October 2008

Lorette C. Luzajic

Fascinating Writers

Such a Nice Guy: The Legendary Crad Kilodney

“I came back to the earth plane to be a writer, because I didn’t get to be one in my previous life,” the cranky Canadian Crad Kilodney states. “If you don’t believe in reincarnation, too bad. I’m going to tell it like it is, even if I can’t prove it. I lived before. I was a rich idler with vain literary pretensions. I loved books but never had the literary career I wanted.”

And so the Crad came back, the very next day, born in Jamaica, New York to a family descended from Greek immigrants whom he was “obviously” not related to. “I have the mentality of an elitist. I believe in aristocracy, not democracy,” he tells me. “What has democracy ever done for me?”

The grisly poverty of his days on freezing Yonge Street, lucky to make six bucks, was evidently not humbling. It’s hard to remain objective as I look around at Kilodney’s aristocratic trappings. He now works as a trader in mining stocks, an unexpected path change that helped him leave the mean streets, and he does quite well for himself. But the man still lives in the same stuffy “heritage house” garret, a veritable hovel with the tiniest window.

Few Canadians lived in or visited Toronto without making the acquaintance with the surly landmark, day in and day out, out there, selling his books, and grumbling about the illiteracy of the passersby. You couldn’t miss him: he wore giant A-frames indicating the library he was selling, he had a scowl on his face, and on the market were books with cheery titles: Lightning Struck My Dick, Putrid Scum, Terminal Ward, and Foul Pus for Dead Dogs, for example. (For one thing, only in a democracy would one be able to hawk this bitter edge of free speech, where no ilk of Canadian escapes his written tirades.)

“I don’t really get along well with other people, I’ve got to be honest,” Crad tells me. “I’m too set in my ways. I am not going to do anything to make an effort.”

Needless to say, Crad has never been married and does not have any children.

It began in college in Michigan, where Madonna also studied, though not at the same time. “I had 15 roommates in college, and all of them disliked me. I can’t say I blame them.”

Kilodney (not his real name, but the only one he uses when not disguised, in a suit and tie, as a stock investor) did not study the stock market or literature -- he majored in astronomy. Many details about his early life -- and current life, for that matter -- are not known, and won’t be, because Mr. Kilodney doesn’t answer certain questions, and doesn’t care much to answer others. How he ended up in a city he hates, Toronto, the only one he’s been to for years, maybe decades, is unclear. He just knew it was where his fate was supposed to play out, and there were various odds and ends jobs at warehouses, in the vanity press industry, and so on, that gave some fateful background to the writer’s aspirations.

He was a voracious reader and writer, whose prolific work clearly strived for shades of Henry Miller. Crad’s breed of short story, novella, or short humour essays has an acerbic wit that’s an acquired taste, to be sure. Thing is, the more you read his stuff, the more taste for it you acquire. He is the hero of the slush piles, the jewel in the heap, and his stories and satires feature the lowest of the low, along with a few invalids, creeps, losers, nurses, artists, winos, weirdoes and perverts from every farm. The stuff was post-pulp but resplendent with its ghosts; porny, corny, hilarious, witty, wordy, and sometimes, astoundingly astute.

Like Ray Bradbury, Kilodney was constantly producing short stories. And though Ray came up with decent titles for most of his novels, he seemed in a hurry when naming the shorter works. Kilodney, on the other hand, has titles like no other. Gainfully Employed in Limbo, Sex Slaves of the Astro-Mutants, The Extremely Sane Postal Workers of Yellowknife, Malignant Humors, A Moment of Silence for Man Ray, and The Most Important Story Ever Written About Gary, Indiana -- titles like these give a whole new meaning to that ‘young writer’s’ staple question: “Mr. Author, sir, where do you get your ideas?”

The new breed of hip writers, of the Bust and Ready Made and Paste Magazine generation heralds vanity publishing as the perfect solution for the impatient writer, or for creative control. Geniuses like Ariel Gore and Dave Eggers champion the DIY press, and the print-on-demand technology available today makes the small press a greener option. The new school says a vanity affair is old school, and that everyone including Woolf, Shaw, Whitman, Cummings, Atwood and even John Grisham have had one.

Crad Kilodney is thus a hero of the independent scene, a self-taught writer self-publishing dozens of books under Charnel House. Not only did he write and publish, but he also decided to do the hard part: sell them. On the streets, rain and shine.

And that’s what he until the mid-'90s, along with writing a few witty columns and sex yap for the sleaze industry and magazines like National Lampoon. Several titles were published by more "reputable" presses, like Virgo, Black Moss Press, and the Canadian arts backbone Coach House Press. It was a living -- if abject poverty could be called living. But it was literary, and Crad’s grateful for that at least. He really prefers to be remembered as a serious writer, not famous as an eccentric crank.

That may be, but Kilodney has lived to see himself permanently ingrained in the imagination of Canadian history, if not as a complete and utter nutter, than at least as a real oddball character. That this goes hand in hand with a memory for his literature, however, is natural. His work is crazy, bleak, perverse, and compulsive reading. His anti-literature antics are major contributors to his cult fame -- Crad submitted famous writers’ work to their own publishers, for example, under bizarre Ugandan names. He made his point: out of dozens of submissions, only one publisher even caught on.

Kilodney also taped many of his interactions with riff-raff and idiots on the core streets of Toronto downtown, leaving a unique document of the city’s culture, a bit of unsavory "reality radio" that’s really real.

Being apprehended for vending without a permit was one of the last straws, though it’s the only real finale for this sort of story.

Except there’s a turn of events, an unusual turn, their origin unclear, that led to an unexpected rags-to-riches transformation. How many riches? -- also unclear. The numbers are none of our business, though Crad brags about now being a "rich white man." I wouldn’t guess that he is a zillionaire, just comfortable in terms I may never be. But I could be wrong. All he’ll say about it is “girl, if you only knew.” (Though exceedingly cautious with his earnings, subsisting in the same cloying, dilapidated dwelling he’s known forever, the author is very generous. He donates regularly to hospitals and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.)

Retirement from writing and the new stock market world meant not worrying where the next sandwich would come from, and it meant freedom at last from the main triggers of his depression. “It was never writing that depressed me. It was this city full of awful people. Retiring has definitely improved my emotional state because I don’t have to go out… and deal with hostility and bullshit.”

Still, it was lonely away from the frantic outdoor world down the street. ”When I retired, I wanted to have a drink with somebody, to celebrate. There was no one. I had a drink in my apartment by myself. I had some souvenirs to share for the occasion. I kept them for one point five years. Nobody came to visit, so I threw them in the garbage.”

Crad did write a few humourous articles about running for President and such for a site called Dead Man Talking, and now has a blog, that wonderful invention of the do-it-yourself press (www.cradkilodney.wordpress.com). He also “occasionally composes logic puzzles, because I like making people feel stupid.”

His fate from here? Crad is new to sixty, so we hope there are still years on end of stories. He has a few predictions for how things go from now on. “Some grad student will do his thesis on me. He’ll get a teacher’s position thanks to me. And that will be my legacy to literature.”

“Also, I aspire to be the most well known Canadian writer in Australia.”

Yet it was years ago that the most astute realization struck Crad Kilodney about the meaning of his fate, in the widely panned Putrid Scum, my favorite of his works:

I looked out the window at the grey, grey, joyless city I’d come to, and wondered how long I could go on this way, and why was I treated this way when all I wanted to do with my life was write good books?

When I got home, I took out my diary, and a revelation came to me, which I set down at once. "Now I understand! My life is a satire of the life of a writer!"

Lorette C. Luzajic is the babe behind www.thegirlcanwrite.net. She loves getting to know interesting people, and that’s how her www.fascinatingpeople.wordpress.com was born. Lorette is also a columnist and contributor to foodnik mag Gremolata. Her work has been published widely including in Rattle, Modern Poetry, Adbusters, The Fiddlehead, Geez, Dog Fancy, Ergocentric Magazine, and so on. She is the author of The Astronaut’s Wife: Poems of Love and Death. Her second and third books, both compilations of irreverent ramblings, will be available by the new year.