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 ( 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, ( and Visit the author's website:

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Dogs and the Detritus of War: When Will We Ever Learn?

Ah, the dogs and detritus of war. Here on Guam, it's everywhere, the rusty, the broken, the remnants of the late, great struggle between Imperial Japan and the Allies. And we live, on our sailboat, in the middle of it. In the middle of an old battlefield, in fact--the battle for Orote Point was fought all around where we now live so peacefully. Above is the memorial to the twenty five dobermans who died working with the Marines and a Japanese midget sub, designed to carry two lucky sailors and couple of torpedoes. It was found washed up on a local beach.

On the right, we have some anti-aircraft guns, or what's left of them. You can see the first one is still pointing up, just as the Japanese gunners would have left it as they died blasting away at American planes.
Below are the remains of the house where a family lived that manned the overseas telegraph cable station. It stretched across the Pacific and was a prime target of the Japanese when they invaded on December 8, 1941--the same day (it was December 7th on the other side of the International Dateline in Hawaii) that Pearl Harbor got hit. There's another house in pretty much the same shape as this one, back farther in the jungle.

Ever wonder what is inside those caves the Japanese were famous for dying in in the Pacific operations? Below, is one view of one of them.

And to the left is the inside of it. Probably a storage area for munitions. Just some Marine graffiti from 1977 in there now. Now that I think of it, the soldiers who left there mark here were fighting another American war at that time. Barney and James Cagney, wonder where they are now. Would be my age, probably.

In any event, there is peace here now. To the right, is Terry and her black cat, Zeke, in the cockpit of our boat, VATNA. Behind her, up in that green you see, is where the caves are. This was all a hell hole in July 1944 when the Marines took it back from the Japanese.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Agonies of Aging: 61 in Paradise

When it came down to it, facing 61 years wasn't too tough, really. Terry and I got off the boat for the weekend and went to a nice hotel on this beautiful bay on Guam. Had a too-expensive dinner accompanied by a nice Scotch, a good bottle of Cab, and then a great night's sleep in a king-sized bed (the berth on the boat is queen sized and tapered at the end). In the morning we lounged around in the room drinking coffee, eating chocolate chip cookies, and reading on the small balcony off our room (I got into an article in Psychology Today about dream research that says we dream to rehearse our defensive moves on potential attackers, which is why most of our dreams are violent or involve running or escaping, etc. Can we escape aging? I'm running hard, but, dream on, Dougie, dream on).

Then down to a very fine, all-you-can-drink champagne brunch with good friends. So, blood pressure problems, heart arrhythmias, colonic disorders--the disheartening fruits of living to 61--were forgotten for the day as were nagging questions about what to do with the boat when I retire in June (sail it back to the Chesapeake? Sell her here?), what about Book II in The Eye of the Stallion trilogy (the person at my publishing house in charge of producing the book is very ill and now the publishing date has been pushed back for at least a month, maybe longer), and what about the stress at work where I manage a special education program and have 30 students on my speech-language pathology caseload? We have talked all these issues through, over and over and over and finally, I think, come to some reasonable options which is a huge relief. Now it's Sunday night and tomorrow begins the four-week stretch to Christmas break, during which we'll fly to Tasmania for 10 days. Now that I write all this down, it seems pretty stupid to complain about anything as inevitable as aging when life is so rich.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Searching for the Next Book: A Sweet Sunday Morning

Here' s my study carrel last Sunday morning--the cockpit of my sailboat Vatna across whose combings I saw this scene of turquoise water and topical skies. I'm starting the reading part of researching my planned young adult adventure novel (working title: The Spirit of the Voyage). Here's a picture of one of the books I found in a local bookstore and I've got a small stack of other to work my way through before I start writing.

It will concern two boys of different backgrounds/races/cultures who struggle to survive among the Pacific Islands torn by war. To do so, they will need to cooperate and share their knowledge and skills. But they must get along, must be able to accept their differences. Sailing traditional canoes, navigating across hundreds of miles of open ocean using only stars and wave forms and sea life, and living off the ocean and what food the islands have to offer.

At first, I was a bit shy about attempting this project. I'm not a native-born islander and so, there will be some questions about authenticity/spirit/depth of understanding, etc., etc. But, I've put those concerns aside. Look at Stephan Crane who wrote the Red Badge of Courage. It's a fine and authentic war story and yet Crane never set foot on a battle field during a real battle. There are lots of examples of writers who did well writing out of their milieu or beyond their culture.

I have lived and sailed among these islands for the past ten years, and I was once a boy who wandered around the woods practicing how to survive by "living off the land." In a profound sense, the experiences are the same whether they be set in the tropical pacific, or the Bershire hills of Massachusets. So, we'll see how it comes out. I've got good friends who are native to this island experience and they'll help out.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

World Series Watching On the Other Side of the World: A New Englander in Paradise

Finally, a break in the incessant rain, and just in time for a great Saturday sail with friends. Friday afternoon, we started getting the boat ready for a day out on the water, and this means taking off storm lines and scrubbing rainy-season moldy decks. Saturday morning, we finished up the preparations (the TV gets packed away, off comes the air conditioner and the rest of the lines, up went the sails) and off we went with very light winds but plenty of sunshine. In the photo above, Terry sits on the foredeck. I've got the big genoa, which is not designed to go to windward, furled up to about a third of its full size so that is doesn't smother the staysail and with this configuration we did just fine tacking back up the harbor.
Good timing, weather-wise, because the Red Sox are playing today, Sunday, and so we get the best of all possible worlds--a great day on the water, and a great day watching baseball (sixth inning, Lugo just snagged a line drive and ended the Rockies attempt at a rally).
Later, I'll cook a leg of lamb and we'll drink a bottle of pretty good red wine and enjoy another perfect day in the tropics while, back in New England, the rumors of winter being just around the corner persist (it's now the bottom of the seventh and the Rockies have managed to rally after all--yikes, this series might get interesting).
What about the writing? I'm still slowly working my way through the final edit of A Drop of Wizard's Blood, Book III of the Eye of the Stallion trilogy. No rush. Book II, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, will be out sometime in November (Red Sox just won--hot damn).

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Stitch in Time Saves a Blow Out at Sea

A torn sail is a good excuse to sit down and do something I rather enjoy: stitching things up. I guess it goes back to my childhood when my mother showed me how to thread a needle and sew on a button. I've never minded taking care of my own sewing needs as long as they were simple.

Repairing a small rip in our old main sail last weekend was done with a piece of sail repair tape and a few big (too big, my wife said) stitches with a sailmaker's needle and thread. Pleasant enough work when your in the harbor or at sea on a nice day running down wind. Here we are tied up on our seawall and were spending the day getting ready for our first sail in a long time--too long. But, VATNA is in good shape, her decks scrubbed, and now her sails are on. We should be able to get out this Saturday between World Series games (Red Sox are in and that make this New England farm boy happy).

As far as writing goes, here I am on the boat doing my usual evening thing: writing/editing. I'm about half way through the process of reviewing the edit my editor did on the A Drop of Wizard's Blood, the last book in the Eye of the Stallion trilogy. This is the third time I've used my editor, Linda Morehouse of As usual, she very thorough and I'd recommend putting out the money for a professional reader/editor when you're preparing a manuscript for submission to publishers or agents. In any event, I'm now going though the manuscript line by line, comment by comment (I love the Microsoft Word editing feature), and mostly accepting her recommendations and learning, too, as I go along. It's slow going to be sure, but instructive to see the kind of grammatical mistakes I habitually make or words I over use and it takes an editor--another set of eyes--to find them.

In any event, I hope I'm a better writer than sail stitcher and I hope Josh Beckett, Big Poppy, and the rest of the boys get the job done this week.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Research for the Next Book: A Sacred Island Ceremony

I'm getting going now, rather tentatively, on the next book, The Spirit of the Voyage. On any voyage, casting off the lines is the most difficult thing to do--actually committing yourself to such a grand adventure. An entire manuscript has to dangle from, or grow from, an initial insight, sort of like how the crystals in a snow flake have to find a tiny particle of something in the atmosphere to grow around. No particle, no snow flake, no germ of an idea, no book.

Of course, the atmosphere is full of particles for snow flakes to grow around, just like life is full of ideas. Whether you live in suburban New Jersey or on an island in the Pacific Ocean, there are an infinite number of possibilities around which a work of art can coelesce. The old man in the picture above is me with my friend Manny Sikau. He's master navigator from the island of Puluwat in the Caroline Islands. We are standing in front of a canoe that his father built and Manny sailed from Puluwat to Guam, a distance of about 500 miles of open ocean. He navigated using only the stars and the waves, the wind and sea life--no compass, no sextant.

In these pictures, Manny, his uncle, and other people from Puluwat are performing a ceremony prior to launching a small sailing canoe that Manny and others carved by hand from a breadfruit log (an interesting note about this picture is that Manny's uncle lost the bottom part of his arm to a shark one night while spear fishing). The ceremony involved chanting over the canoe and offerings of food.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Decisons, Decisons, Decisions: Consequences Roll Down Hill

The first of October finds us at a crossroads--within the next seven months we are going to have to make a couple of major life choices. Terry is going to run for a big teachers' union position and if she wins, we would move back to the Mainland U.S., back to our house in Onancock, Virginia.

This forces our hand on a second major decision: what happens to the boat, to our sweet VATNA, our home for the past nine years? I would love to sail her back, but Terry would not be able to go with me, at least for most of it, and it might take a year as we must sail with the seasons if we do a west-about (Guam, Malaysia, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Med, Atlantic to the Caribbean, and up to the Chesapeake). I can't fathom being away from my wife for that long. And I would need to find a crew, at least one other capable sailor and preferably, two. The other option is to sell her and just move back and buy another boat more suitable to the Chesapeake with its light winds and thin water. This would be easier, smarter, and infinitely easier on the marriage. But I've dreamed of doing a long voyage like this all my adult life.

Still, men (and women) have done worse--or better--as regards leaving a spouse at home while they go off adventuring. My reflective mind, though, asks itself when does going off on an adventure and leaving loved ones behind to worry become a selfish stunt? Just how you look at it, I suppose. So, we'll talk about it. Terry will not say no. She doesn't work that way.

Meanwhile, we've been sailing with our friends (in this photo, I'm not on Vatna, but a very fine Tayana 43 named Carpe Diem that lives just a few yards down the seawall from us. She's owned by some very close friends and we have had some wonderful day sails on her, catching fish, sipping wine, and laughing a great deal at our good fortune, living well being the best revenge.

The writing? It's on hold for a bit as I get my brain organized to start the next project. Pretty busy and preoccupied by the aforementioned.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sunsets and Other Cliches

The rainy season brings sunsets worthy of any postcard. Here's a picture of one I took from the top of the companionway steps--the same place from where I took the rainy photo in a previous entry. This sunset had a lingering complexity that made this romantic cynic reach for his camera. I am to be forgiven. I was in a comfort zone that night--sipping wine and talking to my wife while we cooked supper.

This shot has a romantic nautical impact: the quarter circle of the wheel, the block with the sheet for the mainsail, the bimini that covers the cockpit. I don't remember what night it was, but I would prefer to think it was a Friday night, the weekend lying ahead of us, the curdling mess of the work week behind us. Cliches are comforting because you can enjoy them without thinking: sunsets, bumper stickers, odd, pithy phrases that once caught us by surprise but now are spouted by everyone.

For writers, cliches are death and death by cliche is easy for a writer to come by, like hanging out in a crowded market in Bagdad with an American flag wrapped around you. One slip of the keyboard, and there you have it, a "sunset" word or phrase that tattoos you forever as a hack. When we write, we don't hack. We write without sunsets, without tattoos, without bumper stickers. Still, with enough irony, even cliches work and that includes sunsets. This night, without blushing or any regrets at all, I enjoyed the sunset, kissed my wife, and we polished off the bottle.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Contemplating the Next Project: Getting a Grip on the Creative Process

This is a traditional sailing canoe used by Carolinian islanders for the past few thousand years. In them, they can sail over hundreds of miles of open ocean navigating using only the stars, waves, and sea life to navigate.

In an earlier post, I wrote briefly about this and published the photo below of me at the helm of one, but now its time to get serious as regards writing about it. My next book, this year's project, is an adventure story concerning traditional sailing and navigating in the western Pacific.

So the process starts like this: I've learned a lot about traditional navigation and sailing in the past seven or so years as a member of the Traditional Seafarers Society here on Guam, but I've got a long way to go as regards a more profound understanding of island society and culture. I'm lucky to have all this at my finger tips; I can immerse myself in it. Today is Saturday (it's still raining--pouring--has been all week), but I'm planning on driving up to the utt (thatched hut) that is the meeting place for the Society and get reacquainted with my old friends. I'll pick up some more books about island history, life, culture, and start making notes. On my long daily walks (I'm up to six miles nearly every day), I can start to visualize plot ideas, let scenes blossom in my mind's eye (that's what it feels like--a flower blossoming), and get excited about all the possibilities that the imagination offers.

Right now, though, I'm procrastinating getting out my SCUBA gear and diving the boat. The bottom needs cleaning, but I don't like diving in the rain because on cloudy days the water is dim and it's hard to see what I'm doing. But, get a move on, Dougie, and get it done.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Writer's Thinking Summer: Re-seeding the Cognitive Playground

Here is the view from the galley. I'm back on Guam and sitting in the belly of our boat. It's early on a Saturday morning and Terry and the cats are sleeping. It's rainy season and there is the nice sound of a torrential downpour on the deck so it's a fine time to be reading and thinking about stuff.

I'm between writing projects, the books of The Eye of the Stallion fantasy trilogy being finished, except for a final tweak of the last book, A Drop of Wizard's Blood. Book II, The Mirrors of Castaway Time is due to be published soon--next month, maybe. So I've been looking around for some brain candy in the form a a few good reads.

I like to think of a book as a cognitive playground (for both the reader and the writer). For me to spend precious hours between the covers of a book or a magazine, it has to offer me something to chew on, something to get cognitively involved with and excited about the way a kid might get excited about a new toy.

Sometimes, if I'm real lucky, I find it in a novel. There are few things as fine as a novel that delivers the goods on cognitive, emotional, and artistic levels. That would mean great writing style, profound wisdom dispensed subtly and maybe with equally subtle humor, and page turning excitement. A book like that is a rare fine, indeed.

It is easier to find a work of non-fiction that satisfies because you know if you are interested in the topic by just reading the title. So, the little time I have had to read this summer, I spent working my way through two of Richard Dawkins' books simultaneously: The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion. Dawkins is a biology professor at Oxford and is famous for beating the religious right over the head with its own ignorance and knee-jerk denial of the gifts of reason and science. By the way, rather than claiming to be a strict, radical atheist, Dawkins says he is a "Level 6" agnostic--almost absolutely certain there is no God--and that is as far as a scientist will go toward an absolute belief. Science, is, after all, all about probability.

I studied a lot of science in college and have a pretty good idea of the basics of Darwin's evolution but these two Dawkins books were, as he would put, consciousness raisers. For me, a consciousness raising experience is an epiphany of sorts, a realization that feels like a fresh breeze blowing across my mind, a feeling of profound excitement that I have just learned something new and something critically important. It makes me take a short, quick breath and makes me feel, as I mentioned above, like a child again.

So, Dawkins is brain candy as is the book I'm reading now: A View from the Center of the Universe. Lovely stuff in here, folks. The latest speculations from astrophysicists and quantum physics on what the universe is all about--its existence, size, age, contents, future, and most importantly, our place in it as human beings. No religion here, just science for the layman, and for this layman, its heady stuff. Here's an example: The universe is probably about 14 billion years old. Our planet is about 4.5 billion years old with about 6 billion years to go before it is destroyed by the death of our own sun. Human "civilization" has been around in some form for maybe 5 or 10 thousand years. This means we have just begun. We have another 6 billion years to go. When you think of the technological progress we have made in just the past 100 years, it boggles the mind to consider what might lie ahead--if we can survive. And one of the biggest threats to our survival is fundamentalist religion.

That's why it is so very critical that we get a grip on this problem with fundamentalist religiosity. Since the middle ages, religion has fought scientific progress tooth and nail. The religious authorities locked Galileo up because he supported Copernicus's findings that the earth was not the center of the universe. The Bible implies the Earth is flat and fundamentalists insist it is only 6 thousand years old. The result is, while technology moves forward, the social/cultural status of the vast majority of humanity remains in the dark ages. We continue to believe in incredibly far-fetched superstitions and mythologies that cause us to hate and murder each other relentlessly and without guilt.

Well, never mind. I'll think more about this later. The rain has let up and I need to take a long walk. And I've got boat projects this weekend. The faucets in the galley are dripping and I need to get my dive gear on and clean the bottom and the prop and check the zincs. We hope to go sailing if the weather improves.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Summer in New England: A Photo Gallery

This is the green New England summer of my youthful memories. It has become a habit to take long daily walks through the farm country in Montague, Massachusetts, a village just a few miles north of Amherst in the Connecticutt River valley. Here is a sampler of some pix I took with my Pentax Optio digital of farms and wild flowers (Wild Carrot and Joe Pye Weed).

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Writer as Sailor as Eternal "Come-Here": The Price of the Wandering Life

Here I am last week at the tiller of a skiff exploring the marshlands inside the barrier islands off the coast of the Eastern Shore of Virgina. I've been exploring, that is, wandering from place to place, most of my life. When I was ten, we moved from northern New Jersey to a small farming village in Massachusetts and since then, in addition to traveling around the world, I've lived in Arizona, Virginia, Key West, Iceland, Germany, Guam, North Myrtle Beach, and now we've bought a home in Onancock, Virginia.

And everywhere I've lived, I have experienced the plight of every new guy on the block. Although I lived next to a farm in a rual area of New Jersey and was raising chickens by the time I was nine years old, when we moved to Massachusetts, I was considered, with some disparagement, to be a "city slicker" and a "foreigner." In Key West, where I was a radio news reporter and anchor, I noticed that whenever anyone stood up in city council meetings to give an opinion, they first let everyone know how long they had lived there, the length of residency directly affecting the influence of the opinion expressed. The same was true, in different ways, everywhere else, and now, here were are, planning on retiring to the Eastern Shore of Virginia where they call folks like us, "come-heres."

"Come-heres?" That was a new one for me. The expression itself lacks any aliterative music, and sounds like a command rather than the derogatory label it is meant to be. The reasons for this "come-here" phenomena are as universal as they are obvious. The locals are both proud of their heritage and instinctively threatened by the intruder. On the other side, some new residents see the locals as rubes and maintain a distance. Of course, there are those on both sides who are eager to accept and be accepted and thus far that is how its been on the Eastern Shore. The people are smiling, friendly, and helpful. The owner of the hardware store that was once a showroom for Model A Fords and where you can find melons, fresh corn, tools, straw hats, and bib overalls, couldn't be more welcoming.

Mary Pricilla Howes, the late sage of Ashfield, Massachusetts, the closest thing to a hometown I've ever had, wrote that for her, happiness and profound living resulted from "staying put." But for me, much of the richness of life has come from being a "come-here." When you arrive at somewhere new, you have what the Zen Buddists would call a child's mind. Things are different, strange even, and so there is much to learn and all those new people to meet. It is this engagement with, this embracing of the new and different cultures that broadens us and teaches us that there is a wider world out there and that humanity's variations are what make the world such a fine place.

Here's what I'm reading this summer: The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion, both by Richard Dawkins the Oxford biologist and famous athiest (actually, he says he is a "Level 6 Agnostic, Level 7 being an absolute athiest and in science nothing is absolute). The Blindwatchmaker is good overview of evolution but takes some reader effort and The God Delusion is a very readable and scathing indictment of mindless, pervasive, and destructive religiosity.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Still Life: Finished Manuscript on Antique Bar

In school, I was never accused of making good use of my time. If only the teachers had understood that if they had just let me do what I wanted to do, this dreamy boy would have been fine.

In any event, I made good use of the past year and here is the evidence: the 346-page manuscript of A Drop of Wizard's Blood, Book III in The Eye of the Stallion trilogy. Yesterday I finished the big, first re-write of the original manuscript, a process that took a month of 6:00 to 11:00 mornings reading the book aloud to myself. Yesterday I also sent it to my fine editor, Linda Morehouse ( out in California. She's a pro and I pay her to be honest with me and she is, I think, sometimes painfully so.

But, I'm pleased with the way it turned out. Writing it was a complex process, because not only did I have to make sure all the plot lines in this book worked out, but I also had to make sure they complemented and did not conflict with the plot lines in the other two books in the trilogy, as all the books are bound together by characters and the idea that Time is a warp-able, twisting, bread-dough phenomena.

Now, I'm going to rest awhile and do some serious reading, something I've missed. The next writing project will be an adventure story set in the most remote islands of the western Pacific, where we live on our sailboat when we're not in Virginia or off traveling. It will concern traditional navigation, the sailing of outrigger canoes, lost boys, and World War II.

The immediate future contains my daughter's wedding, which happens this coming Saturday right here in Onancock, Virginia. A few more things to do on the house to get ready, so I'd better get going and make good use of my Time.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Water, There Must Be Water

How can anyone live away from the water? I ask myself this. When I fly across America, when I rode the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Mother Russia, when I lived in the middle of Germany for twelve years--all these people living without the sea--or most without even a pond--where does the sustenance for their souls come from if not water?

So, here is the Eastern Shore of Virginia, that great undiscovered peninsula that is a essentially a huge farm--Iowa, say--surrounded by water. On one side, the western side, there is the great Chesapeake Bay, on the eastern side there is the inevitable Atlantic. In the middle is an utterly flat, rich land where thousands and thousands and thousands of acres of crops are tilled by Mexican workers (legal? who knows). They plant, grow, and harvest, by my observations so far, corn, tomatoes, soy beans, wheat, and cucumbers. There are smaller operations that produce green beans, melons, squash, and zucchini. And then you see the huge chicken corporations, Tyson and Purdue, their chicken farms eerily resembling small concentration camps, their processing plants attracting immense flocks of seagulls and reeking of raw meat and blood when the wind blows right.

But, again, there is the water. It saves it all from being just another prairie. In my other blogs on this site you've seen photos of the Bay side of the Eastern Shore. Here are some of the sea side. Here, just six miles from the Chesapeake, is a great ocean and the barrier islands that protect the farmlands. Hundred of miles of empty, windswept beach await the beachcomber and within those barrier islands are millions of acres of marshlands, flat, shallow water filled with crabs and oysters, and hundreds of species of fish.

Yesterday I took a break from writing and accepted an invitation to go out on the water. Here are a few pics.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Sailor's Fourth of July: Our All American Little Town on the Chesapeake

This is it, the America I've been missing. I've been out of the country pretty much steadily for the past twenty-five years and now I'm home for this: the perfect all-American experience on the perfect, all-American holiday.

The spirit of Onancock and the physical reality of Onancock are one and the same. They linger in a mythic and pleasant past when there was an ice cream party on the town common and a band played patriotic music on the gazebo after the mayor--who is also the town barber--gave a speech. Citizens gathered around on the grass, old people in chairs or on benches, young people holding hands, kids running about. And not only the town common, but all the main roads are lined with small American flags.

So, this morning I'm up at first light and was working on the re-write of the Book III, A Drop of Wizard's Blood, while Terry slept in. This is our routine--I love the early morning air and light. But the witchy mornings never last long enough. Too soon the dayspring, with its magical cool air, deep shadows, and waking birds, gives way to the bleaching reality of full daylight. As the sun rises, the elves and faeries, sylphs and zephyrs who are my muses, take their leave and I'm faced with chores that can no longer be denied. But, today is a rest day, a day of celebration, and I'm looking forward to what this town will offer.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

My Burning Heart: Wizardry, Witchcraft, Ablation, and Dealing With an Old House

This summer, my sixty-first, is charging along like an unloosed freight train. It started out with two weeks of medical appointments which climaxed with my lying on the operating table for three and a half hours while a doctor who specializes in cardiac electrophysiology went up into my heart with a catheter and mapped out what was going on in there. When he found the source of my atrial flutter, he burned it out. Amazing. Right into my heart with a rubberized branding iron, zapping away.
The cutting-edge knowledge and techniques my doctor has are connected in a real way with the ancient art of witchcraft, with witches, witch doctors, wizards, sorcerers, and shamans. They were, after all, the first physicians, the ones who sought to cure, through spells and herbal concoctions, the ills of their patients. Whether they were casting out evil spirits or using plants to make potions or balms, they had certain real skills and were held in high esteem--even awe--by the ancient layman.

While my heart heals, I'm getting ready to re-write the draft of the last book in the Eye of the Stallion trilogy and doing my research on casting spells and getting to be one with the spirit elements of the astral plane. Like burning out the inside of your heart, this is wonderful stuff and my characters in A Drop of Wizard's Blood--Scraps, Astral the Ancient Boy, and Mother Mar--are its practitioners. Meanwhile, the artist is working on the cover for Book II, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and that is due out soon, with luck next month.

We've been working hard getting settled into our new home in Onancock, Virginia. It's an old house with lots of old charm and old charm means she needs work--a wizard who is good with hammers and saws, paint brushes, weed whackers, and screw drivers . And we've been spending, spending, spending on furniture--antiques and new--to fill up the charming old empty spaces.

I took these photos of Onancock creek and harbor last week. The creek is an arm of the Chesapeake Bay that comes right into town. I would truly love to have our boat here and if the heart allows it, we're going to sail her back. If the heart says no--if major life plans need to be adjusted--we'll have to sell her on Guam and buy another one when we get back here. Either way, we will soon be leaving the tropical Pacific and making the Chesapeake our home.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Homeward Bound: Slouching Toward a Long, Hot Summer

Just arrived in Honolulu, finishing the first leg of the long slog home. I went to the President's Club at the airport and had a glass of wine after an the easy seven hour leg from Guam. Now I'm in Sting Ray's Bar and Grill, my favorite airport watering hole. I'll have to admit to upgradng to Business class--such an unforgivable luxury--and only cost me 12,500 miles.

Called Terry immediately and found out we have sold the condo in North Myrtle Beach so we can now move along and concentrate on the house in Onancock, Virginia. There will be a wedding there this summer (daughter, Jenn's) and a nice gathering to bring the house into the family. The house is a stone's throw, literally, from an arm of the Chesapeake Bay in a sleepy little town--perfect.

Now the first piece in the retirement plan has fallen into place and the next will be Terry getting offered VERA (early retirement). Then we will sail the boat back to the Chesapeake the long way, via Papua New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, the Red Sea, the Med, and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. We plan on a couple of years, at least, and then settling into Onancock to write. I should be fairly fine to spend the declining years writing and sailing on the Chesapeake.

Okay, let'go, Sailor@60. Pay your bar bill, leave a tip for the nice bartender, grab your bags (don't forget the computer--it's on the floor next to the stool) and it's onto the next flight--five hours to L.A., a three-hour layover, and then four hours to Washington, D.C. I dread it. The last flight in a twenty-four hour trip is always hell.

4 June 07

Now in Herndon, VA staying with Terry's sister and brother-in-law and waiting to see the cardiologist for a small heart thing. My appointment is Wednesday and I'm looking forward to getting this over with so we can move on to the rest of the summer. Plan on re-writing Book III of the Eye of the Stallion trilogy in the next two months. A Drop of Wizard's Blood is pretty complex and on the verge of getting away from me--so much going on, so may time warps. I need to get back into it and develop Dag-gar and Sonoria's characters/relationship and get Scraps so he's consistent throughout the book. But, all in all, I'm not unhappy with the way it turned out. I had some fun with Time and the Time Vagabond--Captain Sorrow, the dark energy of the novel. I like him as a character and will see if I can develop him even further. Need also to get Astral the Ancient Boy and Scraps' relationship up and running a little more. There is a good chance for some comic relief here.

Now that I'm over jetlag, or nearly so, I'm ready to get going again. The long, hot summer begins in earnest on Friday when Terry flys in and I'm wallowing happily in the anticipation of it.
By the way, the photo above was taken a year or so ago. We were sailing in the western Pacific somewhere, though I can't remember where. I just put it in because it looks so nice--the boat, the water, the whole idea of it, the idea of just sailing.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Unmasking the Demon: Why We Travel, Why We Write

There should be a good reason for this urge to spend hours and days and months and years scribbling short stories and novels but I couldn't come up with anything until the other day when I was looking at a mask I bought from woman from Papua New Guinea. I was at the Pacific Arts Festival on the island of Palau a few years ago. Every major island group in the Pacific basin had a booth where they sold homemade art and served their local food while wearing their local, traditional dress. Papua New Guinea was the best. They won prizes for their costumes and their dancing and their masks were something else. This one was carved from big, thick, solid piece of some tropical hardwood. It has cowary shells for eyeballs, bird-of-paradise feathers for hair and eyebrows, and wild pig tusks curving up out of it nostrils. It represents, no doubt, some forest spirit, some demon of the jungle, some fear that is universal--bone deep in not just the people from New Guinea, but in all of us.

Here it is, hanging on the wall in my classroom at the school I teach at on the island of Guam. The kids love it. It's just scary enough, but hanging in a safe place, it generates exactly the kind of fear that kids and some adults crave: fear buffered by security. Call it roller coaster fear. We can surrender ourselves to the thrill of it confident that we are, after all, in no danger.

Writing offers the same buffer, usually. We can work our keyboards in the safe womb of our homes while we daydream stories about situations we would never actually want to be in. There are exceptions. Sometimes we write about situations we have been in that remain terrifying years later. The authentic adventure book comes from such experiences and such experiences--the experience of absolute terror or steady, low-grade fear--can generalized to stories that might not have anything to do with fear itself. Like a good recipe is not about the salt or cumin or pepper that is put into it, but about the complexities those spices add to a dish, good writing is not about any one emotion, but about many: fear, joy, satiation, exhaustion, boredom, confusion, passion--on and on, that, when blended together, add an irresistable element of tension to the story.

To me, and I'm projecting here, this mask represents fear and our attempts to deal with it, to accommodate it into our lives. In any culture the human experience includes all those emotions I listed above, yet different cultures have devised different ways of dealing with them. The way the people of Papua New Guinea deal with fear is different than the way the American suburban wife deals with it. Yet, deal with it we must. We need to protect ourselves with our religions, our rituals, our traditions--we each have our own masks.

So, this is why traveling is such a fine thing for a writer. It is not that you can't find all the human emotions by living life in Passaic, New Jersey or in Columbus, Ohio. They are all there. But learning how disparate cultures deal with the same emotions is fascinating as well as instructive as regards the connections of our humanity.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

To Be Young, To Be In Paris

When I was young, I was a Hemingway enthusiast. At that time, I was unaware that, if I was going to admit to admiring the man, I would need to apologize for many aspects of the his life: his attitude to women, his hunting, fishing, running-of-the-bulls life style, his posing, his drinking, and, worst of all, the emotional havoc he wrecked on his family and others who loved him. I would learn, too, that I was expected to apologize for some of his later writings that didn't measure up to his brilliant early years. But, in those days, I was a teenager living on a farm in New England dreaming of traveling and writing and adventuring, and the author of "The Big Two-Hearted River" was my small god, larger than life and utterly infallible.

In this picture, I'm imitating one of my favorite pictures of Hemingway. In that photo, taken in Paris in the 1920's, he is standing in front of Sylvia Beach's book store, Shakespeare and Company. His head is heavily bandaged after a skylight fell on him badly lacerating his forehead. He is smirking that famous young-Hemingway smirk. It looks like a warm and fine day at a time when the city was home to the storied flowering of Lost Generation writers like Hemingway, Dos Possos, Stein, and Fitzgerald.

In the picture you see here, I'm standing in front of the new Shakespeare and Company Book Store doing my best to look like Hem (I was only half joking). The store is near the Seine and Notre Dame, a bit of a walk from the site of the original establishment. It's owned by the warmly eccentric cousin of a great poet whose name escapes me now. He sells his books, used and new, paperback and hard cover, at high prices to tourists eager to have his stamp of authenticity in the front cover. He also offers employment and funky, bookstore lodging to young, would-be expat writers who are in Paris on tragic-romantic walkabouts and like to imagine they are a bit down on their luck.

I had biked to Paris that summer from our home near Frankfurt, Germany. It was hot and dry and stifling in the city. There seemed to be no escaping the heat. I hung out in bookstores and lazed on the grass in the shade at the Luxembourg Gardens. I drank beer and ate roast chicken and french fries at sidewalk cafes like Le Select. My trip across Germany and France had taken six days and I was about to pack myself and my bicycle on a train back home. I had only a day to spend here. A shame of course, but this was just my first trip. I would be back. Like most beginning writers, I was struggling to get published. But one incredible day, ten years later, I would win an international writing competition in Paris and read my story, "The Rifle," at Brentano's Book Store. Then I would train to Paris, drink celebratory champagne, and be taken to dinner at at an upscale restaurant. I think I did pay a visit to Shakespeare and Company, bought a paperback copy of A Movable Feast, and had it stamped.

And that of course, is the real Hemingway legacy. Though he presented to the world as a deeply flawed and troubled man, he was a true artist, and as such he was brave and wise at a profoundly instinctive level. Today, eighty-some years after that famous picture was taken in front of Shakespeare and Company, he continues to inspire us to be full of ourselves and to live full of life. Rather than dismiss him outright, we can learn from his mistakes as well as his successes. As an older man, I'm still enthusiastic about Hemingway. For me, his best lesson has been this: If you want to be a writer, you must write and you must never quit. No matter what, you must never quit.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Sailing and Writing: Charting the Fair Adventure of Tomorrow

This is our home, our back yard--the marina at Sumay Cove on the island of Guam. Vatna, our Hans Christian 33 cutter, is off in the distance, third from the right. We moor Med style, stern to the seawall with bow lines, port and starboard, run out to mooring balls. We have new shower/head facilties with clothes washers and dryers and storage cages. The Cove is a safe harbor; that is, its a good place to be during typhoons. Just outside the entrance to the Cove is Apra Harbor and just outside the harbor is the big, blue Pacific--or, more precisely, the Phillipine Sea where the water is gin clear, the diving spectacular, the fishing excellent. As you can imagine, its a pretty nice place to live aboard and to write. We've been living here for over nine years and who can imagine leaving such a paradise?
But that's what I did. Just this morning. I spent a few hours helping a young friend of ours sort out his charts. He's leaving at the end of the month, sailing south to the Admiralties and Papua New Guinea and then Bali. As we looked over these maps of the sea, some first drawn in the 1800's by the Royal British Navy, others by Japanese surveys in the 1920's, as we studied the fabulous, incredibly remote, infinitely varied achipelegoes just South of Guam, we realized that the sooner we leave the better. I felt my palms sweat, my mouth go dry, and my heart run a bit wild--too many places to see, too many islands to sail among, too many adventures to be had. Let's go, lets go, lets go now.
And so it is with writing. I've spend the past five years in a writer's paradise, of sorts--writing fantasy. For years I wrote short stories, literary pieces, high-minded sketches of human folly, for publication in literary magazines. I won an international writing competition in Paris, was published in the Prague Review, and in small literary magazines in the United States. But the holy grail of writing, the publication of a successful literary novel, eluded me. What to do? The advice in the writers' magazines was to try genre fiction and look for a small, independant press. It's an easier market to crack.
I spent the next three years plugging away at a fantasy novel. At first I thought it would be for young adults, but as I wrote, I felt the plot and style moving across that border between Young Adult and simply fanatasy for all ages. The end result, The Eye of the Stallion: The Face in Amber, can do just that--go either way. I sent the first three chapters and a query letter out to seven publishers, big and small. I started receiving rejection letters within two weeks. Had they even read the sample chapters? Of course not. One rejection postcard was intended to hurt (I use postcards for my SASE's). It had X's and O's handwritten on it--"hugs and kisses from NYC" it said. I wonder what a person like that would be like at sea on a dark and stormy night.
So, after ten months, I had collected five rejections and nothing else. I wrote the whole thing off and was trying to figure out another strategy. But then one day I opened my mailbox and found a letter from a small press in Santa Fe--Crossquarter Publishing Group. They realized it had been a long time, they said, but they liked the strong human element in my writing and if the manuscript was still available, they would like to see it. I boxed it up and sent it to them. A month later, the next letter came: Yes, we would like to move ahead with publication. They included a contract, standard stuff, which I reviewed, signed, and mailed back. The Eye of the Stallion: The Face in Amber, became Book I in a fantasy trilogy. It was published in December of 2005.
Then I found I was on a roll. I loved writing this stuff. No rules, have fun, just develop great characters and be consistent. It took only a year to write the sequel and last week I was told that Book II, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, had also been accepted and will be released in August. I sent that manuscript to them last June. They are a small house and a slow house and that's all right with me. They receive fifteen hundred manuscripts a year and choose just eight for publication. I felt honored. As soon as I had sent off the second book, I got going on Book III, which I'm calling A Drop of Wizard's Blood. I'm in the home stretch on that one and should finish it in the next week or two. I'll spend the summer on the re-write. So, with luck, I have three books out there and that will be a satisfying feeling.
But then, who knows. I was studying nautical charts this morning, exploring possibilties for adventure that made my blood run fast. If you're lucky, the same will be true with writing. So many ideas, so many places to explore, so many places to drop the anchor and look around for a while. My wife, Terry, and I plan on sailing away from this fine paradise next summer. Will go adventuring in our boat, we will sail it halfway around the world, back to our retirement home on the Cheasapeake Bay. I plan on going adventuring in my mind, too, writing my way through mysterious, figurative islands I have never seen, daydreaming and weaving from those daydreams adventures that will parallel the ones the sea will offer me.