How do you write a novel? Slowly and with passion.
I review the manuscript of Brothers of the Fire Star with Manny Sikau, a Master Navigator from Puluwat atoll.
Some writers believe that it is necessary to distance yourself from a place before you can write about it. This seems to have been true with this book. In 2008, after eleven years on Guahan, we left the island, me to retire, Terry to take on a new job. We moved to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a lovely, rural place squeezed in between the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Chesapeake Bay on the other. We bought a house and moved ashore, but we also bought another sailboat and a small powerboat, too. Being on the water had become necessary for a happy life.
It was then that I discovered why it is necessary to have some time and some space between a book and the books subject: Nostalgia. Once away from the tropical Pacific with its magnificent blue water, star-filled skies, beautiful, friendly people–including many close friends–and seemingly endless opportunities for adventure, I began to get homesick and to daydream about the life we had left behind. The writer John Updike wrote that the heart of writing fiction is daydreaming and with me being nostalgic, a hopeless day dreamer, and a compulsive writer, it followed naturally that I would begin to think about beginning a novel.
Crossquarter Publishing Group of Santa Fe had published a series of fantasy novels I had written while living aboard Vatna, but now I wanted to do something different. I wanted to write a book that would pay tribute to what I considered the inconceivable skill and courage of the men who navigated across the Pacific in fragile outrigger canoes using only the stars and the sea to find their way.
I began to write, to weave my nostalgia driven daydreams into prose. What emerged is a story about two boys, Joseph, a white boy from Massachusetts who is sent to Guahan to live with his uncle after his parents die, and Napu, an island boy, also orphaned but smart in the ways of sailing and island survival. When the Imperial army of Japan invades Guahan at the outset of World War II, they escape from Guahan in a small sailboat, but now they must learn to overcome their differences and learn the secrets of the ancient navigators if they are to survive. Here is the opening paragraph of Brothers of the Fire Star when attacking Japanese war planes catch Joseph alone, out exploring in the jungle:
The boy was deep in the jungle when he heard the planes and then the distant thunder of bombs. The earth shuddered beneath his feet and the quiet, moist air seemed to bend and stretch and then split open with the power of the concussions. For the first time in his life he felt the sharp, searing pain of fear. The war is here, he thought, it has started. It has been everywhere else in the world and now it has found us even on this tiny island in the middle of the great blue ocean.
And so the book begins: Joseph is nearly killed, shot at by a soldier as he leaps off a cliff into the jungle. At the mouth of small river, he meets Napu for the first time. Napu is preparing his small sailboat to his escape and now he resents having to take Joseph, a white boy who knows nothing about sailing or fishing, with him–but he knows he must. And so they leave at night, making their way through the gauntlet of Japanese patrol boats to a dangerous freedom on the open sea.
At sea in our sailboat. That’s Manny on the right, me on the left.
It took me nearly three years to finish it. A first draft followed by endless re-writes, a trip back to Guahan to review the manuscript with Manny and with Dr. Larry Cunningham, a noted island writer and historian, and then more re-writing and professional editing. Now, finally, on October 4, 2012, Brothers of the Fire Star was officially released by Crossquarter Publishing Group.
In Praise of Brothers of the Fire Star:
Touching, beautifully articulated…..Arvidson’s prose is matter of fact, letting the story shine through relatively simple words…..The Recorder, Greenfield, MA, Dec. 15, 2012
….One of the best books I have ever read and sure to be one of the most memorable…I’ll be thinking about that ending for some time before I move on….L.R., Virginia
This is a wonderful book, full of magic and majesty…His descriptions border on the lyrical, studded with gems of memorable observations. The story is so strong that I wonder at my audacity in offering my humble suggestions. Linda Morehouse, Editor, We Build Books.com
I just can’t put it down….just opened it to browse, but find I’m on page 30 already…this is fantastic….S.Y., Guam