Monday, January 14, 2013

Jack London - A Dedicated Writer

In this manner had fought forgotten ancestors. They quickened the old life within him, the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the breed were his tricks... And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolflike, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him. ~Jack London (The Call of the Wild)
A couple of months ago, while visiting my son’s family in Santa Rosa, California, my daughter-in-law asked if I would like to go hiking in a park just down the road near Glen Ellen. I said sure and the next Saturday we drove the few miles to a 1400-acre park. The only thing on my mind -- I hoped I could keep up with my 6- and 4-year old grandsons.  To my amazement, I was treated to a day of delight and wonder as we hiked around the Jack London State Historic Park; seeing firsthand the treasured home and land of one of America’s greatest novelists and short story writers.

  Barns and vineyard at the Jack London Park in Sonoma, California.

Reading about his adventures and seeing artifacts gathered on his world travels, viewing the ruins of the dream home he built to “last a thousand years,” learning about his unorthodox farming and animal husbandry innovations and walking through the woods that he loved was, quite simply, a thrill. No grand tombstone for this daring man who chose to live life to the fullest; merely a simple plaque on a huge rock resting on a hilltop amid the fallen leaves and peaceful Sonoma landscape.

As a writer, this unexpected look into Jack London's world evolved into an inspiring and uplifting journey; a rare glimpse into the soul of a literary giant that I stumbled upon on a lovely November afternoon.  Could immersing myself in the world of one of the first writers who ever touched me with his words give me some insight?  Aid me in my writing in some way?  The thought was fleeting.  But, it was not to be.  Alas, my grandsons were weary of my lingering ere long and I was forced to leave the House of Happy Walls Museum having only breathed in a fraction of the truth and knowledge that tempted me from photos and artifacts lining the walls and the books and papers that beckoned from glass cases.  But not all was lost.

What I learned from Jack London #1: The importance of dedication.
I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.  I shall use my time. ~Jack London
Jack London dedicated himself to writing 1,000 words each day, no matter whether he was at home, traveling or ill.  Following this formula, he wrote 50 fiction and non-fiction books and thousands of short stories and articles from 1900 - 1916 ... that's more than three books each year.  On top of that, during this time he was proofing his stories, maintaining a huge correspondence (he received 10,000 pieces of mail each year), dealing with his agents and publishers, honoring speaking engagements, planning his next adventure, overseeing a 1,000-acre farm, and designing and building both a boat and a magnificent house.

With a hard-knock start in life, London had little education, few opportunities and no mentors.  With nothing more than the determination to make something of himself and a positive attitude, he educated himself and then went to work, writing stories based on the tumultuous and adventurous life he  lived and the views he held.  As he churned out stories that appealed to millions worldwide, his fame grew and he became "... a living symbol of rugged individualism, a man whose fabulous success was not due to special favor of any kind, but to a combination of immense mental ability and vitality."  (Jack London Park website)

Jack London was blessed with the natural talent to tell a good story, but without doubt, it was his nose-to-the-grindstone attitude that led to his worldwide literary success.  The number of books, stories and articles he wrote during his short lifetime (he died at age 40), and the fame he achieved, stand as proof.

What I learned #2: A story well written stands the test of time.

I read my favorite Jack London short story, To Build a Fire, as a teen.  It is a haunting tale of a life and death struggle in Alaska by a man who ignored the advice of an old-timer. To this day I think of that story whenever I head out into the snowy woods … and you better believe I listen attentively to any advice given. How amazing that a simple story written one hundred years ago still carries such a powerful message.  

Today, many of London's stories remain in publication and are considered classics.  His books have been translated into as many as 70 languages. Among the best known are Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea Wolf, Martin Eden and John Barleycorn. The Sea Wolf inspired the first feature-length film to be produced in the United States and other stories have been made into movies.  A series of five White Fang movies were made in the 1990s. 

About Jack London
John "Jack" Griffith Chaney was born in 1876 in San Francisco, California to Flora Wellman and astrologer William Henry Chaney. His mother later married John London and Jack’s name was changed. Poverty forced Jack to help with the family finances, forcing him to quit school at age 14.
“I had no outlook, but an uplook rather. My place in society was at the bottom. Here life offered nothing but sordidness and wretchedness, both of the flesh and the spirit; for here flesh and spirit were alike starved and tormented. ~Jack London
For the next few years he worked menial and demeaning jobs; but rather than destroy him, the drudgery led him to envision a better life for himself. After time spent as an “oyster pirate,” a seaman and a railroad tramp, he determined to become a “brain merchant.” To that end he began spending his spare time devouring literature at a public library and returned to school to earn his high school diploma.
Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes,
of playing a poor hand well.  ~Jack London
A short stint in college didn’t take, but being a writer did. He wrote his first story in 1893 and sold his first book in 1900.  He expressed his love of life, lust for adventure, unconventional outlook and determination to fight for the underdog through the hundreds of stories that he brought to life through his writing.  His stories were based on his exploits as a seaman, his experiences in Alaska, his work as a laborer in the fields and factories of California; and his trips to ports of call that most turn-of-the-century Americans could only dream about: Hawaii, Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Australia and Cape Horn.
Many of his stories are considered classics and have been translated into as many as 70 languages. Among the best known are Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea Wolf, Martin Eden and John Barleycorn. Some remain in publication.  The Sea Wolf inspired the first feature-length film to be produced in the United States.

About Beauty Ranch

I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate.  ~Jack London
Seeking solitude from his hectic life, London found the peace he was looking for on land he purchased in 1905 in Sonoma County, California.  He continued to add property until the ranch that he called "Beauty Ranch," covered 1400-acres.  Between sailing adventures and trips, he would return to his ranch where he spent his time  learning and practicing sustainable agriculture, dabbling in animal husbandry, horseback riding and enjoying the beauty of his land.

The cottage where London and his wife lived. 

Suffering from gastrointestinal complications, Jack London died at the age of forty at his ranch cottage on November 22, 1916. His wife, Charmian continued to live at the ranch, and devoted herself to its preservation.  Both are buried on on the property near the hilltop gravesite of two pioneer children, a place London often visited for solace.

Today visitors to the ranch can join docent-guided walks to view the Jack London Museum and bookshop located in the House of Happy Walls, the ruins of the winery and the Wolf House, the cottage London called home, the Pig Palace and other agricultural sights. The 1400-acre park also offers back-country trails for hikers and those on horseback.

Wolf House
London and wife Charmian began building their dream home in 1911.  Designed by famed San Francisco architect Albert Farr, the residence was designed to provide a meeting place for their adventurous friends.  By August 22, 1913 the magnificent home was ready for the Londons to begin moving in.  With huge fireplaces, spacious rooms and a central reflecting pool, the massive stone and redwood residence was impressive and would stand, said London, "for a thousand years."  That night the home was entirely engulfed in flames, thought to have been sparked by a pile of linseed oil rags.  Although London hoped to rebuild, he never completed the task before his death in 1916.

The above photos are copied and the information is collated from the Jack London Park website.  Learn more about Jack London and the Jack London State Historic Park by visiting their website:    


Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

What an inspiring story! Thank you.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Lovely blog, MJ!

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Lovely blog, MJ!

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