Few can claim the varied background of Stephanie Osborn, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery.
Veteran of more than 20 years in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs, she worked on numerous space shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Her space experience also includes Spacelab and ISS operations, variable star astrophysics, Martian aeolian geophysics, radiation physics, and nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons effects.
Stephanie holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and she is “fluent” in several more, including geology and anatomy.
In addition she possesses a license of ministry, has been a duly sworn, certified police officer, and is a National Weather Service certified storm spotter.
Her travels have taken her to the top of Pikes Peak, across the world’s highest suspension bridge, down gold mines, in the footsteps of dinosaurs, through groves of giant Sequoias, and even to the volcanoes of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest, where she was present for several phreatic eruptions of Mount St. Helens.
Now retired from space work, Stephanie has trained her sights on writing. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to more than 20 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the “Cresperian Saga,” book series, and currently writes the critically acclaimed “Displaced Detective” series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files.” She recently released the paranormal/horror novella El Vengador, based on a true story, as an ebook.
In addition to her writing work, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily “pays it forward,” teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.
The Mystery continues.
Could you please tell us a little about your books?
The Displaced Detective series has been described as, “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files.” It’s a cross-genre science fiction mystery. The brilliant hyperspatial physicist, Dr. Skye Chadwick, discovers that there are alternate realities, and said alternates are often populated by those we consider only literary characters. Her pet research, Project: Tesseract, hidden deep under Schriever AFB, is her means of looking in on these continua. In one particular reality, continuum 114, a certain Victorian detective (who, in fact, exists in several continua) was to have died along with his arch-nemesis at the Reichenbach Falls. Knee-jerking, Skye intervenes, rescuing her hero Sherlock Holmes, who inadvertently flies through the tesseract wormhole connecting his universe with ours, while his enemy Professor James Moriarty plunges to his death. Unable to send Holmes back without causing devastating continuum collapse due to non-uniqueness, he must stay in our world and learn to adapt to the 21st century. Hijinks ensue, and the series has been aptly described as “Sherlock Holmes meets the X-Files,” as he and Chadwick take on modern spy rings, UFOs, mass spontaneous combustion, and more.
Books currently in release include The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival and The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed, The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident, The Case of the Cosmological Killer: Endings and Beginnings, and coming soon, A Case of Spontaneous Combustion. Future titles also include A Little Matter of Earthquakes and The Adventure of Shining Mountain Lodge.
The first story was an attempt to see how far I could stretch Holmes without breaking him. I wanted to put him in a situation that would drive most men mad, and see what he would do. He definitely rose to the occasion.
Did something specific happen to prompt you to write this book?
Not…really. I got this idea…I call ‘em plot bunnies, they bite you and don’t let go until you write the story. So this plot bunny bit, and I started writing. Now, the average book in either SF or mystery is anywhere from 80,000 to maybe 120,000 words in length, with the goal being to shoot for 100,000. (There’s an arcane formula that converts word count into page count, and the price is determined from the page count. Only the big-name authors get to exceed the limit ? you know, the guys that only need one name: King, Weber, Rowling, etc. because the publishers KNOW they’re going to sell sufficient to justify having fewer books on the shelf due to the larger size. Some genres, like romance or young adult, have smaller word counts.)
And most writers will take a minimum of six months to a year to produce a draft of a novel that size.
So two months after I sat down to write The Case of the Displaced Detective, I came up for air with a complete rough draft…at 215,000 words. By the time I’d made a couple passes for clarity, that had ballooned up close to 250,000 words, so then I went through and whacked down extraneous verbiage, and I think the final story came in at around 235,000 words. After due consideration and multiple eyes on it, to include me, two agents, my publisher and an editor, everyone concluded that it just couldn’t be cut down any farther, because it’s really two stories: How Holmes got to the modern day, and a spy mystery he has to solve. So my publisher and I agreed to break it into two volumes. It’s published as The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival and The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed.
Who or what is the inspiration behind this book?
Well, Sherlock Holmes, I suppose. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid. When I took a notion to write a Holmes pastiche, I wanted to do something different than the usual Victorian era mystery. I rather think I succeeded.
Who is your biggest supporter?
My husband, Darrell. He encourages me, makes sure I have all the electronics and software I need to do my work as an author, and (since he’s a graphics artist) he helps out with graphics for my website. He created the piece of art entitled, “Matchstick,” for my website when I got my first book contract, and my publisher liked it so much she commissioned him to do a variant on it for the book cover. And I’ve been using a crop of the original art as my personal logo. One thing led to another and now he’s done almost all my book covers, as well as numerous covers for other authors ? even for other publishing houses.
What cause are you most passionate about and why?
I have a lot of things I’m passionate about. But one cause that I strongly espouse is reading. Too many young people these days either don’t bother to read, or their reading skills are poor. When I left the space program and embarked on a writing career, I spent a couple of years tutoring, ages elementary through early college levels. So I’ve seen it firsthand, and the number of young people that come by my table at a science fiction convention and don’t give my books a second glance before moving on to the gaming table, or even very deliberately scorn them BECAUSE THEY’RE BOOKS, is frightening. If the next generation can’t or won’t read, how will communication occur properly? How will they enact contracts, treaties, negotiate alliances and agreements? I could envision the entire art of literature ending up in collapse if the deterioration continues. Literacy is an essential in our society, and I fear for its demise.
In the last year have you learned or improved on any skills?
I’m constantly learning, honing my writing craft. I try to ensure that I learn as much about the publishing business as I can, in all its aspects.
Outside of the writing field, hm. Let me think. I don’t know if screenwriting is separate or not, but I’m honing that little skill. Also I’ve been learning the art of dramatic reading/recording for radio, audiobook, and musical scores. I used to be active in live theatre, but audio recording is a bit different. I’ve done quite a few radio interviews and that’s rather fun, a definite skill to be learned and honed. This might sound strange, but I’m learning more about fashion and how to put together a “look” for an appearance to a given audience; some groups may expect different things of an author relative to other facets of her fandom.
Do you have any rituals you follow when finishing a piece of work?
Not really. Truth to tell, I kind of get a little blue. By the time I’ve finished a book, the characters have become almost real to me, and I know it’s likely going to be awhile before I’ll “meet” them again.
What are you currently working on?
Several things, actually. I just turned in book 5 in the Displaced Detective series. It’s called A Case of Spontaneous Combustion. I’m working on book 6, A Little Matter of Earthquakes, and polishing book 7, The Adventure of Shining Mountain Lodge. I’m also working on the 4th book in the Cresperian Saga, titled Heritage; and the sequel to my first novel, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281, which has the working title Escape Velocity. There’s also a couple of science articles and shorts I’m working on. I’ve been accused of being a prolific writer. Burnout came out in 2009, and if all goes well, by the end of this calendar year, I’ll have around 25 books/ebooks in release. So I suppose the accusation is fair.
Do you have any advice for writers or readers?
I sure do: READ. Read, read, read, and then read some more. And read the good stuff. Homer, Virgil, Plato, Sophocles, Euripedes. Shakespeare, Chaucer, Cervantes, Milton, Donne, Malory. Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Stoker, Whitman, Yeats. Swift, Dickens, Twain. Shaw, Joyce, Tolkien, Lewis, Conan Doyle, Kafka, Hugo, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein. I could go on and on about this, but the gist of it is to read the classics of literature. The list I’ve just given is only a partial list of the authors I have myself read, and the ones that come to the top of my head.
Why do I tell would-be writers and avid readers to do this? Because these books are the ones that have stood the test of time. These are what I call “the good stuff.” If you’re a reader, by doing this you’ll learn to recognize “good stuff” in the new books you run across, and contrast them from…the other stuff. That’s not to say that “the other stuff” can’t be fun in its place, but if all you read is formulaic potboilers, you’re missing some really good books out there. If you’re a would-be writer, you’ll absorb “the good stuff” and be able to distill it into your own books.
What do you feel sets this book apart from others in the same genre?
Nobody has done with Holmes what I’ve done with him ? I took him from an alternate reality in the Victorian era, snatched him through a wormhole, and dumped him into the modern day world, stranding him; then made him adapt and grow and stretch. Some people don’t like that, because they don’t want Holmes to change. But that’s okay; I wanted to do something different, and I did. After all, when William Gillette was writing the first Holmes script, Conan Doyle told him, “Marry him or murder him or do what you like with him.” I’m not the first author to have taken that as permission to adjust the boundaries of the great detective! And I’ve got a really dedicated fan base for the series, which actually includes some other, well-known, authors.
What is the most important lesson you have learned from life so far?
That in the end, things work out the way they should, no matter what I may or may not want. “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” [Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:11] In all honesty, sometimes…okay, frequently…I still fret about things, about my “state,” as Paul put it, but I know things are going to work out okay in the end. It may not be the end I’d envisioned or wanted, but that’s all right too.
Is there anything you regret doing/not doing?
No, there really isn’t. Sometimes I think about that, and I play what-if with myself. And invariably I realize that if I hadn’t done this or that, or had done something else, there’s something important in my current life that wouldn’t be there. And I have to conclude that I really wouldn’t change anything.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Well, I really AM one of those rocket scientists you hear about. I have graduate and undergraduate degrees in astronomy, physics, chemistry, and mathematics, and certifications and subspecialties in several more, like geology, meteorology, and physiology. I worked in the civilian and military space programs for more than two decades before losing a friend in the Columbia disaster. That was rough on me. Within a couple years I decided to leave the program, and started writing full time. I’ve also been a reserve police officer for an Indian reservation, and I lifted that skill set and assigned it to Dr. Skye Chadwick, chief scientist of Project: Tesseract and Holmes’ partner in the Displaced Detective series.
So I use my background ? and my travels ? to make my books as authentic as I can.