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:

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.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

THE IDIOT: Struggling With a Dead, White (Russian), Male Writer On The Trans-Siberian Railroad

The Idiot: Mother Russia is famous for many things speakable and unspeakable, including the Mr. Stalin's Gulag, Mr. Lenin, excellent vodka, and lately, Mr. Putin. It's also the home of many millions of heavy smokers (very friendly), and a very long train ride. In June 2003, my wife and I began a journey to live out a long-held dream of mine (you'll notice I said mine, not necessarily hers): To ride the Trans-Siberian Railroad from one end of the line to the other, meanwhile, killing time (there was lots of it to kill) reading Mr. Dostoevsky's ponderous masterpiece about the Christ-like epileptic, Prince Myshkin. Here are some images from the trip (from top to bottom): Terry and I about to board the train in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, a typical Siberian farm in June, the city of Irkutsk itself, me eating peanut butter and crackers, drinking vodka, and watching Siberia go by; a view of our embarrassingly pleasant and bourgeois first-class cabin (second class passengers sleep four to a cabin, stacked up on each other); a smokey, smoked-fish market on Lake Baikal where, for reasons known only to them, newly weds still wearing gowns and tuxes, posed for pictures; passengers taking a sun-break during a stop; and, sealing a deal with a vendor selling meat-stuffed ( a Russian fellow passenger opined that it could perhaps be rat) rolls on the platform. Reading a great Russian writer while clanking and swaying and screeching across the vast wilderness that is most of Siberia was instructive. First, on the front cover of my edition of The Idiot (Modern Library Classics), there's a plug by the dead, white, brilliant, and tragic woman writer, Virginia Woolf. She says, "Nothing is outside Dostoevsky's province. Out of Shakespeare there is no more exciting reading." She is someone we can take seriously and so we must reconsider the post-modernist, feminist dismissal of the wisdom of deceased Caucasian male scribblers--all but Hemingway, one would assume, whose sins are manifestly unforgivable.

In any event, the trip took six days and six nights with a two day pause in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, situated close by Lake Baikal. Siberia, at least this Southern part of it, turned out not to be the desolate tundra of my National Geographic readings, but rather an endless land of forests and savanna, larch and birch trees, and small peasant farms pressed up against the tracks. Though it was mid-June, the crops had not yet sprouted and the gardens were all neat rows of carefully tilled and prepared gray soil. We saw few cars, some horses, and one motorcycle with a side car. The air was crisp and clear and the views from the speeding train window (I found myself pressing my nose up against the pane like a kid in front of a candy store) very fine. In some places, large tracts of woods were aflame and in fact, Irkutsk was under a pall of smoke for the entire time we were there. We were told it is an annual phenomenon brought on by the summer draught.

Sleeping was at first a problem. At regular intervals, the train's brakes shrieked, and then the train would slam against itself, jolting the dreamer awake. New passengers would board at each stop and their loud voices and cigarette smoke wafted in to us through and under the door. This was a problem the first night. By the middle of the second day, I realized that it didn't matter if we didn't sleep well at night because we could sleep any time we wanted to, our seat serving also as our berth. So long naps became de rigueur, usually soon after a lunch in the dining car washed down with red wine (we were generally the only customers in the dining car, the average Russian preferring to save money by buying food on the platforms during stops).

Six days without a shower was a concern. We couldn't easily wash our hair (hence the hat), and had to do with using a wash cloth and a bar of soap while standing up in the swaying bathroom. Then, on the train from Irkutsk to Moscow, glory be, there was a real, stand-up, stand-alone shower. Though the water was just a trickle, it was warm, and as far as I could tell, we were the only ones who used it.

If one is going to lose at chess, it may as well be to an attractive young Russian woman on the Trans-Siberian. Over confident after a couple of easy victories against a young Brit traveling alone (he said he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant so he dyed his hair blond, and headed for Siberia), and my wife (who later beat me without remorse), I took on the woman who was, if not exactly our guide, charged with making certain we got off the train as scheduled in Moscow and not in some Siberian logging camp. She was very bright, spoke excellent English, and earned $75 a month teaching at a college in Irkutsk. When, early on in the game, she took my queen in an effortless offensive, I prepared my tail for placing between my legs. Fortunately, she was as gracious in victory as she was charming in conversation.

Did I read the whole thing, finally, all of The Idiot? No. After all the expense of buying the book (it's an inch and three-quarters thick), stuffing it in my travel bag, and lugging it around the world, there was just too much to look at out the train's windows. After all, I could read Dostoevsky anytime, but I would only be witnessing Dostoevsky's Russia passing by once. I did make some progress, but now, four years later, the book still sits largely unread, on a bookshelf in my classroom. It was suggested later, and I guess I agree, that it would have been better to have explored the writings of some modern-day Russian authors while I moved across this conflicted nation that is struggling to emerge after the Cold War. Though we know, as writers, that Nastasya, Aglaia, and the awful Ganya are universal characters whose motives and emotions are bone-deep in all of us, they will have to wait until I am less distracted.