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, August 31, 2009


A Carolinian Canoe
(from a photo by Sandra Okada)

Here is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, working title, The Spirit of the Voyage. Joseph and Napu are the boys who have escaped from Guam on a small sailboat when the war begins. The are now on the tiny atoll of Puluwat and, once again, need to escape the horrors of war. They are leaving in a traditional canoe with Puala, an old and blind master navigator, and his son, Lana.

The men and boys of the island gathered and, after Puala had been helped on board, the canoe was pushed down its path of palm fronds into the water. Joseph and Napu and then Lana, climbed on board. Lana sat on the honifot and took the helm while Napu and Joseph set the yard in its socket, tied it in with quick hands, and ran up the sail. The canvas gleamed pale white in the dim light as it filled with the evening breeze and, with Joseph holding the sheet and controlling the set of the sail, the proa moved quickly out of the inner lagoon and across the larger outer lagoon toward the channel that led to the open sea. When they reached the lagoon entrance, the boys who had been chasing them in their small paddling canoes, shouted farewells and turned around.

A moment later they eased out into the ocean and felt the swell beneath the hull. Joseph and Napu looked upwards. There was the now-familiar night sky filled with its billions of stars. The moon was still below the horizon and the dark night illuminated the broad streak of the Milky Way. The great stars of the navigators were there—Altair ,the Big Bird of the East, called Mailap, and Scorpius with its bright heart, Antares, and, far to the north, just a finger’s-width above the horizon, was Wenewenen Fuhemwakut—the North Star, the star-that-does-not-move.

Joseph watched the stars wheel overhead, slowly, slowly. He turned and watched Puala’s son, Lana, at the helm. He too was an ordained navigator—a pwo. He understood the song of the stars and how to follow their hidden paths and now Joseph and Napu found themselves looking up and studying the stars when he looked up and they looked at the sea when he studied the sea. They knew that Lana held the key to unfathomable secrets.

Puala’s words still burned in Joseph’s ears: You are beginning to understand. Now, though, he understood what the old man had meant. Out here on the dark ocean, setting out on a desperate voyage in a small and fragile canoe, Joseph felt overwhelmed not only by the immensity of night sky and the vast water that surrounded them, but by the unimaginable dangers they would face. When he could sit as quietly and calmly and steer a canoe through a treacherous unknown as Lana was now doing, then he, too, would understand.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday: A Storm Moves of the Coast, Terry is Back Home, Trying to Write

An Old Drawing of a Micronesian Navigator
(Photo from Sandra Okada)

Terry got home last night. She was off in Kentucky visiting schools as part of her job as FEA Director for DDESS. She's gone a lot now and leaves again on Monday for another week. Color me home alone.

But, I, who hates being alone, has learned to enjoy solitude for short periods. Had no choice. Finally, after a year, I have found the days go by faster in retirement than they did when I was working, so the solitude is not only bearable, but with practice, became constructive. I'm busy, busy, busy, you betcha.

I'm starting this entry in the morning before I start writing, but it's getting late--nearly 10:00 AM--and I'm still mucking about with less important things. Wasting time, shamming, procrastinating. I've got to dig in. I'll report in later.

2:00 PM--Done writing for the day. Progress was slow, but wrote a couple of pages. When I work, I get up a lot, walk around, make lunch for Terry, etc. Lots of thinking to before I can put words down. Plotting the end, I see changes I need to make to the previous sections to make it all work. I like the "comment" feature of Word that allows me to put ideas/reminders out in the margin of the text. All in all, when I read what I have written, I'm pleased. Words are coming out they way they should and making nice music on the page. There will be many re-writes and then professional editing before I send the manuscript out, and this after my trip to Guam in October to pick the brain of Manny Sikau, the master navigator who has been my friend for years now.

Now for a nap and then a run/walk of four miles or so. Then Terry might be finished working for the day and we'll go out to the boat and check the level on the batteries. The bilge pump is working and I've got to keep an eye on things.
We had planned on sailing this weekend, but there's a tropical storm moving up the coast and we're scheduled to get deluged here this weekend.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to the Retirement Grind: Writing, Reading, Thinking

This is a photo of a canoe built on Guam and was designed after the famous "flying proa" that so impressed Magellan when he arrived at that island.
(Photo by Sandra Okada)

Getting back into it after a four-day cruise down the Chesapeake Bay is tough. Where did that productive routine I had going go? It's around here somewhere. Maybe under my recliner.

Ah, there it is. So let's get back to it. 162 pages into the book. Face the problem of plotting today. Writing is a lot easier if you know what's happening in the scene and what's going to happen after that. This morning I was faced with a decision: time to head into the final chapters and the denouement--bring it all together, the climax, the end. My vision is a book about 250 pages. It could be a tad shorter.

I've got three--let's see--4 characters including the Spirit of the Voyage itself. The most crucial ingredients in any novel are its characters. Conjure up characters that reach out and grab the reader and then you've got something. I hope I'm doing that.

So, I did find my routine. It was under the recliner and came out when I called it. It goes like this: up at 7:00 (If I feel like it--one of retirements perks), a cuppa while I catch up on the news (Ted Kennedy died last night), breakfast, then, finally, open this laptop and get going.

Another secret to writing, in addition to those characters, is this routine. Stick to it, and after a year or so, you will have written a book.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Thrill of Completing a Successful Voyage: Home Again, Home Again, Splashity-Splash

Above: Seawind motors up the Onancock River, completing the voyage from Long Island, NY; Terry and I celebrate in the cockpit at Seawind's new home.

Time to celebrate. The voyage finished, the job done, the boat tied up in her permanent slip on the Onancock River. Glory be.

Parts of the adventure were not all that pleasant. Like the two days we spent locked in the small confines of the boat in the Bronx while the boat leaked, the bracket for the fuel filter fell off, and it rained, rained, rained, rained. Or the time we sailed south along the NJ coast in thick fog and nearly got run down by a ship and then, later that same day, when we came into Atlantic City, still in the fog, and the tidal rip set up big standing waves at the harbor entrance. While we were corkscrewing down the fronts of these waves, the boat barely under control, we were suddenly face to face with a huge trawler, his outriggers spread, steaming directly at us out of the fog. Late at night, you wake up with that vision in your mind and all the possibilities of what could have happened but didn't burning in your mind.

But the universe made up for it's poor treatment of these two sailors during the last four days of the trip. The Chesapeake Bay was benign and sweet natured, the sun hot and good, the boat functioned perfectly, and we sampled the charms of Bay gunk holing (gunk holing is a yachtie term for anchoring in quiet, out-of-the-way places). It couldn't have been much more pleasant or satisfying. It's why I love sailboats--they are, most properly, platforms for adventure.

So now what? Well, I'll be going down to the boat every day, count on that. But the yard needs to be mowed and the novel needs to be finished and books need to be read. I'll settle back into my routine just fine, but now we've got that wonderful boat and can sail the Chesapeake anytime. Things are falling into place.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back on the Boat: Tomorrow We're Off to Get Seawind

Master navigator Manny Sikau paints a canoe hull (Guam)

Tomorrow is the day. After nearly two months of waiting, the boat should be ready. Bro John arrived this morning and we'll be off early to drive up to the upper Delaware Bay in New Jersey, get Seawind back in the water, and finish the cruise that started in outer Long Island at the beginning of June.

We'll head down the Cohansey River and out into the Delaware. It's about 20 miles up the river/bay to the C&D Canal (Chesapeake and Delaware) and once we enter that, we'll be heading down home stretch. If things go well, we could be finished in four or five days. If things go well. But this is a boat. There is weather (thunder storms) to consider and mechanical things and the wind tends to blow from the southwest, up the Bay and in the wrong direction for us.

But still, that's what it all about. A sailboat is, at its best, a platform for adventure and we've embraced this idea fully for the last 29 years. Cruising the Chesapeake has been on my bucket list for a long time.
The picture above was taken on Guam. Manny Sikau, the master navigator from the island of Puluwat, is sitting in the thatched canoe house painting the hull of a hand-carved small proa or canoe. This canoe is used for ceremonies. My next book, The Spirit of the Voyage, concerns sailing/navigating in the islands of Micronesia.

Monday, August 10, 2009

This Writer's Blog: A Day of Facing the Re-write.

Putting Up the Sail on a Traditional Canoe
(Photo by Sandra Okada)

I'm a lucky guy in many, many ways. I had a great career teaching and writing and sailing all over the world, I've got a great marriage, great kids, and a great retirement in a great house in a great little town between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. One other way I'm fortunate is that I like re-writing my stuff.

Re-writing--the bane of most writers, is for me usually a pleasant enough way to pass the day. And if it's not, its usually because what I'm re-writing isn't working and alarm bells go off in my fuzzy, happy little brain. While admitting to myself that words I've spent days weaving into prose are not worth reading is most difficult, I will, in the end, take a deep breath and hit the delete key and start over. So, re-writing is nice if the prose is good and the woven words make sweet music on the ear and I can congratulate myself, but also important as a smoke alarm to detect smoldering crap that, for some reason, sounded good the first time but now hits the ear like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Today is August 10 and here I go into The Spirit of the Voyage (working title). Set during the first days of WWII, my boys, Joseph, the white kid from Massachusetts and Napu, the island boy from Guam (Guahan), have escaped the Japanese invasion of Guam by sailing off in Napu's little boat. Problem is, the boat is not really seaworthy, Joseph doesn't know how to sail, and the boys are not getting along.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Writing This Morning, Working on Character Development, What About the Boat?

A Traditional Canoe (Proa) from Puluwat

4 August 2009

Starting this blog in the morning as I sit in my man cave checking on the news and getting ready to write. I'm trying to put some discipline back into my life after being carried hither and yon by the happy currents and tides of free-fall retirement.

First goal: Sleep in until I can't sleep anymore. It's the only way to start the day. So far so good.

Second: Have a quick breakfast. Lingering in the kitchen over eggs and toast with the clean-up required afterwards cuts into writing time.

Third: A quick check of TV news/politics (I'm a junkie).

Fourth: The laptop is open and we get going. The book is an adventure novel for young people. It's set in the western Pacific at the outbreak of WWII. Two boys, one a white boy from Massachusetts, the other, an island boy from Guam, find themselves on the run from the invading Japanese. They leave the island in a small sailboat and find themselves struggling to survive on the open sea. Important subplot: The spirits of the islands ancestors.

All right, turn off the TV and get going.

5 August 2009

First goal realized as itemized above: Got up this morning when I felt like it.

Second goal as stated above: Not as successful. Made myself a good breakfast rather than a quick breakfast bar. All I ate on the boat for three weeks for breakfast was breakfast bars. You can get mighty sick of breakfast bars.

Third goal was to get my politics fix: I ignored the TV. Amazing.

Fourth goal: I got down to writing. Actually, I'm re-reading what I've written so far. It's pretty critical to keep an eye on where you've been and where you're going and get a feel for the tone/mood of the book. Are the characters developing as you imagined, is the book moving/flowing well? Will young people identify with what's going on and who it's happening to? I see a need, on the next big re-write, to develop the conflict between the boys more, to put it up there in big red letters. The resolution of their conflict is one of the major subplots in the book. I'm going back to Guam in October and I'll spend some time with Manny Sikau, a friend of mine, who is a master navigator from Puluwat. Need to pick his brain for the critical details that make a book like this work. I've known Manny for many years and voyaged with him. He's the real thing.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Burn, Baby, Burn: Hot Summer, Hot Peppers, Hot Stuff

Beware: Eat This Habanero At Your Own Risk!

We all know that eating can be dangerous to your health. Too many Big Macs with over sized fries = heart attack, diabetes, gout, morbid obesity, social ostracism, unemployment, depression, on and on. But this fiery little gem came out of my wife's innocent little herb/pepper garden. How harmful could it be?

How hot is a habanero pepper? Hold on, boys. Today I saw a "warning" on handling/eating them in my local Food Lion--wash your hands, wear gloves, etc. So, Terry, spice-loving girl that she is, cut one open. She had just harvested this attractive morsel and was exceedingly proud. She touched the raw pepper with her finger and then touched her finger to the tip of her tongue.

Katy, bar the door. Half an hour later her tongue and lips were still numb and she was still dancing around the kitchen. I was not laughing at her. I was all sympathy. Did I try it? Did I touch it to my tongue and dance around the kitchen in oral agony? I did not. The question remains, how in hell do you cook with these vegetables that obviously originated in some agricultural researchers nightmares.

A note about this blog: I love to write and this blog is part of my daily writing routine. I also write for, an on-line newspaper, and I'm working on another novel. That, and reading and running and working out at the "Y" and sailing and cleaning house, and yard work, and feeding insatiable cats, and lots of traveling, keep me busy in my "retirement."

And when I write for fun--and blogging is fun--I like to use the "stream-of-consciousness" method. You know, what ever comes mind is pecked out on the keyboard. What ever has been big in the media that day, what I saw on the street, what I read in the New Yorker or in the local paper, or what the cat dragged in (baby bunnies, most recently, left on the kitchen floor) is fair game for a stream-of-consciousness hacker like me.

So, if I just watched a news report about something that makes me want to rant a bit, I'll rant. Never too long, mind you. Just a short paragraph, usually. If there's a ball game while I'm hammering all this out (I write in my man cave in front of a 47' flats screen HD TV), I'll comment on that (again, just a line or two, here and there). It's just fun and keeps things from getting too serious for too long.

Now, what do we do will all those peppers?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Summer Saturday: Twisted Truth on the Internet (so what's new?), A Great New Restaurant, "You're-a-Socialist" Fever (Replacing Swine Flu?), Etc.

Seawind "on the hard" at Hancocks Marina, Greenwich, NJ. After sailing her down from Long Island, we hauled her out here to have some work done. Bro John and I will go back up and finish the trip to the Chesapeake in a couple of weeks. Watch this space.

Here we are, another hot summer night on the Eastern Shore, watching the Red Sox on my fat, flat screen TV:

Bottom of the 1st, Becket pitching, the new guy, Martinez at first base, Varitek, contrary to rumors, still behind the plate. Score: 1 to zip, for us on a

Planning the finish of the process of sailing Seawind, our Alberg 30, home from Long Island. As you recall, it took us three weeks to get her as far as the upper Delaware Bay (if you're interested in some sailing pix/lies, see archives of this blog). We had nasty weather and fog all they way down the east coast.

Today, Terry and I we went to Crisfield, a small town on the Chesapeake Bay north of us. The idea was to scout the harbor out, as the way I figure the voyage, we'll be stopping there on the way down. Had never been there before and were happy to find it a fine place with a good, safe harbor, a clean, active marina with plenty of empty slips for transient yachts.

Ortiz is up. Damn, almost a home run. Missed the sweet spot. Bay up now, Youk on 1st on a single.

When we got there to Crisfield, we were hungry. Lots of choices--seafood prevailing, and picked the Watermen's Inn, on West Main St. Brian Julian and Kathy Berezoski, who have had much formal training, put out some wonderful food. From excellent lobster-corn pancakes to a lush, perfectly presented and seasoned swordfish kabob with wild rice, we enjoyed it all. Our young waitress, Jordan, was just what we needed to get that welcome, glad-we-stopped-here feeling. Thanks. Terry's been pretty stressed out by her job and this is what we wanted for a quick, relaxing getta way.

And now for a lousy segue from the restaurant review to one of my other great loves--politics: A small observation (rant? no, no, no) about some of our right-wing senior citizens who live on Social Security and get their health care via Medicare/Medicaid but who are determined to believe that all government social/health programs are evil, socialist/communistic hackings at our true-American-capitalist-free-enterprise, core-value system: Your lives depend upon those "evil, socialist/communist government programs." I don't get it. Hello? Anybody in there? Actually, I do get it. These right-wing seniors watch Glenn Beck, Fox News crackpot who has an extensive background in economic theory and Constitutional law (joke).

Still 1 to zip. Bay still up (I'm a fast typist)--walked him. Veritek up.

I'm thinking of doing something with my retirement. I'm lovin' this part of my life and why not share it? Working title: Killing Time Until Time Kills Me: Running Hard To The Very End.

Actually, Dad is 90 and Mom 88. My final years, with any luck at all, will be extended to a full 1/3rd of my life.

Bottom of the 8th, Beckett pitched a no-hitter, 4-zip, Sox. Ya' gotta love it. Okajima coming in to pitch now. I'll predict a Boston victory----yep, 4-0. Goodnight.