Friday, December 16, 2005

Jack Saunders: an underground legend

Jack Saunders is a man who writes a book a month, and posts them, as he writes them, on The Daily Bulletin.

Now of course 'book' is a relative term, and some of Jack's books are 10,000 words long. But even so, the industry is impressive.

Whatever else Jack may be, I don't think you could call him egocentric, because you have to work hard to find his name anywhere on the front page of The Daily Bulletin. All you can see at first is the work. However, if you want to know more, you can find his c.v. set out in the format used by Contemporary Authors:a volume from which he is, he tells us, excluded.

Jack and I are pretty much the same age. He is now retired and fills his day with writing. As, modest cough, do I. I really like the c.v. though. 'Publishers, rejected by: most of the larger ones.... Literary agencies, declined representation by: all I have enquired of.....Jack Saunders has been writing for 33½ years, without selling a word to New York or Hollywood, winning a grant, a writer-in-residence position, or a literary prize. He is working on a 40-year roman-feuilleton, or saga-novel, that is too large for small presses to publish and too outspoken, freewheeling, and vulgar for the mainstream commercial houses.' And all like that.

I like such people. It's eccentric of me, I know. But hell, I'm English. Goes with the territory. I may not like or admire everything that such people do, but that's not the point.

I gather that Jack is working on an anthology of underground writing. This will include 'not just writers I have known and worked with for 30-some years in the small press, mail art, zine, ezine, and blogger scene, but also folk artists, roots musicians, indy film makers, and repertory theater people who produce their own work and sell it through nontraditional distribution channels (hand-to-hand and word-of-mouth).'

I look forward to it.

The conclusion of the anthology is already completed and Jack kindly sent me a draft of it because it contains a reference to On the Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile. Entitled 'Disintermediate Now!' this is as striking a defence of the status of the amateur-professional, independent/self-published writer, as I have ever read, or am likely to read. Bold, passionate stuff, and I couldn't put it better myself.

'Disintermediate now,' says Jack. 'Don’t wait for permission. Start from where you are. Get better by doing it. By and by, a cult will form around you. You’ll be respected by your peers. You’ll be known in the narrow world of what you do as a mensch. A stand-up guy. A soldier.'

Hear, hear.

In the meantime, if you prefer to hold something in your hand, you can nip over to Amazon.com and buy Jack's Bukowski Never Did This: A Year in the Life of an Underground Writer & His Family. Or you can buy it cheaper, direct from the publisher.

3 comments:

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Grumpy Old Bookman:
You sure have a way of engaging interest.
Jack Saunders. Yeah. Maybe Ivan and his Anglo namesake should hang around together. Or maybe not.
There is the British snobbery of U and non-U. I am hardly British, but anglicized enough to know the difference (many of my profs were Brits). Non-U writers can be a pain in the butt. Sometimes my pen-pal Gerard Jones is a pain in the butt. There is this "underclass" desire to conrol, almost sociopathic. And self-defeating, bucause how much can you control if you're a delivery parts driver, say with a weekend crack at dispatching. Then, full of positive thinking and on faulty information, you go on to control. Or try to. But you don't know that its a world of quantum mechanics, in science and in human relations; you may be at your strongest when you think you were at your weakest and someone's style of self-eprecation is not a statement of fact, but a style. Our Larry Zolf, s sometime writer out this way (very old now) is a master of self-deprecation, but the man is an achiever in humour, writing and radio. Try to control a guy like that, parts delivery driver.
So what can we make of the little bit I can see of Jack Saunders?
Well, something of an original thinker, in his own mode. Attractive way of thinking. You almost end up aping his style.
But the Sysiphian task: The same ball of dung rolls right down the ramp and into your face. Been there.
I have this far had three-fourth of my Black Icon novella published in a provincial magazine because I was friends with the editor. I had a column in the self-same TOPIC magazine and it made things infinitely easier. After that, nothing. Twenty years. Nothing.
That's about the time Jack and I should maybe have started hanging
around together. Then a blip. I submit a novel to the old House of Anansi Press out here and it gets rejected. I get drunk with a girl from the Ontario Culture ministry and she says I have some money to give away to writers. "I have to give it all away or I won't get any more money to give away to writers. Go back to Anansi and get them to okay it so I will have a budget next year." Back I go to Anansi, and surprisingly, the editor, James Polk, say he will okay the grant.
I go to the Ontario Arts Council.
Here I meet a bureaucrat, more or less of my own backroung, but just off the boat.
"I got job. You no got job. Four hundred dollars will hardly get you drunk." (I related this story to another blogger and she said I was a xenophobe. Me? Against my own kind, though a tad arriviste?).
Anyway, I got the money, but still no offer to publish. The editor sent me to an agent who was no longer in business.
Jack and I hanging around together, I suppose.
Ten more years of drought.
I somehow got my hands on some money and printed my Light Over Newmarket through a company I'd set up.
Surprise. Reviews, two of them in the Newmarket Era and York Region News. I ran for public office and got two more good reviews. But still no publishing house, still no cigar.
Now I am online, and though there was an initial excitement, things are very quiet.
I must say that during these dull periods I did land a privat docen't job as creative writing instructor on the strengh of my modestly published work. I was good at it, but no tenure, and no novel published by any real house.
I was, I suppose, U, that is to say, university trained and kind of IN. But not in enough to crack the Canlit egg.
So I guess now that I am old bedraggled and dumpster-diving, maybe Jack wouldn't even want to hang around with me.
Scratch one dreamer?
Well, maybe not. As you observe, you can start a small cult, a supporting army. It's there, but they are all saying, "We're counting on you. Where the hell is the magnum opus, published by Knopf, say?"
I guess it's again at this point, that Jack and I have to hang around together.
The book, she is writ.
But hardly anybody is noticing it.
Shades of James Branch Cabell, and his observation that among writers,
Cheers, the rain seems to fall on the published and the unpublished.
(Or am I misquoting from Dubliners?)
Cheers,
Ivan

Rhonda Void said...

Jack Saunders is a truly great, original writer. He is like a Frida Kahlo type, in the sense that his life is the subject of his art. He continues to invent and reinvent himself with every book. He is going like a thousand miles an hour. He is defenitely in the same vein as Henry Miller, except he takes it a step further. It's like miller inspecting every essence of his being with a microscope and writing books about it. Does he get tedious at times? Yes. But there are brilliant moments, specially in Bukowski Never Did This, where he reaches that elusive goal of some writers: a complete thought. And if he somehow is able to maintain those passages for longer works then he will be remembered long after we are dead. As far as being underpublished, I think that has always been his goal. "Let me examine my failure!" That is beautiful. He wants to "fail better" and make some noise. As far as Ivan Prokopchuk's comments: if there is one thing that I have learned from writing its that we authors, wether professional or amateurs, we, all of us are only as good as our last works. So finish your story, novel, whatever, and send it out and then begin another one, and another one, and another one, and you don't stop until you drop dead. If you are a true writer, you will never stop, no matter how many things you've published. Therefore Jack Saunders will get his due respect in time.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Rohnda Void,
A deft little piece on Jack Saunders, his works and the writer as Hercules or Wonder Woman. Jean d'Arcs, knights in white satin, actually reaching the end.
Loved it. And thanks for mentioning old Ivan.
Have had a look at your site. Whoahh. Extremely hip.Not trendy hip. I'd better have a couple of coffees and read again so I can fully appreciate.