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, February 27, 2012

(Note: I'm in horse country in northern Georgia trying to be helpful to my daughter and her husband as they prepare for the arrival of their second son. I drive her to medical appointments, and keep son number one occupied and happy. I cook, I clean, I cajole, I get out of the way when appropriate. This morning the house is quiet and I have time to get back to our day dreaming story. To start at the beginning, scroll down to the next entry, Feb. 11th, and then come back up here, to this one.)

Paris: Our story is set here, near the Pont du Neuf, all moldy marble and gurgling, black water, hidden cafes, and old men sitting on benches.

(We must now think up a name for our louche American hero: Gabe? Yes, that's it.)

Gabe is alone in his flat. The phone rings, it's Catina, she is sobbing: "Dragos," she says, "is here."

"Where? In Paris?"

"Yes. He's here--with me."

"What the hell---what does he want?"

"Forgiveness--he says he wants forgiveness."


"Yes. Yes. For my brother. He says he can't live this way....That he still loves me."

There is a long moment of silence. Gabe can hear Catina's choked breathing. Finally he says, "What do you want me to do? Do you want me to come over?"

"I don't know. I don't know what to do. I just needed to....."

There is the loud clatter of the phone being dropped. Gabe hears Catina's voice, pleading, then the sound of a door slamming. He calls loudly into the phone but she doesn't answer. He hangs up and runs out the door of his flat. As he leaves, he sees his concierge watching him from her partially opened door.

The city is busy. It's late on a cold afternoon, the sky overcast, the river is flat, the color of lead. He makes his way from his building, through the alley, and then across the street, dodging traffic and people. He doesn't run, can't run.

He makes he way across the Pont du Neuf. The traffic is heavy, horns blare, somehow he manages to cling to the sidewalk. His mind is playing tricks on him, scattering his thoughts, refusing to allow concentration. It brings him memories of the Nazis here, in Paris, during the war, occupying, murdering, plotting to burn down the city, to blow up this very bridge as the Allies approached. The explosives had been set, ready to go off.....

Then thoughts of the Nazis yield to Catina and Dragos, the tragic children of that war and now survivors of the bland horror of the Communist regime that followed it in their own dark country. He steps off the end of the bridge, crosses the street. He can see her building now, where her flat is, see the door. He moves between the parked cars, back up onto the sidewalk and then he is going up the steps.

Catina is there, at the door. She pushes him away, back out into the light, into the street.

"What's going on?" he asks.

"He's up there. He has no where to go. I'm going to let him stay there."

"Stay here? In your flat?  Good then. You can stay with me."

"Yes," she says. "Yes." She looks up at him. Her eyes are dry now. "I have to teach a class this afternoon."

"I'll go with you."

(Okay, here we are. The sketch is developing into something more than I'd anticipated. This is what happens if you're lucky as a writer and your characters begin to take over the plot, begin to write it for you. I now begin to see what our American is doing in Paris--he was here during the war, during the occupation. He was somehow involved with the Nazis? With the plot to burn Paris as Hitler was demanding? We'll see.)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Double-Yoked Egg and a New Yorker Short Story: Time to Daydream

Now here's something you don't see much anymore: a double yoked egg. When I was a boy on the farm, I used to raise chickens for their eggs and sometimes you got a double yoker--or even a triple. Nowadays, the big, commercial eggs farms screen for such anomalies.

In any event, they are supposed to bring good luck, if not to the chicken, at least to the egg eater. Add to that the arrival of a my next New Yorker magazine with its short story, and I was set up for writing something.

I love stories set in Europe, stories of an American guy meeting a European woman. So, here I go, daydreaming on paper, pretending I'm noodling around with the plot of a story on an old Smith-Corona in a garret in Paris:

He is not old but neither is he young. He is world weary and cynical. Her name is Catina and she speaks English with an Old World accent of some sort and lives in a small, walk-up flat in, say, the 9th Arrondissment in Paris, not far from Montmartre and the Seine. He is between jobs and romantically depressed and out of sorts; she is a professor who teaches something improbable like Physics.

She wears slightly frumpy clothes that are, nonetheless, sexy and they spend much time walking through the Jardin du Luxembourg and drinking red wine. They are each tragic in their own literary way. She split with her lover--you don't yet know why--and she has thrown herself into her work. He is divorced and was fired from his job as an English teacher at a community college in some sad place like New Jersey.

Eventually they travel by train--leaving the Gare du Nord with a baguette and a hard smoked sausage and a bottle of wine--and head off to visit her parents who live in some sad place like Romania. Yes, two sad places like New Jersey and Romania to balance things out and, yes, that's it--she's a brilliant Romanian scientist whose family was repressed by the old Romanian government. Her brother was killed by Romanian secret police and her parents are old and poor and live in a cold-water flat in dreary, rainy Bucharest.

At her parents, you are supposed to sleep in her brother's old room (you have heard the story about the brother being killed by the secret police) but,( mais oui!) you end up sleeping together in her old bedroom. It's very cold and there is very nice love making under thick quilts punctuated by long, softly-spoken conversations under the covers, the whispered words echoing softly off the walls, the sound of traffic and horses hooves clomping along the streets reach their ears.

What do her parents think of him? She has told them he is professor, too. But they don't speak English, even with an accent, so you can only measure their judgement by their eyes.

You take a long walk, ostensibly to buy groceries, and of course, you chance to meet one of her old lovers on the street. His name is Dragos and he is darkly handsome in that special Romanian way. They kiss each other on both cheeks the way Europeans friends do when they meet and while he speaks to her in rapid Romanian, he is staring at you, seizing you up.

You imagine he says, "An American, hey? That's nice. They are all rich."

You shake hands. He has a cigarette hanging from his lips. He smiles at you through the cigarette with yellow Romanian teeth.

You sense longing and regret in their voices, in the words you can't understand. After he leaves, walking away pulling deeply on the cigarette and exhaling with a great sigh, you don't ask her what he has said because you know she can't tell you the truth. Later, that night, back under the covers in her cold bedroom she tearfully tells you that not only was he her lover, but he was her brother's best friend and had been tortured by the police into revealing her brother's secrets--and so he is responsible for her brother's death.

Next, they are back in Paris. He is alone in his flat and his concierge had given him a cable from someone in the States. His face darkens as he reads it. He sets it down on the table and walks to the window. He looks out over the city. The phone rings--It is her, Catina. She is's Dragos, she says, sobbing....

Watch this space for the next installment wherein we will learn what Dragos, the unforgiven, has on Catina, our tragic heroine and does our depressed, tragic American have the courage to help her?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I.Q. and Creativity: Are You Smart Enough to Be a Writer?

The Brain: Shakespeare's didn't look any different than yours.

So, you wrote the best book/short story you've ever read. You polished it up, had your wife/mother/best friend/old English teacher read it and they were, well, they said, "Yeah, really, I liked it." Then you sent it out to ten publishers/magazines and waited.

Six weeks later, the responses started to trickle in. Reactions from the acquisitions editors varied from polite, mass produced rejection slips to nasty comments written in crabbed, tiny script on the bottom of the SASE you mailed out with your manuscript. Each one carried with it a sharp knife stab of pain and embarrassment followed by a week of despair and gnashing of teeth. Anger, too. Let's not forget that. Anger is important.

When the last rejection is received you are left stunned and voiceless, whimpering, maybe. Certainly you are sleepless during the darkest hours of the night. Your spouse/best friend/mother/English teacher are sympathetic but you wonder, did they tell me how they really felt about the book/story?Does my English teacher know the truth and won't tell me?

After say ten years of this, you began to ask yourself the ultimate question: Am I smart enough to be a good writer? Put the another, more painful way, am I too stupid to ever write publishable prose?

This is a good news/bad news blog. It seems that if your I.Q., that single number that is supposed to tell you how smart you really are, is below 120, you don't stand much of a chance of being brilliantly creative. As the average I.Q. is somewhere between 85 and 115, it would seem that most of us are indeed not capable of higher-level creative abstractions. That's the bad news.

The good news is that, according an article I found on the Internet (Reprinted from Lucid Vol. VIII, No. 4/5 (#42/43), Aug./Oct. 1988, Lucid being the newsletter of the Mensa “Truth SIG.”) if your I.Q. is say, 120, you can be just as creative as a person with an I.Q. of say, 130 or 140.

Yes, it seems there is a threshold I.Q. for creativity. So the giant brain who got a 1600 on his college boards is not necessarily more creative than you. Yeah, he/she might be able to solve puzzles more quickly than you and understand higher math, and get accepted at a top college, but his/her short stories might be just as bad as yours.

There is a caveat to this threshold though. It's only true when considering individuals. In fact, when you look at large groups of people over the course of history, we find that most of the truly big, huge, earth-shattering creative ideas are thought up by people with big, huge, earth-shattering I.Q.s. Like, of course, Einstein or Bill Gates, or yes, Shakespeare. The bitter if obvious truth is that if your I.Q. is in the average range, you don't come up with E=MC squared or Hamlet's soliloquy.

Here it is, the infamous Bell Curve
Before I retired from my day job as a speech-language pathologist to write full time, I was often called upon to test student I.Q.s. Thirty two years of this has led me to believe that this is all true. But there is another aspect to intelligence that is not covered by this rule.

It's this: Intelligence is a multi-faceted phenomena--like a diamond, say. While some lucky people are gifted in all cognitive domains, there are some whose ability in, for example, math, are in the average range, but their verbal abilities are much higher. While there poor math abilities might bring their I.Q.s down below 120, their verbal skills could exceed that number.

I remember reading that when the Army tested J.D. Salinger's I.Q, it was reported to have been 110, surely not high enough to write The Catcher in the Rye. On the other hand, Marilyn Vos Savant is supposed to have one of the highest I.Q.s ever tested-- somewhere between 186 and 230--and she has not, to my knowledge, made any significant contributions to either literature or science.

The bottom line to all this is that the proof is in the prose pudding. People who do well on I.Q. tests and college board exams may or may not be creative and may suffer the same rejections you do. If your I.Q. is below 120 you may still write a brilliant book like Mr. Salinger did.

So, steel yourself to the slings and arrows of rejections and keep writing. Or, take the easier road and bypass those pesky, snobby, know-it-all editors and publishers and self publish.