A writer so prolific, he’s lost count

Author: Carol C. Bradley


Its the rare reader of fiction who does not at some time or other consider becoming a writer himself…some carry it about forever as an unredeemed promissory note to themselves. In their heart of hearts, they regard themselves as writers. Unfortunately, they never write anything.

- Ralph McInerny,I Alone Have Escaped To Tell You

Ralph McInernyprofessor of philosophy at Notre Dame for more than 50 years, the Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies since 1978, former director of the Jacques Maritain Center and the Medieval Instituteis a distinguished Catholic philosopher. Hes also a widely published scholar, whose books includeThomism in an Age of RenewalandThe Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain.

Of course hes even better known as the author of the popularFather Dowlingmystery series, which includes 27 titles and became a popular network TV series starring Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson. Other series include the Andrew Broom mysteries (set in the fictional Wyler, Ind., and featuring a small-town lawyer), a series set on the Notre Dame campus (the most recent,Irish Alibi,was published in September), and the Sister Mary Teresa mysteries written under the pen nameMonica Quill.His memoir,I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You,was published by Notre Dame Press in 2006.

By any standard, McInerny is a staggeringly prolific writer. How many novels has he written?

I dont know,he says.Over 100. Ive got three more coming out this year. I just finished one last night and sent it off. I like to write.Although, he adds wryly, theyre notWar and Peace.

Discipline is the key,he says.When you dream of writing, you dont dream of hacking away day after day. The romance seeps out of it. But Im still excited.

McInerny saw himself as an aspiring literary writer from the time he was in his teens, first writing for his college literary magazine and later writing poems, novels and short storiesthe preferred target being the New Yorkerthrough his days in college and graduate school, and continuing after he arrived at Notre Dame in 1955 to begin his career as a professor of philosophy.

He decided to get serious about fiction writing, he recalls, on Jan. 16, 1964. The decision was made for one reason only:We needed more money,he says.It was as simple as that.

McInerny and his wife, Connie, had seven childrentheir oldest son, Michael, died at 3.

I bought a house to put them in,he said.In 1963, salaries were better than in 1955, but we were overextended.

He bought a copy ofWriters Digest,and decided to writefor the commercial marketsevery day for a year. If at the end of that time he hadnt sold anything, he vowed, he would give it up and admit to himself that he wasnt a writer.

Every night after the children were in bed, he wrote from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., standing at his typewriter at an old workbench in the basement, and mailing out stories. By April of that year, he began to see light at the end of the tunne lmessages on the rejection slips, a letter from an editor urging him to keep trying. His first salefor $1,000was a short story published in Redbook Magazine, the first of many such sales. His first novel, also the first of many, was published in 1967.

Its been more than 40 years since that first novel published, McInerny notes.

Most people dont write that much, or that long,he said.They get tired of it, or die off. Or people get tired of them.

But he still has, in his words,a modest but loyal followingthat reads everything he writes.

Students will say ‘My grandmother loves your novels,he says.It used to be mom. Ill settle for grandmother.

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