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, December 11, 2012

Water, Fog, Boats: Winter, Such As It Is, Arrives, and I Start the Next Book

This doesn't look much like winter, yet the calendar says it's here so I got her ready.

Eleven years living in the tropics taught me to appreciate the change of seasons offered by the temperate zones. Still, memories of my New England-farm-boy upbringing with 20-below winters served up with plenty of snow forever cured me of any desire moving back up there. This, the true temperate climate of Eastern Shore Virginia, suites nicely. 

Here I am in the beginning of December having just "winterized" my boat. This means getting her ready for sub-freezing temps which means running a non-toxic anti-freeze through the raw water cooling system in the engine and draining the holding and water tanks and putting some of the stuff in those, too. And changing the engine oil, too, except I didn't do that this year because I only ran the engine for maybe ten hours since the last oil change. 

This has all the earmarks of a good winter in other respects, too. Terry gets back from Atlanta on Friday and on Sunday we leave for a week in Washington D.C., she to work, me to avoid work. I plan on spending much time hanging out at the National Gallery of Art just sitting, looking, absorbing. I can't explain the powerful attraction old art has for me. I love the gallery, too. Huge, cavernous--a modern cathedral to allow us to worship the old artists, great and--most of them--dead.

Two days after we get back from D.C., we fly to Atlanta and will have Christmas with the grandchildren--two boys so far, a third on the way in Seattle. Then, the day after Christmas, we fly to the Florida keys to babysit dolphins, a pleasant interlude that is getting to be a regular gig, except Terry will go with me this year. Wonderful. We will sit on the balcony overlooking the dolphin pens and the Gulf of Mexico and drink white wine.

The famous Eastern Shore fog overwhelmed us this week. In fact, Onancock, the name of our town, means "place where there is fog." This is the fishing fleet in Wachapreague.

As far as the new book goes, a while ago I discovered that the secret to writing is to put it off until you can't put it off any more and still call yourself a writer. Then, when you are hungry for it, when the fire in the belly is flaming up, you do it. I've been planning my next book for years, daydreaming my characters and my plot, making notes, writing sketches of scenes, getting ready. Like painting a house, writing a novel is all about preparation. So then, when the anxiety in my heart was too much to bear any longer, I sat down one morning at wrote the first chapter. Here's the first few lines:

“Tell me again, Maggie, about when I was born.”

Maggie’s face had assumed her warrior’s mask and to the boy it was important to soften it, to melt the thin veneer of ice it formed between them. Maggie sighed at the windshield of the old truck with its clattering, slapping wipers. She downshifted and the engine roared and strained and the wipers increased their tempo. 

After a moment her face softened. “Oh, now, Joseph, I remember it as if it was tomorrow—that clear. It was a perfect spring day, filled with bird songs and birds flitting and doing what birds do in the spring.  Your mother, the sweet young lady that she was, called me, her voice so soft I could barely hear her, what with her accent and all. I went over right away although I had just put a pie in the oven…..” 

“No, Maggie,” the boy said, “Not that time. The other time I was born.”

 Wachapreague harbor in the Fog, December 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Spontaneous Improvisation: Writing for the Sake of Nothing But Feeling Your Fingers Move

Writing and life are like an old truck--but I don't know why.

I met with a friend yesterday, a friend who wants to write poetry or essays but seems to be afraid to start anything. Can't get anything going. Keeps putting off sitting down and scribbling. What can she do? she asked. What do you do? she asked. How do you get things down? How do you start?

We sat in a nearby cafe and chatted about it. She is a retired teacher and spent many long decades struggling to get her students to write--to just get something, anything down. We drank tea and ate and watched customers come and go and listened to the televisions behind the bar droning on about football while we mulled this over.

What do I do when I want to write and can't think of anything to say? I usually avoid that problem by not sitting down to write until I do have something to say. Sounds easy enough, but what if that goes on for a long time and your not writing anything and you really want to just write something? So, here we go. What's below this paragraph is the result of not having anything to say but wanting to write something just because it feels good:

 Day-to-day life has a rhythm to it and a rhyme and we forget this at our peril. I just rolled out of bed, feet hit the floor, and the rhyme and rhythm of the day began with me stumbling around in my usual fog looking for my glasses. Once I find them, I can see out the back, upstairs windows down to the backyard for my first check on what's happening outside--another cool, clear day it would seem and no fox hanging out.

Down the stairs, clutching at the banister/railing for support, stepping carefully. I'm older now, more tentative. I greet my wife who was already up and getting ready to go to the "Y" for her morning swim. I admire my wife's determination and discipline but I'm over that early morning workout thing. Takes longer now for my bones to grease themselves up. I'll work out later.

Coffee--decaf, damn it, because of my recurrent heart arrhythmia--and a Zone bar to start. I pad around, looking out windows at the birds feeding at the feeders and drinking at the bird bath. Satisfied everything is in order, I remove my self to my cave, my study, my den, my "space." It's warm in there, with fat recliners in which I sit and write and think and nap and study Spanish and play guitar and sometimes watch TV.

I open up this laptop and log on and here I am, the early blogger seeking the blogger's elusive worm of public attention. I'm free to write what I want which is about anything that comes into my mind and so far I don't have anything of any particular interest to say. Can't think of a thing, in fact. So this yammering you're reading is just practice, really, at just writing. Just getting something down, just for the hell of it, because it feels good to see my thoughts emerge through the tips of my fingers onto the blank page. When I write I feel like a musician, a jazz pianist say, improvising on his keyboard.

Today is Saturday and Terry leaves tomorrow for two weeks in Atlanta on FEA biz. I'll spend time with her today and drive her to the airport tomorrow morning and then I'm on my own, the Two-Week Bachelor. I'll focus on my writing and book promotion while she's gone. I started writing my next novel this week. On the second chapter and it feels like I'm back home where I belong.

So, there it is--nothing. I just wrote about nothing and it was fun. I got something down that started nowhere and went nowhere else. I just enjoyed feeling my fingers moving across the keyboard and watching the words appear on the screen through the magic of technology. It felt like I was playing piano in an old bar where no one was really listening and no one cared what I played so I just improvised and noodled along.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Fox in the Yard, Thanksgiving, Sailboats, 10,0000 and 66

This guy got in and couldn't get out.

I looked out the backdoor window the other day and saw this: a rather skanky looking fox. He'd jumped across the fence to get into the backyard and then lost his way out. We watched, Terry and I, full of sympathetic dread: was he sick (Rabies! Poor thing! poor us!); was he hungry (the poor neighbor's cat huddling at our door must look tempting). At one point, unaware of us, he sat down and scratched himself, dog-like, and looked around. Ten minutes later, he found his way out and was gone. The cat relaxed, we went about our business.

And my business was taking a long walk. The autumn air was crisp, the breeze filled with the perfume of falling leaves and whatever else it is that give fall it's special smells. I set out, down through the quiet streets to the harbor.

Autumn comes here later than New England: This is the middle of November

 The harbor in Onancock never fails to pluck at my heart strings.

I walked four miles with my GPS app satellite lady talking to me every five minutes describing my progress: "Time--5 minutes; distance--.027 miles; pace: 18 minutes, 27 seconds per mile"

Other important numbers for me this day: my novel Brothers of the Fire Star climbed--a temporary spike, I'm sure--to 10,000th ranking on Amazon and on Sunday I'll be 66. My wife pointed out that if you put another 6 on that, you've got me pegged but there's a little devil in all of us.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Photo Shoots, Feature Articles, and Waiting for That Review

At a photo shoot on a beach on Guam: I try hard to look casual, seaworthy, and profound at the same time.

Unless you are a pro at this--say a movie star or a model--photo shoots are a trial and a tribulation. You're extremely pleased to be there on one hand and extremely worried about what camera with its huge, invasive lens is going to find in your face on the other hand.

I'm as vain and anyone, of course, and while the photographer had his bazooka directed at me point blank, I suspected he was saying to himself, "Well, I guess I'll just have to do the best I can with this old guy."

 I worried about the wind in my hair blowing it off the places where I no longer have any hair; comb overs and topical trade winds don't mix well. I worried that I would not be able to suck things in just above my belt for as long as it was taking him to decide which pose I should assume. I worried that the senior citizen discounts I love to ask for would not include a discount on Rogaine and diet bars.

Nonetheless, I got through it, for better or for worse. 

Here is the link to the article:|newswell|text|Frontpage|p

Or, here it is below, copied and pasted:

'Brothers of the Fire Star': Former resident's book a tale of Guam in World War II

In the dense, dark and mysterious jungle, 13-year-old Joseph hears planes and thundering bombs in the distance. Caught in the thick of World War II on Guam, the fearful boy flees into the darkness and encounters a spirit in a banyan tree, urging him to survive.
"You must not die yet," the spirit says. "You must escape to the sea."
Joseph is a young boy from Massachusetts living on Guam during the war -- born from the imagination of former Guam resident and author Douglas Arvidson.
Arvidson was in Guam just a couple of weeks ago to promote his latest book, "Brothers of the Fire Star." The fictional tale of two boys sailing for their survival is set against historical war scenes in Guam and the Pacific.
Arvidson is an avid adventurer who immersed himself in Pacific traditional seafaring navigation while living on island for 11 years.
Today, the retired Department of Defense Education Activity speech and language pathologist lives in Virginia yet still longs for home -- Guam -- where he's studied with traditional navigator Manny Sikau and has many friends.

Product of passion

The book is a product of his passion for the open ocean and traditions of ancient navigation that he learned while living on Guam.
In 2008, Arvidson retired and left Guam for the mainland. While writing his book, he had an epiphany.
"It was the emotion of nostalgia -- a longing to recapture a treasured past memory -- that made the difference," he says. "You see that in William Faulkner's writing -- a longing for the past. I missed my life and my friends on Guam, missed the great adventure of sailing, I missed the profound sense of both the sadness of the war and the magical past that exists in the islands."
In the story, Joseph is a young boy from Massachusetts. In a way, Arvidson is that boy.
"I would never pretend to be a boy from Guam -- there would be no authenticity in trying to be," he says. "How to solve this problem when developing the idea for the book? Be myself and draw upon my own experiences. As soon as I had figured this out, nostalgia for my youth on the farm in a small, rural town in the hills of New England dovetailed nicely with my nostalgia for my life on Guam and in the islands. After that, the book seemed to write itself and it became a deeply satisfying experience."
It took him nearly three years to write the historical fiction novel, which was released in October and is available in paperback on Aside from the characters, including Napu, the boy Joseph befriends on his journey of survival, Arvidson tried to include as many historical references from the War in the Pacific as he could, also drawing on his trips through the Pacific on his boat.

Traditional navigation

When Arvidson and his wife moved here in the 1990s, he heard about the group Traditions About Seafaring Islands, or TASI, and became intrigued with the idea of possibly studying navigation under a master navigator. He attended meetings where he met Sikau, a seventh-generation Carolinian master navigator from Puluwat. He became deeply involved, attending classes on navigation in Hagåtña and at the University of Guam.
"I also had the opportunity to meet with Manny privately and to sail with him on the voyage back from Pagan," he says. "I asked a lot of questions, took a lot of notes, and although, of course, I could never have actually been a navigator, it gave me enough knowledge to write the novel. After I was finished with the first draft, I met with Manny and went over the manuscript with him. He and Larry Cunningham provided invaluable feedback."
It's a passion he continues to share with his book and with a lecture he gives that he calls "Secrets of the Navigators."
On Friday, he was in Massachusetts visiting his 93-year-old father and preparing for a presentation on the ancient navigators of the Pacific for the Boy Scouts.
"There are organizations dedicated to keeping the old skills alive and keeping that profound connection to the sea and the sky a part of the island culture is vitally important," he says. "Yes, GPS has largely replaced traditional navigation, but that is not the point. The point is the fundamental connection between man and nature must not be lost."
Arvidson and his wife, Terry, lived on Guam in a boat, where he wrote three other novels, two of which have already been published.
Terry Arvidson is a director of the federal education association for all of the military dependent schools in the United States, which brought the couple back to Guam last month.
"She has to go back usually once a year to talk to all of the constituents there," he says. "She goes back on business and I would go back with her. Now I'm going back on business for myself."

Urging of friends

Douglas Arvidson came at the urging of his friends Maureen Murphy and Shannon Murphy, sisters who loved the book, he says.
"They really went to bat for me," he says. "They set up things with the International Reading Association and I sold a lot of books there. I presented a lecture with (Professor) Evelyn Flores' class at the University of Guam."
Different libraries and other groups have asked him to return next year to make more presentations on writing and on "Brothers of the Fire Star."
"I have so many good friends (on Guam) and so many good memories," he says.
"We love going back and we'd want to move back here on an on-and-off basis.
"We were here for 11 years and got to know the island. We've developed very, very close relationships with the people there. It feels like home to me."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Authentic Book Promotion Continued: A Wonderful Week on Guam

With students in a creative writing class at the University of Guam: As a guest lecturer, I had a wonderful time discussing the writing process with a room full of intelligent and enthusiastic would-be writers; they bought my book and fed me, too.

It's almost over; tomorrow we fly to Tokyo and then non-stop to L.A. where we will layover to allow the "Frankenstorm," the Storm of the Century, to pass over the East Coast.

But it has been a fine week indeed for this writer: Guest lecturing, interviews, photo shoots, book signings, invitations to return and be the keynote speaker at upcoming book events and pockets stuffed with cash from spontaneous book sales wherein the book is grabbed out of one of my hands while dollars are thrust into the other. It's hard to know how to react so I'll take the easy road and not think too much about it. I'll enjoy the moment, carpe diem,  and all that.

 A successful book signing: I had just ten books left at the end of a week of lectures and interviews and sold them all in an hour and a half. Wonderful and so very, very different from previous book signings with previous books.

To see your name up like this is kind of jerks you up short. "Do they mean this Douglas Arvidson?"

And, after we left the hotel, we got to stay with good friends who have made a beautiful home from raw Guam jungle--bananas and flowers abound.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Wonderfull Time on Guam: Authentic Book Promotion

Tumon Bay, Guam in early morning from our hotel room window.

Guam: a far outpost on this fat round world, the place where America's day begins and where jet lag sets the mood for the sky traveler. We landed last Sunday, just at sunset, arriving from Honolulu after a two-night rest after arriving there from Virginia. I was beat, sagging and foggy and grumpy and so was my traveling companion (the usually patient, tolerant, smiling, hard-core-world-traveling wife, Terry).

It's rainy season here, the full-throttled-downpour-gusher time of year when huge black clouds form from nothing, instantly, in blue skies and the deluge that follows fills gutters and storm drains and then the blue sky returns arched with multiple rainbows. The humidity is something spectacular, making the 88 degree heat sauna rich and suffocating. Turns out our car rental agency doesn't have a desk at the airport so we have to pile our luggage and drooping bodies with six other people into a van designed to hold only six.

Even the air conditioning at the Hilton seems to have not been up to the challenge of removing the sullen moisture from the air. The corridor smells of dampness, the carpeting looks downtrodden, the windows overlooking the ocean are fogged. We grump and grumble as we settle in. It's really too early to go to sleep for the night, but heads hang low and eyes burn, so we surrender.

Awake at 4:30 a.m. of course, fully slept out and once again spunky, but who gets up at 4:30 except under duress? Toss and turn. "You awake?" So we get up at 5:00. Terry, with the ridiculous self-disciple reserved for true triathletes, gets her workout clothes on and heads down the fitness room. I go down to the lobby and buy a $5 cup of coffee and eat a zone bar.

Now, though, two days later, things have cleared up--both heads and skies--and we're zooming along. Terry off to meetings, me off to promote (authentically--see previous blog entry) my book. And it's all good news. In fact, wonderful news. The very people who seemed to studiously ignore my first two books are grabbing for this one with one hand whilst throwing cash at me with the other. I have a photo-shoot/interview scheduled with a reporter from the Pacific Daily News and another one with a writer from Island Traveler, a new magazine aimed at Asian readers. There is a book signing scheduled for the Navy Exchange on Saturday and I'm a guest lecturer at the University of Guam tonight at a creative writing class. I'm going to talk to 3rd graders tomorrow about the writing process and 6th graders on Thursday.

The difference between this book and the others?  This one is about Guam; it has a home-field advantage. It's beautiful to look at and wonderful to hold. The cover invites you in, the back-cover blurb grabs you. People who have read it, love it and are spreading the word.

I've got another five days here. We'll see what happens next.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Authentic Marketing: The Art of Shame-Free Self Promotion

October 4th was Launch Day: I think everything is in place.


 I'm guessing that the most important thing about being a successful writer of novels is this: Have talent--lots of it--well developed talent honed through the years of slog and misery and rejection that makes the final success such a bitter-sweet experience.


Next--and I'm guessing here again--take your time and use that burnished talent to write something outstanding, something wonderful, something fresh, unique--something readers will want to pick up and not put down, something that will affect them deeply, something they will talk about to others. Word of mouth sells books.


 And the cover, yes. The cover needs to be as beautiful and unique and appealing as the story inside it. 


What now? Now comes the really painful part: Telling everyone how wonderful your book is. Shouting its glories from the rooftops, as it were, and this makes people like me feel just terrible. But recently I came across a wonderful term coined by Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber's  promoter, that takes the shame out of self-promotion: authentic marking.


 Here's the general idea of authentic marketing: Promoting a product that you know is of high quality. That is, your book is the real deal--you're not some hack selling cheesy drivel or scamming suckers into buying worthless scribbling.  You, with your burnished talent and careful craft, have created something that you know (and your editor and publisher and a hired professional reader or two agree with you) the reading public will love and benefit from. Authentic marketing is convincing as many of those readers as possible to buy the book.


Nowadays, of course, in this wonderful, writhing, boiling, exploding, cut-throat digital world, you need what's called a platform from which to launch your authentic marketing campaign. You--or your agent/representative--must be fluent in the dizzying world of professionally developed websites, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogs and all the other ways the Internet allows us to connect with anyone on the planet who might be interested in what you have to offer.


So here I go, shame-free because I'm pretty sure I'm marketing something authentic: My readers tell me I'm ready, my editor says the book is burnished, my publisher says, "This is going to be a great book." Initial responses are breathtakingly enthusiastic: "Best book I've ever read," "Wonderful read," "A real page turner," "Fantastic" and "If this doesn't make you, nothing will."


And I've got a pretty cool website with links all over the place like, my blog, my Twitter page, and lots of Facebook friends. And I'm linked in to LinkedIn. I've sent out press releases, done what I an to create that critical buzz.


Now we shall see if being an authentic writer and writing an authentic story and marketing it authentically will result in some authentic success. 




Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Writer Visits a Middle School: All Things Bitter and Wonderful

Middle schoolers haven't changed a bit: But the old man? Yes, indeed.

The other day I did my yearly stint as a visiting author at a middle school in Georgia. In response to questions from the students, I talked about what it is like to be a writer: How long it takes to write a book? Do I like being a writer? And of course, "Where to you get your ideas?"

But the real question of the day, a question that went unasked was, "What is it like to be a middle schooler?" My memories of that time in my life are not completely pleasant. I went to a pretty good, small, country school. I had an intact family and I was clean and well fed. But still, being eleven or twelve or thirteen years old is a peculiar misery. I had zits, I was hopelessly insecure, girls were from another planet, I hated math, I wasn't a great athlete or a great student; the usual middle school complaints.

So, the other day, when I was standing up there in front of thirty or forty kids, looking out on their presumably innocent young faces, I could sense their pain. There was girl with a bad complexion, there was a boy who parents were, I had been told, always battling; there was kid who lived in a trailer with a mixed "family" of live-in drunks and lovers and who claimed he shot deer out in his back yard every day: "I just like to kill things," he told me.

So, what do I teach them about writing--which is really all about life? Right now, as they come into their full awareness of who and what they are, they are learning all those things bitter and wonderful about what it means to be alive.  These things will follow them the rest of their lives and maybe one or two of them will become writers and remember these years and mine the memories for great literature. I suspect, though, that most of them will simply grow up and somehow learn to deal with it all as they, too, muddle through.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Of Pumpkins and Potted Plants, Boats and Books, Old Friends and New Family: What We Did on Our Summer Vacation

I don't really have much of a green thumb. Out of a great tangled jungle of stems leaves and stalks came this single pumpkin: 30.4 lbs. and just look at the beautiful color.


I got pre-publication copies of my new novel, due to be officially released on October 4. Forgive me, but I am apologetically excited about how great it looks.

Here is my most immediate family, gathered together in my perfect little American town on the 4th of July. The little guy in the front, that's my newest grandson, Kiernan a.k.a. "Babyface Scarborough"

And here I am with a since-childhood friend and his wife. Rick and I started playing together when we were, oh, I guess maybe three or four years old. We've kept in touch, but only seen each other two or three times in the long, intervening years and it was very nice to get together.

My son, Eli-the-Yacht-Captain and his girl/mate steamed into town on a yacht delivery and asked if I wanted to help them take the boat up the Bay to Annapolis. (See previous blog entry.)

So, I see the pumpkin as bookends to the great, long, hot-hot summer. I planted the seed in May and harvested it in September. I love the pumpkin like I love the summer, full of rare surprises.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

In Which We Navigate a Brand-New, 70-Ft, $3.8 Million-Dollar Yacht Up the Chesapeake Bay

This is a Horizon 69. My son, Eli, a commercial captain, and his long-time companion, Bailey, were hired to bring her up the coast from Ft. Lauderdale to Annapolis, stopping along the way to let brokers try to sell her. Here she is tied up at Cape Charles, VA, just across the Bay from VA Beach and down the penninsula from Onancock.

Captain Eli and His Mate, Bailey

The Galley/Salon

The Master Suite

The night before we leave Onancock for the final run to Annapolis, we host a cocktail party on the upper deck.

The morning of departure, Eli logs in and fires up the engines--two 380 H.P diesels.

Leaving Onancock, we steered from the upper bridge.

Onancock Creek at sunrise: We had perfect weather.

Onancock Harbor

The lower-bridge controls

In air conditioned comfort, we stand watch. It was a bit of a learning curve for me. In fact, I was overwhelmed.

Eli and Bailey have been running boats together for eleven years--she is, variously, mate/chef/chief steward. They just finished taking a 112-ft. yacht from Ft. Lauderdale, around the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, and up to Mexico and San Diego.

As we approached Annapolis, we passed this very nice staysail schooner.

In Annapolis,we are dwarfed by the 130-ft Winning Drive, owned by the owner of the Baltimore Ravens.

The next morning, in Annapolis Harbor, I sit at the bridge, drink coffee, and watch the local traffic. The old joke is that Annapolis is a "drinking town with a boating problem." Nice.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Father and Son Run the Bulls: Royalty, Rabble, and Raw Cruelty

With my son, Eli, in front of the bull ring in Pamplona, 1993

Now, there was a summer--1993. We were living in Germany, Eli had recently graduated from high school. We had tried to reach Pamplona the summer before but a strike by French truckers blocked all the highways between Germany and Spain and we had to turn around, just barely making it back into Switzerland before running out of gas.

But now prospects looked good. No strikes on the horizon, a hot little Opal sedan with a four-on-the-floor and an engine that screamed at 100 mph. We hit the autobahn, crossed the French border in two hours flat, and slipped onto the peage, the French highway system. Down we zoomed, as I recall, Eli behind the wheel, six feet from the car ahead of us, the pedal to the metal. My heart in my throat, I began negotiating and finally, disgusted with my faint heart, he pulled over: "Alright, fine. YOU drive."

Across France, along the Pyrenees, toward San Sebastian, then up and over them and down into Pamplona, that Spanish town of Hemingway's greatest and continuing myth. Where to stay? We planned on camping and now found, a couple of miles outside town, a campground already filled to overflowing with an international cast of characters, prospective bull runners all. They were mostly from New Zealand and Australia, young men--and a few young women--off on "walkabout" for a couple of years.

We set up our tent right outside the men's latrine, under glaring lights that never shut off. Everyone was, of course, drunk and intensely involved in the process of getting drunker. The latrines were unspeakable with vomit and smeared feces. But, in the end, it didn't matter: We didn't come to Pamplona to sleep.

We walked into town and got there just before noon on the day the feria started--let me say, exploded. I went into a bank to get some cash, this being in the days before automatic bank tellers. While I was standing in line, a gun went off outside somewhere. A bank teller raised a glass of champagne, toasted the air, and drank: The party had started.

Once outside, I saw everything had changed. Where before the crowd was just milling around expectantly, everyone was now dancing, forming long conga lines and  swaying  around the square and along the streets. Music seemed to come from a thousand places, from the air itself. People sang, kissed, hugged, and most of all, drank sangria from glass bottles that, when empty, were simply smashed on the sidewalks or on the cobbles of the town square. Men urinated freely in alleyways and then, at night, anywhere and everywhere until the town was filled with the smell of it all: sangria and old urine and cigarette smoke and, always, always, always, twenty-four hours a day, loud rhythmic Spanish music.

Here's shot of the running I got off the Internet: Thanks, it's a good one.

They run bulls, six of them, every morning at 8:00. They are released from a pen across from a cathedral in downtown Pamplona some distance from the bull ring. A rocket is fired off to announce the opening of the gate and then another to signal the exit of the last bull into the street. You want the rockets close together because that means the bulls are running in a bunch and there is less danger of a single rogue wreaking havoc. You are in a crowd, you have a red bandanna around your neck, you hear the first rocket and the crowd starts to move, walking slowly, raising a rolled up newspaper in the air and chanting, "Ola! Ola! Ola!"

You have been told that the real danger is getting knocked down and stomped on by fellow runners--the danger from the bulls is secondary. This turned out to be true. In those days, though, I was still pretty fast, pretty agile, so when the crowd stopped walking and started running, I was with them, dodging and leaping. As we ran, we looked back over our shoulders for the first sighting of the bulls.

They came in two bunches of three, as I recall. The streets of Pamplona are narrow and so as the first bulls galloped by, I could  have easily lunged out with my newspaper and touched one--that's the purpose of the newspaper, to just touch a bull: count coups, display courage. I instead stepped aside into a doorway and watched them pass. Then, back out into the street, running, dodging, leaping until the next three came along.

I managed to get to the bullring in time to get through the gates before they closed them and now found myself in a crowd in the middle of the ring with thousands of people in the seats cheering us on. But what were we supposed to do?

The bulls we had just run were herded out of the ring and another group of younger steers were released into it. Now I understood: We were supposed to touch these steers with our newspapers for the entertainment of the crowd. I had become a bull fighter of sorts.

But anything more than touching a young steer with your newspaper is forbidden. One drunken young Aussie actually leaped astride a steer, went for a short ride, and fell off. When he stood up, a young Spaniard ran up to him and roundhouse punched him in the face, splattering blood and sending the Aussie to his knees; punishment for breaking the rules.

Then it was over. The steers were herded out of the ring and we were too, back out into the streets. It was all a heady experience.

But here are my last thoughts on this great adventure: Later that afternoon I went to the bull fights--I watched the bulls I had run that morning die in the ring. They were literally tortured to death. Stabbed first by mounted picadors, the animals were left to bleed, their neck muscles torn. When they had been sufficiently reduced, the matadors took them on. This was dangerous enough, of course. Though bled out and exhausted, the wounded animals famously take their toll.

I, one of the rabble, found myself seated in the stands among what seemed to me to be royalty--beautiful Spanish people, the young women stunning. They were cheering, applauding, thrilled to be there. I was feeling sick: nauseous, weak, light headed. At first I though it was something I had eaten on the street, but no--it was the shock of slaughter--the blood and the torment that had gotten to me. There is a very short list, it is said, of Americans who have watched two bull fights.

On the way back to Germany, as we drove along the foothills of the Pyrenees,  we stopped at Lourdes, the now garish town that caters to faithful Catholics who seek cures for their ailments by anointing themselves with the famous waters. In a line of the hopeful, I walked through the cavern, splashed myself, and asked for a cure for my imagined learning disability. That didn't work out for me. Perhaps I should have asked forgiveness for what I had done in Pamplona.

Hemingway in Pamplona: Royalty and Rabble embracing raw cruelty.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hot Summer, Giant Pumpkins, and Good News Writing

The Pumpkin Plant that Ate Onancock
Dusty hot summer, mostly rainless. Even the sky is dusty, even the ocean and the Bay. But it is, apparently, a good summer for books, boats, reunions and raising  giant pumpkins.

It's also a good summer to be a writer, if you're me. I just received this email from the new publishers of the Prague Revue, the literary journal that published one of my first short stories back in the 90's:

Mr. Arvidson,

I wanted to notify you that we are relaunching The Prague Revue. Beyond inviting you to submit any new material at the provided address, I would also like to inform you that your story The Foreigner has been selected to be part of a web retrospective highlighting some of our favorite stories over the years. It will have a featured spot on the front page of the website, which we plan to go live with sometime within the next two weeks. If we could obtain your permission to include this story on our webpage we would be very grateful. I trust the writing is going well and look forward to hearing from you. If you have any further questions or comments please e-mail back at this address.

Thank You,

Shaan Joshi
Managing Editor
The Prague Revue
V Jámě 7 110 00 Praha

So, that was very gratifying. I haven't written a short story in many years but his has me thinking.

 As are the reader responses to Brothers of the Fire Star which, though not officially released until October 4th, is being sold locally:

 I just finished reading your latest book. Congratulations! A great read AND you got all the facts right! Can we sell this in the Guampedia bookstore? Everyone in Micronesia should read it. You, my friend, did a great job in portraying a moving story with lots of history and culture of the Marianas and the Carolines.  Shannon M., Guam

I just finished Brothers of the Fire Star... one of the best books I have ever read, & sure to be one of the most memorable... I'll be thinking about that ending for some time before I move on...Larry R, Okinawa

That's just a couple. Happily, all the reactions I've received run along those lines. Happily? Actually, no, it's thrilling. When you read a review like that, your heart races and your stomach jumps.

As for the giant pumpkin plant, the story goes like this: I've always wanted to grow a giant pumpkin. You know, the kind you see on news reports, the kind that weighs a hundred pounds. And so, my son-in-law says, "Well, we bought a giant pumpkin last Halloween and I saved some seeds." He handed me a sealed plastic bag. It felt slightly illegal. I looked over my shoulder; had the neighbors seen this transaction?

So, in May, I planted three of them. One grew a stunted plant that went nowhere. One grew a smaller shoot that is doing okay. But the last one is almost scary. It is growing a foot a day, the vine moving along the ground like a sentient creature, the lead shoot standing up like a green snake with its tendrils reaching out, finding the way. I grew up on a farm with a big garden and I never saw anything like this. I keep watering it, feeding it, talking to it. Maybe I should stop. It's getting out of hand. I don't dare lie down on that chaise lounge--I could wake up inside a pumpkin.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

4th of July with Family In the Perfect American Town

The Arvidson-Scarborough Family, July 4, 2012

Torrid, sweltering, overwhelming heat here in our little town, temps climbing up into the mid- to upper-90s bolstered by plenty of humidity. With a houseful of family, we found it too hot to go outside except for short intervals to the store for beer/wine/hot dogs/hamburgers/corn on the cob/tomatoes/chips/ potato salad/baked beans. All good for a 4th of July weekend with the family together for the first time in years.

Front row, above, left to right: My son, Eli, his long-time partner, Bailey who is holding our daughter Jenny's infant son, Kiernan. Then there is Terry and next to her, our older grandson, Konrad, Jenny's first child, who will be four in September. Back row: Jenny and her husband Rob and then me, leaning, as usual, on Terry for some sort of support.

But the crowded house was happy and things bubbled along wonderfully. One day we drove up to Chincoteague and spent the day on the beach followed by ice cream. We bought a small splash pool for the kids and set it up in the back yard. We had a hammock set up in the shade, we marched in a mad little parade down through town to the harbor, and we had good attitudes and nothing to be cranky about. We loved it all. It was all very perfect.

We're ready for the Do-Dah Parade, a mad hatter event for sure.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Winter Reading Done and Thanks to Mr. Chekov

(Note: Douglas Arvidson's new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, will be released in October 2012)

In Praise of Dr. Chekov-and thank you, thank you, sir.

These days, in the first official year of my undeniable aging, I spend an inordinate amount of time, usually at wee hours of the morning as my wife sleeps next to me and the cats scratch around outside our door, worrying about how little time I have left.

This focus on the inevitable came on suddenly, not long after I left my day job and embraced the wonders of a comfortable literary retirement. Having nothing much else to worry about, I was left with just the near horizon of my demise to cause me to sweat through the haunted hours.

Yes, I said my own demise. Horrid, this obsession with termination, especially in view of my relatively robust health.  Nothing wrong with me that's not covered by medication. I work out, I'm not in pain and I can still see fairly well. My heart sometime likes to keep it's own rhythm but that's fine as long as there is a rhythm.

No, the problem is only that I need, I want, more time to work--to write. More time, like another fifty years or so. That being unlikely, I turned to Dr. Chekov, the master of the modern short story, the great Russian playwright, the consumptive who was dead at forty-four.

I spent the last dregs of this past winter with Chekov by my beside, reading him for an hour or so every night until my eyes warped and burned and I surrendered myself to death's livelier twin. All right, that's a bit much-- I read until I fell asleep. And a lot of Chekov passed me by, unfathomable, uncomprehended. I really needed a professor of Chekov to guide my reading--to help me along the way. But I persisted through The Ravine and Peasants and a thick wad of other stories and finally a play or two (The Cherry Orchard--his last play about the dying Russian aristocracy, written while he himself was actively dying, was the last.)

Chekov is a little hard for the modern reader to breeze through like you can breeze through say, Hemingway. Chekov is a little more Faulkner-esque in that one has to--or at least I have to--re-read a lot of the sentences to grasp the 19th Century syntax/style. But never mind--I enjoyed him immensely, will miss our time together, and will continue to pursue an increased understanding of his brillance.

But just today, I realized something else important, other than his greatness: He started writing in college, say in his twenties, and died at age forty-four. That's maybe twenty years of production, most of it knowing he was dying of TB--and look what he accomplished. I've got nothing to worry about except to keep busy. I'm only sixty-five.

 Chekov with a dog and with Tolstoy

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Beset by Languid Days, We Take to the Water and Find a New Paradise

A summer day on the Chesapeake Bay: Our Alberg 30, Seawind, sails the wind, full and by.

I don't resent these long-anticipated, languid days of summer that everyone is now complaining about. Amongst the press of book promotion, home-improvement projects, lawn mowing, and tending my few flowers I, with noticeably little effort, convinced a couple of new friends of ours to out flank the heat by go sailing with us.

Lassitude is the operative word when the temperature and humidity rise up to slap-your-face levels and you can taste the first dish of summer, spicy-hot in the nose. A friend of mine, ever the word smithy, used to say about summer: "It's not the heat that gets you, it's the humility."

But we denied both humility and humidity on this day and set sail with great pride and some fanfare for a day out plying a light breeze. A little wind in the sails, a glass of wine, and some excellent conversation was the way to start the summer off.

The Pocomoke River: Our Little Amazon

But the Bay is bright, the light glaring, the water salty, and the air heat-saturated. Was there another place to go for some relief? I had always wanted to stretch out my local boating adventures and go farther from home and had been eyeing the Pocomoke River, about a forty-minute drive north of us, just across the Maryland border. After sorting out a couple of pesky boating glitches (registering the trailer, paying $1500 to get the outboard working right) we were ready. We packed a lunch, hitched the boat to the truck, and headed up the road to Shad Landing State Park.

Lovely stuff, this place--a real paradise for the heat-tormented, especially if you're eager to be rid both heat and people. The park is situated in a big, dark forest and the headquarters/camp store are right on the river. There's a fine, protected little marina tucked back off the river itself and best of all, there was no one there.

But the river itself is the thing: its deep, cool water is brackish and dark brown from the tannic acid that leaches from the cypress bogs. A nearly unbroken wall of tall, green trees along the banks hides you from humanity and makes it easy to imagine you somehow took a wrong turn and ended up in the wilds of Borneo or Amazonia. And the river is seventy-three miles long, so there's enough room to wander all day and not see what is around every bend.

And then we found the country club. Such a thing: unobtrusive, the clubhouse barely visible amongst the trees, and a sign that said, "Boaters Welcome," a rare offering for a country club. We regretted the 18-hole golf course that was invisible from the river but rumored to have been carved out of the surrounding forest. We did appreciate, however, the cool bar with inexpensive wine. After a glass of Pino Grigio and a pleasant chat with the bar tender, the golf pro, and a fellow-retired teacher who apparently spends much of his free time astride a bar stool there, we were back out on the water where we shut the engine off and drifted with the incoming tidal current. We swam, we watched bald eagles, we congratulated ourselves on our find: Paradise within paradise.

Between boating adventures, I do have a summertime job: Promoting my new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star. Here I am on the porch of the Eastville Inn. The book will be officially released in October.