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Leo Vincent Jacks

I WAS BORN IN GRAND ISLAND, NEBRASKA, IN 1896. AS A child, I read a great deal. At first in English, then in other languages. In grade school I had a teacher, a German Ursuline nun, who was interested in language experiments with children. She obtained permission from the parents concerned and organized a group of youngsters to study German. I began in the fifth grade. When I graduated from grade school I had had four years of German and two of Latin. In Prep school, at St. Mary's, Kansas, I added Greek to the list. Subsequently I studied other tongues.

In Prep school I had as a teacher a man deeply interested in good writing, Father Charles J. Scott, S.J. He got the boys to form a small group called the Academic Literary Society. Members were required to produce a daily composition. It taught us a great deal about prompt writing. He corrected and annotated these papers for us. I owe him much.

In college (St. Mary's, Kansas), I was fortunate again in a teacher, Father Francis X. Reilly, S.J. He took a deep interest in writing. I had the luck to work with him for three years. He had a critical mind, and could call a spade a spade. Working with him would do much to sharpen anyone's wits.

In 1917 I graduated from college, and served two years in the army. I was in an infantry regiment, later light field artillery. Subsequently I was a machine gunner. I was in the Thirty-Second Division, Michigan and Wisconsin national guardsmen, and that division, as you know, saw a lot of fighting and suffered heavy losses in killed, wounded, and gassed. I had many experiences which doubtless did a great deal toward shaping my viewpoints.

In competitive examination I won a Knights of Columbus fellowship to the Catholic University of America. In 1922 I read Greek for a Ph.D., writing my thesis on St. Basil and Greek Literature.

I got into publication in an indirect way. I had written a lengthy memoir about World War I, an amplification of a journal I kept. A friend of mine at Catholic University, the Reverend Dr. Marshall Campbell, saw it and gave it to George S. Brooks, one time editor of McClure's and later a screen writer. He passed it on to Maxwell Perkins, at that time managing editor at Scribner's. Mr. Perkins published it under the title Service Record of an Artilleryman (1928), and subsequently accepted two other books from me, Xenophon, Soldier of Fortune (1930), and La Salle (1931). Maxwell Perkins was a great editor and a wonderful friend. I think my ideas about writing were still in a formative shape, but he gave me much advice and help, as indeed he did for many other young writers.

Since I have taught at Creighton University, Omaha, I have had less time to write.

I have no particular creed about writing. You write what interests you, you write it as well as you can. J. K. Huysmans said about the same thing, but not many people read him today. I like a good western, or a good mystery. There are not many of either. I have written five books (not including my thesis) and about fifty short stories and articles. I am interested in writing western fiction more than any other type. But it is largely a question of finding a good story. Any good story is valuable on its own account. It makes little difference if the story is tragic or comic, supposing it has the quality of holding the reader's attention. A writer has to discover some knack for discovering a story that is attractive and also one that he can write. Some writers are sympathetic to certain types of fiction, but cold to others. One ought to discipline himself to work at any kind of writing task. Anyone who wishes to be a professional writer had better learn to discard prejudice and write what comes before him.

The early history of our country contains a wealth of material. Nearly every State has its historical society. If one would probe into the records, he would find something good, and once in a while phenomenal. Not a complete story, of course, only an idea. The history of the Spanish southwest and the missionaries there is a case in point. In this field I wrote Claude Dubuis, Bishop of Galveston (Herder, 1946). My other book was Mother Marianne of Molokai (Macmillan, 1935).

I believe in realism. Of course realism and vulgarity are not the same thing. I believe in writing what a story calls for, no more, no less. A writer has to write his story as he sees it. I do not believe in censorship. Certainly some bad books are published, but that has always been true. A censor is a worse danger than a bad book.

In 1949 and 1950, I was manager of the writers' workshop at Catholic University, Washington, D. C. In the years between 1946 and 1953, and again since 1956, I was and am chairman of the Omaha Writers' Club, managing the annual writers' conference in Omaha. I had the pleasure of seeing several very good professional writers develop here under my first program, and now I hope to repeat the same accomplishment. Writing is a difficult profession. The only people who make a success of it are people with some ability and a great deal of determination. We need more of them.

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