by Richard Rice
How many of you can remember reading Jack London books when you were a kid? I can. Even today, so many years later, the brutal treatment and triumphant survival of his wolf-dogs in Call of the Wild and White Fang still lurk in my memory.
I didn’t think too much about Jack London after high school, though did have brief encounters with his memory during my years at Berkeley. The Big U considered him a revered ex-student, even though he stayed there less than a year and proclaimed the curriculum “passionless.” At the time, Jack London Square in nearby Oakland was of more interest than the man himself. It provided a refuge for under-aged college boys to get a drink at the First and Last Chance Saloon, where London did his own serious drinking in his younger days.
It was not until this last spring that I came full circle with Jack London. Some friends in California took us to visit his home, Beauty Ranch, now a regional park near the small town of Glen Ellen. The setting is truly beautiful; lush green hills, in the middle of the Sonoma Valley wine country. Jack lived and worked there from 1905 until his death in November 1916.
Our tour of the 1400 acre ranch, surrounding buildings and the museum revealed London’s zest for living and how much he’d crammed into a relatively short life. He traveled the world, tempering his writing skills with experience. To the Klondike searching for gold, or sailing the South Pacific in his boat, The Snark. At Beauty Ranch we saw his passion for a sustainable rural life; the remains of his extensive winery, horse breeding barns, lumbering operations and even a state-of –the art pig farm.
He wrote at his roll-top desk nearly every morning, starting before the sun came up. When 1000 words had been penned, he quit for the day and got into the business of running the ranch. His wife took his longhand scribblings and typed the final manuscript. His office was cluttered in a charming sort of way, filled with books and papers, drawers stuffed with notes and writing tools. When he was deep into a writing project, he slept on a porch adjacent to his office. Awakening in the middle of the night with an inspiration, he’d write a note to himself and clothespin it to a rope running across the porch over his bed.
One of the most astounding statistics is the number of rejections he received for his work. Six hundred! His fertile mind simply shook them off and he went on to publish over fifty books and hundreds of short stories. What an inspiration to all of us who’ve been collecting our own sets of rejections.
Throughout the buildings on Beauty Ranch, we noticed dozens of small, custom-made book shelves, each holding perhaps eight to ten of his novels. My friend, a fine woodworker, made me an exact replica of one of these little shelves. I am saving space on it for the next crop of novels published by the Blue Sage writers. Maybe one of my own will be among them. Keep writing my friends, there is hope for all of us.