraking reporter. When I wrote that he was an "odious and officious presence on the news" and that he resembled "a constipated orc" and a "lunatic," I meant that in the nicest possible way. His self-righteousness put lots of people off, and not just the patrons of the Chicken Ranch.

AA: Other than your regular periodical work, you have any new big projects coming up?

I have some readings and publicity to do for Whore Stories, then I'm going to try and finish a few other writing projects, including a novel set in Houston and a collection of short stories called Rap Battles with Emily Dickinson. I have no plans to go on tour with Kool & The Gang and Van Halen, but I would if they asked me.

Whore Stories is available now online and at Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet. Tyler Stoddard Smith will be reading from the book at Brazos Bookstore on August 21 at 7 p.m.

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Brazos Bookstore

2421 Bissonnet, Houston, TX

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