Published PA English Teachers Read Romantic Excerpts From Their Works

On the eve of Valentine’s Day Tuesday night, four published Andover English instructors hosted a reading of love scenes from their work, offering PA students a showcase of literature and writing advice. John Gould, Randall Peffer, Bill Lychak and Kathryn Benson presented their romantic selections and answered questions on how to approach what Library Director Elisabeth Tully labeled a, “slippery, but essential topic.” These four teachers are part of an informal writing circle that meets on Friday for lunch. “We trade manuscripts. Sometimes we moan about our agents or our editors, but frequently we help each other out,” said Mr. Peffer. The four discussed the delicacy of writing love scenes, and finding the balance between classic influence and originality, as well as creative approaches and sincerity. “‘Good writers borrow, great writers steal,’” said Mr. Peffer, quoting poet T.S. Eliot. He referenced several movies and books his senior classes read as inspiration for Provincetown Follies, Bangkok Blues, his mystery novel published in 2006. He also explained how he “stole” ideas from Shakespeare when he explained his writing process. “I’m a planner,” said Mr. Peffer, “I see the story as the five acts of a Shakespeare play.” Mr. Gould compared his in-progress novel, Educating Longfellow, the story of an atypical student in a New England prep school, to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. All four authors also emphasized the importance of sincerity and empathy for the characters, even those in exotic situations. Mr. Gould elaborated on the importance of the author’s ability to find within himself emotions similar to his characters’. “Everything I write comes out of me,” he said more seriously. “The emotions are the only ones I got,” said Mr. Gould. Peffer added, “In a way, all love scenes are stolen moments. You don’t want to write it straight on, or you’ve just written pornography, or melodrama. You want to approach it from an odd angle.” All four selections performed demonstrated this combination of unique perspective and honest passion. Kate Benson read from her 2005 novel Two Harbors. The novel romantic plot follows 19 year old Casey Maywood on her search for the legacy of a man she unwilling fell in love with after his death, and her later romantic involvement with his brother. The passage she chose described a late night car ride as a metaphor for Casey’s emotional journey. “She thought with somewhat startled self awareness,” the passage reads, “‘I’ve spent the night.’” Bill Lychak, the writer-in-residence this year, also read a passage that used a literal journey metaphorically. His 2005 novel, The Wasp Eater, is primarily about the attempts of 10-year-old Daniel to reunite his parents, though his passage focused on the relationship of the two parents. Describing their honeymoon night together, Mr. Lychak wrote, “It was more than she’d hoped for and less than she’d dreamed.” Mr. Peffer opened his reading more casually, joking about his reputation for literature concerning what he called “drugs, booze and sex.” The novel he read an excerpt from is set in 1971, Saigon, and follows a young public defender haunted by a ghost from photos of his father’s experience in Vietnam. Last to read was John Gould. “Stephen King once referenced him as inspiration,” said Mr. Peffer. His unfinished work Educating Longfellow presented a typical New England boarding school. Though set in an East coast boarding school, Mr. Gould said it does not bear close resemblance to Andover. “They try to cover things up,” said Mr. Gould about the fictional school, “and they’re very arrogant.”