Jerry Conger, 36, is a writer.
He also is a quadriplegic. For the past 20 years he has not walked, played basketball, turned the pages of a book with is fingers. When he was 15, he dived to the bottom of the Ohio River and broke his neck.
He has no use of his legs or the fingers of his hands. His vehicle is a wheelchair. He can move his arms to some extent and is able, with the help of arm splints, to feed himself.
In the ensuing years the Rosiclare native has discovered his goal in life - to become a published author. He always has been interested in writing, but he became seriously interested about 10 years ago.
He devotes his afternoons to long sessions at his carriageless electric typewriter which is stationed in the living room of the home he shares with his mother, Mrs. Hazel Conger. Conger types by using a mouthstick.
The mouthstick is a quarter inch dowel stick capped with a teeth-moulded acrylic mouthpiece and tipped with an eraser. It was while he was in therapy at the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Peoria, IL that an occupational therapist suggested the mouthstick.
The instrument has opened up a new world for Conger. It is the world of the mind. It is a world where he can go anywhere he wants, do whatever he feels like, and create a universe all his own. In the past 10 years he has written novels, a few dozen short stories, and a number of poems, as well as numerous other articles. It is with the articles and poems he has had success. An article he did on himself appeared in the June 1971, issue of "The Exceptional Parent." This is a magazine for parents of children with disabilities.
In the article he told of his mouthstick and his love for writing and his philosophy about himself. He does not live in the past, although the past is an important part of life for him and he draws some of his fiction from it. But this is not his dwelling place. He writes and his writing keeps him geared toward the future.
Conger was in the hospital for three months after his accident but he was able to receive his diploma with the rest of his graduating high school class. After high school, he took a number of correspondence courses through the University of Illinois. The courses included rhetoric, literature, and psychology.
Serious fiction is what interests Conger the most. He turns out an average of 2,000 words each afternoon. So far he has not been successful with having his fiction published. Fiction is the hardest market to break into and, with so many magazines folding, Conger finds the obstacles on the road to being published are large.
But he keeps writing. Two more articles have been accepted by "The Exceptional Parent." He received mention in recent issues of "Time" and the "Saturday Review" in connection with the new magazine. "Time" carried a quote from his article -- "One Adjusts to Realities. I Try to Forge Ahead."
Although fiction is his first love, Conger also writes articles which require a good deal of research. Although the Rosiclare library is small, there is a good library system in Illinois which allows libraries to borrow from larger libraries such as the one at Springfield. The research for his articles also comes from government books and brochures.
A writer must be willing to accept any assignment. Perhaps the oddest assignment Conger tackled was an article on the louse. Robert Burns wrote a poem on the louse, so Conger decided maybe there was a louse market somewhere out there in publishing land. To his dismay one magazine informed him that it had already published an article on the louse.
Like Ireland's famed Christy Brown, the author who is completely paralyzed and types out joyous novels such as "Down All the Days" with his left foot, Conger has overcome numerous obstacles. He is not bitter. He is not angry over what has come to be his fate. He adjusts as best he can.
In his article for "The Exceptional Parent," Conger wrote: "One does not accept the unacceptable. One adjusts to realities, living always with hope. I try to forge ahead as everyone else does, fully aware that life may never be full, but determined never to accept less than I must. This doesn't mean I never despair. Depression, a sense of frustration and failure, lurk just outside conscious thought, ready to spring when something goes wrong."
(Source: probably Conger Family of America)