Let me put this heavy load down and take some of these bulky clothes off and
I'll tell you about how I became a short story and novel writer.
My name is John Griffith London. But I like to be called Jack. I was born in San
Francisco in 1876. Most of my childhood I was very poor. I had to help my parents earn
a living by doing odd jobs. I delivered papers, worked on ice-wagons, cleaned up
bowling alleys, helped in the cannery and only made ten cents an hour. I usually worked
ten hours a day. I learned what it was like being a member of the working-class and I
always had a distaste for its drudgery. I kept telling myself, "Jack, some day you will be
rich." I loved to read and often borrowed books of adventure, travel, and sea voyages.
At fourteen, I left school to lead a wandering and adventurous life, so I thought. Jobs
were hard to find but I was employed by the fish patrol in San Francisco Bay. Imagine
hopping on every boat that pulls into the bay and counting the number of fish on board
and having to write fines to the sailors that had too many fish. This sure wasn't a popular
job in the bay area. I was smart enough to figure I could be on the other side of the law
and rob and steal vessels so I became an oyster pirate.
I had a real passion for the sea and so in 1893 I took a job as a common sailor aboard
a sealing vessel that ventured as far as Japan. This lasted about a year. When I returned
back to the bay area I drifted from job to job.
I told you I liked to wander. I left the bay and headed for New York City. I went on
the road and lived as a tramp. Without any place to stay I was soon jailed for vagrancy.
I spent one month in jail and there I realized I needed to make something of myself. I
returned to California and to school. My reading continued. Rudyard Kipling and
Robert Louis Stevenson became my liteary gods and Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and
Karl Marx made me a Socialist. I began writing while in college but could not find a
market for my writings.
In the mid-1897's I joined the Klondike gold rush. I packed 8,000 pounds of supplies
and books to take with me. After a year I became very ill and had to return home without
having mined an ounce of gold. Upon my return to the San Francisco area, I began to
write about my experiences. My stories finally began to be accepted by magazines. My
first collection of short stories, The Son of the Wolf, was bought and published in 1900
by Houghton Mifflin for $500. I was so excited to have made money from my writings, I
devoted every minute to telling my colorful life. I wrote more than 50 books and made
more than a million dollars on them.
My first best selling novel was The Call of the Wild. In this novel I included my
adventure of the Klondikes. The story dealt with the reversion of a civilized creature to
the primitive state. On assignment to cover the Russo-Japanese War I was stranded in
London and lived in the poverty-stricken East End. I gathered materials for my novel,
People of the Abyss. I became popular outside the United States and my works were
translated into eleven languages. My dream had become a reality. I was now very
wealthy. I built a fantastic castle but had to write incessantly to meet my bills.
I wrote The Sea Wolf based on my experiences on the sealing vessel. John
Barleycorn became a novel about my struggles with alcoholism. My style-brutal, vivid,
and exciting was set in localities where the struggle could be most obvious: in the wilds
of Alaska, on remote Pacific Islands, on ships at sea, in industrial communities during
strikes, and in the underworlds of various cities. These were the places I recounted my
My life was very stormy. I had two unhappy marriages, a problem with alcohol, a
fire that destroyed my castle before it was finished, and many bills to pay. So at the
age of 40, I ended my own life.
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