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Writing together


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If asked why they write, most authors of our era, would probably say, it's for the money. Us, too. We do it for the Big Buck. And then there are the wild parties with The Pilot staff in their plush offices. And, of course, we love those chauffeur-driven visits to parishes and the intimate dinners with Cardinal Seán. In the spirit of sacrifice we did, however, decline the BMW his Eminence sent us as a Christmas bonus. Essentially, though, we do it for the money.

We have been scribblers for many years, starting long before the lucrative contract from The Pilot came out way. Sometimes we write books, sometimes editing collected essays. Our ground-breaker was "Making a Marriage: A Personal Book of Love, Marriage and Family." Sadly, you and the overwhelming number of our fellow citizens and co-religionist somehow were able to avoid it. A wag friend is still waiting for the sequel, "The Unmaking of a Marriage: The Personal Story of How Writing Together Destroyed Our Marriage."

Our publisher took a big risk, sending us on tour. We were sent on a 14 city book tour and discovered that none of the "green rooms" are green, but all have wonderful and abundant food. The tour hooked us on writing, though.

The tour was fun; the writing agony. Writing is never easy. Try two people who are married attempting to write together. We were at the University of Chicago where we learned that Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose, wrote together. He did the economics, she the editing. Our approach is messier. Both write. Both edit. Sometimes at cross purposes.

The background for our first book came from being part of a pre-Cana team at the Newman Center at Ohio State University. It was a bonding expedition. As anyone who works with marriage groups knows, most of the learning is gained by the presenters. We learned a lot about what we had lived and writing about it was a true voyage of discovery. Writing that first book on marriage we discovered we had a number of strong disagreements, and further, that men and women simply do not see things in the same gender light. To deal with our differences, we persuaded our publisher to let us write much of the book in separate voices, each using his or her own typeface.

People occasionally ask us where we get ideas. We follow the method of William F. Buckley who, when asked this question, responded something like: "All I have to do is open up the newspapers and then I am irritated enough to write." We, too, are irritated and shocked at how the Church is treated in the media, especially in Boston. You may have noticed that media outlets seem offended that the Catholic Church stubbornly insists on remaining the Catholic Church. In his day, the early 1900s, G.K. Chesterton noted: "The word 'orthodoxy,' not only no longer means being right, it practically means being wrong."

Some say they write to read, but we read to write. Writing gives us the excuse to read many Catholic magazines. Since we can't rely on much that passes for journalism for informed Catholic views, we look elsewhere. We read First Things, The Weekly Standard, Inside the Vatican, The New Yorker and The Pilot, of course, plus a whole lot of on-line sites. These are legion, from Whispers in the Loggia to Catholic Matters. Knowing our leanings, friends send articles and cartoons of interest. Any book by John Allen, Charlotte Allen (they are definitely not married), Philip Jenkins, George Weigel, Arthur C. Brooks, Michael Novak or Mary Eberstadt and of, course, our Pope Benedict XVI finds receptive eyes. We tend toward the social sciences, given that those fields were our training and degrees.

As we said, our writing process is messy, a bit like passing legislation. It is best if we have a confab before one starts the article. It goes more smoothly if we lay it out together rather than one getting up a head of steam and banging away. Several drafts traverse the house via the Internet before we get to a final draft. Then comes the hard part: the editing. Both having been English teachers in the distant past, each has muscular views on word choice, syntax and style. The words of each are like our children and we are sensitive when they are criticized. We have been known to haggle over a word, and occasionally engage in an "elevated discussion," over a phrase, but eventually we bury the red pencil and there is the final compromise. Then we sit on it for a few days. Writing, like most endeavors, benefits from rest and reflection.

Anyone who writes knows what a humbling process it is. One of us remembers being an insecure freshman and turning in a first college paper. No quickie, last minute job, we had bled lines, sweated long hours and breathlessly awaited getting the paper back from the professor. In large red letters across the top of the paper he had scribbled, "This is a monument to non-think." A dozen years later as a graduate student, a professor of writing responded to a supposedly scholarly paper with, "This paper shows the magnificent grasp of the obvious." Again in red ink.

What is the response of our readers? Some politely remark: "I read your article," and walk away. One or two have even said they liked a column. Then there is the revered former pastor who said: "I read your columns...and sometimes I even agree with you." Someone who will go unnamed, a child related to us, claims to have been embarrassed by some minor reference to him or her and she or he has forbidden us to ever mention his or her existence in print.

Sure, we would rather be Mary Higgins Clarke who has made a bundle writing Catholic novels, creating such a cottage industry that even her daughter has continued in the genre.

Maybe we would truly rather be Mother Teresa. A reporter once came upon her washing the sores of a dying leper in her Calcutta hospice. Shocked, the reporter blurted out to Mother Teresa, "I wouldn't do this for a million dollars." "Neither would I," the saint famously replied.

But, no. We do it for the bucks.

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline.

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