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:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Advice to My Writing Self: Take Your Time

Note to self: Listen to the words of the songs--Slow down, you move too fast. Take it easy. Don't let the wheels of your mind drive you crazy.

Here I am with no day job other than writing (and being a good househusband) and still I feel pressured to produce, to get out the daily thousand words. And when a writer feels he has to work to a word deadline, the prose suffers. Pounding willy-nilly on a keyboard often equals garbage in, garbage out. It's the sort of "I don't know where I'm going, but I'm making good time," approach to writing.

After nearly thirty years of scribbling, I know all this, but I still find myself re-discovering it every so often and it is always a relief. I don't have to actually write every day. It is sufficient to just be thinking about my writing every day and write only when you get it together. The research necessary to develop this next book on traditional navigation, the finding my way through the jungle of ideas/possible plot twists and turns, takes time and I am very fortunate to have plenty of it.

One day last week, for example, I was pounding away on the keys with "no direction known" as Bob Dylan would say, when I thought, you really need to think about this before you go any further. I stopped. I put my head back and closed my eyes. Finding nothing back in there in the dark recesses of my brain except a beckoning nap, I opened my eyes and looked around my writing room and saw the books crammed into the bookshelves. Didn't I have another book on traditional navigation in Micronesia? I got up and looked. A few minutes later, I was pulling down The Last Navigator by Steve Thomas (of This Old House fame). I had bought it years ago, read part of it, and put it on the shelf.

Now as I leafed through it, dipping in here and there, I realized I had found the answer to not only one of my plotting difficulties, but also had uncovered a rich source of details of island life. I put the laptop aside and began reading. Three days and many yellow sticky notes later, I'm about to finish it. Flooded with new ideas, I should be ready to get back to pounding the keys tomorrow or the next day. No rush, really.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

To the Followers of this Blog: Thanks, Welcome, It's All Good.

I just tried to send a message of thanks and a greeting to a new follower of this blog but couldn't get the technology to cooperate. So I thought I'd just say hello to all of you who have officially signed on and also to those who read this blog but have not put their names/photo up "on the board." As every writer must admit, it's great to  have readers even though I'd keep writing even if I thought no one was paying any attention.

Why is that? I know a guy whose blog has made him a successful writer. He focuses on one theme (the Zen of simplifying/decluttering your life) and he hit paydirt. When I saw this happening, I thought, Yeah, that's the way to go. Now, what can I blog that will pull in readers and get me the attention of a literary agent and then a fat contract with a big-time publisher?

Of course, Leo's success was exceedingly rare, like becoming a rock star, and Leo's a real smart guy whose interest is in the Zen experience of simplification. In short, he's into it. He is able to focus on one theme and stick with it. It takes lots of time and hard work.

After much soul searching and noodling around with ideas, I realized that what I really wanted to do was write fiction and if I focused on that the way I should, I would not have the time to do the research necessary to produce a single-themed blog on my area of professional expertise, say, "Helping Your Child Develop Good Language Skills."

I then, very happily and with great relief at my successful rationalization, began producing a blog with no focus at all other than what I was thinking about that day. This is entirely in keeping with my personality and has resulted in my having staggered around a spectrum of topics like a satisfied drunk, veering this way and that from politics to religion to writing, to family, to travel, to wind-blown philosophy, to whatthehellever.

I guess, though, the real bottom line in this blog is that I am writing--and I love to write. In any event, thanks for joining me. If you can figure out how to make "comments," please do. It's fun to be read and fun to engage in an extended conversation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This Writer's Journal: Doing Research, Working with a Writers' Group

Living gives you a better understanding of life. I would hope that my characters have become deeper and more rounded personalities. Wider travels have given me considerably greater insight into how cultural differences affect not only people, but politics and art....Alan Dean Foster
As I write this next novel, I'm deeply involved in researching a culture so foreign that I have great trepidation about getting it right. The people who live on the tiny atolls of the western Pacific often still live a hunter-gather existence, still suffer from a lack of readily available modern medicine, and are still at the mercy of the vagaries of providential nature for their survival. I did live on a sailboat on the island of Guam for eleven years and I did sail/travel to many other islands, and I did witness first hand the lives these people live. But of course, that's not at all the same thing is it? Still, writers must work hard at understanding at least in a small way, the lives of other cultures if one is to write about the world outside shopping malls and interstate highways.
To that end, I would love to take some of my more conservative, nativist, rigid acquaintances on a trip around the world. An extended trip, a voyage to exotic destinations where you couldn't stay in air conditioned hotels rooms and have an "all-inclusive" experience safe from the filthy, howling masses. We would travel light on this adventure, one bag each, say, and we'd take whatever means of transport is available: donkeys, ox carts, local trucks or buses teeming with chickens and pigs. We'd walk down dusty roads for hours, eat with the locals at their shops using our hands to get the food into our mouths.
And it would be a trip, as I said, extended in time. A year or two at least, to give us the opportunity to develop some of that priceless third-world patience you see in the faces of the Third World as they hunker down to wait days for buses they are not sure will come at all or haul water from a well two miles from their homes. We might pick up some parasites along the way, suffer from bouts of diarrhea, boils, plague--I don't know--whatever.
Before we left, each of us would write a longish essay about ourselves and publish it in blog form here on the Internet. It would include our political and religious beliefs, our view of moral and family values, and most importantly our, we would explore how we saw ourselves in this world--where we fit in, what our purpose is.
Then, after we got back from this extended world tour, we would do the same thing--another longish blog for everyone in the world to read, answering the same questions, addressing the same issues.
I'm just saying. It might be interesting.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Of a Living Hell in Haiti: The Destruction of a Desperate People


In a different universe, a place of hellscape and horror,

beyond the pale of comprehension,

The crushed, the torn, the broken, breath their final air.

The dead, scattered and abandoned, swell on the hot pavement under gossamer shrouds

while the living are left to claw and scream and

We, in our universe, listen and watch and ponder the impossible with oozing hearts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

This Writer's Progress: An Excerpt from THE SPIRIT OF THE VOYAGE

The author sailing on a traditional canoe or proa on Guam

I'm making steady and happy progress on my next novel, The Spirit of the Voyage. It's an adventure novel for young adults and concerns two boys who escape the Japanese invasion of Guam in a small sailboat at the outset of WWII. The spirits of the ancestors, the taotaomoana, are with them as they struggle to survive and as they seek to learn the secrets of traditional navigation. Here's an excerpt:
The boy was deep in the jungle when he heard the planes and then the distant thunder of bombs. The earth shuddered beneath his feet and the quiet, moist air seemed to bend, and stretch, and then split open with the power of the concussions. For the first time in his life he felt the sharp, searing pain of fear tear through his heart. The war is here, he thought, no matter what his uncle had said; it had started. It had been everywhere else in the world and now it had found them even on this tiny island in the middle of the great blue ocean.

He did not run. He had been told that he must come home if anything happened, come home immediately. His uncle was a gloomy, solemn, religious man who worked at the trans-Pacific cable station where all the important communications came into the island from around the world. Despite what many others thought, he insisted the war would never come to the island, that the Japanese would never dare attack the United States—and the island of Guam was American territory. The boy, whose name was Joseph, had not believed him because his uncle had built a crude air raid shelter inside their small house. It was a tiny room inside another tiny room and it had thick walls and was filled with food and jugs of water. It was a stifling hot place and Joseph hated to go in it when his uncle held air raid drills.

So now instead of going home, he moved deeper into the forest. He could not see the sky through the thick, intertwining branches above him. The shadows cast by the trees protected him and the long, winding branches embraced him. Could the pilots see him? Of course not; he was, he knew, safer here than out in the open running through the village streets or even in his uncle’s air raid shelter.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter Pix of Dixie: The Bitter Truth About the Sunny South

I was just thinking, if it is really religion with these nudist colonies, they sure must turn atheists in the wintertime. ~Will Rogers

No swimming here--until May, at least. The harbor in Onancock, Virginia.

The backyard at 2 Riley St. in Onancock: The Arvidson residence in lacey white.

Terry stands by the frozen Chesapeak Bay. Can global warming be far behind.

Pardon me, but you slip is frozen. I stand on the dock where we keep our boat in time of liquid water.

The Blue Ridge mountains on New Year's weekend from the deck at the home of our good friends, the Harkers.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thinking Out Loud, Yet Again: A Little Sloppy Philosophy

On Guam last October: With my friend, master navigator
Manny Sikau. Manny is from the island of Puluwat.

The professional writer who spends his time becoming other people and places, real or imaginary, finds he has written his life away and has become almost nothing. V. S. Pritchett

Poor Sir Victor Sawdon Pritchett, who lived to be nearly 97 and ended up "almost nothing." Except he was, apparently, knighted for his literary efforts and is considered one of the last century's bests British writers.

Prichett be damned, I spend a great deal of my time daydreaming about other places and people, real and imaginary, and I find it only adds to who I am, to my concept of "self." Who am I? I am a writer, so I am a traveler, an adventurer, a skeptic and a free-thinker, a romantic, a person with a certain curiosity about things, a small-time risk taker, a passionate reader, a too-loud talker, reciter of questionable limericks, and often enough, a space cadet who forgets what day it is and where his shoes are. I'm also, often enough, lazy.

But, I know who I am. I know I am a separate consciousness in a great sea of consciousness, that I am made of the same stuff the stars of made of--and the planets, and the Earth, and the black holes, and the quasars--and so, without any effort at all, I understand the paradox that I am also like everyone and everything else. Whether we like it or not, or are at all aware of it, we are at one with the universe. Is this Freshman-level, dreamy, philisophical drivel? Yep, for sure, but for me, at 63, important stuff, and I need to remind myself of it every so often. If we can, in the end, comprehend that we are the universe and it is us, then we are way ahead of the game in overcoming the instinctive human fear of death and the unknown. It makes getting old a lot more comfortable.

Here I am with my friend Manny. I have voyaged on the open ocean in my own small sailboat with Manny, and he has voyaged for years across miles of open sea on that canoe you see behind us. He navigates using only the stars and the sea, and if you want to feel instinctive fear and loneliness, go out to sea--way out--on a clear night and stand watch under a cold and distant starry universe while everyone else sleeps. Then you will get an idea of what and who you are and where your place is in all this and if you can come to terms with your fear on such night as that, you've made progress.

So, I disagree with Sir Prichett. When we seek to understand all things, we become, in many ways, all things, and that is what writing is all about. I propose that is what life should be all about--becoming all things.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Writer's Life in the New Year: Getting Off to an Eager Beginning at this Wretched Profession

I think writing tends to deny you a full life. Writing is incompatible with everything. It’s incompatible with having children, with having a job. You can’t do anything. Paul Theroux

Genius did not need to be rootless, disenfranchised, or alienated. A writer could have a family, a job, and even live in a suburb. John Cheever
These are some quotes from famous writers who ought to know what's what with the writer's life. Is it surprising they disagree?
My take on things has always been that if you don't like what your doing in life, do something else. Looking back on it, I didn't manage to live up to that own credo and either, apparently, did Paul Theroux or most of the other successful writers I checked on. And they were the famous ones, the rich ones, the rare writers who succeeded at this wretched profession. Hard to imagine how the unsuccessful writers look at this.
I suspect in the end, we all do pretty much what we want to do and we have no one to blame but ourselves if we're unhappy. The martyrs among us should get little sympathy. I mean, really. Put down the pen/laptop, get out of the house, and get a less miserable job.
As for myself, I'm a writer who has had sub-famous, sub-rich success; my novels have been published and my short stories have won prizes, yet I remain in the dim and wild outback of the literary limelight. Do I hate it? Am I miserable? I write because I love sitting alone in my comfortable room stringing words together and then weaving them into prose that sounds lovely and fine to my ear.
But maybe that's the problem with these folks--success itself. It puts terrible pressure on them because you're only as good as your last book. The successful writer lives in a pressure cooker, exists within range of the heavy guns of the critics, while unknowns like me have the freedom to explore and make mistakes. We have no constraints and so, of course, more freedom.
In the end, of course, who am I kidding? I'd love to be a rich and famous scribbler. Let's hear it for the romance of being a profound and wise weaver of words trapped by his/her fame in the endless winter of my discontent.

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010! Blue Moon, Blue Ridge, Black-Eyed Peas, Hog Jowls, and, Yes, Resolutions

"Blue moon, you saw me standing alone without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own"......Song by Rogers and Hart

Here it is, the real thing, a blue, blue moon, and over the Blue Ridge Mountains on New Year's Eve, 2009-2010. It is a relatively rare event, a full moon happening twice in one month--a "blue" moon--and I took this (admittedly lousy) picture through the branches of a tree just off the deck of our friends beautiful home high in the mountains of Virginia.

We had a great time and celebrated on New Year's day with football and a classic Southern meal of hog jowls and black-eye peas with collared greens and corn bread. It's supposed to bring good luck. Between that food and the moon, I ought to be set for a while. I was also anointed with oil by a real witch so I have every reason to be optimistic--or should that be opti-mystic?

Resolutions? Oh, yeah, sure, I made them. The human impulse to make annual declarations to get off to a fresh start is due solely to our insane behavior since Thanksgiving. Even if the road to Hell is paved with them, good intentions are just that--good. In my case, that road was littered with daily engorgements of turkey, stuffing, cake, ice cream, red meat, bread, fried clams, fried oysters, fried chicken, on and on ad nauseum, and all washed down with vats of scotch, sour mash, and wine. By yesterday morning, I was nearly done in.

And, so far, here on day two, I must say I feel better already, and why wouldn't I, after the bloating debauchery of the past few weeks? This old bod needs a respite from the reckless abandon of the past month's swilling and face stuffing.

(As I finish this blog, it's January 5. I've been on the wagon for two days and feel ever so much better. Yesterday I weighed in at 208, which means I put on 8 pounds in the past month. Lovely. Mark my word, it's coming off.)