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 26, 2011

Slowly and Then, All at Once: A Pause in My Writing Life to Say Goodbye

Snow on the Spring Blossoms: A Pervasive Cold Sadness

Flowers are without hope.  Because hope is tomorrow and flowers have no tomorrow.  ~Antonio Porchia, Voces, 1943,

Spring, the time of life and rebirth, comes slowly and then all at once. The winter lingers, pretends to slip away, sneaks back. The snow turns to rain, the rain to snow, the snow comes hard and then melts. You go to sleep with the wind hard and dark against the windows and wake up with the sun on your face. Leaves are there, of a sudden, and huge blossoms come from nowhere, and the smells of spring nearly overwhelm. A screen door slams, a lawn mower drones, the perfume of fresh cut grass drifts in from across street.

How come then the motorcycle can't stop in time? Can't swerve quickly enough? How come the man driving the SUV, who stops at the stop sign, then can't see the motorcycle and so pulls out far enough so the motorcycle can't miss it? And then, in the middle of the rush of spring life, after the endless winter, there is brain death, instant and final? Brother, where art thou? And where for, and therefor, gone forever?

That's all you can say about it, really. At this time. One must think for a while before one says anything else. It takes time to process sudden death, to decide , yes, you are a survivor through all this, that your life, at least, goes on, despite the odds against snow flakes, and flower petals, and insects struggling free from long-buried cocoons. And you can't believe this simple fact because when you get to be your age you are looking over your shoulder at the shadows that seem to be following you as stealthily and certainly as one season stalks the one before it.

So, you enjoy the smell of the new-mown grass and the new flowers in their glorious and flagrant fertility, their spread-eagle eagerness, and the rising sap, and the insect larvae crawling from the new-warmed earth and slipping from their crusts and taking wing. It's okay to do that, to enjoy it all because you waited so long for it and who waits with such longing for death? Who sits at the window for dreary months on end watching for the merest glimmer of doom?

Goodbye, Chris Voit, my wife's loved and admired brother. You were a hard man, a challenging son, tough, a contrarian, oppositional, defiant, a loving father, a faithful husband, hardworking, skilled and smart.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Before the Master I Learn the Secrets of Traditional Navigation: The Sea, the Universe, and Humankind are One but the Universe Doesn't Care.

                                                                           ( Photos by Maria)

"There is a lurking fear that some things are 'not meant' to be known, that some inquiries are too dangerous for human beings to make."  Carl Sagan

Here I am last week on the island of Guam asking questions. That's me on the left. On the right is a man I admire very much. His name is Manny Sikau and he's a seventh generation master navigator from the tiny atoll of Puluwat. He can, and has, steered small, marvelous, fragile outrigger canoes across hundreds of miles of open ocean using only the stars, the waves, clouds, and sea life to navigate; no compass, no sextant, no radio, nothing but his bone-deep knowledge of the sea and its relationship with the rest of the universe.

I admire him because I've been out there with him on the open sea. And there are few experiences that can match the feeling it gives a sailor than to be on the ocean, at night, in a small boat, alone on watch with the utter loneliness of deep space arcing above you. Even in the tropics, the stars, the very things you are depending upon to guide you, seem cold and unfathonable because you know they are, in fact, profoundly uncaring.

And so the sailor inevitably gets the answer to this, the ultimate question: Does it matter to the stars if I continue to live or if the sea chooses to swallow me up and cause me to disappear? It quickly becomes obvious: No, it doesn't. The life of the sailor matters only to the sailor himself and to those who love him.After that, there are no other questions worth asking.

In this picture, though, I'm not asking Manny about such impractical, existential nonsense. Each of us has to find those answers for himself or herself. Don't bother the master with such things. Ask instead, which star path do I follow to get from, say, the nearly invisible atoll of Pikelot to tiny island of Saipan when there's a big sea running? Ask instead, what oceanic swell does one learn to feel as it passes under the hull of the canoe to steer this course? Inquire as to which of the sea birds will not spend the night at sea and can be relied upon to lead the navigator to land as the sun goes down.

I'm asking because I have before us the loose leaf-bound draft of my next novel, a book I'm calling, Brothers of the Fire Star, and I'm picking at the master's brain. I have too many questions, it seems, for one afternoon. I've finished writing the book--the story as been told, the characters have met their fates--but in this case, the details matter very much; I want to get them right and I  must have answers before I can truly be finished.

We sat in the dark shade of the sacred canoe house, among the hulls and spars of at least five equally sacred proas and as I probed, Manny smiled and answered in his soft voice: Yes, there is fresh water on those small islands, but one has to dig for it. Yes, the first thing an island sailor does upon landing on an atoll, is search for sea turtles on the beach. He then flips them over on their backs so they can't escape. Later he will eat them, cooking them in their shells over an open fire. Yes, there are maybe five ocean swells one must be able to understand simultaneously to be truly a good navigator, and some swells are nearly impossible to see or to feel yet one must feel them or die.

For men such as Manny Sikau, this knowledge was learned as a boy and he was steeped in it as a man; it is second nature. For me, a farm boy from Massachusetts, other things are second nature, but not this. I understand its significance but struggle to grasp the technique itself. Only more time at sea will reveal that to me and I don't have much time left.

Instead, I will write my books and remain awestruck by the courage and skills of these islanders. And that may be enough. I guess it will have to be enough.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What Happened to All the Great Russian Writers? What Have I Been Missing?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.  Anto Chekov (1860-1904)

Ah, Dr. Chekov (he was a medical doctor), I'm sure you were well worn out by your patients, your writing, your tuberculosis. Tuberculosis? Yeah, it was the AIDS of his times, killing untold millions, and he contracted it early and died young. More about that later.

First though, now that I'm 64, I feel mature enough to deal with great writers and I'm finding Chekov to be accessible and--how to I say this?--Charming? No, but there is a fine touch of innocence to his writing. I doubt if The New Yorker would pay him for his art these days, modern readers having been steeped in such great vats of violence, deceit, and cynicism for so long, but his lessons are universal and were original for his day. According to my Google research, he was the first to pioneer what has become 'stream-of-consciousness' writing. He is famous for what has been called his lack of a dramatic instinct and his stories tend not to have the usual arc of rising to a dramatic climax and a denouement. Instead, he gives of poignant, slice-of-life portraits of Russian life in the 1880's and from these portraits emerge those universal truths written in a simple, straightforward prose. What is most fascinating is the view of Russian life as it was lived--fully human and affecting.

Now, as for the tuberculosis, I was intrigued by the number of great artists that died of tuberculosis, even in the 20th Century after the introduction of antibiotics. When I Googled it, expecting a short list,  I was supplied with pages of names. Chekov, Kafka, Modigliani, Washington Irving, John Keats, Samuel Johnson, Stephen Crane--the list goes on and on. Even Gone with the Wind star Vivien Leigh died of it in the 1960s. Tuberculosis was the AIDS of the time. Interesting.

Anyway, here are some Anton Chekov quotes. I love quotes. They're small wisdoms boiled down from the big ones. Bumper stickers you can believe in.

Man is what he believes.

Only entropy comes easy. (Oh, so true. Things will fall apart all by themselves if neglected long enough. Anyone who has owned a sailboat knows this.)

To advise is not to compel.

It's a long time since I drank champagne.

The more refined one is, the more unhappy.

Advertising is the very essence of democracy.

If you are afraid of loneliness, do not marry.

Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.

When an actor has money he doesn't send letters, he sends telegrams.

People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy.

I'm off to Guam. I hope real spring is here when I get back.