Back in the Dark Ages when I was a stay-at-home-Mom with a secret hobby (because really, the income generated by my writing was so far beneath minimum wage it couldnâ€™t be considered a job) it was difficult to justify the hours spent at the task. I tended to sneak away and scribble as a slightly shameful habit, one that my family rather hoped Iâ€™d grow out of.
When the kids were small, I was firm about being a stay-at-home. We could afford it, if we cut corners, and I thought that kind of relationship was best for children if one could manage it. And since a stay-at-home is really a full service homemaker, from growing and canning a winterâ€™s worth of tomato sauce to repairing bits of a falling-apart farmhouse, I felt I was holding up my part of the communal effort.
The tricky part was, this was a house dominated by academia. My husband taught at the university, I finished my MA while the kids were small, there was no question that academics mattered. And if Iâ€™d been writing The Definitive Work on Third Century Christianity, there would have been no question that my lack of earning was worth it.
But these were novels. Worse, mystery novels. And I think the last novel of any stripe my husband had read was Chinua Achebeâ€™s Things Fall Apart for a class on African Traditional Religion that he was teaching. So while he didnâ€™t exactly say anything, there was an underlying, and growing, question of when I would set aside the frivolous stuff and get a job. Preferably one that permitted me to take off during all the summers and sabbatical quarters when travel called.
Until I found such a thing, however, I ignored the growing number of hints and kept writing. And gave each book to my spousal unit to read and comment on, even though novels werenâ€™t (and arenâ€™t) his thing.
So in the summer of 1994 I handed him TO PLAY THE FOOL and he solemnly read it and made a couple of comments and that was that. Until he happened to go to San Francisco to visit a community founded by some of his ex-students, aimed at feeding the poor. Over their macrobiotic lunch they talked about namesâ€”Brotherhood of St. Francis, it being that saintâ€™s city? Or Fools for Christ, that being how they thought of themselves?â€”and Noel said, Oh, how interesting, my wife has just written a book about modern fools. And they said, Modern fools, pray tell? So he regales them with the story and they are interested and he comes home and says, Sweetheart, can you give me a bibliography on the modern Fools movement for my friends in San Francisco.
Now, the husband was a professor superscale (meaning, ainâ€™t no higher step to get on) of the University of California. Oxford degree, Nottingham D, Phil. Heâ€™d spent his life studying religion, ancient and modern. And he fell for my story.
Because I lied. Thatâ€™s what writers of fiction do, after all, we lie. And the better we write, the better we lie. Oh, everything else in the book was footnoteable-fact: St Francis, early Christianity, Russian Fools, the Irish community of fools. But not the group at the center of TO PLAY THE FOOL.
Deeply satisfying, to tell a flat-faced lie to my husband and get away with it.