Acclaimed screenwriter Jeff Arch writes rock ‘n’ roll novel
The name Jeff Arch might not immediately ring a bell with most people, but his most famous piece almost certainly will. Ever heard of a little known movie called Sleepless in Seattle† Oscar, Writers’ Guild and BAFTA nominee and the writer behind that timeless film and many others, Arch has finally published a novel that’s been more than 30 years in the making. Inspired by his time at a Pennsylvania boarding school, Attachments is the story of three former friends whose tumultuous pasts at their prep school refuse to be buried.
It all starts when the dean of the school, Henry Griffin, has a stroke and can barely mention the names of former students Pick and Goody:
Griffin’s head went limp and heavy. He had to tell her about Piccolo and Goodman. He had to tell her, and she had to bring them here so they could be there for Chip. He felt his eyes roll and flutter upwards, as a deep-seated instinct told him not to. He felt helpless, and inevitable, and doomed. Mrs. Delivery was talking again. Her voice as if he were getting off a train. He had to try one last time before he couldn’t do anything at all.
When Pick, Goody and their third friend Laura finally get back together after nearly 20 years, all the secrets about what happened at school begin to come out. Kirkus Reviews praise Attachmentssaying it has “well-written, memorable characters, depth and gripping drama” and calling the novel “a real keeper.”
Arch, who splits his time between Southern California and Cape Cod, couldn’t be happier with such warm praise. He spoke to many publishers who wanted to publish the novel as long as he made major structural changes. Arch considered their ideas and finally decided to independently publish and write the book he wanted to write, which he says sounds like a cliché. “I wrote the book that I would be most jealous of if someone else had written it,” he says. “It feels like if a rock and roll song was a novel, this would be it.” Now that he sees enthusiastic feedback from readers and reviewers, he knows it was worth doing things his own way.
Uncovering too much of the entanglements between Pick, Goody, and Laura would reveal secrets that are best learned by reading the book. But Arch confirms in the early chapters that some of the drama from their school days involved a love triangle, and while we see Laura ended up with Pick, their marriage is struggling. Pick is a lawyer trying to distance himself from his notorious mobster father; Laura is still reeling from the loss of their child and feels lonely in her marriage; and goodie? Well, nobody knows for sure where he’s been since he left school.
However, there are many more secrets to be revealed than Goody’s whereabouts, which is why Dean Griffin worked so hard to summon them during his stroke. Some of the twisting plot points come from Arch’s own life experience or stories he heard from one of his former teachers, including one about a student whose father was in the crowd. He also remembers one time when his girlfriend tried to sneak into the boys’ dorm and ended up staying in his best friend’s room after she got lost. Although nothing happened between them, Arch later imagined how he would have felt if he had discovered them in bed together and how much harder that would be for a high school student than for a student only a few years older.
Arch took that bit of inspiration and cultivated it into an idea to start a novel, but he didn’t add an outline to finish one. “I just knew there would be treason, a teacher and three children,” he says, “but I didn’t know anything else.” What he did know was that he thought it was a good idea to alternate the characters’ points of view in chapters. As he worked on the novel and got to know its characters, he found that technique was a big help because if he ran out of steam with one character, he would end the chapter and switch to another. “I’d say, ‘Who’s next? Who wants a chapter?’ and one of the characters stepped up and said, “I’m ready.” †
Arch kept up with the pace of the plot and the big events that had to happen, like the friends getting together for the first time since they were kids, but other than that he focused on his characters. “It was just figuring out how to paint myself from an angle that I had painted myself in every day,” he says. “People have called the book a mystery, but in reality I was trying to figure out the logic of the story, which I like to do.”
One place where that combination of following his characters and following story logic got tacky was with the older version of Goody. It turns out that Goody has run off to live with Buddhist monks, a choice inspired by a story Arch heard about a boy who had gone to school and left for India. Getting Goody’s voice and point of view just right is one of the reasons Arch is happy that his journey to publishing this novel took as long as he did and that he stuck to his instincts to write the book the way he wanted. that it was written. ‘All philosophical things? I knew nothing about it; it’s like I wasn’t even there when that was written,” he says. “But that’s the magic – when you surprise yourself.”
Attachments is available for purchase so readers can discover that same magic for themselves. As board member of Story Summit and permanent masterclass teacher of scriptwriting, Arch is currently working on adjustments Attachments in a screenplay and writing a romantic sitcom called small houses† Readers can learn more about Arch and purchase a copy from: Attachmentson his website.
Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn.