Hello and welcome to 10 Quick Questions with Dave, I am your host Dave Tallman and chatting with me today is Stephanie Osborn, author of Burnout. Stephanie has some very interesting job titles, but I’ll let her explain more about that.
Let me first say thank you for the opportunity to interview with you. To be a writer one should have some formal education, but you don’t have to be a Rocket Scientist, unless you happen to be Stephanie Osborn.
So why don’t we start there and move on. How did you come to be involved in the space program? And just how many degrees to you currently hold?
Hi there. It’s my pleasure to be in on this conversation. I enjoy both talking and writing, he he.
Let’s start with the easy question first. I have a B.S. with majors in physics, chemistry, and mathematics, and a minor in geology. I have an M.S. in astronomy with graduate “minors” in geology and physics. I started on a PhD in astrophysics but got into the space program and quit the PhD program due to lack of time.
I also have a ministry licentiate from the North Tennessee Bible Institute, an ACE certification in personal training (which includes anatomy and physiology), and am a NWS certified storm spotter. I’ve been a busy person, I guess.
As to how I got involved, well, I wanted to work in the space program ever since I was little. Between the original Star Trek series and the Apollo One accident, space got my attention and held it from then on. In a way, I suppose it was my first love.
A graduate school friend got a job here in Huntsville on a military R&D program. When he discovered they needed an astronomer, he recommended me. I interviewed, got an offer, and took the job. It was Phase 1 of the program and Phase 2 was to have been prototype testing and development, partly aboard the Shuttle. I wangled myself into being one of three payload specialist candidates. But then Columbia blew up, and the fleet was grounded indefinitely, and Phase 2 of my project was cancelled as a result. So, I never did go into space.
I decided to do the next best thing when I discovered that my company had a large space division, one large program of which provided payload flight controllers for Shuttle Spacelab missions. I transferred over and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
I noted on your Bio that you worked on the Shuttle program, the International Space Station and have trained Astronauts. That must be such a thrilling endeavor to be involved with. Can you share with us a little about some of those experiences?
Ha! Well, everybody thinks it’s a really glamorous job, but I can tell you, it’s a lot of hard work and being up really strange hours. There’ve been missions when I went for several weeks, living in the same house with my husband and never seeing him.
The truly exciting parts are the missions themselves. But in between missions there are months – sometimes years – of planning and working to get it all set up and compatible and functioning correctly. And even when they’re on orbit, or “upstairs” as we sometimes called it, you WANTED to be bored. Because that meant that everything was going according to plan and working properly. If you weren’t bored, things were going wrong.
I have SO MANY stories from that time. Any number of people have suggested to me that I write a nonfiction book about it. And I may, one day. But for now I’m still too close to it. But it could be fun, and it could be frustrating.
I remember one mission where the Payload Director and I got into a friendly race to see who could evaluate and plan a contingency to a change request the fastest. And another where one team of the scientists in the Science Planning rooms downstairs would watch the monitors until they saw me finish handover and get settled into the console, then they’d call: “What’s our literary quote for the day?”
I think that one got started when I tossed out a quotation in response to some situation, and they weren’t familiar with it. That particular mission literally reached a point where I’d be dredging up various quotations and pondering which one to use as I was driving in to the control center.
But let me say this: There is NO ADRENALINE RUSH like launch. Nothing I’ve found that can beat it. And sitting console for launch is even better. I suppose the best thing is to actually be aboard the bird at launch; but I can’t speak to that.
Let’s talk for a while about your writing. How many novels do you have out? And where can we find them?
Well, truthfully at the moment, Burnout: The Mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281 is available as an e-book, but I have no books available as hardcopy – quite yet. Burnout comes out the 15th of April (Tax Day!), and The Y Factor will come out in e-book format shortly thereafter and in trade paperback in the fall.
You can order them from the publisher at www.twilighttimesbooks.com
, or you can get them from Amazon, BAMM, Barnes & Noble, Borders, or your local independent bookstore. If the local stores don’t happen to have them in stock, the ISBN for Burnout is 978-1-60619-200-9. I don’t think we have one assigned yet for The Y Factor; we’re still editing it.
You have co-authored novels with your mentor, Travis "Doc" Taylor, and Darrell Bain. Could you go into how those relationships began and give us some background on the novels that you worked together on?
Actually, Travis and I have never worked together. I’d like to do it, and he and I have definitely talked about it. But so far he’s – excuse the pun – “booked up.” Travis and I met as a result of my husband, Darrell Osborn, though. He’d – I think he’d done the cover art for one of Travis’ books and told him that I had a book I was trying to get out there, namely Burnout. Trav very kindly offered to take a look and see what suggestions he could make, for me to polish the story; then he’d take it to his publisher directly, acting sort of as an agent, to avoid the slush pile. The first publisher declined it, but the second snapped it up.
Darrell Bain is a regular and very experienced writer with Twilight Times. He and Trav had written a book together called Human By Choice. When Trav was unavailable to help write the sequel, The Y Factor, due to time constraints, Lida Quillen, head of Twilight Times, strongly recommended me. She evidently figured I was up to the task, and gave Darrell B. some very nice compliments regarding my writing and promotional skills. She also thought it would be cool if Travis’ protégé co-authored the sequel to the book he co-authored. I read over Human By Choice, and what Darrell had done on The Y Factor, and decided it sounded like fun. So I agreed, and we did it. Lida snapped it up almost as soon as we’d finished, I’m very proud to say.
I’d also like to say that Darrell Bain is an award-winning writer and I’m very honored that he tapped me to work with one of his babies.
Let’s talk about your solo effort, Burnout. What kind of story is it?
Burnout is a science fiction mystery, a bit of a techno-thriller, about a Space Shuttle disaster that turns out to be no accident. It starts out on two different continents – North America and Australia – with two different protagonists, “Crash” Murphy and Dr. Mike Anders. Murphy, an ex-Flight Director, is tapped by his government to investigate the disaster, and Anders by HIS government to investigate some anomalous signals coming from space.
As the plot develops, it becomes apparent to Murphy that whatever happened to Atlantis was no accident, and he starts nosing further into the matter. When people around him start dying in odd “accidents,” he realizes a coverup is occurring and he’s in danger of his life. He flees, taking what evidence he can with him, and goes looking for Anders.
Anders, meanwhile, has begun getting suspicious about those signals. Their investigations dovetail, and the two men start working together to unravel the mystery of what really happened to Atlantis, while running for their lives and wondering who they can, and who they can’t, trust.
How much influence was the Columbia tragedy on you personally and on Burnout?
The Columbia tragedy had virtually no influence on Burnout, because the rough draft was already in Travis’ hands being reviewed at the time Columbia went down. The real influence on the manuscript was Challenger, because that was the only shuttle disaster that had occurred when I wrote the original manuscript. I deliberately chose a scenario as different from Challenger as possible, though, because I didn’t want anyone thinking I was playing off a tragedy. Challenger occurred on ascent, so I chose an entry phase disaster. It was pure coincidence that it mimicked Columbia. I was shocked just how well: When the CAIB Report (Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report) came out, I downloaded and read it, then compared it to my scenario. Evidently I’d done my research, because I didn’t have to change anything.
As to the personal influence of Columbia on me, that was tremendous. Not only was Columbia the bird I’d worked with the most in my career, I had a friend aboard, Kalpana Chawla, that I’d helped train for her first mission, back in 1997. It was dreadful, and one of those situations where it’s possible to know TOO much. I appear at science fiction conventions, and I am not infrequently asked about it. I’m only just now getting to where I don’t tear up when discussing it, and I only EVER go into what the CAIB Report said. Nobody else there needs to know what I know. Anyway, I’m not any kind of official NASA spokesperson.
I’ve kept up with the ongoing research, and it’s only served to confirm what I know about such things.
I know from past interviews that when a writer has a vast set of skills in a particular area, it is sometimes difficult for them to create within that genre, mainly due to the fact that they know their subject matter so well that they forget that the reader does not. With your extensive aviation and space sciences background, did you find it hard to find a level in your writing so that the so-called “common man” could fully comprehend the technical aspects and linguistics?
On Burnout especially, it was difficult, just because of the necessity of using NASA jargon where they’d realistically use it. In fact, there’s a glossary in the back for those less knowledgeable in the subject. I usually try to insert a layperson into any technical conversation so the reader has a foil in the book, a doppelganger who can ask the questions that the reader wants answered, usually some variant of, “What the HECK are y’all talkin’ about?!”
In creating your characters, did you draw on your own life experiences and people you have known?
Every character I write is some facet of myself, usually even the bad guys. I have a background in theatre as a hobby, having been backstage, onstage, and once or twice, in front of the stage, directing. I’ve been told I write “cinematically,” and frankly, that’s my intent. It’s my personal style. To me, I’m watching a movie in my head, and writing it down. So I am the screenwriter, the actors, the set designer, the lighting technicians, the director, the entire cast and crew, in one person. My biggest compliment is for a reader to say, “I could just see and hear it in my head, like I was watching a movie!”
I definitely use the advice and information of friends and colleagues to write. The other day, out of the blue, I asked my husband, “What would be a good name for a British butler type in an English country house?” He looked at me like I was nuts for a few seconds, then started brainstorming names with me!
As to the characters themselves, they’re not based on anybody except maybe, like I said, some part of m That’s not to say that I don’t have faces associated with them. I find that, once I establish the characters, “casting” them sometimes helps me keep in mind what they look like, how they move. I might use an actor’s face, a colleague’s face, a relative’s face – and then tweak it. Add a scar; change the eye color, or hair color; things like that. Or I might make up a face, someone I’ve never seen before. But that doesn’t mean the character is BASED on that person. It’s just a mnemonic that helps me remember things. NONE of my characters are based on real people.
And the further along I get in my writing, the less I find I need to “cast” the characters at all. They are beginning to form themselves independently in my mind’s eye.
When you are writing, what kind of methods do you use to help keep you on track? Do you employ timelines or storyboards?
Once in awhile I encounter a plot that necessitates a timeline. Usually I realize this after I’ve already gotten into it, and then go back through what I’ve written to recreate that part, then start building the timeline on that. Once that’s done, then I can go back to writing the story, and be sure that it stays reasonable in terms of when things happen.
I don’t do storyboards, not in the traditional sense anyway, because I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. Really. I’m serious. My husband is the artist in the family. I paint pictures with words.
Sometimes when I’m looking ahead to a manuscript and get the idea for a plot, I’ll write it out in very rough outline form. By that I mean it isn’t formal, with the Roman numerals and letters and stuff. I indent subordinate ideas and actions is all.
I don’t write manuscripts in sequence, from front to back. I write the scenes that hit me that particular day, following my inspiration, as it were. I leave lots of blank space, and as I get the ideas for how to fill in between, I use that rough outline format to sketch out what goes between written scenes, and stick it right into the manuscript. Then I color-code the notes. Fuchsia (bright and gets my attention) means I need to write it; dark teal means it’s written but ties up with something that hasn’t been written yet, and I may need the detail listed. Once the section is written, the notes are entirely deleted, leaving nothing but the finished manuscript.
I like to end each interview with this common question, where do you see yourself in a year from now? In five years? And beyond?
Oh, you do like to throw the hard ones, don’t you? Hm. Okay, let’s see.
In one year, I’d like to see Burnout a popular book, selling well and garnering lots of good press and attention, with The Y Factor coming along closely behind. I’d like to be well on the way to finishing the sequelae to both of them. I have another book ready to go, the first in a series, wherein a scientist finds a way to access alternate universes and accidentally drags a person from another universe to ours and can’t send him back. The first book of the series is rather large, as it contains the origin story, and so it’s proving difficult to find a publisher willing to go for it. So I’d really like to find a publisher for that one, especially since the sequel is finished, and I’ve got 2 more manuscripts in the series in work. And I’d like to have SF conventions starting to come to me to be a guest speaker.
In five years, I’d like to have the Burnout series complete, the Cresperia series either complete or ongoing with Darrell Bain (Cresperia is the name of the alien planet in the books), and my alternate universe series trucking along nicely. I’d like to have a couple of other series going, and a few stand-alone books here and there. I’d love to start being a Guest of Honor at science fiction conventions (I’ve been a Science GoH a few times before, but I wanna be an AUTHOR GoH)! I’d love to see Burnout being made into a movie, too, but I ain’t holdin’ my breath.
Beyond that? I’d like to be a solid, established science fiction writer of good reputation, and I’d like to be able to “pass it forward” and mentor writers myself. An award or two on the bookshelf or mantelpiece might be nice, too, but not necessary. I don’t write for awards, but for my fun, and my readers’ enjoyment.
If I’ve got a good fan base that loves my books, I’ll be happy.