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:

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Other Aspects of a Writer's Life: Clinging to the Irrational Belief that My Sailboat Has a Soul

Seawind, our Alberg 30, on the hard

I'm a sailor; been one for a long time. Can't imagine a life without boats and my sweet 30-footer makes me sigh every time I look at her. We bought her up in Long Island two summers ago and my brother and I sailed her down here to the lower Chesapeake. She lives at a nice little marina just a short drive from our house and just at the edge of the Bay.

This brings me to the tao of sailing which is the boat itself. A beautiful sailboat is an essence, a distillation of complex things. It's a phenomena, a cause of contemplation. It causes a certain madness brought down to a fine point. In short, I have this irrational feeling that my boat is alive. It seems so obvious; she breathes, feels, desires, responds to love as well as to neglect.

Yes, I believe it because I'm projecting my living self onto the boat and so, of course, reductio ad absurdum, she lives, too. She absorbs my projections like a house--and we all know houses live and breath. It's a hangup we can enjoy like so few of our other hangups.

In any event, it's nearly winter, a bad time for northern sailors. It's a time of guilt and regret at not having paid more attention to the boat's needs, not having sailed more or finished the woodwork project started in the spring.  So, I decided to haul her out and give her a little bottom paint and change the zinc before putting her back in for the winter.

Glad I did. The modified ablative paint the marina in Long Island put on her had some strange things happening to it. Little blisters had formed, with water getting in under the paint but the gel coat/barrier coat look okay. The zinc still had a lot of life left in it.

My friend and fellow sailor, Denny, helped me bring her up to the boat yard, a three-hour trip--no wind, motoring the whole way.

When we got there, the lift was ready. I drove her into the slings and out she came.

A good, long, hard, high-pressure shower took off most of the barnacles and slime.

I'm going to let her dry out for two or three weeks before sanding and painting. In the meantime, I'm off to San Francisco tomorrow and will drive back across the country with my son, the yacht captain, whose 112' Westport is being loaded on a container ship and moved to the East Coast where they will cruise the Bahamas and the Caribbean for a while.

Looking forward to some father-son time and the adventure of a long road trip. I'll be reporting here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Writing Down the Angst: A Chicken's Great Escape

Yes, this is a dead chicken.

I love my little Nikon Coolpix camera. It slips into my pocket and I can carry it everywhere with barely a bother. This allows me to take quick snapshots of life as it is lived and later I find the images instructive when I'm ruminating about how things are going, generally.

Take this dead chicken. Where I live on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, they raise a lot of chickens. Tyson and Perdue have big chicken processing plants here and there are lots of chicken farmers to supply them with fresh,  young chicken, as the advertisement goes.

You often pass one of their trucks, loaded with cages of chickens, going to the slaughter. Or worse, you get stuck behind one and get to watch the poor creatures stuffed into their small spaces, eyes glaring, their dirty feathers fluttering in the wind. It always reminds me of the day forty-five years ago, when I was shipped off to Army basic training at the height of the Viet Nam War. Oh, the sorrow, the remorse, the feeling of helplessness, the sense of doom. Every time I see one of those trucks, I consider the merits of both pacifisim and vegetarianism.

And then, every so often, you see this. One of them, somehow, escapes. But how? The cages are stacked up, chockablock, the space between the bars must be too small for them to slip through or they'd all be out. Imagine that.

No, how this one gained it's freedom will remain a mystery. Did it see an opportunity and seize it in the best tradition of escapees? Did it bribe a guard? Did it peck off the lock and then try to convince its cell mates to make a break with him and finally have go it alone? Was this one of those extremely rare chickens gifted with brains and daring?

In any event, chickens can't fly and the heady, desperate feeling of freedom did not last long for this fryer leaving me to spend the next few miles wallowing in existential angst and contemplating the true meaning of freedom, life, and death, etc.

But let's leave this on a positive note. Here, to counteract that sense of doom, are a couple a pure white Morning Glory moon blossoms that were growing in my garden the same morning that I encountered the chicken. Come to think of it, these lovely blooms only last for a short time, too. Oh, the angst, the angst.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dylexia: The Common Wisdom is Wrong

Dyslexia is used by some people as a convenient excuse for failure: Why is the common wisdom of the disorder so wrong?

A family member of middle age recently announced at a gathering that she now knew what her problem has been all these years: She has dyslexia. No wonder she wasn't a good student. No wonder.

I bit my tongue and kept quiet so as not to burst the sparkling, hopeful bubble of her excuse for what was apparently a mediocre academic performance back in her student years. As a speech-language pathologist, I spent thirty-two years of my life diagnosing and treating language and learning disabilities and the "symptoms" she used to describe her dyslexia fit nicely with the received common wisdom about the disorder: seeing things "backwards," her eyes jumping around on the page.

And this morning on NPR online, there it was again. In an interview with a business school professor about why an inordinate number of successful business people have the disorder, Steve Inskeep, the host, defined dyslexia as "seeing things backwards." Not so, Mr. Inskeep, not so.

Here's the definition of dyslexia I used when describing the disorder to parents:

Dyslexia is difficulty learning to read given normal intelligence and adequate instruction.

So, say a child reaches third grade, has had good, consistent teaching, and testing indicates at least average intellectual abilities, and that child still has great difficulty reading, he or she, by definition has dyslexia. But is that child just seeing words "backwards?" Unfortunately no; that might be an easy fix.

No, true dyslexia almost always is not problem with vision or your eyes not able to "track" words on a page. Dyslexia is a problem processing and associating sounds with symbols. It is primarily an auditory processing disorder. Here's a good description of the symptoms. I found it on line at PubMed:

A person with [dyslexia] may have trouble rhyming and separating sounds that make up spoken words. These abilities appear to be critical in the process of learning to read. A child's initial reading skills are based on word recognition, which involves being able to separate out the sounds in words and match them with letters and groups of letters.

Because people with [dyslexia] have difficulty connecting the sounds of language to the letters of words, they may have difficulty understanding sentences.

True dyslexia is much broader than simply confusing or transposing letters, for example mistaking ”b” and “d.".

In general, symptoms of [dyslexia] may include:

•Difficulty determining the meaning (idea content) of a simple sentence

•Difficulty learning to recognize written words

•Difficulty rhyming

[Dyslexia] may occur in combination with writing or math learning problems.

You notice that rhyming is mentioned twice here and that can be a first indicator of looming dyslexia. When a kindergartner seems to be having trouble learning those critical sound-symbol associations and also seems to have trouble rhyming, alarms should go off (gently but insistently).

It is critical with dyslexic children to get a diagnosis early and to get help sooner rather than later. When a young student falls behind in the acquisition of reading skills that delay will quickly widen as his or her peers move forward. The critical skill to learn in school is how to read and when a child's reading skills lag, the results can be disastrous.

But as for adults using "dyslexia" as an excuse for failure in life, remember this: a diagnosis of dyslexia should only be based on tests administered by professionals in the field. If you had a terrible time leaning to read as a young student, yeah, maybe your disorder was missed and you are a dyslexic. However, if you were an unremarkable student who nonetheless progressed normally through school and learned to read for meaning by the end of third grade, you may just have, heaven forbid, "average" intelligence. And that might be the only thing worse than dyslexia as we try to compete in this high tech world that worships those with gifted minds.