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:

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.