‘Sleepless in Seattle’ screenwriter to discuss first novel
Jeff Arch grew up in Harrisburg, Pa., where he spent two of his high school years at a boarding school much like the one depicted in his first novel, “Attachments” (SparkPress, $16.95), which he will discuss via Zoom at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The talk will be hosted by Chaucer’s Books.
“I actually graduated from Harrisburg Academy in 1972, but the story is based on my sophomore and junior years at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, Penn. I have spent a lot of time in my life explaining that there is a Wyoming in Pennsylvania and that the school isn’t actually a seminary,” said the affable author from his home in Carpinteria, where he has lived since 1993.
That said, the characters in the book are combinations of former classmates. And the dean, Henry Griffin, is based on a former math teacher who was also dean of students.
“As good as Henry is in the book, the teacher was an even better person,” Mr. Arch told the News-Press.
“Attachments,” which takes place during the 1990s with flashbacks to 1972, follows Stewart “Goody” Goodman and Sandy “Pick” Piccolo, who, as adults, receive a deathbed request from Mr. Griffin, the dean at the Pennsylvania boarding school they attended decades earlier, where they fell for the same girl, Laura.
As they both make their way back to the campus of their youth, secrets and betrayals from the past come into the light that could have dire consequences for the dean’s young son, Chip.
“The idea to tell the story in alternating voices and two different time frames came from a short story written by a high school friend in 1971. I was fascinated by it,” said Mr. Arch. “I promised myself I would use it the same way if I wrote a book. I recently discussed the technique with the friend who said he got the idea from the famous novelist William Faulkner. The technique worked for me. It just clicked.”
Then he added, “If ever you are at a place in your life where you look in a mirror and ask yourself ‘What the hell happened? How did I get here? And what am I supposed to do now?’ Then, this is your book.”
Although this is Mr. Arch’s first novel, he is certainly no novice writer. He wrote the screenplay for “Sleepless in Seattle,” the quirky 1993 comedy where the two lovers, played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, don’t even meet until the very last page. The movie was nominated for an Oscar, as well as for Writers Guild and BAFTA awards among others.
Mr. Arch’s other writing credits include the 1994 Disney adventure film, “Iron Will;” the 1999 romantic comedy, “Sealed With a Kiss,” and his 2005 screenplay adaptation of “Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys, which Mr. Arch directed.
“My script for ‘Saving Milly,’ based on Mort Kondracke’s searing memoir, earned the 2005 Humanitas Nomination, an honor I treasure,” said the father, stepfather, father-in-law and grandfather.
His eclectic career history is mind boggling.
In the 1970s, Mr. Arch studied film, television and theater production at Emerson College in Boston and then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a concert lighting designer and toured the country with national rock and reggae acts while teaching himself to write screenplays on the side.
Years later, married and with a young family, he was teaching high school English and running the Oriental Sports Academy, a martial arts school when “he heard the call” to write again.
“In 1989, I sold the school I had built, rented a small office and gave myself one year to write three screenplays. The second of those was ‘Sleepless in Seattle.’ I got the idea while teaching high school English during the ’90s in Virginia,” he said.
Mr. Arch is hoping that ”Attachments” is made into a movie. If it is, he has some definite ideas about casting.
“Carey Mulligan for Laura and Tom Holland for either Pick or Stewy. And if I could talk Tom Hanks into the Henry Griffin role, that would be my dream. But so much depends on actors’ commitments and schedules.”
Currently, Mr. Arch is writing a TV series called “Tiny Houses,” a romantic comedy that takes place on an island in Maine.
“Living near the beach in Carpinteria is the best place in America — make that the best place in the world — the beautiful scenery, the beach to walk on, a climate that lets me spend most days barefoot and for my career’s sake, I’m close to L.A.,” he said, adding, “I’m a disciplined writer. It’s a blue collar job for me. My hours change depending on the project and where I am in life.
“When my children were in school, I worked normal office hours. Now that there is no longer a frantic pace, I work about three hours in the afternoon.”
Is there another novel in the works?
“I have one more book in me,” Mr. Arch said. “It will be first person, very personal, about something that really happened. I have spent the last 36 years terrified of the day I write the first page. It’s a really painful and emotional story.”