If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I’ve put aside fiction to work on a biography of Father Irenaeus Herscher OFM, librarian extraordinaire, Franciscan historian, and friend and spiritual advisor to Thomas Merton. It’s nearly complete now, I’m happy to say, and this weekend, instead of hitting the malls and battling the crowds, I will be heading for the Allegheny foothills of upstate New York, for some last minute research and quiet reflection. I will be submitting the manuscript to an actual publisher in January—it’s not a done deal yet, but this is the first publisher to express a serious but strongly enthusiastic response to my queries. I have some support in the form of very positive feedback I received from my article about Father Irenaeus in the Merton Seasonal. Didn’t think so many people read the Seasonal, but they do!
Back in August, I was quite discouraged with this project, and wondered if it would be worth continuing with. Thank goodness I struggled on. I feel now like a lot of people are waiting for this book. And I also feel, rather strongly now, that perhaps my life’s calling may be for biography and non-fiction. Or more to the point, perhaps this is the time for me to turn to non-fiction, considering the dismal market conditions for fiction. I don’t write for money or the market, of course, but one has to be realistic. There is too much fiction out there right now, too much overwhelming competition. Not enough eyes. I admit, writing non-fiction is tremendously harder than fiction. All the plotting and storylines may already be there, yet you have to render the absolute truth in clear, readable, compelling prose, no matter how difficult or distasteful it is. And you always have to tell the truth. No “alternative facts” in my biographies.
Yes, I said biographies, because I’m thinking of writing another. I’m hooked. I love the research, love the puzzle-like aspects of putting together someone else’s life on paper and making that person seem whole and coherent again. I like looking at a life like a storyline, and studying the other characters who wander into that story, adding their own plot twists and intrigues. It’s all good. I just wish this revelation had come sooner to me, when I was younger and had more energy, ambition and brain cells; but hopefully I’ll live to be a centenarian and will be writing up until the day I die.
So here we go. Somehow I have to combine the completion of this book with preparations for Christmas, with our minds uneasily fixed on the task ahead for spring, the big downsizing move. And concurrently, in “real time” as they say, an ever-growing list of ESL students. I’m not complaining; on the contrary, this season I feel blessed. I have meaningful work to do, and that may be the key to a good life after all.