An Interview with Mark SaFranko by Stephen J. Golds

Punk Noir Magazine

It was 2005 when I first discovered the writing of Mark SaFranko.

I was working a soul-crushing construction gig in London, living in a dilapidated bedsit, reading Bukowski, Fante (father and son), Hamsun, Celine, Childish and dreaming about making it as a writer. I drank too much, was broke all the time and trying to write a transgressive novel about working in a cardboard box factory and a recent failed relationship. I wrote short stories and sent them off to small indie magazines. One of them being the great Savage Kick Magazine.

The Savage Kick Magazine

I never did make it into the magazine, (although I got a lot of kind, supportive rejections from the great editor Steve Hussy) but it was reading this magazine, I discovered two burgeoning Cult Writers — Tony O’Neill (Sick City) and Mark SaFranko. Their work inspired me and spurred me on.

Mark SaFranko

The Press side of Savage Kick — Murder Slim Press released Mark SaFranko’s novel Hating Olivia that same year. I purchased it straight away and absorbed every word. Knowing as I turned each page, I was reading something very special. Honest, self-effacing, lyrical and punk.

Murder Slim Press 1st Edition

Fast Forward to 2021, I’m a lot older, a little wiser and still a struggling writer. Something makes me nostalgic for those early bedsit days and the books I read then. Those transgressive writers with the hearts of poets. The outsiders, loners and outcasts. I started reading them again and found my way back to Mark SaFranko’s Hating Olivia, now a Harper’s Perennial Classic. A title it truly deserves. It’s so refreshing to see an indie classic blow up to one of the larger presses. Something I can only dream of.

Perennial Edition

I was lucky enough to catch up with Mark SaFranko and he was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

Thanks for agreeing to talk with Punk Noir Magazine today. We’ve been massive fans of yours since you first burst out on the indie scene with Dan Fante and Tony O’Neill back in the early 2000s. Can you tell our readers a little bit about how you got started in the Literature scene?

 

Thanks for the questions, Stephen. It’s a long story how I got started, but the short form is that by the time I was 21 and out of school, I realized that I wanted to try to be a writer. I had no idea how to go about it, coming from the background that I did. Of course I didn’t know a single person who’d ever attempted it, and that didn’t help. To this day I’m a complete outlier in that I’m not connected to the academic community and not related to anyone famous. Anyway, I started on a long, long course of working jobs and attempting to write whenever I could. I didn’t know how else you did it. Of course life became complicated between jobs and women and studying how to write and trying to keep everything together, and all that time – year after year after year – I was accumulating experience to write about. At the same time, I was always trying. I never stopped, from the beginning. It was a long apprenticeship in which I taught myself. I wrote plays and novels and had no luck whatsoever in getting them performed or published. So I embarked on an interminable course of sending my work out to everywhere I could think of. I didn’t start getting published until my late thirties. And it went – very slowly – from there. So in my case wherever I’ve gotten to has taken, literally, decades. And it actually hasn’t stopped, even now.

 

 

You’re best known for your twisted love story Hating Olivia. How did that novel come into fruition and what were your inspirations for that story?

 

On the face of it, it was the product of five very volatile years of life with a certain woman that I barely survived. It wasn’t all because of her of course – there were a lot of other things going on in my life at that time, personal crises and jobs and other things. And everything converged to produce an experience that I thought could be a novel somewhere down the road. I attempted writing it twice before I actually found the right voice for it nearly 20 years after the actual events. That’s the version that got published. My literary inspirations were really varied from many years of reading. Henry Miller’s autobiographical novels in the first place, especially Tropic Of Capricorn and The Rosy Crucifixion. The novels and stories of Isaac Singer. A slim novel called Marriage With Papers by Mohammed Mrabet. Sylvia by Leonard Michaels. Later, Bukowski. A novel by Philippe Djian that became the film Betty Blue. Going way back, Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. So there’s a lot of reading and raw experience that goes into a certain kind of novel. And of course decades of writing and development and trial and error. It’s not easy.

Is it as autobiographical as it reads?

Yes, though with a compressed timeline. I’m often disappointed that people view it as a so-called “love story,” which of course is the fault of the publishers who tried to market it to as wide an audience as possible. I see it as something else: what goes into making an artist. The relationship is a backdrop, really.

How did you go from Indie author to Perennial Classics?

It wasn’t easy. The novel was first published by Murder Slim Press in the UK – in fact, it was the first novel they ever published. The really fortunate thing that happened to the book was that it got discovered by a new French publisher – 13th Note – that was searching for certain types of American books to bring out in the French market. And it also turned out to be the first novel 13th Note ever published. And France is where the novel has sold best, by far. When that happened, it finally got picked up by an American publisher – Harper — after failing to find a home for years.

What was that process like?

Well, what you discover is that with the bigger houses there are more resources in terms of editing, packaging, advances, etc. The big houses do no promotion, however, that’s all up to you. But what happened in my case was that sales of Hating Olivia weren’t strong, and that quickly ended any hope of getting other novels into print in the US. It doesn’t matter what you write or how good a writer you are. All that matters is that you sell. I had no friends in high places who were willing to overlook those early sales. That said, the novel is, after all this time – it was originally published in 2005 — still in print in America and France and now Italy. It picked up some kind of cult following and people still discover it. And that of course is the difference between certain types of cult novels and commercial books. The cult novel can have a life long beyond the bestseller that is forgotten a week or two after publication. But again, that’s completely unpredictable.

What advice would you give to up and coming indie authors?

A really, really tough question. Because in a sense, even after all this time, I know nothing and I’m groping in the dark. The publishing landscape is in a state of constant change. The best advice I can give is keep trying and don’t give up. It’s tough because what’s going on out there is making getting noticed as a writer very difficult. It’s tough going the traditional route on account of the abovementioned reasons, and self-publishing has so many pitfalls. Do you really want to publish a book that no one will likely ever see? That’s where you have an advantage with a legit house – they can at least get distribution for your work, which is important. That’s the dilemma. I think most people nowadays don’t want to pay the dues I paid looking for a publisher. Maybe they can’t be blamed. I think you have to keep trying and looking for your openings – something like a prizefighter trying to land effective punches.

What novel are you reading now?

I’m reading Savage Lane by Jason Starr. I’ve liked some of his earlier novels. And I’ve really enjoyed the novels of the French novelist Pascal Garnier, who died in 2010. Otherwise, I’ve been having a terrible time lately finding stuff that I can even get through. I pick them up, read a few pages, and put them down. I won’t mention names.

What music are you listening to now?

Mostly I listen to my own since I work on it every day, and it’s always somewhere in the process – writing, recording, mixing, etc. What else have I listened to? The new remix of Stage Fright by The Band. The ambient music of Brian Eno. The soundtracks of Ryuichi Sakamoto. I should probably discover new stuff, but somehow I don’t.

Thanks a lot, Mark! We’re looking forward to seeing a whole lot more of your work.

Mark SaFranko started writing at a young age. He attended schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. His mundane working life has consisted of a multitude of jobs: political risk analyst, dating advice ghostwriter, freight loader, teacher, landscaper’s assistant, deliveryman, truck driver, clothes salesman, astrologer, short order cook, fast food worker, bank clerk, proofreader, bar musician, government pensions clerk, brewery worker, reporter, telephone solicitor, stock clerk, and chauffeur, among others.

His novels include Hating Olivia (Harper Perennial and 13E Note Editions, named one of Virgin France’s Favorite Summer Reads of 2009), No Strings (Thomas & Mercer and Black Coffee Press, named one of Blackheart Magazine’s best books of 2012), The Suicide (Honest Publishing, named one of Foyles Best Novels of 2014), Lounge Lizard (13e Note Editions, Murder Slim Press), God Bless America (13e Note Editions, Murder Slim Press), Dirty Work(13e Note Editions, Murder Slim Press), One False Step (Editions La Dragonne), Hopler’s Statement (River Jack Books), and The Favor (Aegina Press). They have collected rave reviews and a cult following in Europe, especially in the French-speaking countries and the United Kingdom. He has published more than 90 stories in magazines and journals internationally, including the renowned Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. In 2005 he won the Frank O’Connor Award from descant magazine for his short fiction. He was cited in Best American Mystery Stories 2000 and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize.

Mister SaFranko is also a playwright; his plays have been seen in many New York venues as well as in theaters in both Londonderry, Northern Ireland, and Cork, Ireland. In 1992 his one-act play “The Bitch-Goddess” was selected Best Play of the Village Gate One-Act Festival in New York. As an actor he has appeared both onstage and in several independent films, including Inner Rage and A Better Place, as well as a featured role in truTV’s Forensic Files and several commercials. A composer and musician, his music is available through iTunes, Spotify and other online stores. He is also a painter whose work has been exhibited in France.

Stephen J. Golds was born in North London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life.

He writes primarily in the noir and dirty realism genres and is the co-editor of Punk Noir Magazine.

He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling the world, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs.

His books are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone, I’ll Pray When I’m Dying, Always the Dead, Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows I Thought I Saw Once, Cut-throat & Tongue-tied, Bullet Riddled & Gun Shy and the story and poetry collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand.