Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Today's Thoughts: There Are No Excuses for Not Writing

An man from the atoll of Polowat setting off on a voyage: The stuff of adventure novels.

The world is so full of such wonderful things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

So, apparently, said Robert Louis Stevenson while losing his long-term, painful, debilitating battle with TB while sailing the Pacific while writing great literature. Do any of us have any excuses for not enjoying life and writing well while we do it?

Today, just a couple of days after my sixty-fifth birthday, I find myself enjoying life while being pleasantly overwhelmed with its rich confusion. To wit:

 I just finished writing an adventure novel about traditional navigation in the remote atolls of the western Pacific and it's off courting a publisher.

I was just asked to present a lecture to a science/philosophy group at a local college about that incredible skill of navigating across hundreds of miles of open ocean using only stars, wave patterns, and marine life. Those skills were developed by the seafaring peoples of the Pacific thousands of years ago and is still in use.

 I've started writing another novel, this one to be the better-than-anything-I've-written-so-far novel I'm convinced I have lurking in me somewhere. It's set in New England, in the Berkshire hills where I grew up, and my head is abuzz with plot schemes and profound/multi-faceted characters.

I just got my sailboat back in the water after some pre-winter maintenance--bottom paint, new zinc, lazy jacks installed--and my wife, Terry, and I brought her home last week on a perfect, breezy day on the Chesapeake. Now I'll get going winterizing her.

For my birthday I asked for and received the Rosetta Stone Spanish program and I'm looking forward to making learning Spanish a long-term, regular part of my life. When Terry retires, we'll spend winters exploring Latin America. Good for my aging brain, too, adding what will no doubt be bad Spanish to my lousy German and my worse French.

Speaking of things that are good for aging brains, I've downloaded the WORDS WITH FRIENDS app--it's a form of SCRABBLE--on my Droid, and I've got four games going at once. I lose, mostly, but I'm getting better. A good addiction.

I'm working on a new finger picking riffs on my guitar. I keep it next to me all day and when I need to take a break from writing/reading/studying, I pick it up and play for a while. It feels way too good, like having a pleasant companion to engage in conversation whenever needed.

So, if Robert Louis Stevenson can do it while dying of a terrible disease, I can too. As December approaches, I'm ready to settle in here for the winter. Looking forward to it, actually--the long, cold, dark nights, the frosty days hunkered down here in my study in my fat recliner reading, writing, studying, playing music and taking naps, PRN. It's the way I've always wanted to live. Self-actualizing, you know?

Terry at the helm bringing Seawind home for the winter.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Art and Intellect: Is There an Ability Threshold for Good Writing?

Stephen King: Enough Intellect in His Art?

No art form puts more demands on that critical bonding of intellect and talent than writing. Real writing, I mean--great writing, ideas put on paper by writers who took the time to dip far back into their deep well of learning, sort it out, process it, shake it up, jerk it around, look at it this way and that way, and turn it upside down, and only then weave what's left into great literature.

There are millions of "writers" out there, lots and lots of us, but out of those millions, there may arise three, maybe four--who knows--great ones. This digital age of self-publishing has allowed the literary world to be flooded with junk, or as was said in the documentary film, "Press, Pause, Play,"  the world is being covered by the gray goo of mediocrity and consumers have lost their sense of what is good or not good.

What separates the mediocre--or even downright crap--from greatness? Here's my list:

     1. Ability--Like it or not, producing art is an elitist endeavor. The great democratization of writing allowed by the digital age, by everyone having access to self-publishing--is a great lie. There are only a few who have the talent to write well.

     2. Intellect--Great writing is, initially, an exercise of the intellect. There is a threshold of cognitive ability below which great writing cannot occur. When I was studying psychology in college, they told us that threshold was an I.Q. of 115. Below that, forget being creative, above that, it doesn't matter; a person with an I.Q. of 130 is not necessarily more creative than a person with an I.Q. of 120. But then, I.Q. is such a multi-faceted phenomenon, who can tell? The only proof will be in the product. For example, J.D. Salinger's I.Q. (according to Army records) was 110. John Kennedy's was 124. I suspect the range of those I.Q.s was large; that is, I.Q. is not a single number. Your ability in math might be 115, while your verbal abilities could be significantly higher.

     3. Intent--Great writers intend to write great literature. It is their purpose, their one desire. Imagine Hemingway intentionally sitting down at his Smith-Corona with his day's goal to write a cheap romance novel or get-rich-quick sci-fi? To the great writers, writing is an all-or-nothing deal; I write my best or I don't write. If I realized that what I have written is garbage, it goes in the fire.

     4. Learning the craft: Great writers spend years learning the craft of writing. You don't learn to play the piano in a week. I suspect many of today's self-publishing writers have spent little time at the hard task of learning how to write and have little patience for having their work reviewed and critiqued by legitimate editors. Rejection is painful and by self-publishing, we by-pass this inconvenient truth.

Of course, there is nothing to be done about the brave new world of digital-age self-publishing. It will continue unabated. In the end, I suspect it will all sort itself out and the great ones that are now drowning in that sea of gray goo will somehow be recognized. I think may well be the discriminating consumer of literature who devises a way to winnow out the wheat from the chaff, maybe by taking the time to look at who is publishing a writer before buying.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sons and Other Strangers: A Photo Essay of a Cross-Country Journey

The author on the Kansas prairie at sunset: Sweet Breezes from a Far Horizon

Where does a son go when he grows up? It's a different place, beyond that sweet, far horizon. He packs up his junk, the stuff that's been lying around on the floor of his bedroom, and moves out and you will never seen him again. Sweet sadness, the end of a process.

Son, all grown up and visiting Dad from his far, far place. First night on the road: "Dad, you're snoring": Tone of voice in the dark motel room was threatening, despairing. All the way across with this?

On Loneliest Highway in the U.S. I leave my DNA in a dry lake bed. When I  was young, I left it elsewhere.

Feeling small in America

U.S. 70 in Nevada: Loneliest Highway in the U.S., it is said.

Over the Rockies by going through them.

I loved the old western, gold-rush-era towns, hoped to see Hoss and Little Joe.

We started the trip amongst the red woods near Sonoma: Moist and Ancient, like son and father.

We found, in an expansive and rocky graveyard in Sonoma, the place that holds the crumbling bones of the only known American Revolutionary War veteran buried in California. And he was a Virginian who sailed the Chesapeake. Must have been a good, thin-water sailor in the days of big, wooden, square-rigged boat without engines.

 In Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi, we encountered King Cotton

The purely ornamental bike on the roof gave us street cred in my son's world. We obvioiusly knew the way it is.

In Salt Lake City: The Mormon Temple, fountain of moderate Republicans

We put our fates in the hands of the GPS Lady

Final approach to St. Louis: Was this St. Louis? One nation connected by really, really bad fast road food.

Yes, we made it to Florida after driving over 4,000 miles. From here, via William Faulkner's house in Oxford, Mississippi, the Suwanee River, Tallahassee, and Ft. Lauderdale. When it was all over, finished, we were both glad to get back to our own places in the world, me with my wife on the Chesapeake, him with his own lady on the yacht he captains. We had visited, seen, and experienced each others perspectives, each demonstrating an admirable tolerance for our differences. But had we connected? That will take another trip, I think. More time on the road.