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:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Writers Beware: The 10,000 Hour Rule Says That To Be a Pro, You Need to Pay Your Dues

A Short Story in the New Yorker: You Can Bet the Author Put in Her Time Learning her craft.

What's the use you learning to do right, when it's troublesome to do right and ain't no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?---Huck Finn

Note (December 14, 2010): I was just called a "schmuck" by a reader of this blog who pointed out that it's called the 10,000-hour rule, not the 1000-hour rule as I had originally written. The accuser is right of course and I'm sorry I offended him so deeply. In my schmucky defense, I'll say that when I first heard about it, I was told it was the 1000-hour rule and I Googled it and indeed found reference to a 1000-hour rule but was passed on to another article about a 10,000-hour rule. Why, when I wrote the blog I referred to it as the 1000-hour rufle is not known to me. I sit corrected.

There's an idea going around out there that says in order to be a pro at something--you know, ready for prime time--you need to practice something for at least a 10,000 hours. It's called the 10,000 Hour Rule and it's being applied to business dealings.

But, I figure it could apply to any profession that has difficult skills to master. Say like writing. The boom in self-publishing companies has fed off the would-be writer's desire to bypass the skill-aquiring phase of becoming a writer and moving right into the Steven King-fame-and-fortune phase of writing. After all, they've been writing since they were kids. Learned how to do it in 1st grade. They write on FaceBook and they write lottsa emails. So can writing a novel or a short story be much different?

Let me think about that for a minute. Yes, writing a publishable novel or an short story that meets the critical standards of literary magazines will take more skill than writing an email to you friend in Duluth.

There are important aspects to writing a novel that exceed those of your average email. Take plotting, for example. You've got an idea and then you've got to spread that idea out over 350 pages and it's got to be coherent, and it's got to be written in powerful, or lyrical, or muscular, or spare and lovely prose. It's got to have an arc, a building up, unforgettable scenes, a climax, a denoument. It's got to grab the reader and hang on to him or her for many, many hours.

Then there are characters. Among all the muscular, lyrical, or spare and lovely prose, there need to be people that jump off the page, people whose story is worth telling, people who the reader will remember for years to come, or maybe, if the writer is good enough, for the rest of their lives. People like Huckleberry Finn or Ishmael or Scout or Scarlet or Hamlet.

We need at least 10,000 hours to get there, to climb up to that level of skill. There are those who can do it in less, but they're the rare ones. There are those who couldn't do it in 100,000 hours. They are, alas, much more common.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hi, My Name is Douglas Arvidson and I'm a Communicaholic.

This is pretty much what journals are all about, at least to me. I knew as I wrote them that even though they provided an excellent place for brain (and heart, and psyche) dump, they were mainly a map of me. Colleen Wainwright, communicatrix, 03-23-2006

What is a communicatrix? Colleen Wainright is one--according to her. Apparently she coined the term (go ahead, Google her. I'll wait).
If a communicatrix is a woman who communicates (wildly?desperately?dangerously?) then what does that make a man who writes compulsively and has taken up writing on his bar/liquor bench? A communicaholic? I suppose. Close enough. But I really hardly ever touch the hard stuff anymore. I got too old for that. But, as I mentioned in my last blog, I did brake the hinge on my laptop and can't write anymore with it on my lap sitting snugly in my recliner in my man cave/study. I found that it props up nicely right here, against the distilled spirits. There's got to be something meaningful there for a writer. Besides, it's a wonderful sunny room and with all this spring stuff going on, it's a pleasure to be out of the dark.
And I think I'm on to something. This morning, I was up early, had my Zone Bar and decaf for breakfast, watched the news, and then sat down at the bar and got to work. The picture above is what it looks like here, right now, as I write this and as I wrote for three hours this morning. The exciting this is that I had great luck. The stuff was flowing, the scenes developing essentially on their own, the words pouring forth. Today I hit 194 pages, more or less, considering the stuff I'm cutting out. I see the end and better yet, I see the wonderful road that leads to that end: the denoument, the climax. Good for this communicaholoic.
The nice thing about writing is that by 12:00 Noon, I'm done for the day. Now to get into some work clothes and go and get a load of top soil for the back yard. Gotta get it ready for some grass seed. Perennial rye, I think it is.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Great Anniversary, a Celebration of Bad Writing

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain

When the hinge on the screen/top of my laptop broke, I had to find a place to write where I could prop it up on something. The bar/sideboard in our sitting room works fine. I think the Scotch, Bourbon, Gin, and Tequila add something to the literary mix.

We celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary on Sunday. Had a wonderful time sitting in the sun in the backyard sucking down a very(damn)good magnum of champagne from Reims, France that cost a lot of money. Then we had a flank steak that had been marinating for a couple of days, some fresh baked bread, salad, and roast potatoes and some good red wine--a Merlot, I think it was.

That was yesterday. It's now Monday morning and we both are facing reality, Terry's admittedly harsher than mine as she has a real job and I'm a writer. I haven't looked at the manuscript I'm working on in a month or more and so now I have to go back and review everything and find where my mind abandoned the creative surge. I left my precious characters hanging and now I have to reach up through the fog, find them, and lift them off their hooks.

Speaking of struggling to get it right, I got the stuff below off an Internet message that's going around:

For all lovers of good writing, here are this year's winners of the Bulwer-Lytton contest, (aka "It Was a dark and Stormy Night" Contest) run by the English Department of San Jose State University, wherein one writes only the first line of a bad novel.

10. As a scientist, Throckmorton knew that if he were ever to break wind in the echo chamber, he would never hear the end of it.

9. Just beyond the Narrows , the river widens.

8. With a curvaceous figure that Venus would have envied, a tanned unblemished oval face framed with lustrous thick brown hair, deep azure-blue eyes fringed with long black lashes, perfect teeth that vied for competition, and a small straight nose, Marilee had a beauty that defied description.

7. Andre, a simple peasant, had only one thing on his mind as he crept along the East wall: "Andre creep... Andre creep...Andre creep."

6. Stanislaus Smedley, a man always on the cutting edge of narcissism, was about to give his body and soul to a back alley sex-change surgeon to become the woman he loved..

5. Although Sarah had an abnormal fear of mice, it did not keep her from eking out a living at a local pet store.

4. Stanley looked quite bored and somewhat detached, but then penguins often do.

3. Like an over-ripe beefsteak tomato rimmed with cottage cheese, the corpulent remains of Santa Claus lay dead on the hotel floor.

2. Mike Hardware was the kind of private eye who didn't know the meaning of the word "fear"'; a man who could laugh in the face of danger and spit in the eye of death -- in short, a moron with suicidal tendencies.


1. The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness, crept along the greensward, and, with sickly fingers, pushed through the castle window, revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping in frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her, disbelieving the magnitude of the frog's deception, screaming madly, "You lied!"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Foreshadowing on the Chesapeake Bay: Joy and Mud, the Wonders of a Long Marriage

                            Terry at the helm. "Me follow a GPS? I will when you stop screeching."

(Note to Readers: It could well be that none of the below is true. I've learned in over three decades of sailing with my wife that raising one's voice in frustration/anger accomplishes nothing and make you look and feel like a fool. I could have made all this up just to make a sedate, uneventful day sail sound more interesting. I'll let you decide.)
The Ancient Mariner would not have taken so well if it had been called The Old Sailor.

                                                                                  Samuel Butler

We are imprisoned in the realm of life, like a sailor on his tiny boat, on an infinite ocean.
                                                                                 Anna Freud

No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned... a man in a jail has more room, better food, and commonly better company.
                                                                            Samuel Johnson

I got a part as a chorus girl in a show called Every Sailor and I had fun doing it. Mother didn't really approve of it, through. 
                                                                                James Cagne

So, we spent the last couple of days on the water--on the Chesapeake or a tributary river, there of. The latter went well. Very well. We had a pleasant and very fine day launching our new skiff and puttering about the Onancock Rivrer ogling the beautiful homes the very fortunate have built along its banks. The day was perfect--blue sky, gentle breezes, cool temperatures.
                                    Onancock Harbor as viewed from our skiff: A fine and lovely day on the water. 
Yesterday the weather was about the same when we brought our new sailboat, Seawind, home from her winter boat yard, about a 3-hour sail up the Bay--a fair breeze, cerulean skies, wonderful attitudes. But a sailboat is not a skiff. A sailboat has a keel that keeps the boat upright but adds, in our case, four and a half feet to her draft. The bay is shallow--very shallow. I immediately drove her into the mud just as we were leaving the dock. I managed to throttle up and pull her out, but the day's foreshadowing (as we writers like to call it) was set. Terry took the helm and I watched the GPS, which does a great job of showing you exactly (almost) where the deep water is and where it isn't.
Problems immediately arose. Terry doesn't like following the instructions of a GPS, whether its in a car or on a boat. She'd rather do it her way. There insued what we call a "marital moment," wherein the husband, knowing he's right, gives loud instructions into the ear of a wife who is standing right next to him. The wife, certain the screeching red-faced man next to her--who may or may not be her husband once she gets ashore--is not right, continues on her way determined not to look at the GPS but at the water and the channel markers. Never mind. Out we went, winding our way down the twisting channel toward the Bay, water just a few feet deep closing in on all sides.
Over the past thirty years, combining our talents in this manner has somehow worked out for us and after half an hour, we were out in the relatively deep waters of the Bay. I put out some sail. The day was suddenly fine, the screeching stopped, the make-up kiss accomplished, love and respect re-established.

  The winding shallows negotiated, for the moment, we sail out on the Bay.

As we approached our marina, it was time for the "captain," the expert who had sailed this boat down from Long Isand, N.Y. last summer, to take over. That would be me. I took the helm and we crawled along the channel. The depth sounder said we had just .5 feet under the keel, then .0 feet, and then we began to slow down as the mud gripped at the bottom of the keel. I gunned the engine and we plowed through. We had made it. Or had we. I decided to swing the boat wide to make the turn into the narrow entrance to our slip and it was my, oh, fourth or fifth wrong decision of the day. We came to a dead stop. I throttled up. We dug in deeper and then were hard aground just 200 feet from the dock.
200 ft. from the dock, with the sun setting, we were hard aground.
We could, literally, have walked ashore.
What now? In thirty years of sailing together, we had never run aground. But that was Carribean or the Adriatic or the Pacific--this is the Chesapeake. We could have walked to shore, gotten in our waiting car, and driven home, leaving Seawind to her own devices. No, of course not. After summoning a friend, getting a line to shore, and trying to pull her off, we decided to wait for the tide to float us. We split a cold beer, we relaxed, we finally ended up almost enjoying it. Five hours later, we were afloat again.

Resigned to being hard aground, we determined to enjoy it and wait for the tide to come back an lift us off. The Onancock River is wonderful on a clear, cool, spring day at sunset.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Distractions, Distractions, Distractions: The Writer's Bane

You can always find a distraction if you're looking for one.  Tom Kite

It's one damned thing after another. Getting sick, traveling to New England to visit my parents on their 67th wedding anniversary (they still sleep in the same bed and spend the day holding hands), getting a new boat (a 17 ft. skiff), registering the boat and trailer, having contractors around the house working on the roof and rewiring the garage, and the incredible spring weather that suddenly washed over the Eastern Shore, all have essentially stopped progress on The Spirit of the Voyage, my novel in progress. Not only that, but the hinge on the screen/lid on this laptop broke and it's flapping around on my knees. I have to support it with a pillow and pillow keeps sliding away and it's impossible to focus on writing.

What to do? I'm working on it. Gotta guy looking for a new screen, the contractors will be done in a few days, and I'll be able to get back to some sort of routine. And there's the answer: get a routine going. I usually like getting up early and down here to my "space" and getting going. Now, after a month of getting nothing accomplished, I'm going to have to spend a lot of time reviewing everything and figuring out where I am.

                 Here's some of the family at my parent's 67th wedding anniversary.
                Front row: Joann McGowan, Dad, Mom, Marble Arvidson.
                Back row: Christia Peralta Martel, Patty Arvidson Thayer, Will Thayer
                Me, John Arvidson, John Martel

But I did fine a couple of interesting books while I was in New England. One is an old college text of mine with the impressive title of Levels of Knowing and Existence by Harry L. Wineberg. As I recall, it concerns semantics and the meaning of meaning. Pretty dense stuff. Nonetheless, I'll be dipping into it soon. The other is the Dictionary of Misinformation and is full of corrections of all those urban rumors we accept as truth. For example, the term damned Yankees, did not originally refer to Northerners by Southerners. The term during the Revolutionary War and was used against northern "provincials" by "Yorkers" in General Schuyler's northern army. Now we in the Red Sox Nation use it, too.