I had just gotten back home to Virginia in early May after completing a 1,250-mile voyage from Guam to the Philippines in a forty-two foot sailboat when I got the news that my novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, had been selected by ForeWord Reviews as a finalist in their 2012 Book of the Year awards.The winners will be announced in Chicago on June 28th at the annual convention of the American Library Association. I plan on being there.
This recognition was both ironic and wonderful because during night watches on that twelve-day voyage, I spent a great deal of time staring up at the stars and in particular at the star called Antares–the heart of the constellation Scorpio, which is the “fire star” in the book. As we made our way across the great blue Pacific, steering by a modern GPS that constantly provided our position with an accuracy of a few feet, I was always aware of the mind-bending skill of the indigenous Pacific island seafarers who, since ancient times, have navigated across hundreds of miles of ocean without so much as a compass.
The novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, tells the tale of two boys, teenagers of different cultures and races, who must learn to live together and respect each other while mastering the secrets of the ancient navigators if they are to survive World War II in the islands. And it is immensely gratifying for me to think that word about the book is spreading among readers in the very islands where the book is set.
Before setting sail for the Philippines, I was on Guam for a month where I was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the International Reading Association and in the weeks following, I visited middle schools and high schools and talked to students about this rich heritage of theirs and how I came to write such a novel. It was a wonderful experience.
During the process of writing Brothers of the Fire Star, I flew back to Guam and interviewed my friend and mentor, Manny Sikau, a 7th generation master navigator or pwo from the atoll of Polowat. Here we are sitting in a canoe house or utt where proas are built and stored, and where men meet to talk about the business of navigating. Manny passed away in February, 2103, just a couple of weeks before I returned for my book tour.