I was born in Chicago, Illinois, USA, on February 12, 1952. For a while, I celebrated with a day off from school, since that's also Abraham Lincoln's birthday. Then they combined Lincoln's with George Washington's (February 22) and celebrated both on the third Monday in February as Presidents' Day, and I lost my day off.

 

The first few years of my life were spent in the near-west suburb of Elmhurst, Illinois. I'm the eldest of four children; as the others arrived, the house became much too small, so after I was out of first grade, we moved to Glen Ellyn, a suburb farther west. I attended Arbor View Elementary School, Glen Crest Middle (Junior High) School, and Glenbard West High School, and our family attended St. Barnabas Episcopal Church (except for my dad, who had been raised Catholic and had chosen to not attend any church). At St. Barnabas, I was an acolyte under Father Daniel Montague. He left the church to work for the government, after which he became an author with two books to his credit: White Wings and Second Chance. His third novel, Sightings, was posted for a while in its entirety online before his death in 2012.

 

 

Some time during my grade school years, I started writing. All I remember about my earliest stories is that one was about giant mosquitos. In about 1965, I wrote my first poem, a remembrance on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

I had always had an interest in music and had attempted - unsuccessfully - to take piano lessons. (In college, my music composition instructor, who was Panamanian, asked his class if we played any instruments. I mentioned that I played "a little piano". Pretending not to understand, he asked, "A little piano? What is that? A toy piano?") When I got the chance to play an instrument in school, I chose the oboe, but was told I had the wrong embouchure (mouth structure) for it and was steered toward the horn (or French horn, as it's popularly but mistakenly called). I learned years later that I also had the wrong embouchure for the horn; I suspect that the district music program had a plethora of oboes but a lack of horns. Still, I loved the sound of the horn, and still do.

 

I entered high school in 1966. Glenbard West resembles a castle set on a hill overlooking a small lake. In 1968, the movie, Lucas, was filmed in and around the school; it (and several of the students) also became the basis of the TV series "Yearbook" in 1991. At Glenbard, I was pretty much a nerd (long before being a nerd was popular!). I focused on the arts and avoided gym class - this was at a time when being in two performing organizations exempted a student from Physical Education requirements, a loophole that has since been closed. I tried out for one official school play, "Arsenic and Old Lace", winning the role of Officer Brophy.

 

Two of my high school friends, Larry Ewing and John Simanton, were passionately interested in World War I Germany, and had "adopted" the personae of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Admiral Graff Maximillian von Spee, respectively. Mind you, this was long before role-playing games were popular! They included several others in our circle in their "fantasy", assigning us to various other historical figures. I became Feld-Marshal General Paul Hans Anton Ludwig von Benckendorff von Hindenburg. I wasn't really interested in the history aspect, but I did have fun faking a German accent and being called "Hindy".

 

During our senior year, we decided to turn our "game" into a play. Larry and John provided many ideas, but the writing fell ultimately to me. I created a full three-act farce, reminiscent of "Hogan's Heroes", which we took to our drama director and school principal and received permission to stage at the school. We produced, directed, and starred in the play ourselves. We rounded up quite a few other students who were willing to help out in set design, sound and lighting, and acting. We opened and closed the same night; I think the cast and crew outnumbered the audience. However, we had a blast.

 

Several years later, in going through my high school mementos, I ran across a copy of the program. Listed among the "extras", as a German soldier, was a freshman by the name of Gary Sinise. I did some frantic searching, and found that this was, indeed, the Gary Sinise; he had attended Glenbard West for one year, before transferring to another high school. To the best of my knowledge, this was his first acting job. I'm proud to say, therefore, that not only have I acted with Gary Sinise, I helped give him his start! (Although I'm still waiting for him to acknowledge me in an awards acceptance speech....)

 

Sidetrack: I'm aware of two other actors that came out of Glenbard West: Ted Wass, who was in the same class with me from grade school on, and Sean Hayes, who was born the year I graduated and thus had to find fame without my help. (Further sidetrack: I earlier mentioned the TV series "Yearbook"; one of the students featured in that series, Kris North, wasn't popular enough in high school to get a date to Homecoming that year, so for the series, she asked a friend to come back from college and take her to the dance. That friend was a pre-fame Sean Hayes.)

 

I spent the summers of 1966, 1967, and 1968 at the Hull House Art and Music Camp in East Troy, Wisconsin. The camp was run by Paul Jans; his son, Alaric ("Ricky" when we were there) was also a camper. Ricky was three years older than I, and has since gone on to be a noted theater and film composer. This gives you an idea of the caliber of people at the camp. While I majored mostly in music, I was also actively involved in their Creative Writing program. My final year there I wrote a short story that was published in the camp magazine. A bargain-basement "Twilight Zone"-style story, it involved a space ship that gets lost and lands on a hostile-looking planet. While exploring, the crew gets picked off one at a time by giant creatures. In one sublimely ridiculous scene, one of the crew gets carried away by a giant chipmunk. The rest are stomped into oblivion by a giant child. The twist? The ship and crew had been shrunk by "cosmic rays" and had wound up back on Earth.

The camp no longer exists in this form; it folded after the summer of 1968 and is now a Christian summer camp run by Timber-lee Ministries.

 

During this time, I started writing my first novel. Future Imperfect told of a space explorer who gets lost and finds himself back on Earth (do we begin to see a pattern here?), this time in the far future. He finds all the people living below ground in huge caves stocked with all sorts of technological marvels and governed by one world leader, while the surface is given over to a beautiful, global park. He falls in love with the leader's daughter, then discovers that below the caves lies a series of subterranean slave mines wherein live the slaves that keep the elite populace fed and cared for. The traveler and his lady love choose to lead a revolt among the slaves. Yes, I realize that the plot is trite - but I was a tender young teenager, and the plot was nearly half a century fresher at the time! In any case, the novel was mercifully abandoned after about half a chapter.

My high school orchestra director (Merlin Escott) had encouraged me to audition for the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. I was accepted in 1968 and played 4th chair horn with them until I graduated and went to college. The orchestra at the time was conducted by Gordon Peters, principal percussionist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, so I got to experience some really challenging music. I had written a short story, "The Game", which was reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies. I found out that our third chair hornist was married to a magazine editor. She got him to look at the story, and he gave me some very valuable advice. More importantly, he gave a young author enough encouragement to carry through another 50 years!

 

The summer after I graduated from high school, I auditioned and was accepted for a position in the All-American Youth Honor Band, which was made up of young musicians from around the country. After a couple of days of intensive rehearsal, we performed, under the direction of Dr. Frederick Fennell, at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. We then flew to Osaka, Japan, where we performed at Expo 70, Asia's first international exposition/world's fair. While there, I experienced my first - and, so far, only - typhoon.

 

I received my first regular paycheck when I was about 14 as the church janitor at St. Barnabas. Other jobs I held up into my college days: busboy at two different restaurants; game and ride operator for a local carnival; and door-to-door appointment setter for a central air conditioning company.

 

In 1970 I started attending Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. (Yes, there really is a town called "Normal" - and believe me, they've heard every possible joke about it!) I began majoring in Music Education, intending to become a high school music teacher. However, I was overwhelmed by the teaching classes I had to take, and changed my major to Music Composition, studying under Roque Cordero. My primary interest is in instrumental classical music, although I've written a couple of songs. My style is something I would call Neo-Romantic; that is, while I use the "language" of the 20th and 21st centuries, such as dodecaphonic (12-tone) and atonal melodies and harmonies and shifting time signatures, my goal is to engage the listener's heart more than his or her head. I've written a full symphony to accompany my novel, The Eros Variations; the background for the Music Room on this site is a reproduction of a few measures of part of the score.

 

It was during the last couple of years at college that I learned, from my horn instructor, that I had been playing the instrument wrong (due to that pesky embouchure issue), and that if I wanted to progress any farther, I would have to pretty much start all over again. In frustration, I changed my instrument from horn to trombone. If I could reach back through the years and communicate with my younger self, I would warn him to take some kind of English or writing or communications major and save the music composition for a minor. I would also tell him to switch from horn to vocal music instead of trombone, since I had a decent voice. On the other hand, I doubt he would have listened.

 

In October of my freshman year, a couple of guys from the campus branch of The Navigators dropped by our room. The Navs are a worldwide Christian organization that began in the U.S. Navy in the 1930s and later grew to include college campuses. I had pretty much abandoned my early Episcopalian upbringing for agnosticism, but I was always willing to engage in a little philosophical discussion - I still am - and spent an interesting evening in deep discussion. Ultimately, the reasoning of the Bible and the power of God proved to be beyond anything I could muster and, in May 1971 I gave my life to God and Christ.

Also during my freshman year, I discovered WGLT, the campus public radio station. At that time, WGLT broadcast primarily classical music with a student staff. I listened and was appalled at how the announcers were butchering the composers' names. Figuring I couldn't do any worse, I applied and was accepted that spring. I worked at the station through the rest of my time at ISU. I was awarded the honor of "best announcer" during my student years, and continued on the full-time staff as chief announcer for a year after graduation, also doing programming and production work.

During my sophomore year, I was chosen as "music director" for our dorm complex (Walker/Dunn-Barton Halls) in a campus-wide Homecoming talent show. I arranged several pieces (including "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler On the Roof, "The Gospel of No Name City" from Paint Your Wagon, "Before the Parade Passes By" from Funny Girl, and a couple other songs) for voice and a pit orchestra consisting of piano, trumpet, trombone, sax, violin, and drums. I conducted the group for both nights of the show. We won second place overall, and first place for musical adaptation and presentation, beating out Waterson Towers, which, because it was right across the street from the Fine Arts building, was where many of the musicians lived. (That dorm became a major setting in my novel, Mindgames.)

 

The only writing I did in college, aside from a couple of poems (which appear in Acoustic Words), was an attempt at another novel. Kit was to be a picaresque novel set in the late 60s/early 70s. It would follow Christopher "Kit" Thomas as he wandered the country and became involved in some of the defining moments of that era. I didn't finish much more than one chapter and a few scattered other pages, but I plan to revisit the idea under the title Bye - Bye, Miss American Pie.

 

I also started developing my style as an artist at that time, finding that I worked best with a simple #2 pencil and some facial tissue and cotton balls or swabs for shading.

I graduated college on the 5-Year Cram Plan (I crammed four years of college into five) with a Bachelor's degree in Music Composition in 1975. However, the highlight of the year came that summer when I married a beautiful young blonde with sparkling eyes and a gentle soul. I was 23, and Ame had just turned 19. We've had our moments, of course, but over 40 years later, we're as much in love as we were that summer. Our son was born in 1980; he and his wife have a daughter. He is a talented artist and dub-step musician. Our daughter was born in 1984, and works with homeless teens through a social services organization here in town. Her hobby is photography.

 

We moved to Normal's twin city, Bloomington, after our wedding, and have lived here ever since. In addition to our kids, we've raised three rabbits, three cats, and a smattering of hamsters, fish, and mice, although the latter was unintentional.

 

Since leaving WGLT in 1976, I worked as a construction worker (for one day!) and supervisor of records at a small local insurance company before landing a position as a machinist in General Electric's Bloomington factory. I also worked as a welder in the factory, and eventually got a job in quality control. I had a three year layoff in the 80s, during which time I worked a myriad of jobs, including piano salesman in the local mall, pizza delivery, school bus driver, and Avon representative. The local GE plant closed on October 31, 2010; after 33+ years, I was able take early retirement, but I have taken on a job as a sales associate at Bergner's in the Eastland Mall to supplement the income shortfall. I started out in men's clothing and suits, moved to shoes, and am now in furniture. At this writing, the store is going out of business; I don't yet know where my next job will take me.

 

I started seriously writing short stories during the early years of our marriage. Many were relegated to the trash, but a few survived and are available for purchase, along with several of my poems, in Acoustic Words: Collected Short Works. I also began writing a novel, The Fire and The Light. This 450,000-word epic fantasy trilogy took me six years to write. I sent it to the late Scott Meredith, one of the top fantasy and science-fiction agents in the United States; he returned it with a very nice 8-page explanation of why he didn't think he could sell it. Since one of the main reasons was that the epic fantasy trilogy market was glutted (otherwise, he said, he would be willing to take a chance on it), I've been sitting on it in hopes that the market would come around again. I intend to start revising it in the near future, cutting it down to a much more manageable size. After all, consider that the "average" novel, about an inch thick in hardcover, runs 50,000 to 70,000 words. I'd written between six and nine "average" novels there! It was, however, the first novel I had ever finished, and it proved to me that I could write a complete longer work.

 

Subsequent novels, Mindgames (at about 60,000 words) and The Eros Variations (at about 100,000 words), were so much simpler by comparison!

 

In early 2001, I joined an internet writing workshop, Creative Writers, one of MSN's Groups. After two years, I joined the management team. In 2004, I became principle manager (more by attrition than anything). While there, I contributed to a self-published anthology, Facets of Friendship, which can still be found through Amazon or Barnes and Noble. After MSN discontinued their Groups, Creative Writers had to find a new home. They migrated to Webs.com and changed their name to Creative Writers Online. Their Facebook page still exists, but CWO died long ago.

 

When we first got married, Ame and I started attending Vale Baptist Church (which has since become Vale Church). We switched over to First Assembly of God in Normal after a few years; after a few more years we started attending Lily Chapel in Mackinaw, which, at the time, was loosely affiliated with the Association of Vineyard Churches, but has since become Judah International Ministries. We became one of the founding families of Celebration Christian Fellowship, a splinter of Lily Chapel. When it fell apart, we ended up at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Bloomington/Normal, where we attended for 15 years or so. On the first day of 2005, we switched to Eastview Christian Church in Normal. Here I've become an active part of several ministries, including the food pantry, greeting, the stage design crew, and (while it existed) the drama department, both as a writer and as an actor. We still attend there, and probably will for the rest of our lives.

Thank you for visiting and bearing with that walk through my past. Now, please enjoy the rest of my site!

© 2016 by Stephen M. Larson. Proudly created with Wix.com

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