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
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.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Salvador Dali kisses Rachel's hand after painting her portrait.
Writing is like painting is like life is like love: it takes time to get it right.
For more than two years now I have been contributing an essay every month to The Prague Revue, a lovely, new-born, online literary zine. I was asked to be a regular contributor based on my short stories which TPR had published over the years, first in their original paper journal format and then in the new, digital Internet format. But now they didn't want short fiction, they wanted essays.
I hadn't written an essay since college or at least since my broadcast journalist days in Key West (if banging out a ten minute news cast, including an occasional human interest story, in twenty minutes can be considered writing essays). But essay writing was writing, after all, and writing is my passion, so I agreed to do it. At least give it a try. You have to admire the courage of the editors at TPR.
I should probably report here that I struggled with this new genre which is usually referred to as creative non-fiction. Creative non-fiction, despite the creative part, has to be fact, not fiction. It has to be colorful//brisk/well researched/poignant/amusing and above all interesting and well written.
The first month's essay struggled to emerge after a full day of slogging away at this laptop, a day filled with an agony of increasing self-doubt. I thought I had a great idea but the essence of it refused to flood out of my fingers onto the blank screen. My writer's brain choked, my writer's self confidence was soon in full retreat.
What to do? I stopped my struggle, closed the computer, and went for a long walk. Walking, as many writers find, is a fine thing to do in moments of creative trial and tribulation. Sure enough, after a few miles of hoofing it around town, I had the longed-for epiphany. To wit: It was the first day of the month. The completed, finely burnished essay was not due until the last day of the month. What the hell was I sweating for?
So, I set up a method of approaching essay writing. I would always be casting about for ideas, 24/7, day in and day out, daytime/nightime. When I was struck by one that seemed to have promise, I would note it down in my iphone. This way I built up a backlog of ideas for future essays.
Next, I would not spend time sitting at the computer just staring at the screen. I would write say, three sentences if that's all that seemed to be forthcoming, and move on to another writing project (this blog, my next novel). The only rule was that I would spend at least an hour a day on that month's essay. Just an hour, minimum. Of course, if it was going well, if the ideas were battering at the door of my imagination eager to get out, I would keep going and sometimes I would finish the first draft of a 2,000-word piece in a couple of hours.
Here's what I noticed happened: Every day when I sat down to write with the understanding that I only had to work at it for an hour, it took the panic and sweat out of essay writing. It allowed me plenty of time for my imagination to work and for me to do any research that was needed. It gave me time to re-write and fine tune and find any of those pesky typos and grammatical gremlins that lurk, smirking, within the syntax. For example, if I finished an essay by the middle of the month, I would still spend an hour every day re-writing it. It is wonderful, frightening, and enlightening when you realize how you can improve an essay you thought was finished if you re-write it every day for a couple of weeks.
And now I'm applying this idea to my fiction writing. As I re-write the draft of my just-finished novel, I treat each chapter as I would an essay. I spend at least an hour a day on each one, but if frustration and anguish creep in, I move on to something else. I'm adding a chapter to the middle of the book and having a great time writing it because I'm taking my time and allowing my character to take her time to develop fully.
In short, I'm no longer rushing the creative process. Our creative juices need time to gather, drip by drip, into a puddle of imagination. If I rush things, I'm missing all the possibilities for epiphanies--those lightning strikes of "ah ha!" moments that come if we give them enough time.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
HL Tauri--The Birth of a New Solar System: I think of all the potential lives swirling about in that primordial, cosmic soup.
Where am I going with this? Well, it may be a bit of a stretch, but it all makes me think of birth and life and death and the endless cycles of things in our Universe and that while death is as natural as birth, it's ever so much more terrifying; dying is no cause for joy and balloons and handing out cigars.
And now that I'm just a couple of weeks away from turning 68, it seems that death is happening all around me. It always has been, of course, but now that I'm retired and hanging out at home with not much to think about except writing, it is what I'm thinking about.
Most of my friends are about my age, of course, and seem to be dying at an alarming rate. And those that are still alive all have plenty of death-and-dying stories to share and I'm no exception: My 64-year-old cousin just passed unexpectedly, my mother has been dead for three years and my father-in-law, too, and one of my brothers-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident, and my mother-in-law is terminally ill and my 95-year-old father has lost his mind to dementia and seems to be existing in a perpetual nightmare. The two guys across the street, who were my age, died last year and so did two high school friends. Oh, I could go on and on. And now that all this is happening, I realize that I have reached the phase in life where I'm supposed to begin deal with the End Game. Until recently death had been kept at a distance by relative youth and a busy schedule. Now when I look over my shoulder, I see all those pesky shadows.
The purpose of this blog is to keep a log of my life to hand down to you, my descendants who may have an interest in my share of where they came from and may be reading this. And if we are to be completely authentic about it all, it now means I should keep a log of the last years of my life. Thus far I'm healthy enough and have the genetics to go on living for another 25 years or more. All I need is luck. Still, we need to be prepared.
So I shall begin herein to cite snippets of wisdom regarding our universal struggle to come to terms with the universal fate. I'll start with Mark Twain who is supposed to have said, "I'm not afraid of dying. I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it did not inconvenience me one bit."
It's like all the lives that may be formed from that nascent solar system pictured above: they are not the least bit perturbed at still being dead.
So I suppose there is humor in death. In fact, I'm counting on it. Watch this space.
Friday, August 8, 2014
The 100th Anniversary of the Beginning of World War I and a Memorable Bicycle Journey through the Killing Fields.
The Bones of War: Skeletons of soldiers killed in the Battle of Verdun lie visible an impressive ossuary that sits atop the battlefield.
Some thirty years ago, or so, I had a summer on my hands. My wife and I were living in Europe--had recently moved there from Iceland, in fact--and I was thirsty for some sort of small adventure. A bicycle trip across Europe from Germany to Paris seemed just the thing and so I bought a nice new Peugeot machine and set off by myself to experience the Continent first hand. What I hadn't counted on were my encounters with the ghosts of war. You can read more about this in my essay about my trip in The Prague Revue: http://praguerevue.com/ViewArticle?articleId=6169
When it comes to war, one can take the high road of cynicism (humanity deserves the horrors brought on by its animal instincts) or the lower, more realistic road (in this case the road I traveled on my bicycle that summer) which lead me though the settings of bloody old battles that are now green pastures, farms and forests and peaceful farming villages. This lower road suggests that we humans are infinitely complex animals that seem to be making very, very slow progress towards some sort of improved version of ourselves.
Death in the trenches: The Battlefield at Verdun