- By Johanna Salinas
Love letter to the sea
Brothers of the Fire Star author returns to Guam
Former Guam resident Doug Arvidson returned in October for a book signing for Brothers of the Fire Star at the Guam Museum.
Arvidson and his wife lived on a sailboat on Guam for 11 years. He would even sail from Saipan to Pagan and back. “I keep returning to Guam because I love the island and the Chamorro people,” said the author. “I feel a connection here and its home for me. The Marianas is where I’ve had some of the most incredible adventures of my life. Now that I’m 72, I need to be with my grandchildren in the states, so I’m not here. But my wife and I love returning every year since I’ve retired 10 years ago. I enjoy doing writing and reading workshops for kids at Guam’s schools.”
For 35 years, Arvidson has found great euphoria in sailing. Brothers of the Fire Star can be considered Arvidson’s love letter to the sea. For his novel, he drew from his friendships formed from sailing. “I was so interested in studying traditional sailing, so I met Larry Cunningham, one of the founders of Tasi and Master Navigator Manny Sikau,” said Arvidson. “I studied navigation for about five years under Manny. I also helped build canoes as part of Tasi here at the canoe house in Paseo.”
While it may seem awkward for a non-native to write about a Micronesian tradition, Arvidson is sure not to overstep his boundaries by making the protagonist, Joseph, an American boy lost in WWII Marianas. Joseph is saved by a Chamorro boy Napu, who guides him to a life of seafaring. “I found the voice of this book and this story just came out of me,” Arvidson said. “If you find your voice and you have good characters, the writing comes very easily. I’m not saying writing is easy, but sometimes it’s easier than other times.”
Arvidson did extensive research on Chamorro life during WWII. “I did a lot of my research at UOG,” Arvidson said. “I also got online and most of the reliable sources were on Guampedia. I’m a good friend of Shannon Murphy. Guampedia was a major source for Guam and island culture.”
Brothers of the Fire Star is more than a coming-of-age adventure; it’s a story of connecting with the environment during a time before television and internet. Sailing throughout Micronesia, Arvidson is surely inspired by the less complicated life of those on smaller islands. “The people of the islands are so connected to the universe — the stars and the sea,” he said. “Seafarers are so connected to nature and its vital for people to understand that. When I lecture to kids, I always tell them that every atom in their body came from an exploding star and seafarers use stars to navigate. So Brothers of the Fire Star symbolizes how we are connected to the stars and connected to the ocean. Micronesia is still a part of this vast oceanic environment where they still practice navigation. The cultural aspects of that is so important to everyone in the world to know and appreciate.”
Arvidson’s most recent piece “How a Girl Was the First Navigator” is featured in Ta Tuge’ Mo’na’s new anthology Kinalamten Gi Paskifiku. “Manny told me that story when I asked him, if women can be navigators. It’s a myth from Polowat about a daughter of a chief who learned navigation from a seabird. She in turn taught men how to navigate. I felt such a connection to Manny and his story and the sea.”
Arvidson’s next novel takes place in the Massachusetts wilderness during WWII,” Arvidson shared. “I love history. Writing about history will never go out of date. Brothers of the Fire Star will never go out of date. It’s already happened. You can write all the stories you want about WWII and navigation. If I write a story about 2018 and I mention a cellphone, if it gets published in five years, cellphones might not be a thing. It wouldn’t be hip, it’d be outdated.”
With his love of islands and travelling, Arvidson also plans to write a novel relating to his travels to the Philippines. “I also want to write about sailing from Guam to the Philippines at one point. That was a wonderful adventure,” Arvidson said. “There may be so many problems in the Philippines, but they have the nicest, most hard-working people.”
Brothers of the Fire Star is available at the Guam Museum bookshop. For more updates on Arvidson, visit www.douglasarvidson.com.
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