Posts Tagged ‘Online’


What I Did on Summer Vacation

September 3, 2012

I’ve been on a hiatus, obviously.

I’m still crossing my Rubicon.  I’ve just been writing other things lately.

I was informally commissioned last year to compose a Mass for my parish.  If you’re not Catholic (i.e. headed for hell) “composing a Mass” means that I set some of the weekly Mass prayers to music.  Theoretically, that music coordinates together as a suite.

I enjoy composing music—creating new melodies and playing them with ad libbed accompaniment for myself.  I’ll play in a stream of consciousness, or toy around with melodies or harmonies I’ve already written.  Adding constraints to the process—existing lyrics that must be incorporated or limits on singable ranges—somehow paradoxically makes the process easier for me.  An English writing analogy might be limiting a post to one hundred words, or writing a short story without using the letter “T.”  I’m more engaged when solving a complex problem than I am writing with no constraints at all.

Notating music, on the other hand, is a royal pain in the patooty.  I’m glad I was writing Rubicon before I started notating my Mass.  Blog posting has made me practice editing, adjusting layouts and polishing my output for public consumption.  In writing, the author strives to lead the reader to an idea through words, punctuation and paragraphs.  In music notation, the composer attempts to recreate his performance through another performer by handing him or her a sheet of paper.  Music notation, for me, has a lot more room for error than just writing words.  As an amateur hack musician, I don’t know exactly what I’ve written until I play it.  And I often don’t play what I’ve written, I play what’s in my head.

So I’ve been writing, rewriting, printing drafts and red-lining all summer long.  The project is almost complete.  My blog photographer Michelle Codarmaz-Booth created a fantastic cover for me.  When the Mass is finished, I plan to offer it for free online.  I’ve tried sending music to publishers before.  My submissions had no result, other than pummeling my frail ego. Like most industries—writing, art, engineering, etc.—music publishing is not about talent or ability. It’s about who you know and nearly limitless perseverance.

When the Mass is finished, I’m still going to be busy in musician mode. I’m playing for a cousin’s wedding in October.  I generally play weddings for our family.  I’m very opinionated about it.  But that’s another blog post.  After that I have yet another mixed media project that will limit my blogging output.

So, although I’m not producing many blog posts, I should have some nearly tangible alternatives to show you soon.


Vesta-Ceres: Chapter 6

February 9, 2011

Below is Chapter 6 of Vesta-Ceres.  If you’d like to read the novel from the beginning, please visit my Vesta-Ceres page.


MARK’S EMOTIONS, instinct and intellect wrestled to understand what he was witnessing.  The movements in the cabin atomized into frozen images of surreal clarity.

A leg swung into the aisle.  The knee was higher than the thigh, coming to a point, as if a man-sized spider was about to lift itself up.  Another smooth appendage, similar to the one on the forearm, wrapped around the side of the leg and connected at the ankle.  The foot, covered in the same thick gray skin, did not flatten to the ground.  It was a webbed tripod that reminded Mark of the buttressed trunks beneath south Pacific fig trees.

Its head entered the doorway.  A rounded snout jutted forward, a thin mouth slitting the center, almost apish.  A smooth, nose-like ridge divided the top of the snout and swept back to a shallow forehead.  A deep eye socket cut an oblong cavity beside the ridge.  Its squid eye peered at Mark from the depths of the socket.  The forehead smoothly continued its slope to the back of the skull, where a small overhang, a rear visor, flared straight out.  Its head was hairless, as far as Liú could tell.  The same mottled-gray skin was everywhere, smooth at the top of the head, pebbled over the face and thick and craggy on the snout and neck.

Its torso leaned out and balanced over the leg.  It was as tall as the doorway, standing over two meters.  The gray pachydermal skin covered the body.  Its torso had a lighter, cream-colored section making a rounded “T” shape in its center that puffed out from its body.  There was no clothing covering any part of it—unprotected hide in zero atmosphere.

Turning its head to face Mark, its eyes shifted—rather, the eye sockets shifted.  They pressed forward at the outside edges, filling in some of the deep cavity.  Where its view had been  on either side of the skull, like an earthly herbivore, both eyes could now focused on Mark—like a predator.

The alien’s frame swung with the second leg, turning into the aisle.  It filled the doorway, casting itself in shadows from the gleaming lunar surface.  The eerie outline striped the floor.

Mark stood still, numb and dumbfounded.  He couldn’t deny it to himself any more—no excuses or theories could explain it all away—he was looking at an alien.  A living, breathing—was it breathing?—alien.  It was at once a tree, an elephant, an insect, an ape, a man, a squid—and nothing he had ever seen.

The torso and arms abruptly moved.  Its snout was mouthing something as well.  The oddly-shaped hand made a stroking motion diagonally across its stomach area.  Then it pointed its left arm toward Mark and made an arching gesture down toward the floor.

Mark was distracted by the belly gesture.  Does it want to eat me?

He reached his right hand to activate his headset.  He couldn’t believe he hadn’t gotten any help by now.

The alien lurched toward him, its mouth moving quickly.  Mark put both hands back on the Taser and leveled it toward the alien’s upper torso.

“Stay where you are!” Mark said instinctively, still forgetting he wouldn’t be heard … or understood.

It squatted down, as if to pounce.  With more light, Mark saw its mouth hanging open and a nearly circular throat inside.  His ears rang with silence.

I guess this isn’t a cordial introduction where you’re from. The menacing, squat form put Mark on edge.  He focused on the gun-barrel and aligned his sights.  The creature shifted forward again, still ready to spring.  No communication.  No understanding.  A threat of force.

He fired.

The cartridge bounced uselessly off the alien’s torso.  Gray hands grabbed the counters on either side of the aisle—it lunged at him.

Mark fired again, higher this time.  The alien was moving too quickly, the second cartridge ricocheted off its shoulder.

Mark squatted down to throw the charging beast over his head.  But the strange appendages flipped forward and caught him unprepared.  One smacked the Taser out of his hands.  The other clanged his helmet into the side of the countertop.  Mark and the alien fell slowly in the lunar gravity.  Its forearm landed on his thighs and trapped him on the floor.  Its other arm was on his chest.  His helmet rang in his ears when it hit the metal decking.

He could see its eyes in the approaching skull.  They didn’t seem like the eyes of an intelligent being.  They were impassive—like an animal—a snake, a lion.  It climbed over him up to his helmet.  The end of its snout deformed and discolored as it met his glass visor.  Its body pressed on his chest.  Mark could feel a smooth ridge running the length of the forearm appendage.  It arched its head back and the mouth opened wide in a silent howl.

It nodded its forehead downward and thrust it up again.  Two fangs, or tusks, thrust out from openings under its lower jaw.  Clean at the tips, stained at the base, the arched sabers straddled Mark’s helmet—like a wild boar in the forest.

Liú stared at the tusks, spellbound by the awesome presence of the creature.  He had time to be afraid again.  This time he was.

Don’t scream.

It reared back.  Mark tensed his stomach, sure that he was about to be disemboweled.  He felt the forearm push against his ribs.  Then the weight lifted.  The alien had stood up.  It pulled its tusks back under its jaw.  Mark yanked up his knees to crawl backwards.  The alien patted his knee.  Then it turned back to the cockpit.

What the hell?

Liú sat up and checked his suit as the creature sauntered away.  Not surprisingly, he had a leak.  The suit had some ability to close off air channels to minimize leaks.  He tore a piece of tape from the roll attached to his belt and patched the small opening he found under his left elbow.

Mark leaned back on his arms, still panting for air.  He scanned the cockpit again.  The alien was in the driver’s seat, trying to start the truck.  It didn’t know to grab the keys in the center of the console.

Mark pushed himself up with some effort.  His legs gave a little underneath him.  He laughed.  He was lucky to be alive—and he knew it.

Where the hell is that Taser? He didn’t care if it was useless.  It had a few more cartridges and he felt naked without it.

Mark started toward the back of the truck to search.  He felt the floor bouncing beneath him.  Shadows jumped on the cabinets.  He glanced over his shoulder.  It was rushing him again.


Mark made a leap for the rear of the truck, but with little traction, he slipped.  Alien limbs grabbed him around his upper arms and chest.  Not its hands, but its boney appendages.  They clamped on him securely and dragged him back toward the cockpit.

Is this some kind of game?

They passed the storage bins and entered the cockpit.  Mark didn’t struggle to get free.  If he tore his suit badly enough, he’d be as dead as if the alien impaled him with a tusk in his back.  In the midst of a second terror, Mark disjointedly made a connection.  The strange appendages that gripped his body reminded him of the tibia on a mantis.  It was not a consoling thought.

Inside the cockpit, the arms lifted Mark up.  His feet touched the driver’s seat; he was facing sideways, the steering wheel to his right.  The alien stood in the space between the cockpit chairs.

The side window of the truck rushed toward him.  Mark’s visor made a hollow thunk against the glass.  The alien’s torso pressed his body forward, the inflexible helmet bent his head and neck backwards.  He faced left so his spine could stretch backward further.

Mark pressed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth.  I’m a dead man.

Don’t scream.

Even in the most removed of circumstances, he still heard Coach Palea yelling in his ear.  “No screaming!  I’m not coaching the girls’ wrestling team!”  Mark was always surprised how well not screaming had served him over the years.  It wasn’t just an outward facade.  He thought it made him braver on the inside too.

But this was it.  He felt the alien’s left tibia shifting its grip.  The tusks were coming.  He knew it.  And he couldn’t do anything about it.

A tapping sound intruded on Liú’s personal last rights.  It vibrated into his helmet from the glass.  He opened his left eye, his right still pinched closed, ready for execution.

The alien finger was drumming on the glass.  Its hand was still free to move atop the complex intersections at its wrist.  The shifting bones under the stretched gray skin revolted Mark.

What does that mean?

Mark squinted both eyes and peered outside, straining his neck to improve his angle.  The visor had tinted itself, but view was still bright.  The last vertical water tank stood immediately to his left.  Beyond was the moon’s horizon—the undulating rim of the Gay-Lussac A crater.  Large boulders thrown out of the crater eons ago littered the ground.

Mark spotted it.

Another alien.  It was leaning its back against a boulder, maybe thirty meters away.  It wasn’t wearing a spacesuit either.  It held a tubular object—as thick as its arm, as long as its torso.  Mark could only assume it was a weapon.  It was watching the warehouse.

Another movement.  Another alien.  This one was a few meters closer, its head and weapon poking out from behind a bolder.

It wants me to see more aliens? Mark wondered.

He pieced together what little he knew.  Its ship crashed.  It was injured.  Maybe it was pursued?  And shot down?  Maybe it wants to get away from these guys?

And it wants my help.

Mark knew he was guessing.  He slapped the cockpit glass with his right palm.

The arms jerked him away from the window so they could face each other.  Mark pointed with his free hand toward the other aliens and nodded his head “yes” to say he understood.

The alien tipped its head from side to side.

Great.  Now we’re communicating.

The arms let go completely and Mark fell into the chair, still standing, and caught himself on the steering wheel.  The alien was pointing again at the glass with its hand up-turned, wagging its last long finger.  Its mouth was moving.  Mark peered out the window.

One of the aliens outside was pointing at the truck.

“They’ve spotted us,” Mark said to his helmet.

He grabbed the keys out of the console, shoved the fob into the ignition and pressed the start button.  It occurred to him that he hadn’t ever driven one of these maintenance trucks.  He dropped his left knee into the chair and his right foot onto the floor, still leaning over the large steering wheel.  The alien loomed overhead, ready to push Mark out of the way and drive.

Mark glanced to his left; the alien outside was aiming its weapon at the truck.

He pulled the gear shift on the dashboard and stomped his right foot on the gas.  The truck jolted—backwards.  It veered left.  The cabin bucked to a stop when the back end hit the tank platform.



On the Naughty List

December 16, 2010

I’ve posted Chapter 5 of Vesta-Ceres.  But I totally cheated.  What’s in Chapter 5 was originally written, edited and proofread as part of Chapter 4.  I decided arbitrarily to separate them after the fact.  So they are Siamese twin chapters.  (I’m supposed to say conjoined twins, aren’t I?)  I look like I’m being very productive when I’m not, really.

Also, I forgot to mention another rule-breaking issue.  I added a paragraph at the beginning of Chapter 1.  Martha Barnette on A Way with Words said that she buys books based on their first line.  I felt my original first line was weak.  I did not change any character or plot details.  So you don’t have to reread from the beginning if you don’t want to.

Have a great Christmas week, everyone.  Even you atheists.


Vampires on the Moon?

December 11, 2010

I’ve been writing.  Honest.  And something finally made it past the “publish” button.

I’ve posted Chapter 4 of Vesta-Ceres—now that anyone reading along has completely forgotten what happened in Chapters 1-3.

I’m also going to post the chapter on my main page tomorrow.  I’m hoping more people will be able to find it and read it here.

In the midst of reading Les Mis (I’ve passed the half-way mark, page 833!)  I also read Putting Your Passion into Print by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.  (If you want to get published, I recommend it, even though it leans a little to nonfiction books.)

PYPIP, as it refers to itself, wants me to have a marketing plan for my book.  It doesn’t need directly relate to the book, it just needs to hook into it somehow.  It seems to me that aliens are a bit passé in popular culture these days.  Vampires are all the rage.  Maybe if I use the word vampires enough, I’ll grab some web traffic.

Here’s my marketing plan:  I’ll have a book signing tour in mall bookstores.  I’ll hire one of the models from the local Abercrombie store.  He will sport a pair of vampire teeth as an accessory to his bare, V-shaped torso.  Intent and glowering, he will stalk through the mall to my pathetically empty book-signing table where I absentmindedly click my pen and read my own book-jacket copy.  I’ll do my best silent movie heroine impersonation while the model attacks my neck and several gallons of fake blood pump out.  Then I’ll play dead and he will sign my book with the blood.  Perhaps we could rig some kind of recirculating fountain out of my neck.

How’s that for a hook?  Can you tell I was writing this in October?

Vampires, vampires, vampires…


Unfamiliarity Breeds Content?

August 26, 2010

In almost every writing class I’ve attended, I’ve been encouraged to write what I know.

I’ve just posted Chapter 3 of Vesta-Ceres.  I want anyone who cares to know that I’ve not visited the 22nd century.  I’ve never been to China or Hawaii.  I’ve not been in the Navy or any other military branch.  I don’t have a clue how to fly a plane.

And I’ve not even seen the movie Alien.

Read at your own risk.


An Improper Earth

August 23, 2010

My friend, Casady, has been helping me with my book project by proofreading.  (She willfully endures torture that the non-captive blog-reading public is spared.)  Casady pointed out to me in Chapter 2 that I had capitalized planets—and even non-planets (Vesta and Ceres)—but did not capitalize “earth.”

I’ve absentmindedly left earth as lowercase for years.  I have been operating under a hazy recollection from childhood that earth is not capitalized because heaven is not capitalized.

As haziness is not surety, I investigated further.  Lazing at the computer, I checked online.  Certainly, the proper rendering of earth is a universal FAQ of students and celestial writers everywhere, so I googled.

I was struck by the general disinterest in this topic.  Precious few sites talk about it.  Unbelievable—in an internet where people can get steamed over espresso foam, I did not find a frenzied “Team Earth” hurling vulgarities at “team earth” and vice versa. weighed in with a bizarre breakdown, hinging on “the”:

If you are talking about the Earth as a proper noun, as a planet or celestial body, then you can capitalize Earth and use no article (the): “How far is Earth from the Sun?” But it is also fine to leave it as lowercase and use the with earth if you are talking about it as the planet we live on: “The earth rotates on its axis.” … When you are talking about the ground or soil …, then you must lowercase the word: “The archaeologists excavated the earth at the site.”

The general internet advice-givers’ consensus on various Answers pages is that there is a time for lowercase earth and a time for capital Earth, depending on the context.  But, to my pre-internet brain, none of this was satisfyingly authoritative.  I embarked on a long search through many publications.

My search ended when a practical librarian pointed me to the proper mountaintop authority: The Oxford English Dictionary (1).

earth, definition II: the world. … the land and the sea, as distinguished from the sky: (also E-) the planet on which humankind lives: the present abode of humankind as distinguished from heaven or hell as places of future existence.

Aaahh, thought I.  Capital!  There it is.

“(also E-)” provides the requisite distinction.  Either earth or Earth is correct, but lowercase is more correct.  And moooore correct is all I ever wanted to be.

But the OED continued.  Multiple columns discussed aspects of a lowercase earth.  Until this tidbit under “earthbound”:

… fixed on or in the earth’s surface: restricted to the planet Earth or to worldly concerns.

So must “e” be capital in the phrase “the planet Earth?”  OED did not deign to discuss it.

What on earth?!  Phooey!

So much for unequivocal authority.

Before my search brought me to the OED, I found dichotomous approaches to earth.  For some it is a proper noun; for others, improper.  One thing I can say with some certainty, though, is that almost no one uses the three-tiered approach advocated by and internet Answer providers.  Earth as dirt is not capitalized.  Earth as a great big ball of space-dirt is capitalized always or never, depending on the publication, with only rare exceptions.  And no one gives a fig for articles like “the.”

So here’s a look at the planet from a few different perspectives:

Clear as mud – er – earth, no?

But maybe I’m asking the wrong question all together.  Do we say something about our personal worldview in our written expression of terra firma?  Is there something we connote subliminally?

Does “earth” indicate an intimacy with our planet that we don’t have with other planets?  Is it so synonymous with home that the name itself is informal to us?

Or does “earth” show a grammatical disrespect for our planet, reflecting our active destruction of the miraculous biosphere?  Is “Earth” a demonstration of planetary respect?

I haven’t the foggiest notion how to answer such philosophical quandaries.  They are beyond the horizon of my terrestrial consciousness.  I need a simple bottom line.  Until proven otherwise, I’m siding with the Bible and William Shakespeare: a lowercase earth will suffice.  When publishing in Rome, plagiarize the best sellers.


(1) I reviewed “The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary,” Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993.  The unabridged version was not on hand.


Craig Stevenson, Futurist

July 9, 2010

I posted Vesta-Ceres Chapter 2 today.  Click on the Vesta-Ceres Novel page to the right if you’d like to read it.

As an unexpected consequence of this project, I’m forced to be a futurist.  As I’m outlining, sketching and writing Vesta-Ceres, I have inevitably begun predicting the future.  I’m throwing my two cents worth into the collective jug of what parts of the future will still feel familiar and what parts will be significantly altered.  I feel like I should be touting my grand schemes at a World’s Fair.  Whatever happened to those anyway?