Serious writing is hard work, but the members of author John Hough Jr.’s two writing groups welcome that challenge, and they brought excerpts of their works in progress to Pathways Arts at the Chilmark Tavern last Tuesday.
Mr. Hough grew up in Falmouth, and has lived on the Vineyard some 30 years. He married an Island girl, Katherine Mitchell, and has published six novels and three nonfiction works, including “The Fiction Writer’s Guide to Dialogue.” For years he’s supplemented his career by teaching writing workshops from his home in West Tisbury. Mr. Hough taught an ACE MV course on writing approximately 10 years ago that went so well, the group decided to keep meeting.
“I asked, Should we keep going; we’ll adjourn to my living room, and they all agreed,” Mr. Hough said.
He taught another ACE MV class five years ago, and the same thing happened. Now he facilitates two weekly writers’ groups from home. The participants bring five pages to each session. Mr. Hough reads the pages aloud, and the group critique one another’s work. They leave those pages with him, and over the course of the week Mr. Hough completes a detailed edit of the work, returning the pages the following week.
Lara Robinson has been with Mr. Hough’s group for 10 years. “I was so eager to write, so eager to be an author and to be published, and just this whole energy, you know, when you’re in your mid-30s,” Ms. Robinson said. “The editing and listening to all of my colleagues has taught me not just about writing, but it has given me the comfort that it’s a lifelong endeavor and journey. John’s been a great teacher to all of us.”
Co-director of Pathways Arts Keren Tonnesen said that Tuesday night’s event is part of a series that happens all season. “It’s a regular event we repeat every week from the beginning of the season to the end, every Tuesday night of the season,” she said.
Last Tuesday nine readers from Mr. Hough’s classes were given seven minutes to share parts of their works. As the first reader, Leigh Fairchild-Coppoletti, was introduced and the house lights went down, a spotlight illuminated the reader at the microphone. “Maybe things need to get a little dire before we’re ready to take action,” she read from her novel in progress. The audience seemed totally engaged, and applauded as she concluded her reading.
“It’s the fall of 1963,” writer Wallace Bullock set the stage with his reading. “Miss Scanlan was teaching addition and subtraction while Willy daydreamed about being a great civil rights leader, strong politician that would accomplish wonders for the Negroes in the U.S.”
Nat Benjamin read from his memoir about an ocean voyage he took many years ago. “Dec. 2, 1968. My sail repair complete and quite satisfactory, if I do say so,” Mr. Benjamin read. A little further on he read, “A deep penetrating noise reverberated through the hull …” Through his reading, the audience became part of the adventure.
“These writers are tough, tenacious, real writers,” said Mr. Hough. He tells each of his students, “I can’t guarantee you will publish if you come in; I can guarantee I will make you a better writer.”
Each year around his birthday in January, Mr Hough has a potluck dinner for the two writers’ groups, and encourages them to bring family members. “It’s the one time the Monday and Thursday classes co-mingle,” said Mr. Hough. “That I choose it as a way to celebrate my birthday I guess is a testament to how fond I am of my writers, as I call them. I think you could see this evening that they are fond of each other.”