Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal (http://bit.ly/1mMT6ZC). The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com (http://amzn.to/1j3axVk) and Crossquarter.com. Visit the author's website: douglasarvidson.com
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
I lived on a sailboat on the island of Guam for eleven years and sailed the islands of Micronesia while studying the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. I eventually returned to the mainland U.S. to be closer to my grandchildren, but returned to the Pacific every year for the past nine years.
It's been a year since I was a "Visiting Author" for the public schools on the island of Guam, courtesy of the Guam Chapter of the International Reading Association. It's gratifying to think that my novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, is a success on the island and is being used in the schools in their reading programs.
It's a long flight to Guam--literally to the other side of the planet--and the schedule was tough. I visited sixteen schools in six days and often presented to five hundred students in each school. At the end of the week, I was exhausted but happy as I boarded the plane for the thirty-hour trip back home.
Brothers of the Fire Star has won literary awards in Adventure fiction, Young Adult fiction, and Historical fiction and is set on Guam and in the islands of Micronesia during World War II.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
This multiple-award-winning novel is the third book in my Eye of the Stallion fantasy series but it is a stand-alone adventure with a time-twisted, fast-moving plot. Appropriate for young adults and adults, it includes great characters from the other books including Astral the Ancient Boy, Admiral Penance, his long suffering donkey, and the great Scraps, a powerful wizard with a miserable camel. The central conflict of the series continues with the survival of Space-Time depending on the eternal love of two Time Drifters, Sonoria and Dag-gar. But can that love survive Sonoria's determination to be free of Dag-gar's control? Or will Captain Sorrow, the avatar of dark and vagrant energies destroy the Universe?
Friday, July 14, 2017
Running the Bulls in Pamplona: Blood, Torture, and Sangria
Every July, for a week, the world news media ends their regular news programs by showing short video clips of throngs of people running along the narrow, cobbled streets of Pamplona, that small, ancient city in north-western Spain made famous by the writer, Ernest Hemingway.
These people are being chased by bulls and, often enough to make it interesting for the media, a few of those people, mostly too-bold young men, are gored or stomped to death. What isn’t considered newsworthy enough to be shown, however, is what happens in Pamplona during the other twenty-three hours and fifty-six minutes of each of those eight days. This is a pity because, as Hemingway knew, it is when the real human drama happens. In fact, Hemingway never actually ran the bulls.
When I was young enough to still be stupid about such things, I decided it was necessary go to Pamplona and participate in this famous ritual. My son, then just-graduated from high school and feeling the need for some sort of rite of passage into adulthood, came along. We made the nineteen-hour drive from our home in the middle of Germany, across France, and over the Pyrenees into Spain at a hundred miles an hour in a small, shrieking Peugeot that should have had a five-speed transmission.
We arrived in the early evening and found a campground about two miles outside of town. In our innocence, we set up our tent figuring that, after running the bulls and then spending the days leisurely hanging out in town, we’d drive back to the campground and relax around a fire and share stories before going to sleep. It would be a nice father-son experience.
We were soon to learn that during the Festival of Saint Fermin during which the bulls are run, sleeping is not possible or even desirable. This should have been obvious when we set up the tent. The campground was over crowded with young people from around the world having also come to run the bulls. They were mostly young men from Australia and New Zealand on walkabout and they were, all of them, very drunk.
The only spot left for setting up a tent was right in front of the door to the men’s toilet and shower facility. There was a bright light just above the door and this meant that we would not only have no darkness to sleep by, but we would also be in the immediate path of raucous, all-night boozing, vomiting, pissing, laughing, and/or fighting. In the end, it didn’t matter. We spent just one night trying to sleep there. Once we got into Pamplona itself, we didn’t leave town for three days. We only went back to the campground at the end of the week to reclaim what was left of the tent.
I had been to Pamplona a few years before, arriving by train the day after the feria ended. It was a peaceful place and perfectly picturesque with narrow, cobbled streets, and a wonderful, large central square, the Plaza del Castillo. Around the Plaza were cafes and restaurants where locals sat enjoying coffee or glasses of wine and maybe some tapas. There was something, though, that put us off a bit—something in the air. In fact, the whole town reeked and I was to become well acquainted with the source of that reek: The streets were filled with the stink of old urine. And more interesting than that, it was the stink of old urine mixed with sangria, a drink made from red wine, fruit juice, and brandy. The term sangria comes from the Spanish word sangre which means bloodletting and gore. I was to learn sangria is exactly the same color as bulls blood.
The Festival of Saint Fermin honors one of the many Catholic saints of the region and the running and later the fighting of the bulls in the city’s bullring is an integral part of the celebration. It all starts at exactly noon on July 6. Until that moment, the scene in the square is one of thousands of people milling happily about dressed in white and holding up red scarves.
At the precise moment, a large fire cracker is set off and everything changes. The scarves get tied around necks and the dancing starts. Music comes from live bands and celebrants form conga lines and start moving. The lines are long or short, all men or all women, or a blend of men and women. It doesn’t matter. Everyone is happy—very happy. These lines move like great joyous serpents around the square and up streets and down them again, growing longer or diminishing as people join in or drop out. And everyone is swilling bottles of that sangria.
And the thing is, this never stops, not the dancing or the swilling. Not for more than seven days, not late at night, not in the early morning, not for breakfast or dinner or lunch. The party goes on and on and I figured they must work in relay teams. Dance for an hour or two, rest for a while, eat, get something to drink other than sangria—like water, I would think. I would also think that locals could, when they were exhausted, simply go home, take a shower, sleep in a real bed, and recover for the next round. In Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, the book that made all this running, swilling, and dancing immortal, Jake Barnes and his pals somehow manage to score hotel rooms and sit down in actual chairs at nice cafes to eat good meals.
This, of course, was not possible for us. We had no home, no bed, no showers. All the hotels in Pamplona are booked a year in advance, all the restaurants are flooded over with happy drunks, served by exhausted waiters who inevitably become surly. They are especially surly to those of us who tried to use the toilets in the restaurants without having first found an open table at their cafe to sit at and order a meal. No table, no meal, no toilet. This explains that all-pervasive urine-sangria reek; revelers simply did their thing anywhere and everywhere and smashed their empty sangria bottles on the pavement.
But did we have fun? Were all cares entrusted to loving hands of blessed Saint Fermin for three days? Were bottles of sangria bought and consumed and the bottles smashed? Did we dance, and piss, and laugh with drunken abandon? Did we, at three o’clock in the morning, sleep next to—or with—total strangers on the grass of the Plaza? Were breakfasts ignored and raging hangovers treated with liberal doses of the hair of the sangria dog? Did we cheer on the almost-naked young women who, in the middle of a screaming crowd, and soaked with sangria, allowed themselves to be lifted high on a man’s shoulders while they stripped off their tops and raised their arms in pure hedonistic glory? Did we admire the guy who, also almost naked, could shotgun a quart of beer through a rubber hose and then, lifted onto the shoulders of a compatriot and spun in circles, spew that beer onto our upturned faces? And, finally, did we run the bulls?
Yes. And here is the truth about that: It takes a great deal of courage, courage of the foolish, sangria-fueled kind, to run with the bulls in Pamplona. I know this is true, because if it hadn’t been for sangria and my son shaming me into it, I might have chickened out.
To run the bulls in Pamplona, the runner needs to work his way through a nearly impenetrable, roaring mob that has gathered along a narrow, cobbled street made narrower by a sturdy double wooden fence that has been set up to guide the runners and the bulls from the starting point to the bull ring. To do this, it was necessary for me to get down on my hands and knees and crawl and shove and slink my way through a forest of human legs and shuffling feet. But when I stood up, there I was, in the street where six bulls, guided by a number of oxen, and all desperate with confusion and terror, would soon come charging along at a four-minute/mile pace.
The bulls are released from their pen at the bottom of the street at exactly 8:00 a.m. A large firecracker goes off when the first bull emerges from the pen and again when the last bull is out. The bulls are less dangerous if they are running in a group. A lone bull on a crowded, narrow street is a deadly bull and so you listen for the firecrackers to determine if they are running close together or if they are strung out.
Runners carry a rolled up newspaper, the idea being to show your courage by touching a running bull with the paper. So while you wait for the first firecracker to go off, you are standing in the street shoulder-to-shoulder with many hundreds of other people holding your rolled up newspaper in the air and chanting “Ole! Ole! Ole!” The sound of this chanting, as the morning sun shadows the cobbled streets, and as your fear rises through your hangover and tightens around your heart, is a powerful experience and I was surprised by my reaction to it. It was the power of the mob, I realized later, that left me suddenly, utterly fearless, uncaring whether I lived or died. I was, very briefly, willing to give my life for—what?
Then the first gun went off and we started moving, slowly at first, just walking, everyone looking over their shoulders, back down the street from where the bulls would come. When we saw the people behind us start to run, we started jogging, slowly at first and then faster and faster until we were running hard, dodging and leaping and shooting glances over our shoulders to see the bulls coming. And here’s the other thing about running the bulls: Most people who are injured are injured not by bulls, but by other runners, by getting knocked down, by tripping and falling and getting stepped on.
So, then I was running with the bulls. The bulls are fast, much faster than the runners, and, as it turned out, on this day, strung out in two groups. As the first group passed me, I stepped aside into a doorway and watched. Then I was out in the street again, running, until the next group came past. This time I held my ground and stayed in the street. All around me were men who were younger or faster or braver (more foolish) than I. They jumped in at the bulls, touched them with their rolled up papers, and leaped away again.
And then it was over, the bulls all gone by. But still the mob ran and I ran with them, not understanding why. After a minute or so, we arrived at the entrance to the bull ring. The great double doors were being swung shut but the mob ran toward them, squeezing and fighting to get past them. I found myself jumping up on the backs of those in front of me, climbing over them as the doors shut behind me. And then I was actually in the bull ring, in the middle of it. The crowd in the stands was cheering and there were bulls running around and the mob was spread out inside the ring chasing them, still trying to touch them with their rolled-up papers.
This then was the final phase of the running of the bulls. After the mature, fighting bulls have been run into the arena, they are herded into a separate paddock and young steers with leather caps on the tips of their horns, steers that are simply terrified and not particularly dangerous, are released into the bull ring. A certain number of the runners are allowed into the ring and the doors closed. These runners then chase the steers about for a while trying to touch them with their rolled up papers and occasionally getting tossed into the air for the approval and entertainment of the crowd.
That afternoon I went back to the arena, bought a ticket, and sat among a crowd of handsome young Spanish men and women and witnessed the actual bullfights. It was during these fights that they would kill the bulls I had run that morning. They say there is a long list of Americans who have seen a bull fight and a very short list of Americans who have seen two bull fights. I will remain on that first, longer list. This is because, Hemingway be damned, the inconvenient truth is the glorious tradition of bull fighting with its powerful metaphors for courage and the eternal struggle between life and death, involves torturing animals until they die.
During the highly ritualized bullfight, a bull is released into the arena. Powerful, aggressive, and frightened, they are first stabbed in their neck muscles by picadors, men on horseback wielding lances. (In Hemingway’s time, the picador’s horses were unprotected and were often gored by the bulls, racing around the ring with their intestines dragging behind them.)
Then banderilleros stick barbed flags into the bull’s neck. All this serves to cut the animal’s neck muscles and encourage bleeding. Then, exhausted and in a weakened state, the bulls are confronted by the matador. The matador, after a flashy—and, yes, brave and skilled—display of taunting the bull with his cape, delivers the tercio de muerte, the “part of death,” by driving a sword down between its shoulder blades and into its heart. There is a great deal of blood and during the first fight, I began to feel weak, light headed and nauseous and I thought I must be getting sick. By the third fight, I realized the spectacle I was witnessing had put me in a state of shock.
The night after I ran the bulls and witnessed the bullfights, having not slept in three days, I felt emotionally depleted and physically exhausted. My son, who I had hardly seen during the feria, had cut the side of his hand open on a shard of glass from a sangria bottle and I helped him find a medical tent where such emergencies are handled. Then he disappeared again and I was once more alone.
I hung around the Plaza in a daze, drinking water and chewing on a loaf of bread. There was a small group of musicians from Peru playing music in one corner of the Plaza and I lay down in the grass near them and fell asleep to the sweet sound of their flutes and guitars.
Outside the bull ring in Pamplona is a granite bust of Hemingway. It’s a herculean image of the writer, coarse and powerful and enigmatic. It was here my son and I had arranged to meet the next morning. We made our way back to the campground, which was by now a scene of unspeakable filth and disorder. We didn’t sleep. We pulled the down the tent, packed it in the Peugeot, and headed back across the Pyrenees.
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Sitting with dancers from Papau New Guinea at FestPac 12 years ago in Palau.
On Sunday, I begin the journey to Guam. It will take a couple of days with a layover in Honolulu to rest and hang out for a few hours at Waikiki. Once on Guam I will have two weeks to recover from jet lag do have some book signings. Then, on the 21st of May, the 2016 Pacific Festival of the Arts begins.
I have been selected as a literary delegate representing Guam and will be attending writing workshops with other delegates. Then, on the 25th, I'll be doing an hour presentation on the writing of my novel, Brothers of the Fire Star. I will also be a bus driver. I may get a tattoo. I'll be sleeping on a futon on the floor of a classroom in a high school. There are no laundry facilities. I will be wearing an island-style "tapis" which is really a kind of skirt. So I'll be driving a bus whilst wearing a skirt. And talking about what I love and what I do.
Sunday, April 3, 2016
If you live to be 70, consider yourself a lucky bastard. I'm almost a lucky bastard; I've finished 69 years. But almost is not good enough, so here we go.
My 70th years happens to coincide with my wife's 60th and our 35th wedding anniversary. And more traveling around the world, and the completion of another novel and the realization that the next one is burning in my head and coming out my fingers, through the keyboard and into my laptops infinite memory. I'm off and running.
Since I entered my 70th year, we have driven down the East Coast, seen family in Atlanta, come down with shingles two days after Christmas, and then, heavily medicated thanks to a doc-in-a-box, drifted on down to the Florida Keys to once again babysit the dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center.
Then we were off to the Philippines to sail, stopping off first in San Francisco--to rest, we told ourselves, before the long flight to Manila. We enjoy San Francisco: City Lights Book Store, that serious place of worship before the alter of free thought, with all the serious, non-smiling, heavily-burdened-with-existence customers perusing the shelves while, yes indeed, the light from the city filters in through the windows that look out on Columbus Avenue. And I'm one of them, I suppose, or I wouldn't crave hanging out there. And right there, within a couple of stone throws, we found two funky little Italian restaurants and a hole-in-the-wall cafe that served coffee or wine or beer and simple food and in the afternoons, thrown-together jazz musicians of uneven but magical quality play together into the evening.
Then the miserable thirteen-hour flight to Manila eased somewhat by some small friends of mine called Atavan. Calms the nerves, eases the hours. Then Manila itself, through the wretched city in a cab that cleverly over charged us and still the cost was a sad joke. Two days of jet lag recovery and then we're back at the airport and flying south to Cebu City. The airport here is on Mactan Island, the very place where Magellan, that savage, meddling, control freak, was killed by the local folks after he stuck his nose in their business. Mactan is now one big industrial zone--a place of poverty and pollution by my standards, but a decent-enough home for thousands of Filipinos.
Sailing, then, for eleven days, from Mactan down around Bohol Island, up to Leyte, across the to Comotes, and back to Port Carmen. Adventures by the dozen. Mostly no wind or wind on the nose so we motor sailed into it, from place to place. Anchoring was the challenge, water that went from 1000 ft. deep to 3 feet in fifty yards and we were figuring out tides before dropping the hook on a lee shore and trying to avoid anchoring in coral. And the main fuel filter would plug up with shit stirred up from the fuel tank and the engine would die on the lee shore and then we would sail on a close reach and get off the shore and change the filter and get the engine going and try anchoring again. And you really can't swim in the lovely water when anchored in a bay off a town because the raw sewage from the town drains freely and copiously into the bay. But exploring unknown places is very fine and we did it with very fine friends.
Back home, then, exhausted, with another, longer stop in San Francisco and back to the hole-in-the-wall jazz cafe and eating off our jet lag in the the Italian restaurants. Jet lag eventually does yield to red wine. We have found this to be true.
Home to Virginia and a fast-approaching spring. So we have managed to avoid the worst of the winter once again. Now it's April and a cool, damp season is here and is wonderful with bird songs, blooming flowering trees and bushes and greening grass. And a new kitchen being constructed, which is Terry's dream coming true.
My traveling is not finished, though. It's back to Guam on May 8th to be a literary delegate representing Guam in a Pacific-wide festival of the arts and culture of the islands. My novel, Brothers of the Fire Star will be featured and I will do the featuring. More on that later.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Me, the author of an essay on the manly--and, in certain famous cases, womanly--glories of cigar smoking standing at a cigar shop in Key West.
"There is no such thing as writing--just rewriting." This is a famous quote that thousands of writers and writing teachers would like to take credit for, from Somerset Maugham to Doris Lessing to the adjunct community college evening-course writing instructor.
Who knows who was the very first to realize this bitter truth, but it must go back to the authors of the cuneiform etchings of ancient Persia. Any writer worth his laptop quickly learns this or turns his laptop in and takes up something less demanding--like rocket science or teaching preschoolers.
I love the Philip Roth novel in which the young writer protagonist makes a pilgimage up to the snowy Berkshire hills in Massachusetts to pay homage his god, an older, famous writer. He spends the day with this guy and watches and wonders. The old genius's writing day? He spent three hours putting a comma in and the next three hours taking it out.
And the fact is, after the first five drafts of the novel are finished and the editor has had her expensive ways with the manuscript, then the rewriting begins. Oh, the glories of the rewrite! Why did I use that word? What was I thinking? This word is absolutely perfect. And this entire scene that I thought was so powerful, so in keeping with the protagonist's motivations? No, no, no. I would be so much better this way.....
And it goes on and on until finally you know you have to just give it up and submit the piece/novel/poem and be done with it or you'll be sitting there growing moss and cobwebs, your great-grand children will be going off to college, and your wife/partner will be using you for a coat rack.
It is, of course, all part of the joy of writing, of creativity, of self-actualizing. Here's a link to an essay of mine that was published in The Prague Revue. I must have rewritten it a hundred time over the course the month I give myself to write essays. Let me know if you find any typos, clumsy sentences, daft reasoning, or misplaced commas. I know they are lurking in there, waiting to leap out and cause great consternation and blushing.
Monday, July 6, 2015
This is reputed to be Shakespeare's death mask. It may be or it may not be the Bard, but at least in one respect, it gets the message across: This man is dead, drained of life, and so drained of his creativity. Shakespeare didn't have to deal with the roaring cacophony that is our outrageous world of the Internet and social media. He wrote with a quill pen on coarse paper and sent letters by horse carriage. There were not millions of voices out there warning him that if he didn't join this group or that one there, he'd never make it as a writer.
So my message to myself today is that if I am going to create, I need to guard my creative energies and there is precious little of that energy left after I've spent hours every day sitting at a computer hooked up to the Internet thinking up clever ways to get noticed--whoring for attention, as it were. It all makes my head ache, my stomach knot up, and my spirit long for the quiet and solitude necessary to daydream. And I must always remember that daydreaming, simple daydreaming, is the genesis of creativity.
So, as a writer, my first obligation is to my creative self, to my daydreaming. That requires time, long, uninterrupted expanses of time that is quiet, reflective and free of the bloodthirsty killers called distractions. Close the windows, lock the doors, read something wonderful to prime the mind, and have the courage to daydream. Then, for at least four or five hours a day, have to courage to not whore yourself out.