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, 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.