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Joseph Gerard Dever

PERHAPS THE BEST WAY TO REVEAL ONE'S TRUE self to anyone who might be interested lies in attempting to describe what one would truly like to be. The reader, then, can be depended upon to peek behind the camouflage.

In writing about one's own writing career, one can act as though a feature writer were doing the interviewing.

For a true understanding of this or any author, I would advise an interviewer to read the published work of the subject. In my case, if the profiler had the time and interest, I would suggest that he talk to a few old friends and critics like Jesuit Fathers William 3. Leonard and John L. Bonn of Boston College, John Cogley of The Commonweal, Professor John Pick of Marquette, and the book editors, Bernard Wirth of Bruce and Ken McCormick of Doubleday; and last, but by no means least, my old friend and patron, Father Harold C. Gardiner, S.J., of America. I would also like to add the names of Robert and Mary Muse, of Boston, who have been generous and loyal patrons of my work over a period of twenty years.

Back in 1944, as a twenty-four year old Air Force GI, my story "Fifty Missions" won the Yank short story contest over some five hundred GI contestants all over the world. After winning this prize, my writing career took a good leap forward. This vignette-like story says more about my younger days than one can say in a piece like this. It was done nationally on TV by the Catholic Hour and can still be read in The Best from Yank (Dutton) and in Sister Mariella Gable's anthology Our Father's House (Sheed).

In my first novel, No Lasting Home (Bruce, 1947), one can read the old, passionate story of an impoverished Irish youth escaping a tenement neighborhood for the stern but generous patronage of a Jesuit college. Here too one can find the age-old theme of the big brother sacrificing to give the younger brother a chance at a better life.

One might note in my second novel, A Certain Widow (Bruce, 1951), a passion for Boston politics, an understanding of juvenile delinquency, and a fascination with the complexities of an Irish matriarch who drives one son into an ill-fated vocation for the priesthood and coddles the other son into a rebellious marriage with a blue-blood divorcee.

Because of the need for finishing the book, the author took flight with his wife and three children to a decrepit seven-acre ranch in Colorado, leaving behind him a good job and a fine home in Chicago. Many a novelist can tell you that often the price of finishing a book is simply financial insecurity.

A Certain Widow was completed after four alternatingly bitter and lovely months in the beautiful mountain country of the San Luis valley in Colorado. Then followed a long and arduous trip back to Boston in an old Ford, with a half-ton trailer clacking along behind, loaded with the sum total of one's earthly goods.

If two novels could be written about Boston, from the distant, focusing perspective of the West and the Midwest, surely the novel I wanted to write about Chicago could be written from the perspective of the east coast.

Vitally interested in unionism and its part in the social order, I took a job as a supply-room clerk in a large electronics plant and served as a union steward while working on my third novel, Three Priests (Doubleday, 1958), for almost five years. This story fictionizes some vital aspects of the American Catholic social revolution, as focused in the core-center of this movement in Chicago, and with major character emphasis on the life of a Chicago bishop who willy-nilly became a standard bearer for social action.

Father Gardiner, writing in America, termed it "a bird's-eye view of Catholic social action in America during the past thirty years"; and the London Times Book Section, in a special edition on the American imagination (November 1959), bracketed it with two other novels on Jewish and Protestant public life, as an exampie of "religious enthusiasm in America."

Even the solid success of this work as a Catholic best-seller did not insure the author and his family against insecurity. Financial insecurity is the familiar climate of most full-time writers. A writer chooses the stony, climbing trail if he is determined to say what he wants to say. He is no plaster saint. He makes an easy, sometimes a desperate dollar here and there, writing the slick, comforting things, but he is repeatedly doomed to falling back on his publisher for a subsidy to get on with his real work.

I have found in ghosting political speeches a source of stable income; but I can also say that even this tends to inhibit and corrupt the creative impulse.

There are all sorts of sophisticated Catholics who sneer at the term "Catholic novelist," but it really does have practical and professional meaning. One can write a Catholic novel and still conform to the objective canons of the form. By that I mean that one primarily strives to establish "entertainment" as the primary purpose of the novel and lets the "pot of message" fall where it may.

The majority testimony of the book reviewers, regardless of any of the faults of my novels, have largely been that they are readable and entertaining. The solid sales record of all three books in their original hardcover prices, and as regular choices of major Catholic book clubs, would tend to bear out this statement.

No matter what the Old Adam in me, my life is saturated with Catholicism on every level. My wife and five children are the same-Catholic to the core. So, how can I heed the advice of the sophisticated who think that I am wasting genuine talent writing Catholic novels and who urge me to write about things that are not identified with the public and private life of the Church in America?

For the vital statistics department, may I say that I was born in 1919, in Somerville, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston; I graduated from Boston College in 1942, served in the Air Force as a camp newspaperman, wrote for Yank, America, Commonweal, The Sign, and have since contributed regularly to the Catholic Press.

Like many other writers, my employment career has been a checkered one. I have been a fiction editor for the Bruce Publishing Co. (1946-48), a teacher at Marquette University and Boston College Intown, an administrative assistant to Bishop Bernard J. Sheil of Chicago, an assistant editor of a national thoroughbred horse magazine; I held the Funk & Wagnalls Literary Fellowship at Middlebury College, Vermont; I have been founding president of an AFL industrial union, and have served as Massachusetts publicity director of the StevensonKefauver Committee in 1956. I am presently public relations assistant to Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles, Clement A. Riley.

With the patient encouragement of my lovely wile, Margaret Kermode Dever, I have just completed my fourth novel.

This book is more generally autobiographical in that it is preoccupied with the problems, the joys, and challenges of young-marrieds, mostly Catholics in my own generation.

A final word: when I am long-gone, if anyone will write in reputable print that my novels have authentically reflected something substantial concerning the human side of Catholicism in America, I will feel that all this struggle has not been in vain.

Originally published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig, Sixth Series, 1960.


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