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:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What I Learned About Fiction Writing by Writing Essays for the Prague Revue

Salvador Dali kisses Rachel's hand after painting her portrait.

Writing is like painting is like life is like love: it takes time to get it right. 

For more than two years now I have been contributing an essay every month to The Prague Revue, a lovely, new-born, online literary zine. I was asked to be a regular contributor based on my short stories which TPR had published over the years, first in their original paper journal format and then in the new, digital Internet format. But now they didn't want short fiction, they wanted essays. 

I hadn't written an essay since college or at least since my broadcast journalist days in Key West (if banging out a ten minute news cast, including an occasional human interest story, in twenty minutes can be considered writing essays). But essay writing was writing, after all, and writing is my passion, so I agreed to do it. At least give it a try. You have to admire the courage of the editors at TPR.

I should probably report here that I struggled with this new genre which is usually referred to as creative non-fiction. Creative non-fiction, despite the creative part, has to be fact, not fiction. It has to be colorful//brisk/well researched/poignant/amusing and above all interesting and well written.

The first month's essay struggled to emerge after a full day of slogging away at this laptop, a day filled with an agony of increasing self-doubt. I thought I had a great idea but the essence of it refused to flood out of my fingers onto the blank screen. My writer's brain choked, my writer's self confidence was soon in full retreat. 

What to do? I stopped my struggle, closed the computer, and went for a long walk. Walking, as many writers find, is a fine thing to do in moments of creative trial and tribulation. Sure enough, after a few miles of hoofing it around town, I had the longed-for epiphany. To wit: It was the first day of the month. The completed, finely burnished essay was not due until the last day of the month. What the hell was I sweating for?

So, I set up a method of approaching essay writing. I would always be casting about for ideas, 24/7, day in and day out, daytime/nightime. When I was struck by one that seemed to have promise, I would note it down in my iphone. This way I built up a backlog of ideas for future essays.

Next, I would not spend time sitting at the computer just staring at the screen. I would write say, three sentences if that's all that seemed to be forthcoming, and move on to another writing project (this blog, my next novel). The only rule was that I would spend at least an hour a day on that month's essay. Just an hour, minimum. Of course, if it was going well, if the ideas were battering at the door of my imagination eager to get out, I would keep going and sometimes I would finish the first draft of a 2,000-word piece in a couple of hours.

Here's what I noticed happened: Every day when I sat down to write with the understanding that I only had to work at it for an hour, it took the panic and sweat out of essay writing. It allowed me plenty of time for my imagination to work and for me to do any research that was needed. It gave me time to re-write and fine tune and find any of those pesky typos and grammatical gremlins that lurk, smirking, within the syntax. For example, if I finished an essay by the middle of the month, I would still spend an hour every day re-writing it. It is wonderful, frightening, and enlightening when you realize how you can improve an essay you thought was finished if you re-write it every day for a couple of weeks.

And now I'm applying this idea to my fiction writing. As I re-write the draft of my just-finished novel, I treat each chapter as I would an essay. I spend at least an hour a day on each one, but if frustration and anguish creep in, I move on to something else. I'm adding a chapter to the middle of the book and having a great time writing it because I'm taking my time and allowing my character to take her time to develop fully.

In short, I'm no longer rushing the creative process. Our creative juices need time to gather, drip by drip, into a puddle of imagination. If I rush things, I'm missing all the possibilities for epiphanies--those lightning strikes of "ah ha!" moments that come if we give them enough time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Winning the End Game: Having the Courage to Live Well Until the Last Breath

HL Tauri--The Birth of a New Solar System: I think of all the potential lives swirling about in that primordial, cosmic soup.

This photograph has got the cosmologists all excited. It was taken by a state-of-the-art telescope high in the mountains of Chili and it shows something that has never been seen before-- the actual initial stages of the formation of a new solar system. In the middle is where the new sun will be and the dark bands are where the planets are forming. And its all congealing from a vast cloud of interstellar dust.

Where am I going with this? Well, it may be a bit of a stretch, but it all makes me think of birth and life and death and the endless cycles of things in our Universe and that while death is as natural as birth, it's ever so much more terrifying; dying is no cause for joy and balloons and handing out cigars.

And now that I'm just a couple of weeks away from turning 68, it seems that death is happening all around me. It always has been, of course, but now that I'm retired and hanging out at home with not much to think about except writing, it is what I'm thinking about.

Most of my friends are about my age, of course, and seem to be dying at an alarming rate. And those that are still alive all have plenty of death-and-dying stories to share and I'm no exception: My 64-year-old cousin just passed unexpectedly, my mother has been dead for three years and my father-in-law, too, and one of my brothers-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident, and my mother-in-law is terminally ill and my 95-year-old father has lost his mind to dementia and seems to be existing in a perpetual nightmare. The two guys across the street, who were my age, died last year and so did two high school friends. Oh, I could go on and on. And now that all this is happening, I realize that I have reached the phase in life where I'm supposed to begin deal with the End Game. Until recently death had been kept at a distance by relative youth and a busy schedule. Now when I look over my shoulder, I see all those pesky shadows.

The purpose of this blog is to keep a log of my life to hand down to you, my descendants who may have an interest in my share of where they came from and may be reading this. And if we are to be completely authentic about it all, it now means I should keep a log of the last years of my life. Thus far I'm healthy enough and have the genetics to go on living for another 25 years or more. All I need is luck. Still, we need to be prepared.

 So I shall begin herein to cite snippets of wisdom regarding our universal struggle to come to terms with the universal fate. I'll start with Mark Twain who is supposed to have said, "I'm not afraid of dying. I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it did not inconvenience me one bit."

It's like all the lives that may be formed from that nascent solar system pictured above: they are not the least bit perturbed at still being dead.

So I suppose there is humor in death. In fact, I'm counting on it. Watch this space.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The 100th Anniversary of the Beginning of World War I and a Memorable Bicycle Journey through the Killing Fields.

 The Bones of War: Skeletons of soldiers killed in the Battle of Verdun lie visible an impressive ossuary that sits atop the battlefield.

 Some thirty years ago, or so, I had a summer on my hands. My wife and I were living in Europe--had recently moved there from Iceland, in fact--and I was thirsty for some sort of small adventure. A bicycle trip across Europe from Germany to Paris seemed just the thing and so I bought a nice new Peugeot machine and set off by myself to experience the Continent first hand. What I hadn't counted on were my encounters with the ghosts of war. You can read more about this in my essay about my trip in The Prague Revue:

When it comes to war, one can take the high road of cynicism (humanity deserves the horrors brought on by its animal instincts) or the lower, more realistic road (in this case the road I traveled on my bicycle that summer) which lead me though the settings of bloody old battles that are now green pastures, farms and forests and peaceful farming villages. This lower road suggests that we humans are infinitely complex animals that seem to be making very, very slow progress towards some sort of improved version of ourselves.

Death in the trenches: The Battlefield at Verdun

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer 2014: Grandsons, Travel, Boats, Book Signings, and Beaches

 A successful book signing at the Sundial Bookstore in Chincoteague. We sold books, met good people, and had fun.


Time for grandsons to visit: Beaches, boating on the Bay, and just time together.

It's a bit tough getting used to having a 2-year-old and an almost-6-year-old around the house, but the joy of being a grandfather trumps it all. Now they've moved on to other adventures (in New Hampshire) and the house is a little too quiet.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It's June: Summer, Life is Good, and There's Deep Space to Think About, Too

Merely Infinity: Deep Space From Hubble

In summer, my eyes turn toward the heavens because the Earth has tilted and now I can see my favorite star constellations like Scorpio and Arcturus. Lovely stuff, really. And NASA just released this photo of deep space objects, namely lots of swirling, twirling galaxies. Thousands of them, and each of them no doubt full of sun-like stars with Earth-like planets filled with life of some sort or another. It's ever so instructive to look outward, towards the unknown and unknowable, towards an infinity that our finite awareness can never hope to grasp.
Close to home, summer brings around the celebration of things like war and remembrance, one time battlefields where thousands died and now thousands play. For example, see here below. The first is a photo taken on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Terrified soldiers, many, many of them soon to be dead, are disgorged from a landing craft on a beach in France. The picture below that is what that beach looks like today. If I had to choose, I'd choose the second one.

We hope that, as we gaze out into an infinite Universe that if there is life out there, and there most certainly is, that it does better than life here on this finite, fat little ball. That just maybe life evolved without having to kill to survive, to love without hate, and live without dying. And why not? Come on now, really. Why not?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Back to the Far Pacific: Book Signings and the Real Reason for Writing

Terry and I visited the new version of our old school on Guam and posed with the Seahawks mascot.
The writer's life can be fraught with frustration, disappointment, and a special bitterness reserved for those of us who try to create something worthwhile from a blank page. Still, there are rewards for persistence. This week Terry and I are visiting the far distant tropical island of Guam where we lived/taught/sailed/wrote for eleven years.
Terry needed to return for professional reasons and I, too had a good purpose: to do a book signing and to talk to kids about the adventure of being a writer. I am always intrigued and amazed by the sophistication of some young children. Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with a room full of were there 50 of them?--third graders.

Third graders? I don't write for third graders. My books are aimed at young adult/adult readers. They are adventure stories, they run to more then 200 pages, they have some challenging vocabulary, they have sophisticated plots and characters, they even have chapters.

Still, for thirty-two years I worked with children of all ages as a school-based speech-language pathologist and now, after all that, there are expectations. When a former colleague here on Guam, a wonderful person and a spectacular educator, asked me to talk to her class, I would have been hard pressed to deny her. Then she asked if it would be alright to include all the other 3rd graders in the school. So, then, there they are, 50 of them--at least 50.

But, truth be told, I know third graders and appreciate them. They are at that level of development where the thrill of life has not begun to leak out to be replaced by an insipient, knowing cynicism (that starts in middle school), where small things can be indescribably wonderful, where a visiting author, a large, gray-bearded, deep-voiced stranger is a wonder to behold--a veritable hero, star, someone famous.

And so it was--a wonder to behold. For forty minutes, they sat on the floor staring up at me and listening with an attention that was nothing less than rapt. But not just listening--participating in a conversation about this wonderful thing that they are struggling to master (as are all of us who presume to be authors): writing.

When working with kids, I take a practical, realistic approach. They need to be entertained, need to be challenged, and love to be given the opportunity to perform. I asked them to tell me what imagination was. One girl got it right: It's seeing pictures in you mind. Oh, yes.

So, they then closed their eyes and watched the scenes play out in their mind's eye while I read a brief passage from my novel Brothers of the Fire Star, a sailing-adventure-historical story set, in part, right there where they were sitting, right here where they lived among the islands and atolls of the western tropical Pacific.

I then help up a photograph of a man sitting in an island-style outrigger canoe and asked them to write down the answers to questions: What is he thinking? What is his name? What is he afraid of? What is he going to do today? Who does he love? How many children does he have?

I then stressed the importance of first sentences. I believe you can hang a entire story on it's first sentence and I re-read the first sentence of the book. I asked them to write a first sentence of their own book using the information they had written about the man in the canoe. I gave them time to think.

Then, the best part, I asked volunteers to come up and sit in "the author's chair" and read the answers to the questions and the first sentence--in front of everyone.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Write, Write, Write, Write, Write: How Being Obsessed with Writing Can Pave the Road to Greatness--or at Least Improve Our Prose

My Obsession: Here I am, the kitchen table scribbler, writing, writing, writing, writing.

I write. I write that I am writing. Mentally is see myself writing that am writing and I can also see myself seeing that I am writing. I remember writing and also seeing myself writing. And I see myself remembering that I see myself writing and I remember seeing myself remembering that I was writing and I write seeing myself write that I remember having seen myself write that I saw myself writing that I was writing. I can also imagine myself writing that I had already written that I would  imagine myself writing that I had written that I was imagining myself writing that I had written that I was imagining myself writing that I see myself writing that I am writing.                                                                       
                                                                                                  Salvadro Elizondo/ The Graphographer

Nobel laureate Mario Varcas LLosa opened his novel Aunt Julia and the Script Writer with this quote. It's a fun house mirror kind of thing that gets the point across: an obsession with writing that is the genesis of all great literature and that can also drive the writer a bit mad, destroy relationships, and maybe destroy the writer, too.

To accomplish great things in a difficult profession, both extraordinary talent and extraordinary obsession are necessary things. Whether it is writing or ballet dancing, playing the piano or brain surgery or theoretical physics, doing great things takes a single-minded, long-term focus.

As I continue my struggle to improve my prose fiction, I realize now that my other writing--blogging, working as a broadcast journalist, and, for the past two years, as an essayist--has also played a powerful role in that learning process. Example: as a news reporter/anchor for several radio stations, I was required to not only go out and gather the news, but to get back to the station in time to write those stories up into a coherent news cast--and then read my own reporting on the air. This was a deadline dictated by the seconds of a clock and the format of the station. I had to be in front of that microphone with five minute of well-written news at exactly the right time.

This resulted in not only dramatically improved typing skills but in a dramatically improved ability to come up with the right words quickly, to foresee the elements in the story that needed to unfold, to organize those elements into a beginning, middle, and end. It taught me to get the point across in a colorful, interesting style while being a minimalist with words. Typically, I would have, say, 30 or 40 seconds to tell a complete news item.

As for blogging, I started this blog back in 2005 when I was living on a sailboat on the island of Guam. I never thought  of it as a way to promote myself and my writing. It was, really, just a personal journal. This non-deadline prose is the sort of writing that can be fun as well as instructive. Blogs do go out there into the world--around the world, in fact, with a potential readership in the billions--and you want it to be interesting, thought provoking, entertaining--all the things good writing should be--while being relaxed and easy going. I have, in fact, via an online publishing service, put the first six years of this blog into book form (glossy hard-back--looks great) just for my own and my family's interest.

When I was invited to write a monthly piece for The Prague Revue, an online literary journal, I found myself up against a different sort of deadline. While it no longer came down to those final desperate seconds, the writing had to be much different. I have a month to produce a thoughtful, entertaining, 2,000-word piece that will draw in and hold onto the modern, Internet reader, a reader with a notoriously short attention span. To do this, I usually spend an hour a day for three weeks or so, thinking, researching, writing, and then re-writing (and re-writing, and re-writing, and re-writing....) until I think I have it about right.

Again, the goal of this discipline and effort is an improved ability to find just the right word, to weave those words into compelling, alive-on-the-page prose. The more we write, the more our writing improves. The better our writing, the better we feel about our writing and the better our writing becomes, and on and on in the lovely rising spiral of competence.

Of course, to learn to write prose fiction well, there is no substitute for actually writing prose fiction. And writing and writing and writing and writing and writing.......

Monday, April 7, 2014

The First Draft is Finished: Now What?

 Rough Draft: Red-Winged Black Bird on a Joe Pye Weed

It was a long, cold winter and so a perfect one for a writer with a snug room, a good laptop, and no day job. Here is the first draft of my new novel, working title, Red-Winged Black Bird on a Joe Pye Weed. It is 294 pages, 74,500 words long in its present incarnation.

 Short plot summary: Set in rural New England in the 1950's and 60's, an abandoned boy and the nurse-midwife who raises him struggle to cope with the devastating legacy of war.

I finished it on April 2 and sent the file to my local printer. For $34 they printed in, punched holes in it, and put it in a loose leaf binder. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, I need to have some sort of hard-copy closure. I need to see it, feel it, heft it, flutter the pages, stare at it in wonderment because, when I finish a book, it always seems impossible that I could have done such a thing. The other reason to have it printed out is because I need to have it in a manageable form for my own use. I'll need to leaf through it during the re-write process, make notes on it, bludgeon it, maybe even throw it across the room once in a while. The other reason is to prove to my suspicious wife that I really have been doing something creative and constructive locked away in my dark room for so many months.

As for re-writing, I guess I'm lucky in that I enjoy it. So many writers don't. I'm going to give the book time to "cook" as Hemingway said; that is, let it sit for a while so I get some distance from it. After going over each page, each paragraph, each sentence so many times for so long, you get so you can't see what's really happening anymore. Time will allow the over-familiarity to fade so I can read it with "new" eyes. A couple of months ought to be sufficient, but waiting for the cooking process to finish is difficult. The urge to leap into in, to get going on it, is nearly overwhelming.

But, it's all perfect timing. Winter is over, spring is here, and I need to get out of this writer's cave and do other, spring-like things like take my boat out on the Chesapeake, or soak up the sun, or listen the tweeting birds who I've been supporting since last October with bag after bag of bird food. They owe me that much.

Friday, March 21, 2014

First Day of Spring, a New Novel, and a Birthday Celebration

 The Bard's Death Mask--or Maybe Not

I had no idea there was, extant, a death mask of Shakespeare. As a collector of masks, I want one of these for my wall. But never mind. it might not be him at all, apparently.  But now segue, please, to:

The first day of spring, 2014. And a singular day it is, too: Terry's birthday and the day I finished--or nearly so--my next novel. And today is appropriately spring like after the nasty winter. It's sunny and cool, flowers abound and trees are budding out with a fine enthusiasm.

I've been, as the editor-in-chief of the Prague Revue (for whom I write a monthly piece) says, "You, sir, are a machine!" I assume he means a writing machine and I assume it was a complement. And it may seem like I'm running on a full tank of gas because I've had my nose to the grindstone of this computer steadily now, daily, with little respite, for the last seven months,through a long, dark, bitter, record-setting winter. 

But it was good, very good. The new novel, whose working title is Red-Winged Black Bird on a Joe Pye Weed, is longer than usual for me, coming in at nearly 300 pages. There is an ongoing contest on Facebook to come up with a short-as-possible pitch for your novel. Something you can use to pique the interest of a busy agent while riding with him/her in an elevator. I've been working on one for this book: The devastating affects of war, a boy, a midwife, a baby. I like it.

Here's Terry. Obviously it would be improper to reveal her current age, but she doing fine indeed and today, particularly, is up and ready for anything. My birthday gift for her was, I must admit, a stroke of genius: her first flying lesson. That will happen tomorrow. Tonight it will be champagne, flowers, and dinner out. Ah, love!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lost in the Jungle of Symbolism: Let the Beholder Find His Own Meaning

The Writer in the Jungle of Symbolism: Watch out, you're surrounded!

This picture of me taken by my son while were were on a hike in the wilds of the Florida Keys a few years ago can be milked so nicely for symbolism, I thought I'd use it again. Look at me, smiling in the jungle, but what is the meaning of that smile? And the white shirt? The relaxed pose? All this while the dead palm frond just behind me looks like a threatening hand? And why the jungle? Lots and lots of symbols can be conjured out of a jungle. But the truth is, I just stopped and turned around and he took the picture. No planning, no intended symbolism.

I think there is a truism here: Writer's don't think about symbolism as much as critics and professors of literature do. Hemingway said that a writer should never knowingly put symbols into his/her work but when the work is finished, it should be full of them. For example, in this picture you might think that I'm actually trying to look like Hemingway. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, I have the graying beard, and yes the adventurer's white shirt, and yes, I'm in the jungle and I may even have had drink or two. But no, Hemingway was the last guy on my mind. It just happens to be the way I look and the way I live.

And so it goes with writing. For example, Hemingway's justly famous story, "Hills Like White Elephants" seems to be about an unwanted pregnancy and a possible upcoming abortion, though Hemingway never mentions these things. Literary prospectors, mining the story for symbolic gold, have blasted out all sorts of fools gold ideas. Like the white hills resemble the shape of a pregnant woman's belly or, and here's a good one, the white elephant is, according to the dictionary, a property not worth the effort of owning and so would be the unwanted baby. I've been to white elephant parties and ended up with junk I saved for the next white elephant party, but I never ended up with a baby. 

To my knowledge, Hemingway was never asked about the symbolism in this story and I doubt he would have answered anyway. My take on it is that Hemingway liked elephants, had recently been hunting them in Africa, liked the way the distant hills resembled them, and figured they gave the story the background mood he wanted; so he used them.

Here's what Hemingway actually said about the purported symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea: 
"No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in. That kind of symbol sticks out like raisins in raisin bread. Raisin bread is all right, but plain bread is better. I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things. The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true."

So we need, I think, to be careful with the symbols, to go easy, not try too hard. If, as Hemingway said,  we make our characters and places real enough and true enough, they can mean different things to different people. That is, the reader will find the symbols that meet his/her needs in the work of the artist. And that, after all, is the real purpose and joy of art.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Writing Down the Winter

Welcoming February 2014 with a glass of wine.

It was a long, cold January, one for the record books and one to be treasured, in that strange way writers cherish the excuse to stay in doors, curled up, tucked away, warm and writing.

The working title of my next novel is Red-winged Black Bird on a Joe Pye Weed. It's set in 1950's-60's rural New England with an important scene on Guam during WWII. It concerns a boy whose father and mother had abandoned him to the care of a nurse-midwife. As of Friday, I was 171 pages into it, or about 47,000 words. If you're lucky when you write a book, the plot, the characters, the setting all fall in together in a glorious and wonderful stew and this has happened now. I, for the first time, I am totally absorbed in and obsessed with writing: I want to do nothing else. I have to pull myself away for a weekend break. I tease myself; it's like foreplay.

Speaking of writing, I was about to send in my February piece to The Prague Revue (an essay on Kurt Vonnegut and the effect that his being in Dresden as a POW during the firebombing in WWII had on his writing). Just before finishing the piece, I happened to visit TPR's website, as I do several times each week. And so, of course, I find that the Universe has conspired against me with a cosmic coincidence. There was a very nice piece, written by the editors, about Kurt Vonnegut and his experiences in surviving the fire bombing of Dresden. Pure bad luck for me. So, I regrouped, dropped back and punted them another piece, this one on the mythologist Joseph Campbell and his impact on 20th century writers, film makers, and thinkers.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday and we are going to a neighbors for the game (Denver-Seattle). Terry flies to Atlanta early tomorrow, so we'll have to be careful tonight. She has six more months in this job. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut's Life-Altering Hellscape

This is the young Kurt Vonnegut. Here he is long, hard way from becoming the Kurt Vonnegut we all recognize: the jowly, craggy-faced older man with the big shock of curly hair. This is before he shipped overseas and into the blazing maw of WWII in Germany. Soon after deploying to the front, he was caught up in the Battle of the Bulge, that Christmas-of-1944 horror that was the Third Reich's dying gasp. When American positions were overrun, he was captured, shipped east, starving and cold, on a train with other American prisoners, and ended up in Dresden--the beautiful, ancient, untouched-by-war city of Dresden.

He was put to work in a slaughter house--Slaughter House 5--making a vitamin enriched syrup for pregnant women. The place where he worked was sixty feet below the ground in a room carved from living rock where it was cool so the meat did not need to be refrigerated. He was down there working when the firebombing of Dresden happened  on February 13, 1945, just three months before the war ended. 135,000 people died that night, some vaporized/incinerated in the fire storm, some suffocated in cellars while they sat up on benches thinking they were safe, some boiled alive in vats of water where they had taken refuge. There was no reason to destroy Dresden. It had no military importance.

After the bombing, Vonnegut's job was to help in the final incineration/cremation of the remains of the citizens of Dresden. They stacked them up in piles and used flame throwers to get it done.

One might imagine these would have an impact on a young man's life. I suggest reading or re-reading Slaughter House 5. It's instructive. And then read the rest of Vonnegut's books. The horrors are all there in one form or another, in the humor and the bitterness and the crazy science fiction.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

This Writer's Life

Conducting Research in a Key West Cigar Shop on New Year's Eve Day, 2013-2014
 My Writing Day (not including the many distractions):

7:30 a.m.--Slept out, I lay for a while in that state of semi-sleep watching the remnants of dreams intermingle with the sounds of the real world drifting through the bedroom. This is a good trick for a writer to master, this hovering between sleep and wakefulness, because therein often lay the epiphanies an author needs to create. One must be careful to lie still--no moving--lest reality scare off the free-floating and the unfettered.

8:00--Up and shower. I don't linger in my p.j.s, usually, because I like the feeling of the being fresh and ready to go. Breakfast is a breakfast bar or a smoothie made from powerdered egg whites (chocolate flavored) strawberries, blueberries, and unsweetened almond milk. I do like eggs and sausage and toast, but am training myself away from them. While eating, I check my email on my Iphone.

8:30--Into my workroom/cave/study--I don't now what to call it--and into my fat recliner with my laptop on my lap. I put the computer on a special computer tray that has cushions on the bottom that rests comfortably on my lap/legs. I answer any important emails that can't wait, and then settle in to work.

8:30 to 1:00--I write. I'm working on two projects: a new novel and my monthly essay for The Prague Revue. I keep them both up on the bottom of my screen ready to open. I usually work on the novel in the morning and then, later, after my walk in the early evening and with a scotch/bourbon/wine next to me, on the essay.

Writing is not just about sitting there hour after hour. I get up every so often when my butt/legs need a stretch or when I'm hungry, or have to use the head. I might do a load of laundry, wash the dishes, vacuum a bit, or putter around with something. It's not wasted time, this puttering. It's a time when problems with the writing or scenes I've been working on might suddenly become clear or when another epiphany might blossom in my mind.  When I have lunch, I might pick up the really good book or short story I've been reading and poke into it for a few minutes. I find good writing stimulates good writing. And I'm careful, because the opposite is true: reading bad writing leaves a nasty taste in my brain and makes me feel like my writing is bad. 
1:00--I'm usually burned out and tired by now.  I can feel it in my head--a certain fatigue sets in and I know I'm finished--for awhile. I either go for a long walk--up to four miles--or I go to the Y and work out.

3:00--I pour myself a drink and settle back into working on my essay. (I know, this sounds like not such a good habit, but I drink slowly and stop early and never get more than a buzz on.) My pieces for TPR are due at the end of each month and I start each one at the beginning of the previous month and work on them for an hour or so every day. This allows time for ideas to develop and keeps a creative distance from the work. It also allows me to enjoy the process of writing. I don't want it to become an exhausting chore, like pulling all-nighters in college to finish a paper.

4:30 or so---Time to think about cooking dinner. My wife is usually about ready to wrap up her work for the day (she works at home, in her office upstairs at the other end of the house), and we meet for a glass of wine and hors d'oeuvres and plan supper.

6:00 to 8:00--I might watch the news and those comedy/satirical news shows I enjoy because I'm a humor junky, and particularly like satire that punctures idiots and their ideas. Or I might just sit and talk to my wife.

8:30--Read in bed until my eyes burn shut. I go through books very slowly this way, but, at the end of the year, I find I've managed to read five or six. My goal is to read those difficult classics I should have read or did read long ago. Last year, I read Moby Dick, Melville's Lord Jim, a thick book of Chekov's plays and short stories, Dickens A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, and Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. 

I read during the day, too--a lot. I keep books and magazine scattered about the house. I last summer I read Arundhati Roy's wonderful Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things. I read every New Yorker magazine and I now subscribe to New Scientist. I get The New York Times and Skeptic Magazine on my Iphone. Now I'm reading two volumes of newly-minted Nobel laureate Alice Munroe's short stories.

And then I also have to work on book promotion. This takes a lot of time because I have to keep a high profile on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, too, and keep this blog going and keep my website updated and traveling about talking to book store owners and libraries. I do a presentation on the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators to promote my latest novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, and have taken that on the road as far as Guam where I was a keynote speaker at a meeting of the Guam chapter of the International Reading Association and where I was a visiting author in the public and military schools.

We also have lots of family and spend as much time as  we can with children/grandchildren/aging parents (we have one left), walking on beaches, and a sailboat and a small power boat, and now two stand-up paddle boards (SUPs). On weekends, we often meet with friends for dinner/drinks.

That's my writer's life as of now. The schedule is not hard and fast and distractions/interruptions are a real problem.