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
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
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.