Mark SaFranko

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Mark SaFranko is an author, playwright and actor based in New Jersey, US. His work “has its roots in painfully lived experience”,[1] and portrays a grimly realistic vision of life. “It's ugly and bleak but then so too is life, especially when you're on the losing end.”[2]

SaFranko was born in Trenton, New Jersey. Trenton rates amongst the top 20 most dangerous cities in the US, and is an area SaFranko refers to as “the mean streets”[3] where “crime was a daily fact of life”.[4] After attending Notre Dame High School, SaFranko turned towards writing: “The book that actually made me think that a nobody like myself could actually write something was Henry Miller On Writing. I was still a kid, 18 or 19.”[2]

Work ethic[edit]

SaFranko traveled extensively, settling for the longest period in Hoboken, New Jersey. During this time, he has worked over thirty jobs to sustain enough income to continue to write; laboring as a truck driver, freight loader, clothing salesman, short-order cook, dinner theater actor, factory hand, bar musician, bank clerk, political risk analyst, office temp, crime and sports reporter, fast food worker, and telephone sales solicitor.[5]

SaFranko notes one job in particular: “I worked the overnight shift in a brewery. It was a completely bizarre job. I was responsible for sweeping up the bottles that exploded and smelled "skunky" before they dropped into the cases. You were actually allowed to drink while on the assembly line. The people who worked there were all insane. When the shift was over we'd go out to the bars and drink—at seven in the morning.”[6] SaFranko blue-collar work ethic is reflected in his huge output of work.: “A hundred short stories, over fifty of them in print. A box full of poetry and essays. And ten complete novels, eight of them yet to hit the book shelves. A dozen plays, some produced in New York and others staged in Ireland.”[7] In response, SaFranko claims: “Any sane person would have stopped. Highsmith once said: "Art is an addiction. That's why there are so many bad artists." I think there's a lot of truth in that….And as someone else said, what else is there to do?”[8]

Writing style[edit]

SaFranko’s work primarily features in the crime and confessional genres. They consistently reflect characters with psychological unease, fighting for a sense of calm; perhaps indicative of SaFranko’s own mental state: “I've never felt at peace. Ever. But I like the chaos raging in my mind. It proves you're alive. Maybe when you're truly at peace, you die. Maybe not.”[4] SaFranko is a long-term friend of fellow author Dan Fante (Mooch, Chump Change). SaFranko introduced Fante to his current wife, and both have young children. SaFranko claims: “I owe him an enormous debt that I can never pay back”,[8] while Fante says: “I believe the guy would rather write than breathe. I envy his talent and commitment."[7] Both of the authors’ success has largely come in the confessional genre, and both have been compared to Knut Hamsun (Hunger), Louis-Ferdinand Celine (Journey To The End of the Night), Charles Bukowski (Post Office) and John Fante (Ask The Dust). However, many reviewers assert SaFranko has a distinctive voice: “It's easy to spot the Hamsun, Bukowski and Fante on SaFranko's bookshelves, but to say Hating Olivia is just a facsimile of these writers is way off the mark. SaFranko writes from the heart... crafting a furious and passionate piece of work that is entirely his own, with some scenes that would make even Bukowski blush."[9]

Amongst SaFranko’s literary output, there are four novels: Hating Olivia, Lounge Lizard, The Favor, and Hopler’s Statement.

Hating Olivia and Lounge Lizard[edit]

SaFranko’s recent novels have concentrated on ‘Max Zajack’, SaFranko literary alter-ego. The author refutes suggestions that the books are memoirs depicting 100% truth: “I've never written a memoir, or anything close. Autobiographical or confessional novels, yes, but no memoirs.”[4] However, in both Hating Olivia and Lounge Lizard, Zajack bears the scars of SaFranko’s life and philosophy.

Events shift between lust, obsession, violence and the furious desire to become an “artist”. Zajack becomes a “dangerously alienated”[10] sociopath, unable to fit into conventional life. “Frankly, I’m lucky I survived them. I think I had a mental breakdown and was hanging by a thread, but nobody put me away. Then the thread got cut and I went into free fall. That’s when I became a writer.”[8]

Hating Olivia is based on SaFranko’s young adulthood and a love–hate relationship with his lover, named ‘Olivia Aphrodite’. As ‘Aphrodite’ suggests, she is the goddess-like image of beauty. But like Zajack, her mental state is volatile, leading to physical and mental abuse from both parties. SaFranko claims: “I couldn’t even go near the material for ten years after the events. I always felt it was going to be a novel, but I just wasn’t ready to deal with it.[8]

Hating Olivia was critically well received and has achieved a small but dedicated cult following in the UK and US, led by a glowing review in the high-circulation Bizarre Magazine: “The words 'raw,' 'brutal,' 'addictive' and 'brilliant' are so overused they have almost lost their meaning, but they are fitting descriptions of a memoir from a very, very talented author.”[11]

Hating Olivia’s sequel Lounge Lizard charts Zajack’s further descent. Echoing SaFranko’s attempt to integrate into the “corporate machine”[12] in 1980s’ New York, Zajack sinks into a grinding job for AT&T, a leading telecommunications company. His only release is in a series of one-night stands and affairs with women met in NY clubs. Zajack’s desire to become an artist is lost in a sea of work and sex, until he is forced to rediscover himself: “My interactions with people had robbed me of my sense of self until I had no idea who I was anymore – if I ever did in the first place. It was nobody’s fault: losing yourself was a simple consequence of living with human beings, and the closer you got to them, the more they depleted you.”[12]

Further Zajack novels are said to be in the pipeline.[8]

The Favor and Hopler’s Statement[edit]

SaFranko's earlier novels; The Favor and Hopler's Statement; can be placed in the crime genre, although "they are shot through with the realism that marks so much of SaFranko's work".[13]

The Favor, published on the tiny Aegina Press, charts the life of Timothy Biddle, an introverted worker, who is drawn into an extramarital affair that ends in murder.

Hopler's Statement, which met a wider audience than The Favor, features a Rashomon-like narrative, where events surrounding a crime are told through a variety of different viewpoints. It is written in a clear, crisp style received well by critics: “It is at once steamy, beguiling, restless, sometimes brutal, and passion-filled, yet penned with certain taste and great skill. My one wish is that I had written it.”[14]

Short stories[edit]

SaFranko has over 50 short stories published in a range of publications, including the likes of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, (“Acts Of Revenge”), The MacGuffin (“The Ecstasy”) and The Savage Kick Literary Magazine (“Role of A Lifetime”). His story “Rescuing Ravel” (Descant, 2005) won the Frank O’Connor Award for Best Short Fiction. “The Man In Unit 24” (Hawai’i Review) was cited in Best American Mysteries 2000.

SaFranko’s short stories fluctuate between realism and crime, but often combine both. The emphasis is on interior thought. Despite the author shifting between first- and third-person narration, the emphasis in on the central character’s mental state. This occurs through dialogue: “You ever been lost?” he asked. “Like when you make a turn and you know you’re not on the right road, but you keep driving anyway? You keep driving because you’re thinking that it’s going to turn out to be the right road....That’s where I am. I’m on that road.” or narration:[15] “It started snowing earlier in the day, lightly at first, and now it’s falling so heavily that I can’t see even six inches out the window. All our blizzards come off Lake Ontario, where I tried to drown myself not long ago....Now me and Chips, we’re safe inside, and I’ve got my bottle. This is what I usually do with my free time --- have a few drinks and ponder my destiny until I pass out.”[16] According to Murder Slim Press, a collection of SaFranko’s story stories will appear in 2008.[17]

Theater productions and acting[edit]

SaFranko’s plays have featured on Off-Off Broadway venues, and through theaters in Northern Ireland and Éire. These include: Dancing For Men, The Bitch-Goddess, and Incident in the Combat Zone.[18] The plays represent SaFranko’s emphasis on dark themes, mixed with equally dark humor: “SaFranko's two black comedies are mini-masterpieces of acute observation and dark humour, but at all times entertaining and captivating.”[19]

For SaFranko, playwriting is a double-edged sword: “There's nothing like seeing your words come to life on the stage, nothing like the response of a living, breathing audience. The other side of the coin...is having to listen to everyone's opinion of what you've done before it gets to the stage: directors, producers, actors, the audience at the workshop. They have no clue in many cases what you're trying to do, and yet they have opinions. It's maddening. It makes you vow to quit. Then you go back for more.”[4]

SaFranko has also appeared in a series of low-budget films. Some met with critical success (A Better Place), whilst others did not (The Road From Erebus). “Some of the films I've done I still haven't seen. I've got mixed feelings about what I've done up until now. I don't know if I'll do any more. Acting can't compare to writing or composing as an art. So much more goes into a purely creative art.”[4]

Ethos[edit]

“Someone once said ‘Art is an addiction. That's why there are so many bad artists.’ I think that's true. I can't imagine not liking to write. Why the fuck would you do it, then? For the inevitable rejection? Sure you get stuck here and there, but why put yourself through the torture? Isn't there enough in life to make you miserable? “I don't know why I love it. For some reason I'm wired that way. Probably it has to do with coming from a blue-collar background, where really tedious, boring, unrewarding work was what you had to face every day, day in and day out. Doing anything creative [is] like traveling to another universe.”[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Karl Orend, Alyscamps Press [2005]
  2. ^ a b Matthew Firth, Front & Centre #17 [Black Bile Press, 2007]
  3. ^ Correspondence with Steve Hussy [November 9th, 2007]
  4. ^ a b c d e f “Savage Kick talks to Mark SaFranko”, Savage Kick Literary Magazine #3 [Murder Slim Press, 2006]
  5. ^ Murderslim – Mark SaFranko Archived 2008-08-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Correspondence with Steve Hussy [November 9, 2007]
  7. ^ a b Dan Fante, Introduction to Hating Olivia [Murder Slim Press, 2005]
  8. ^ a b c d e “Scarecrow Interviews Mark SaFranko”, Scarecrow Magazine [2006]
  9. ^ Susan Tomaselli, Dogmatika [2005]
  10. ^ Mary Dearborn Archived 2009-10-09 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ James Doorne, Bizarre Magazine [Issue 105, 2005]
  12. ^ a b Mark SaFranko, Lounge Lizard, Murder Slim Press [2007]
  13. ^ Extracted from blurb on reverse of Role of a Lifetime chapbook [Murder Slim Press, 2006]
  14. ^ Bartholomew Gill[permanent dead link] (Peter McGarr Mysteries)
  15. ^ Mark SaFranko, “The Man In Unit 34”, Hawai'i Review, Issue 52 [1999]
  16. ^ Mark SaFranko, “Life-Change”, South Carolina Review, "Special Fiction Issue" [Summer, 1997]
  17. ^ Murderslim – SKUpdates Archived 2008-05-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ Murderslim – SaFranko Theater[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ The Carrigdhoun [August 24, 2002]