GROTON -- "When I write, I feel more like Andre," author Andre Dubus III told a gathering of students, staff and visitors at Lawrence Academy.
The best-selling author visited the campus Feb. 6 and 7 to work with students in the classroom and give a talk for the public.
Students prepared for the residency by reading "Townie," his memoir of growing up poor in a Massachusetts mill town, or chapters from earlier novels, said Ned Mitchell, an English teacher at the academy.
One of Dubus' novels, "The House of Sand and Fog," was made into a movie starring Ben Kingsley released in 2003.
As a child, Dubus straddled two worlds: the working-class world of his mother, with whom he and his siblings lived, and the intellectual world of his father, Andre Dubus II, an acclaimed author.
"I think very few of us have a really golden childhood," he said. The Haverhill of his youth was a violent, drug-ridden culture.
"For 10 years, that's all I did, looked for trouble. I was going to kill someone or get killed," he said.
Creative writing was just the diversion his path to violence needed, allowing him to feel compassion, to imagine what is is like to be in someone else's shoes he said.
Decades later, he allows his imagination to tell the story of people he notices.
Why was the woman wearing a suit, driving a Lexus? Why was she going 92 miles per hour with the laptop open and two kids in the backseat, he asked himself commuting to work one morning.
Any memory that stands out in your mind can be the impetus for a story, he said.
William Faulkner -- or "Billy," as Dubus called him -- got his inspiration for "The Sound and the Fury" from the sight of a pair of dirty underwear in a tree, Dubus said.
He cautioned students against using euphemisms in writing. Words that disguise pain might be needed when talking to someone face-to-face he said.
He gave a personal example. When his father died, people said "sorry for your loss," or referred to his "passing away" when they spoke with Dubus. They did not say "he croaked."
What is polite in person might be ineffective on paper. "When you're writing, you want to rub their face in it," he said.
Not every idea will pan out either, Dubus said. Sometimes it will lead to a dead end. Other times, the writing might go where the author least expects it.
Dubus sat down to write about why he knew so little about baseball until his sons became interested. The novelist ended up writing "Townie."
Dubus has taught at Harvard University, Tufts College, Emerson College and now at the UMass Lowell.
During the 45-minute talk, Dubus told stories, using accents ranging from a street-wise kid to an Irish brogue. He fluttered his hand over his heart to parody the nervousness he felt the first time he sat on a discussion panel with revered writers.
He read an excerpt from "Townies." The Haverhill accent was there.
Dubus is the first visiting scholar at Lawrence Academy funded through the William Mees Visiting Scholar Program, Director of Studies Chris Ellsasser said.
The program is intended to give students a chance to interact with a scholar in the classroom and give the school and community an opportunity to enrich each other, he said.
The schools hopes to host three scholars a year, one per term, in different disciplines.