It is a great honor to welcome David Arenstam on my blog!
We actually met last April in Saco when my students, my colleague, Mr Tabary and I were visiting the school.
When I read his short stories, I immediately asked him to join my lietrature project!
THANK YOu so much Dave for accepting!
Writer, writer, who wants to be a writer?
The question was so simple, and for me, so complicated. For most of my adult life, I owned and operated a small software and data-processing firm that specialized in providing technology solutions for small banks and credit union. I loved my job, the people that worked in my office, and many of our customers had become long-time friends. Somehow that all changed about 10 years ago when most our bank customers were sold to a national banking group. The good news was that as part of the sale, the companies that purchased the majority of our customer base, also purchased our existing software and servicing contracts, but that meant we no longer had a large customer base. Now what?
At the time, I was 45-years-old and thinking about the next two decades. I could start again – create a new software or servicing company, find new customers, and build a new company. But my children were grown, and I kept thinking about the dream I had when I first graduated from college.
As an undergraduate student, back in the stone ages, I studied two subjects: math and English. I studied math because I was intrigued by the way it worked and the problems that could be solved. I was good at it and I assumed that if I were armed with a degree in mathematics, I could always find a job. At the same time, I studied English because I couldn’t get away from the stories. I have always loved to read, and not surprisingly, books and tales from the past, the present, and the future have always been a part of my life. They took me to places I always wanted to visit. I learned about lives that were different from my own, and the stories allowed me to glimpse into parts of the world I might otherwise never get to see. In my head, I dreamt of becoming a professor and perhaps even a writer, but with a wife and one young child already filling my head and heart, I thought that dream could wait. After nearly 20 years, it seems I was right.
I continued to go to school (most recently graduating from Harvard in 2015 with a master’s degree in journalism) and after teaching for a few years at Thornton Academy, I started to submit story ideas to a group of local newspapers. I loved the writing, seemingly learning something new every time I was assigned to cover an event or write about someone from our community. I worked diligently to find a way to tell my stories in a way that showed the reader more than just the headlines and details.
A professor of mine at Harvard read one of my stories and suggested that I might have more than just a simple newspaper piece. The story centered around a Vietnam veteran from Maine who was organizing an event for former prisoners of war and those who were listed as missing in action. She read my feature story, looked at my notes, and said that I might have enough for a book. Now, I was thinking.
About three years later I completed my first novel, “Homecoming: A Soldier’s Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption.” The book was published this past November and I have spoken about the story, the writing process, and my work at libraries, schools, and almost any other venue where they will give me a few minutes. I am proud to say the book has received praise and commendations from many different people, but perhaps most significantly, veterans have read the book and told me it was accurate, honest, and above all else, a good story. Recently, it was nominated for the William E. Colby award for emerging writers of military fiction and it has also been nominated for the 2017 Maine Publishers and Writers Alliance award in literary fiction.
At most readings, someone always asks me if I have a favorite passage or section. The truth is, I do. The following paragraph is in the beginning of the novel and it is in a section where I try to show the reader what it was like to grow up on a small, New England farm in the 1960s. I try to give the reader a sense of the peace and beauty the narrator, a young soldier, will be leaving behind. I hope you like it.
“Most years, in late April, after this work was done and a week or two before the spring planting started in earnest, the Grondan farmhouse would seem to emerge from a long winter’s sleep. It stood alone, a single structure on a small, half-acre plot with deep green spring grass forming a barrier of sorts between the living and the land. As the inevitable afternoon winds came from the west, the solitary house was almost adrift, an island of green in a sea of soil.”
The other question that seems to always come my way is: “what are you working on now? Is there another book coming out?” The easy answer is, yes. I am currently working on a collection of short stories centered around the four core subjects that are taught in school. Before you roll your eyes and laugh, here’s what that means. There are about 12-14 stories in the collection and some are based on literature, others on history, math, and science. I am still a teacher at heart and a student who loves to learn.
Often people ask me where the ideas come from, and the simple answer is they come from almost everywhere, but most especially from me watching, reading, and thinking about the world we share. For example, I was on a train once and I read an article in a medical journal that described the mitochondria found in our cells and the author stated that when we are young, or even when we are teenagers, the mitochondria in our body works at a phenomenal rate, but over time, for some unknown reason, it slows down. She went on to say that if the mitochondria worked at the same rate for our entire life, the average lifespan of humans would be almost 1,200 years. Well, that started me thinking and this idea became the kernel for a science-based short story.
Writing, specifically writing short stories and novels, has become an integral part of my life and the work I do each day. Without thinking about it, I have become more observant, more contemplative about the conversations of others, and somehow the words and ideas seem to flow directly from head to the page. I was happy and excited when Marie-Hélène Fasquel-Erhart asked me to take part in her project and connect via Skype to her classroom in France. As I said, given half a chance, I will always talk about my work and the creative process.