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:

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.