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, August 29, 2011

Hurricanes and Quakes: What Doesn't Hurt There, Kills Here

Irene bears down on us here on the Eastern Shore of Virginia

Comparisons can be useful. I got an email from a friend on the island of Guam, where I lived on a sailboat for eleven years and went through three super typoons (Cat. 5's) and some earthquakes that were up there around 6 to 7 or even a 9 on the Richter Scale. On that far-off speck in the western Pacific, our piddling little earthquake last week and our relatively meek and mild hurricane of this week would have been non-events. Scant notice would have been taken of the earth moving and Irene would have fallen in the "banana" storm catagory; that is, just strong enough to take the bananas off the trees.

But of course, comparisons like this are misleading. Guam has evolved to take this kind of punishment. The houses are mostly made of reinforced concrete and there are no big trees to mention (and that's because they can't grow big due to the frequency of the typhoons that blow them over). Huge storms and major quakes are a fact of life on Guam and the people have adapted. In 1997, when Typhoon Paka hit the island with 200+ mph winds, there was not a single storm-related death.

Here on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., though, things are very different.
While hurricanes occur every year, they mostly affect Florida and the Caribean islands. A direct hit along the length of the east coast is rare. And so, we  have big trees, forests of them, and houses made of wood and lots of trailer parks with cockleshell mobile homes sitting on cinder blocks with those big trees hanging over them. And there are lots of mountains with rivers and streams pouring out of them and lots of people with little experience dealing with big storms.

The end result: When Irene's 40 to 80 mph winds and 12 inches of rain had finished passing through, 40 people had died due to the terrible flooding (Vermont and Massachusetts are in real trouble and the death toll keeps rising) and houses and cars being crushed by falling timber, and I'm certain that the final bill will be in the billions of dollars.

We got lucky. Big trees surround our house on the Eastern Shore of Virginia but only one came down and by raw luck, missed the house and the TV satellite dish. Better than that, before the storm I made a last-minute decision to move my powerboat; it was parked right there. And my wife had always wanted that tree removed, so that project was taken care of for me.

An ode to inovation: We went up to my mother-in-law's house to ride out the storm with her. This is the generator that my father-in-law (who died last December) had cobbled together from wood and spare parts. It ran perfectly.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The World in Financial Toil, Boil, and Trouble: Are We Literary Looters?

The Fire This Time: Looting for the Loot in London

It's all about the money, honey. Making it, spending it, and worrying about it, mostly. As the world markets continue to plunge down deep into black-hole depths led by the imploding confidence of America's financial Masters of the Universe, we here on the literary blogosphere continue to fiddle while London burns.

And what are we fiddling around about? Tell me it's not about just money and fame, fame and money. It's about writing good--maybe great--prose, isn't it? Still, just look at the re-tweet I was tempted to send this morning. It essentially gave advice on How to stalk your potential client without them thinking they're being stalked.

It's not possible that we writers, we high priests of the moral intellect, we wise seers of the human condition, are really looking only at the bottom line, but just in case it is, here are some slang terms for money from Len so when we writers hit it big, viz a viz J.K. Rowling, we can diversify our lingo a bit:

1. chips
2. bread
3. dough
4. roll
5. cabbage
6. lettuce
7. kale
8. bacon
9. clams
10. coconuts
11. beans
12. fish
13. potatoes
14. bananas
15. buckaroos
16. bucks
17. fins ($5-bills)
18. sawbucks ($10-bills)
19. C-notes ($100-bills)
20. hundies
21. Benjamins
22. Jacksons
23. grand
24. Gs
25. K
26. smack
27. smackers
28. wampum
29. bills
30. moolah
31. means
32. checks
33. drafts
34. shrapnel
35. wad
36. plaster
37. bankroll
38. capital
39. finances
40. currency
41. funds
42. gold
43. stash
44. cash
45. bundle
46. fortune
47. lucre
48. chump change
49. pin money
50. shekels
51. resources
52. boffo
53. spending money
54. doubloons
55. wherewithal
56. treasure
57. dibs
58. bits
59. dollars
60. dinero
61. pesos
62. bullets
63. coin
64. simoleons
65. silver
66. pelf
67. tender
68. scrip
69. pittance
70. guineas
71. gelt
72. bones
73. stake
74. pap
75. spondulicks
76. quid
77. pocket money
78. specie
79. jack
80. change
81. scratch
82. mite
83. king’s ransom
84. mint
85. paper
86. loonies
87. mazuma
88. pieces of eight
89. frogskins
90. long green
91. folding green
92. green
93. greenbacks
94. riches
95. rivets
96. big ones
97. banknotes
98. dead presidents
99. chits
100. scrilla
101. loot

Monday, August 8, 2011

I Finish the TAO OF TRAVEL: In Search of the Life-Altering Epiphany

Me in Vladivostok in 1995: Theroux hated this "clammy-cold harbor city": We found it clean and the people friendly.

I would have loved to have been a roach climbing along the wall of Paul Theroux's cabin as he traveled by train across the world's third-world. I would have been privy to a balding, past-middle-age American man as he ate his rice and beans from a tin cup and scribbled in his notebooks occasionally looking out the window at the passing corruption and endless poverty. He probably had not changed his clothes or shaved or showered in a couple of days and the tropical heat must have rendered him full ripe by then. It is, of course, the only authentic way to travel or to be a travel writer: fully ripened.

I've spent the past twenty-five years traveling around the United States, around Asia, around Europe, and then in one memorable summer, around the world via the Trans-Siberian railroad, that most storied of rail lines. So when Theroux took the time to put together what amounts to a primer on the travel writing experience, it was the first book I read on my new Nook.

I say "primer" because during my pleasant and nostalgic passage through The Tao of Travel it became obvious that that is what one may consider this book to be. It's a how-to book, it's inspirational, and, maybe most helpful, it provides a list of great/famous/infamous travel writers along with not only a sample of their writing, but the low down on their often strange and/or wonderful personality quirks.

Theroux likes those travel writers who do it the hard way. Like Sir Richard Burton, the 18th century skeptic and hard-core traveler/explorer who was obsessed enough with experiencing Mecca first hand that he had himself circumcised, learned Arabic, and boned up on the Koran so he could pass himself off as a real Muslim. Finally, when faced with the great stone monolith that is the heart of Islam and the milling throngs of pilgrims,  Burton had a life-changing, mystical experience that he lived to tell about--the only non-Muslim to do so. For Theroux, this is the ultimate tao of travel--travel as hard-won, heartbreaking epiphany.

Sometimes, when Theroux and I have been to the same place, we disagree on its merits or drawbacks. Take Vladivostok, that forbidding, far-eastern outpost of Mother Russia. Theroux warns against going there, describing it as a "clammy-cold harbor city of vandalized buildings, scrawled-upon walls, underpaid sailors, and confrontational drunks and skinheads."

It may well be as he describes it, if you look for it. But when my wife and spent three days there prior to boarding the Trans-Siberian, it was June and the weather bright, sunny, and cool. The sailors were there, certainly, but they were mostly interested in ogling the bikini-clad young women who were sunning themselves near the harbor than in causing trouble.

We walked, unmolested, throughout the town, along the attractive shopping area, ate well at local restaurants, and observed the rusting Russian Pacific fleet tied up in the harbor. We happened to arrive on the weekend they were celebrating the Russian fishing fleet and there was music and dancing and feasting with families strolling about enjoying the sunshine.

We did encounter young men who could be described as skinheads, but even they were in fine, non-aggressive moods. Better than that and just as indicative of the sense of the place, we saw lots of young women strutting their stuff in super high heels, short skirts, and stockings, apparently the fashion statement of the year.

On the down side, and to give Theroux his due, we flew in from Korea in a decrepit Russian airliner with graffiti scrawled on the back of the seats, arriving on a cloudy day and the Stalin-era buildings on the outskirts of the city were grim and oppressive. In fact, we learned later that there had been no hot water in the city all winter. We stayed in a gray and forbidding looking hotel but, in true Russian form, our room was on a floor that was reserved for foreign tourists, military officers, and high ranking government officials and so was sexed up with new plumbing and carpeting and had a good bar/restaurant. The other floors of the hotel were off limits and we were not allowed to explore.

My wife with our lunch of blinis with caviar in Vladivostok: No roaches on the walls.

In any event, it's not just foreign places that Theroux advises avoiding. He points out that certain cities in the United States hardly qualify as safe and delightful travel destinations. He describes East St. Louis, Illinois as one of the most "menacing-looking" cities in the U.S. and adds Newark and Camden, N.J. to that list of awful places to be avoided because they are among the most dangerous places in the world.

So, back to our train ride with Mr. Theroux: In the form of a roach, Kafka like, I crawl up to Mr. Theroux's tin cup and nosh on a piece of leftover rice while he nods off, his head down on his open notebook. I'd love to read a bit of what he has written but I'm a roach and so, of course, I can't. Instead I eat and listen to his steady, light snoring and watch out the window as the third world passes and our writer dreams perhaps of hot showers, cold beer, a good clean shirt, and that elusive goal of all great travelers: the epiphany around which one can write a book.