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:

Friday, December 31, 2010

A Winter Death

End of the Road, Beginning of the Sea: Onancock Harbor in Winter

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show. ~Andrew Wyeth

Winter has been, since the days when writers scratched symbols with berry ink on papyrus scrolls, a great symbol of dying and death. Nature collapses on herself, retreats, sinks away and leaves us poor contemplative creatures to stare out windows into bitterness.

Our family lost a patriarch this month. As the winter descended, it took with it Albin J. Voit, my father-in-law, who passed away after a brief struggle with an aggressive cancer. Al was, of course, a member of what we are now calling the greatest generation. During WWII, as an 18-year-old sailor, (Mine Man, 2nd Class, Underwater Demolition), he fought on Guam and Okinawa, and Iwo Jima, too. And survived. He was a physics major in college but the war interfered and he never went back. Instead, he managed an auto parts warehouse in Philadelphia and settled in to raise six kids. I thank him for that.

I'll bet he was a damned good UDT guy. He was a quiet man, smart and steady and fearless, and a strict disciplinarian who worked hard at a job he did not necessarily relish. When he was sixty-two, he did what many men only dream of doing: he bought a sailboat and, for the next ten years or so, spent as much time as he could sailing the Caribbean. Being married to one of his four daughters, I was lucky enough to sail with him for three summers and I became a better man and a better sailor for it. I thank him for that, too.

It was a horrific thing, a terrible and sad thing, to watch a man you knew well and liked and admired a lot take his last breaths. But it was winter, after all, and things were descending, cold and dark, into that frigid abyss, an abyss we shall all someday slip away into. 

We loved you, Al, and now we must deal with the rest of it, a long winter of mourning. But, as Andrew Wyeth said, something waits down deep beneath the lonely, dead feeling of this season. We all know that. It is a certainty. The whole story doesn't show.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Attack of the Cowardly Anonymite: "Mommy! He called me a schmuck!"

I've just coined a term I hope will catch on: anonymite.

Anonymites are infesting the Internet with their vileness. They're every where! They're every where! But what is one? An anonymite person who makes ugly, thoughtless, hurtful, nasty, non-productive comments or attacks on people on the Internet while hiding behind the security of the signature, "Anonymous." This is definitely a breakdown in the civil discourse. Batman would not put up with it, and neither will I.

I just had it happen to me. I was called a schmuck (me!!! Mr. Nice Guy! a schmuck!!!) because I goofed in a previous blog and referred to a 1,000-hour rule (the time necessary to become good at something difficult--like writing) when it is actually referred to as the 10,000-hour rule.

Now, schmuck is a pretty strong stuff for something like that. I mean, for a mere 9,000 hours I get called a schmuck? If I had done something intentionally hurtful like say, called someone a schmuck for no real reason, then, sure, call me a schmuck (Schmuck, by the way, is a Yiddish word with meanings that run from the relatively mild "stupid," to more damaging connotations like "jerk" or "bastard." At its worst, it implies intentionally mean, thoughtless, hurtful behavior.).

But, you know what I mean. The real reason I'm addressing this is to voice a grievance. Being called a schmuck by someone who doesn't know that you're really an okay guy who just made a mistake isn't all that tough to take if you possess normal, healthy ego strength. But you see these cowardly anonymites  really dishing it out in Comment sections on the Internet. Some schmuckly, cowardly anonymite calls another person something foul--really foul--just, I think, for the thrill of getting away with it. An small act of cruelty that must give a small, perverse thrill to the true schmuck who writes them. In this case, it's writing something you wouldn't have the courage to say to the person face to face. Or even to write it and sign your real name. Go figure.

So, there it is--a new word: anonymite. I hope it gets to be paired in general usage with the word cowardly. They're all big bunch of schmucks.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Never-Ending, Skull-Crunching Search for Brain Candy: Scanning the Internet and Reading, Reading, Reading

Where I now read and surf, looking for the elusive cognitive jolt that will inform what I write. I feed on the offerings of both good books and the infinite--if ofttimes sketchy--resources of the Internet. How did I ever have time for a day job? Anyway, here are this morning's gleanings with some personal thoughts attached:

There are some people who read too much: The bibliobibuli. I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as others are drunk on whiskey or religion. They wander through this most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.- - - H. L. Mencken

Ah, the Sage of Baltimore, the acerbic journalist and critic of American life (don't worry, he's dead as of 1956) peeled back a filmy coating and revealed a pithy truth: Some people are so well read they are idiots. Avoiding the dirty, desperate real world--they fancy themselves above it all--by keeping the up-turned schnoz in a book, they then lean out and peer down at the rest of filthy humanity and pass unctuous judgement. Still, there's something unsettling about the dark, slithery habits of bookworms. Could they be right?

When you long with all your heart for someone to love you, a madness grows there that shakes all sense from the trees and the water and the earth. And nothing lives for you, except the long deep bitter want. And this is what everyone feels from birth to death.- - - Denton Welch

Who the hell is Denton Welch? A nearly forgotten English literary genius (there are a few of these left, apparently, whose reputations hang in closets in dusty bedrooms in drafty English country homes) who died at age 33 in 1948 (yeah, he's dead, too). In this quote, he gets the human longing for love just about right. He was born into one of those "privileged" lives wherein the attempt was made my mummsy and daddy to curmudgeon him into shape to fit upper-class British sensibilities. He rebelled against it with all his poor soul, and was miserable and desperate and tragic before the auto accident that damaged him irreparably.

Television is a triumph of equipment over people, and the minds that control it are so small that you could put them in a gnat's navel with room left over for two caraway seeds and an agent's heart.
                                   - - - Fred Allen, CoEvolution Quarterly, Winter, 1977

Fred Allen was an ol' time radio comedian back in the '30s. You know, you've heard them--the scratchy quality, the nasal voices, the live band in the studio. He was famous, and is now dead. But he was funny and saw the truth and told us about it and got us through the depression and then some. And he saw the scurrilous bread-and-circus effect of television on the public mind. What the hell would he have thought of the Internet? I shudder to think.

But, O Sarah! if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; In the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.- - - Major Sullivan Ballou, to his wife, a week before his death in 1861, during the Civil War

Major Ballou was one of the 700,000 soldiers, on both sides, killed during the American Civil War. That figure is, again, 700 freakin' thousand. All Americans, too. T'was ever thus, and when will we ever learn?If you've never had to leave anyone you loved very much to go to war, you'll never understand Major Ballou's romantic agony.

I have a most peaceable disposition. My desires are for a modest hut, a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, very fresh milk and butter, flowers in front of my window and a few pretty trees by my door. And should the good Lord wish to make me really happy, he will allow me the pleasure of seeing about six or seven of my enemies hanged upon those trees.- - - Heinrich Heine

This from Wikipedia about Heinrich: Among the thousands of books burned on Berlin's Opernplatz in 1933, following the Nazi raid on the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, were works by Heinrich Heine. To commemorate the terrible event, one of the most famous lines of Heine's 1821 play Almansor was engraved in the ground at the site: "Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen." ("That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.") This long-dead German poet had the sublime and perfect poet's understanding of human nature. A little bitter brain candy, anyone?

A cup of coffee - real coffee - home-browned, home-ground, home-made, that comes to you dark as a hazel-eye, but changes to a golden bronze as you temper it with cream that never cheated, but was real cream from its birth, thick, tenderly yellow, perfectly sweet, neither lumpy nor frothing on the Java: such a coffee is a match for twenty blue devils, and will exorcise them all.
                                                       - - - Henry Ward Beecher "Eyes and Ears"

Henry was a liberal clergyman and abolitionist back when the good people of our South still thought slavery was a damned good idea and nothing less than God's will. They were willing to die by the hundreds of thousands rather then let it go. Apparently Reverend Beecher fueled his abolitionist rhetoric--and was able to even take on the great slavery-loving Christian God of the South himself--by drinking enough really good coffee.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Existentialism and the Daily Struggle for Mindfullness: Right Brain, Left Brain, a Tragic Writer's Brain

Discovery in my backyard: A pine needle fell from on high and managed to go through a hole that an insect had made in this leaf.

The world/universe/time/space continuum is filled, chuck full of the improbable--miracles, if you will. But I won't. A closer look, a thoughtful examination, will reveal that improbable events are, given enough time, certainties--absolutely. The royal flush, the existence of life, the pine needle dropping perfectly through a hole in a leaf--all are going to happen, eventually--no intervention or Grand Plan necessary. So, you hawkers of the miraculous, be careful as you sell your snake -oil nostrums to the gullibles on their travels. You are accountable to yourselves.

Take David Foster Wallace for example. I've really just discovered this brilliant, infinitely jesting, tragic, philosopher-writer. It's a very fine thing to discover such improbable people because they have much to teach us. Wallace was bonafide brilliant. The real thing. He graduated from Amherst summa cum laude, received a McArthur Foundation genius award, wrote stuff that no one else had ever thought of, and so changed the world--at least a little bit. And that's what geniuses do. It's part of the genius package. You gotta change the world. He thought and wrote and taught and loved and celebrated and then he hanged himself. He was forty six.

My take on David Foster Wallace goes like this: His whole deal, all that long-shot, creative-cognitive hyper-power, was attempting to do one thing: Boil things down to some small, hard, indivisible kernel that we could get a grip on and so live better, happier lives. Here's a quote:

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.... The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't.... The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.

Pity us in our daily struggle to maintain that illusive state of mindfulness. If you are very lucky and discover what mindfulness is all about and how wonderful it is, you are many steps ahead of the most of humanity. If you can employ mindfulness in your daily life, and if it makes you happy and relieves much of the mad burden of being alive, you are light years ahead of most people.

I think the bottom line for Wallace, as he battled the hellish demon of the depression that finally killed him, was that mindfulness helped him and he figured it could help all of us. He was trying to understand what mindfulness really was and how to get a handle on it; how to keep it right there, up front in your mind, so that you didn't have to stop what you were doing and take the time to get a grip on it every time you needed it.

Existentialism proposes that we are all responsible for giving our own lives meaning as we navigate the anguish and accumulating miseries of existence. And we should not forget the joyous stuff in life, too, I suppose. That pesky joy stuff. We have to fit that in somewhere and you get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to choose, in other words, to be happy or unhappy. It's up to you. So, practice mindfulness by moving slowly, breathing deeply, and smiling ("Look, there he goes again, moving slowly, breathing deeply, and--worst of all--smiling. He must be a serial killer).

In the end, though, none of that cognitive therapy could fix the biological imbalance that set David Foster Wallace off on his tortured path to self destruction. But it was his search for a cure for his own existential terror that gave us such a wonderful gift--an improbable gift that, nonetheless, was bound to happen--and, like the pine needle and the leaf, had to happen--eventually.

Friday, November 19, 2010

OMG! The Writer's End Game: Smarmy Hollywood or Cold, Calculated Tear Jerking?

In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end. Alexis de Tocqueville

Monsieur de Tocqueville lived from 1805 to 1859 (they tended reach their own end game young in those days--infections, mostly), and wrote a famous book about the American experiment with democracy. He was not, as far as I know, a novelist, however, he did, apparently, understand both the agony of the American revolution end game and the agony of the writer trying to put a close to things on a literary level.

So now, here I am, trying to end my own personal little revolution/novel by inventing a good ending. Many questions arise as the writer smells the denouement approaching while the climax roars in his head. How do I avoid ruining a perfectly good novel that I've labored over with mighty love for two years? Is it possible to scotch a perfectly good idea by screwing up the ending?

You can hear your readers talking it over with their mothers on the phone, or at the bar, or in the hair salon, or on lying on a beach towel, or chatting on FaceBook:

"Yeah, I thought it was great, too, but the ending sucked."


 "I hated the ending. I can't believe he killed her off. What was that all about?"


"It would have been a fine book, but he blew it with the smarmy Hollywood ending."


"OMG! I couldn't believe the ending! It blew me away!"


OMG! Wait until you get to the ending. I cried and cried!"

Cliches of failure due to indecisivness come to mind: You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself. Better them crying than me, I say. If Hollywood ever makes a movie out of this book, I'll let them put in whatever ending they want, but for now, I'm in charge and I say, cry baby, cry.

Still, I struggle. How to put this whole 80,000-word deal to bed and get it just right. In an earlier blog, I quoted Mark Twain lecturing that the difference between using the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. The answer, I know intuitively, is right there in the book, hidden in arc of the plot, intertwined in the dialog. There is only one way to do it. Arrrgh. The pressure.

I've now re-written the ending five times. Sometimes I leave them stretched out there, bullet riddled and dying; sometimes they get up and walk away into the sunset; sometimes they desanguinate into the sand, sometimes all those bullets miss them by a hair. Sometimes I give up and go for a long walk.

But, what the hell and OMG, I've finished writing another novel. The angony of the ending is joyful one and sweating to get it just right is a deeply satisfying anguish.

Sunset over Onancock Creek from the cockpit of our sailboat: Mother Nature never gets criticized for her Hollywood endings.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Writer in Search of Self--No! Wait! I Found Me!

                              Here I am. This is me.  I'm standing on the dock of the Bay. What next?

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. ~George Moore

All men should strive
to learn before they die

what they are running from, and to, and why.
~James Thurber

Dear Mr. Thurber:

This is what I'm running from and to in stream-of-consciousness, no-rational-sequence format:

Look at me. I'm sixty-four. I'm grizzled. I've got an incipient paunch. I can still run three miles. I work out regularly. I'm retired. I can play the guitar. I can play the harmonica. I'm in love with my wife. We've been together for almost thirty-one years. Today I finished writing another novel--maybe my ninth or tenth, I can't remember. Today I'm very happy. My goal is to come to terms with death so that when my own approaches, I'm not afraid. That's what I'm running to, Mr. Thurber.

I believe life is all about accumulating wisdoms, great and small. I've learned a lot since I turned sixty. I believe many old people have not bothered doing this. With old age comes wisdom, but in most cases old age comes all by itself.

I embrace a Buddhist philosophy up to the point of reincarnation. There's not a shred of rational evidence to support a belief in reincarnation. I think cynical people live stunted lives. I'm a humor junkie. I have often embarrassed myself telling dirty jokes in wrong venue. I'm embarrassed by my loud voice.

I flunked algebra in high school. I've written a short story that won an international prize in Paris. I wrote another story that was published in Prague. I've written three fantasy-adventure novels. Two have been published, number three is "upcoming" as my publisher says. As a senior in high school, I lost my position on the basketball team to a freshman. Our team seldom won a game.

I didn't die in Viet Nam like two of my friends did because I played the game of staying out of Viet Nam and still serve in the Army and I won. I just visited their graves. They were both twenty years old. I was once an enlisted man in the Army and an officer in the Air Force. I started flying jet planes in the Air Force and then quit pilot training. Sometimes I regret this because I wanted to be a hero. I graduated with as a Distinguished Graduate from School, Military Science, Officer in San Antonio, Texas in 1974.

I graduated from college with high honors. I have two beautiful, successful children. I'm a good sailor. I have two boats. I love the old house and small town I live in. I love good scotch and I love good bourbon. I love good wine. I don't drink much anymore because of the below described problems:

I have a cardiac arrhythmia called atrial flutter. I've had it operated on twice. I have high blood pressure, controlled by medication. I have high cholesterol, controlled by medication. I have high hopes, controlled by reality.

I have a Masters degree in speech-language pathology and worked at the profession for thirty-two years. I'm proud of that. I should have started writing as younger man. I never had a job I loved until I found writing. I hate crawling down in the bilge and working on boat problems. I hate being hot and sweaty. I need a hot shower and a cool, clean sheets. I crave adventure but hate being uncomfortable. I've sailed my own boat to uninhabited islands in the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes I am afraid. The loneliest I've been was at sea, as the captain of a small boat, at night, alone, on watch, looking up at the stars. That kind of loneliness manifests itself as a feeling of being permeated by cold.

I have spent twenty-eight years of my life living overseas. I love being back home. I lived in the Republic of China for two and a half years. I live in Iceland for two years and Germany for twelve. I lived on the island of Guam for eleven years. Does that add up? I've been around the world. I took the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia and we drank good vodka and I lost at chess to a pretty Russian woman. I drank water from Lake Baikal.

When I was in the Army in China, I earned a black belt in karate (Wado). I'm advanced open-water SCUBA diver. I once sat in the cockpit of WWII Japanese plane 110 feet below the Pacific.

I would like to have twenty additional I.Q. points. I would like be taller and wiser and lose twenty-five pounds--but only one of those things might happen. I would not like to be young again. I have a bridge I wanna sell you.

I am a nonthiest/sceptic because there's not a shred of rational evidence to think any other way. Really. Think about it. No, really think about it.

What I Googled myself, I found a website that published some things I wrote. Here's the most important thing I found on that website that I said. It's about writing. I love writing:

One rule of good writing is anything goes if it works. Stories are supposed to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. An arc, like a word rainbow, like fireworks, like a love affair. Maybe. I've read a few good ones that didn't.

Whatever else it is that makes a story unforgettable, there are two real necessities: compelling characters and some alchemy in the process of weaving of ideas into words that gives the reader a distinct feeling of intellectual pleasure--that boy-that-was-great feeling. Who was the fairy tale character who could weave straw into gold? That's how to write.

So, Mr. Thurber, it's been a pleasure taking your advice. I'm now off to have a glass of good red wine and eat my supper.


Doug Arvidson

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Difference Between Good Work and Bad Work: Writing Next to the Ditch Digger

"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure." -- Samuel Johnson.

Pity the poor ditch digger, laboring in the dirt, filthy, exhausted and probably broke. Shall we also pity the poor writer, laboring at his desk (or kitchen table)?

I decided that there is good work and there is bad work. Writing is work, but it's good work. We can stop and have coffee or take a nap. We can go for a walk, mow the lawn, chat up a friend, or just stop and stare at that interesting stain on the wall--or even write a blog entry. For your average ditch digger, though, your options for spontaneous bursts of goofing off are limited.

This occurred to me while I was Googling around looking for quotes about writing. The Great Search Engine brought me to a blog entitled, "Quotes About Writing." I don't know this blogger but he and I agree on one thing, so far. That is, writing is work. And unless you work at it, and work at it hard, it will be "read without pleasure," if at all. The odd/ironic thing (we writers love irony) about this guy's blog was that he quit writing it a few years back, saying he was starting to repeat himself and no one seemed to be paying attention anyway. Yep, writing is hard work.

And here I am, pictured above, at work and it was about time I got back to it. I took some time off to drive to New England to fulfill some family obligations and then to travel to Washington D.C. to be a part of the Rally for the Return to Sanity/Keep Fear Alive (scroll down to my earlier blog entries see some great pictures of the that great scene). But now, as the autumn quickly ages toward winter and the weather outside turns windy and cold, I'm making a writerly dash to finish this next novel before we leave for Guam in December.

I thought I was finished, in fact. Thought the book's plot had run its course and had put it aside to let it "cook" as Hemingway used to say. Let it marinate, let it age so that when I go back to it, I can see it with fresh eyes. And that's what happened and my fresh eyes--and the fresh eyes of my wife--said, let's reconsider the ending because it is no longer working for me. It's not there, you're not there. Your characters still have some obligations to attend to.

So, putting on another, well, what looks to be say, 10,000 words--at least. And that will bring the word count up to a respectable 80,000+ and I'm into it and it's working and I'm working. I can see where the ditch of this novel will end and when I'm finished, I'm climbing out of it and I'll buy the other ditch digger a drink and we'll celebrate.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

More Signs from the Rally to Restore Sanity/Keep Fear Alive

These last two blogs are all about you liberal/independant-minded people out there. You sign-carrying, spell-checking, non-racist, bleeding-heart types who thronged to Washington D.C. last week and took the place over without any angry, ill-natured bones in your collective bodies.

You (we) had a marvelous time in the grand Fall weather and the ones who know D.C. and the Mall and the National Gallery of Art, know that right there, next to Mall, right next to where John Stewart and Steven Colbert where doing their thing, is a cafeteria down in the lower level of the Gallery. Here a weary liberal can find surcease from the madding crowd and knock back a few glasses of pinot grigio and knosh on some stuffed flounder. Thus refreshed, you can rejoin the throngs, as we did, and absorb more of the wonderful energy and take some more pix of the great signs. To wit, see below:

That's me, on the left, keeping fear alive.

 There was a very pretty young woman behind this sign. Alas, we were not the dudes she came for.

 These guys were my favorite sign bearers. They got it just right.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Rally for the Return to Sanity/Keep Fear Alive: Your Writer Was There

Last Saturday morning, I joined a few friends and we drove up the Nation's Capitol to witness the Rally to Return to Sanity/Keep Fear Alive. The weather was perfect and the huge energy of the crowd was way, way up on the postive index. No rage here, no anger, no racism---and no misspelled signs. And, speaking of signs, I'll be posting my favorites here for the next few blogs. They speak for themselves, so, no comments. Watch this space:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Writing the Bright October: The Siren Song of Surrender is Carried on the Chilling Breeze

The wake of our skiff leaves a glimmering trail on the October Chesapeake Bay.

All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travellers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken.Thomas Wolfe

Who can say they don't love a bright October, the great month of our rueful, cyclical surrender to the Winter's furies?,

This Sunday morning, with Terry just gone off for two weeks and me home alone, the autumnal season became more poignant than usual. Nothing to do about it but roll up my latest New Yorker and walk around the corner to Janet's Cafe, a pleasant, clean, well-lighted place if there ever was one, and have a large, heart-threatening, seasonal-affective-disorder-fighting breakfast.

Once there, I sat, toasty-warm, in a chair by a sun-blasted window and drank coffee and read The Talk of the Town, this installment by Adam Gopnik, one of my favorite New Yorker writers. It was all about the Nobel Prize, which I rambled on about in my last blog entry, and why writers write and why the world is impulsed to give them prizes. Mr.Gopnik reminded us that, "From birds to bards, the urge to outdo the other singer is what makes us sing. Since the first strum on the oldest lyre, literature has been about competition and the possibility of recognition."

Cynical stuff, Mr. Gopnik. Perhaps you projecteth a bit too much? He also points out that Dr. Samuel Johnson famously said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." But then he gets into the idea that "poetic passion" might be a real reason for compulsive scribbling. Yep. There's passion in them there writerly motivations and seeing how precious few writers make much money at the trade, unbridled passion may be the only real reason to keep at it.

The schedule for my own poetic passion looks something like this: October: Do nothing. Let the passion simmer whilst I go to New England and take care of family stuff (the cellar in my parent's house is full of black mold that must be gotten rid of. Ah! I smell a metaphor!) and then I'm driving with friends up to D.C. to be a part of the great March for the Return to Sanity/March to Keep Fear Alive. That leaves November: Put the finishing touches on my latest novel--Brothers of the Fire Star--and send it out to expert readers on Guam for review/suggestions. With the remaining November time, I fancy I'll  indulge my passion for writing short stories and keep making notes/sketches for the next novel which I hope to embrace passionately in January.

Speaking of transitions--and getting away from the tedium of profound thinking in the process--Beaver's iconic television mother died today. Barbara Billingsly was 94, a good run for sure, and all done up in heels and a party dress while she baked her cookies for us on a 17 inch, black-and-white screen. Good for you, June Cleaver, October was a good choice for leaving us.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Freshman Philosophers and Sophmore Sages, You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Humanity

“The lies in novels are not gratuitous — they fill in the insufficiencies of life,” he wrote. “Thus, when life seems full and absolute, and men, out of an all-consuming faith, are resigned to their destinies, novels perform no service at all. Religious cultures produce poetry and theater, not novels. Fiction is an art of societies in which faith is undergoing some sort of crisis, in which it’s necessary to believe in something, in which the unitarian, trusting and absolute vision has been supplanted by a shattered one and an uncertainty about the world we inhabit and the afterworld.” --Mario Vargas Llosa

I'm thinking as I write here, so bear with me:

It was announced yesterday that Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian writer, won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature. I wish I could say that I was erudite and well-read enough to have expected it--that he had been short-listed for the Prize for a while and it's about time the Nobel committee got on with it. But, no, I'd never heard of him.

I loved Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another South American Nobel laureate. Love in the Time of Cholera has stuck with me lo these many years. But Vargas Llosa? Today I'm going to order one of his reputed masterpieces, Aunt Julia and the Script Writer. What intrigues me about Llosa is that they say he writes about many things and does it well, but that the pervasive, central theme in all his writing is about art and writing itself. The article on him I'm reading here on the Internet says, Varga's themes are "....a fascination with the human craving for freedom (be it political, social or creative) and the liberation conferred by art and imagination." Ah, that rings a pure-toned bell in the very middle of my soul.

Bottom line here is that artists/writers must always be questing and questioning; that writing novels is always about the dark-happy and glorious battle to expose and fill in the "insufficiencies" of life." A personal belief system that eliminates uncertainties through an absolute and "all-consuming" blind faith will not produce--will actually forbid the production of--great literature for the simple and tragic reason that it sees no need for it and will destroy those who seek to address those insufficiencies.

Of course, absolute certainty is a horrific notion. I'm thinking of tyrannical governments and fundamentalist religion here, the cause for so much suffering through the millenia and, of course, such are what Llosa and all other true artists have always been thinking about.

It is ironic, isn't it, that art and science, those two human endeavors that seem so opposite in mindset, purpose, and methodologies, are seeking the same goal--the elimination of human misery and so the inculcation of human happiness? But it is, of course, true. Both art and science seek truth through experimentation and revision. Both art and science are never finished, never absolute, must always be willing to admit that they might be wrong. Is it any wonder, then, that religion and tyranny have always sought to suppress, through terror and violence if necessary, the free expression of art and the free investigations of science?

There. I'm done thinking for the day. I'm worn out, brain afire. And, of course, all these thoughts have been thought before, endlessly, by freshman philosophers and sophmore sages. But every generation must think them anew or suffer the consequences of losing wisdom won at a great price by the generations that came before.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Talking About Writing With 6th Graders and Putting My Words Where My Mouth Is

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. -- Author Unknown

Every writer I know has trouble writing. -- Joseph Heller

Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.-- Sylvia Plath

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. -- Mark Twain

So, here I am last week down in Georgia talking to kids--6th graders--about writing. You'll notice that I didn't say  I'm teaching them how to write. That's a whole 'nother thing altogether. There are those of us "writers" who hold fast to the notion that you can't teach people how to write and I believe that's true up to a point. Once you have a pretty good idea of how to successfully and legally sequence words on a page, the rest is up to you--trial and error, error and trial. Lot's of them, errors and trials all lined up year after year. It's hard to find the right word to make lightning strike on the page--unless you're actually writing about lightning bugs and then I guess it's okay to use an almost-right word.

When you're in 6th grade, you've been writing for a while, maybe five years if you count the crayon phase (the crying/screaming phase will last all your writing life), but you're still in the process of learning the mechanics of the trade: When to use a semicolon, when to paragraph, where's the best place for this comma--that sort of thing. I let their teachers deal with that. I want stay popular.

No, what I do when I talk to elementary school kids about writing is just to entertain them and nothing is more entertaining to a group of grade schoolers than answering their questions about writing. This is because they see you as something you might not be--a famous and rich--and they are thrilled to be able to actually talk to you, a rich writer. And you are careful not to correct that misunderstanding, believe me. What do you care? They're just kids and what harm is there in pretending to be something your not, just for a few hours. That's what we writers do--we pretend.

The quotes above are from famous writers, the most famous being "Author Unknown." The advise gathered up in them is pretty representative of the questions the students asked me that day:

Do you re-write and proof read? A hundred times, a thousand times, a million times and there are still mistakes. It drives me crazy, bonkers, looney toons. I want to bite down on a lemon and swallow the rind but instead I go and buy a quart of ice cream and eat it all by myself.

Where do you get your ideas? I steal them from people who are more creative than I am---No, no! Just kidding! I steal them from people who are less creative than I am.

Is it hard to get published? Heck no. In this day and age you can get published tomorrow if you have enough money to pay someone to publish you. Oh, you mean is it hard to really get published, you know, by a real publisher? Yep. Damned near impossible. That's why make believe writers are making make believe publishers rich and real writers have to work so hard at it for so long and put up with years of rejection and dreams constantly turning to ashes in their mouths.

How many books have you written? About a thousand. Maybe a million, I can't remember. Really. I have a stinking pile of unpublished stuff as high as my ceiling. The neighbors are complaining and my wife is encouraging them.

Are you a millionaire? Yes, but don't tell my wife. Someday I'm going to surpise her and tell her she doesn't have to get up and go to work at the chicken processing plant anymore.

But it was not all work and no play while I was in Georgia. I also spent a week with my grandson and his mom and dad celebrating his 2nd B'day. Here he is in the expensive new garbage can I got him as part of his college fund investment because his grandad is so rich and famous.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Autumn Equinox: The Wiccas and Pagans Know What It's All About

We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the Moon and the seasonal Quarters and Cross Quarters.--One of the 13 Principals of Wiccan Belief

"I love the fall. I love it because of the smells that you speak of; and also because things are dying, things that you don't have to take care of anymore, and the grass stops growing."- Mark Van Doren

"O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may'st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe;
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruit and flowers.- William Blake, To Autumn, 1783

The name "equinox" comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, the night and day are approximately equally long as the sun crosses the Equator. And we have two of them, autumn and spring and the poets, being irrepressable, wax lovely and eloquent about both. And the Wiccas and Pagans? They get a bad rap. Equinoxes are pretty big part of their agenda and they are probably more in touch with nature than any of the other "religions." The few that I know are fine people. Gentle, loving, and earthy-crunchy to a fault.

In any event, I love the last quote above--"With the blood of grape..." is pretty cool and the "Sing now the lusty song of fruit and flowers" ending is wonderful. I also like Mark Van Doren's idea's about not having to mow the lawn anymore. Of course, he forgot to mention the leaf-raking-and-bagging labor that lies ahead of us now. And the big yellow pines around my house drop many pounds of needles on my brick walkway while managing to stay green. Wonder how they do that?

We here on the Eastern Shore of VA, right on the edge of the Messr's Mason and Dixon's line, are feeling the slow departure of the sun, but, after the heat of summer it's nice. It's why I left the tropics. This morning the outside air was 56 degrees and it was too cool to stand outside in my pajamas and drink my coffee and discuss the day with Simon, the Ancient Cat, as is our habit (Ah, there he is now, at the glass door, looking in. Where are you, old man? he wants to know).

So, for me, it was an early dose of politics on the wide-screen in HD, and then here at my computer checking my Amazon books sales (yes, we all do that, though some writers pretend to scoff at such things) and wondering how I forgot that yesterday was the 20th and my grandson's 2nd B'day. I'm flying down there tomorrow to celebrate and lost track of the date. Chalk it up to retirement.

I'm waiting for my publisher to bring out the 3rd printing/edition of Book I of the Eye of the Stallion series, The Face in Amber. Then I'll get going on some book promotion stuff on Google and Facebook. Meanwhile, I finished painting the front of the garage and now I'm going to enjoy the autumn, the cooling air, the rising, drifting perfumes, the daylight's new luminosity. Such wonderful stuff.

And, because it's autumn and I've been stretching my brain and perceptions by reading about quantum mechanics and the reasons why the universe(s) exists and why there is something instead of nothing, I'll end this blog with a quote from the greatest mind of the late century:

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Writer Leans Toward Autumn: Cool Temps Mean Consuming Brain Candy in the Back Yard

I guess there can never be enough books. -- John Steinbeck

I have all sorts of books to read. Piles of them that I accumulated over the past year as I browsed through book stores. But, with all the writing I've been doing, I never seemed to find the time to tuck into them. Then, as the universe turned slowly toward to the autumn soltice, it carried with it two events that left me with little choice but to stick my nose in those books and keep it there.

First, I finished both the first and second draft of The Brothers of the Fire Star, the novel I've been writing for the past two years. Then I had a health issue that made it necessary for me to lay low for a week (doctor's orders) and, wouldn't you know it, but at that very moment, the weather took a sudden and welcomed dip toward the coming cool of winter. It was now tolerable (no, not tolerable--wonderful) to lie out on a chaise lounge in the back yard and read. The grass is green, the flowers unspeakably lovely, the birds are singing their relief that egg-bearing and chick-raising days of summer are over, and our big old cat is glad to have someone to share the backyard with.

The books in question are pictured above. I've always been an admirer of Joseph Campbell but it was an admiration based on sound bites rather than hard reading. This book, Myths to Live By, is an exploration of the universal myths that inspired religions, great and small, since humans achieved self-consciousness. Cambell was a lapsed Catholic and nonthiest and an extremely bright and accomplished man. His writing is fresh and accessable and makes my heart jump with his revelations.

Next is the next work of the famous physicist, Stephen Hawking. While he is writing for the non-scientist, it's a pretty difficult task to illuminate the great new theories of quantum mechanics for the layman. The notion that we--us, you, me, your mother-in-law--are products of "quantum fluctuations in the very early universe and that our universe is just one of many universes that appeared spontaneously out of nothing...." is counter intuitive and tough to grasp--even for the physicists. But, as he points out, the fundamentals of quantum physics are the most tested theories in science and have passed every one of them.

That third book lying there, of couse, is my lastest published novel that came out this summer. You can read it as an adventure story, or move up to the next level and read it as kind of a fantasy world application of both Joseph Campbell and Stephen Hawking, in that it involves both ancient myths and the effects of quantum time warps.

As a final thought, the image below is a rose of sharon (hybiscus syriacus) that came visiting through the fence from the neighbor's yard and never went back home. Its blossom is a lovely, mysterious, unexpected thing, kind of like a good book. It is eye candy to match the brain candy I've been consuming.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Love to Read Fantasy? THE MIRRORS OF CASTAWAY TIME is a Deep Fantasy Adventure

So, what do I mean by "Deep Fantasy?" Here's an excerpt, but first, let me set the background.

Our heroine, Sonoria, a brillant warrior, skilled horsewoman, and young queen of the Stratus Valley, has dared defy the workings of the Universe itself. She is now a prisoner of the Oracule, the man-monster created by her own denial of eternal love:

A eunuch swung this door open and Sonoria squinted into the brilliant light. When her eyes had adjusted, she found she was looking into a room filled with gold: gold cushions, gold lamps, gold statues. The floor was covered with carpets woven from gold thread; the walls were covered with mirrors in gilded frames. Rather than the heavy musk of dung-fire smoke and incense, a delicate perfume of flowers reached her nose.

The Oracule watched her. “Go in, go in. This is now yours. Look around. Touch things. Try on some new clothes. Lie on the bed—our bed, my love. Our bed!”

Sonoria stepped through the door. In the mirrors, she saw herself everywhere, that same tall young woman with the great mane of yellow hair, dressed in the rough wool and deerskin and still clutching the bloody sword in one hand.

“And you know what is best of all?” The Oracule said. “This little palace of ours moves. It is on wheels. It takes no fewer than fifty horses to haul it along with us across the prairie.

“Ah, I can see you are pleased. Pleased in your quiet, warrior way. Good! Now, your eunuch will help you prepare for the evening...."

The Mirrors of Castawy Time is now available at and I'll be signing  books at the Harbor Festival in Onancock, VA on Sept. 11 from 9:00 to 2:00.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Advertisements for Myself: The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Writing Life

Selling Well on Amazon: It's a fast-paced, complex, fantasy/adventure love story for good high school-level and adult readers. And you don't have to have read Book I.

Praise for the Eye of the Stallion Series: "....Arvidson has crafted a wonderful tale for any age...where the forces unleashed are primal, and the science suggestive. The reader is urged by compelling and deft plot twists...and sense of precision story telling. Readers familiar with the EarthSea Trilogy by Ursula le Guin will find familiar moral territory...."  V. Santos, Former Features Editor/News Editor, Pacific Daily News (a Gannett Newspaper)

Here we go into the "selling" phase of the writing life. It's the worst part, believe me. Worse even than slogging through a long re-write. Worse than banging your shins on a table leg. Worse than the flu because it lasts longer. Worse than a Congressman's morals. It's like selling snake oil. It's embarrassing. It exhausts the ego and leaves it flat and deflated and smelling vaguely of spoiled dreams and rancid discouragement.

What's the secret, then, to success in this miserable phase of the writing life? Here's what Martha Stewart, who knows something about selling, had to say about it: I think it's very important that whatever you're trying to make or sell, or teach has to be basically good. A bad product and you know what? You won't be here in ten years.

 Ah, so that's the key--it has to be good.

But what is good? Art is so subjective. Truth is, there are 1,000,000 good books produced in the U.S. every year. That's ONE MILLION. And that doesn't count the self-published ones. There are probably 30,000,000 of those. And every one of those books is some writer's special baby, a labor of love and determination, a cause for personal and family pride ("My mother loves it!). In short, at least one person thinks that book is good.

How then to sell your good book when the world is awash in masterpieces? Things have changed since Hemingway was pushing his books. His publisher did it for him. As far as I know, he never did a book tour or sat in a mall signing copies of A Farewell to Arms. My publisher does some promotion, but I'm expected to do most of it. I've tried booksignings at bookstores and there are county fairs, local art shows, and muskrat-skinning contests (seriously, there is one of those every year here on the Eastern Shore). The Internet is, of course, the advertising platform-of-choice in this brave new world of huckstering and opportunities to sell there are manifold: FaceBook, Twitter, GoogleAdsense, on and on. Some free, some cost. And author beware--there are lots of clever shysters out there who will take your money in exchange for "advertising" your book.

The bottom line for a writer, though, is this: Word of mouth. That's how Hemingway and Martha Stewart got going. And, that of course, is where the good part comes in. It's is what Martha was talking about in the quote above. People gotta like it. If it's a good product, they will buy it and they will tell others about it. It's the consumers who have the final say in what is good.

So, here I go. Here's my pitch: You will love this deep-fantasy-adventure-love story. You will love the characters and the plot twists and the fast-paced action. 

It would be fine and wonderful if you would buy a copy.  And, after reading it, if you bought it on Amazon, you can write a review and post it there. That's kinda cool. And send me your comments right here on this blog. I'll publish them, good or bad (maybe).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Writer Back Home: Dark Rain, Green Grass, A Wet Old Cat

Blessed rain. Profound rain. Wet-cat rain.

I come back to this: wet and lush where once was brown, dessicated crab grass and thirsty birds. After two weeks in the eye-searing, brilliant-white, tropical light of the Florida Keys, this morning's sodden Virginia is a balm to the eyes and soul. At Noon, the sky is dark and hounded by thunder, the rain heavy and pounding, the world outside happily drenched after so many months of drought. I leave the door open so I can hear the wet happen.

My intentions for this day were good. I was going to take a break from writing and get cracking on scraping and painting the garage (I feel vaguely guilty. Terry has painted half of the inside of the house already). Can't do that now. I was going to pay a conjugal visit to my masted mistress, the lovely sloop, Seawind. Better stay away from her with all the lightening around. I was going to get a haircut. Think I'll put that off. No one who matters will see this old head today.

So, what then, to do with a rain day? When I was teaching, on such a day as this, the principal would announce a "rainy day recess." It meant kids stayed in their classrooms instead of going out to play. The teachers would groan and roll their eyes while the kids started climbing the walls. But I'm retired from all that and have better things to do. I think I'll play some music (Speaking of conjugal visits, I haven't touched my Martin guitar in two weeks. In the Keys I was playing a Yamaha classical).

And now, I'm going to get back to the re-write. Moody, dark, and damp are good for writing.  As for the wet cat, his timing could be better. He doesn't decide to come bounding into the house through the cat door until he has gotten doused. I spoke to him about it but he's twenty-one years old and too old to learn new tricks. Then again, maybe there's a certain wisdom in letting the rain get you wet once in a while.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Two Days Off from the Happy Grind of Camp Re-Write: At Play in the Fields of the Florida Keys

Sloppy Joe's Bar, Key West--(left to right--Me; my son, Eli; his significant other, Bailey)

"I talk and talk and talk, and I haven't taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week." Mario Cuomo, former governor of N.Y.

Punked out Bailey

Eli. Should this profile be in a coin?

We commandeered a hat shop on Duval St.

Bras hang from the rafters at Captain Tony's Saloon

"For rarely are sons similar to their fathers: most are worse, and a few are better than their fathers." Homer  (Playing pool at the Green Parrot Bar, Key West)

Walking the Mean Streets of Key West: Mugged by Love

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: Did the human race start like this, all snakes, sweat, and mosquitos?

Pondering a Diminishing Perspective to Nowhere:  A Walk on The Old 7-Mile Bridge

"A king, realizing his incompetence, can either delegate or abdicate his duties. A father can do neither. If only sons could see the paradox, they would understand the dilemma." Marlene Dietrich

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Perfect Morning in the Florida Keys: Love in the Sunshine and Carpe Diem to You, Too

This morning, the Dolphin Research Center glows, somehow, under a cerulean sky.

The greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.
                                                             - Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lamat

Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it.  - Groucho Marx

My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I'm happy. I can't figure it out. What am I doing right?- Charles Schulz

To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.- Bertrand Russell

This day has broken open clear and warm and splendid. The sky has shaken off the dark, wet misery of yesterday, the breeze comes down the water carrying the blue with it, skittering on the waves. I'm up early and happy. I read and drink my coffee on the balcony overlooking this scene. Eli and Bailey arrived yesterday after a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale and a three-hour drive down the Keys. Last night we drank wine and ate good food and laughed.They are sleeping in and I'm being quiet like an old monk stealing away from his prayers.

Today is ours. We shall own it, from moment to moment. Use it up, wear it out. Drive down the Keys, maybe to Key West. Walk the heat-heavy streets, drink the bars dry, eat up all the conch fritters, let our ears suck on the sounds of the town's crazy music. It's all very fine, as they say. They do say that when they are happy. I hope they say that. I hope it's something I can count on.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Writing as a Tropical Storm Forms Over the Keys: How Many Crazies Can Fit on the Head of a Pin?

My work space this morning at the Dolphin Research Center

“I disregard the proportions, the measures, the tempo of the ordinary world. I refuse to live in the ordinary world as ordinary women. To enter ordinary relationships. I want ecstasy. I am a neurotic -- in the sense that I live in my world. I will not adjust myself to the world. I am adjusted to myself."                                                                                                              

"The only abnormality is the inability to love."

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."

These are quotes by the wonderfully odd French writer, Anais Nin. Look her up. She is an original and we like originals. She was a famous diarist and set the standard for writing erotica. Kinda got things going. Her relationship with Henry Miller was legendary--and we all know about Henry Miller.

Writer's have been called odd, strange, alchoholic, obsessive, manic, depressive--the list goes on. And it's true. But, we are in good company. The rest of the world is nuts, too.

Like the news I woke up to this morning: A JetBlue flight attendant pulled the emergency door open and jumped out. Before doing so, he fought with a passenger, grabbed a couple of beers, and bid farewell to both the passengers and his career. The plane was sitting on the tarmac and he slid down an escape shute, so he was fine--and arrested. And so his fifteen minutes of fame begins. Enjoy, my friend.

Next, a lady who wanted chicken MacNuggets instead of the breakfast being offered by a McDonalds restaurant (it was still breakfast time, dear), attacked the server right through the drive-through window. Tried to climb in it, presumably whilst yelled expletives. She eventually broke the window and was arrested and charged with vandalism. Love to see the rap sheet on her. But, then again, I can guess.

So, as I start day 9 at my dolphin-enhanced re-writer's refuge in the Florida Keys , I'm protected from neurotics and contemplating the continuing work on the book through the morning vale of the tropical depression that is forming over me at this very moment. Continued black clouds and thunder and lightening and rain greeted me through the fine big windows that look out over the Florida Bay and the dolphin pens. I fear the dolphins will be lonely today as it's hard to imagine many tourists showing up in the rain and booming slop.

I, though, will continue with the task at hand. I've read the manuscript aloud into my hand-held digital recorder to find the pot holes in my prose, made comments and corrections on the manuscript, and now must go though it and make the actual changes to the text on the computer. The hard part, and the fun part, will be expanding or creating more scenes and developing characters. Let me get to work.