Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Writer's Resolution

A Writer’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year again. Time to take stock of accomplishments, of progress on your goals for the year, and to look forward with great expectations to the new year ahead. First and foremost, my wish for all my friends, family, and readers is for enough of everything, and lack of nothing. I am so grateful for my wife, my son and daughter, my extended family, all my friends and you, the readers. I am truly blessed.

So I sat down to write out my goals for the coming year, and tried to be realistic about them. I thought I would share them with you all for two main reasons. First, nothing happens without a plan. It helps to set out a map if you want to get somewhere, and goals can work like that. They clarify your intent, and give you a place to work toward as you progress in your writing. Goals can be interval, marking progress over 3 months, 6 months, whatever you choose. They can also be longer term, but they need to be concrete and measureable in order to be truly effective.

Second, I have realized over time if you set a goal, and make it public, you are engaging a whole lot of people in the act of helping you stick to it. Don’t believe me? Try announcing your new weight loss goals toyour friends and family, and count the number of times they ask how your diet is going. So here is my list of literary goals for the new year:

1. Read more. I know that sounds a little contradictory, but that is how I learn the rhythm, the pacing and the overall feel I want toput in my stories. And it isn’t that I want to read just mysteries. I learnedover time that any well written story will do, because there is always
something to be learned.

2. Write 2-5 pages a day, every day. Sounds like a lot? Well, it is the same pace my daughter set for herself as she participated in the local middle school’s NaNoWriMo exercise and at the end she had a 10,000 word story. If my 13 year old daughter can show that much discipline, so can I. Also, at this point, I have three works in progress, including a new Joe Banks novel. I’m sure I can find something to write about.

3. Regularly contribute to Murder by 4. Self serving, maybe. But my day job has been so demanding that I have not been able to hold up my regularly scheduled day for participation with some of the most talented writers I know. It is another simple way to hone the blade, as it were, and continue to write for an audience. Also, in researching some of the articles I’ve written, I’ve learned more about the craft and business of writing. I am happy to share that with you.

4. Save the hard edits to the end. Nothing slows my progress like re-editing in the middle of the first draft. I know from all the really successful writers I’ve read that you do the major edits at the end, and you sort the wheat from the chaff and fine tune your work. But I can’t help it, I still do it. So this year I promise to save the clean-up to the end, and will use that period to send a more complete story to my publisher.

It’s a short list, but manageable. I hope this helps you set some goals for your writing, and I wish you all the success, love and luck to make you happy in the next twelve months. Now if I can only do something about losing those extra pounds...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas (and Woo Hoo!)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
Hi, folks.

I hope you are staying warm and toasty, enjoying loved ones, and playing plenty of board games with the kids. Last night my grandson Julian and I put up the last of the Christmas lights at our house. Talk about getting it done in the 11th hour! It was freezing out, there was a little bit of snow on the ground (our first of the season), and we had a ball. These are the moments around the holidays that mean the most to me - and I hope you're having many of these moments with the ones you love. ;o)


Last week I wrote an article for authors - Part 1 of the nuts and bolts of getting your books onto ACX as audio books.
I'll be writing part 2 soon.

Yesterday, much to my delight, Healey's Cave and Tremolo were released on Audible.com, Amazon.com, and iTunes. It's funny, but even though I wrote these books, I find listening to Tom Fraser and Erik Synnestvedt's recordings totally engrossing. These guys are so talented, I'm in awe of them. It's a whole different experience than reading - almost like going to the theater. I especially like all the voices they do - complete with accents! You can listen to samples of their recordings and more, here.

It's easy to give audio books. There's even still time before Christmas, if you're still doing some last minute shopping. ;o) For those folks who love a good story but don't have time to listen - it's perfect. They can listen in the gym, on a hike, grocery shopping, or driving to work. It's kind of like carrying a movie around in your pocket, but your brain does the scene painting! Pretty neat, huh?







iTunes






 Narrated by Dr. John Thomas Fraser










 
Narrated by Erik Synnvestvedt
 

How do people listen to audio books?

It's easy! You buy the file online from Audible or Amazon or iTunes first. Some of the deals are good - you can even get your first book free if you sign up with Audbile for a small amount per month. Or, you can just buy it outright. Whatever works for you.


Then, download it onto your smart phone, iPad, iPod, PC or Mac, and you are allowed a one time burn to CD - usually it takes 7-10 CDs, depending on the length of the book. You can listen on your Kindle or Nook, your phone, or in your car using bluetooth through the speakers. Or, you can listen the good old-fashioned way using CDs at home or in your car.

Lots of options!

Thanks from the bottom of my heart for following me and my books - you know I love you all and appreciate you more than you'll ever know.

To spread the word, I'm asking folks to please pass this onto their friends and family - thanks in advance for helping out!

Happy Holidays and warmest regards,


Aaron Lazar





 Many more audio books are coming! Stay tuned for Mazurka, FireSong, and For the Birds!
P.S. The new cover art for the sequel to Healey's Cave, Book 2 in Moore Mysteries, TERROR COMES KNOCKING, just came in, from artist Ardy Scott. Isn't it great? 
Coming in February, 2012.


 
And here's the new cover for the author's preferred edition of DOUBLE FORTE', coming out in February, too. ;o)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Out of the Mist

a

Good morning, all. I hope you are enjoying the holiday season. We're trying hard this year to spend more time in front of the fire playing Scrabble and Yahtzee, rather than running around buying stuff. Sure, we're giving presents, but we've toned it down a lot. We want to savor the season, not have to be hassled by all the craziness out there. So I hope you manage to carve out a few moments of quiet family time, too. Blessings to all. 

 

Today please help me welcome thriller writer D. Pat Thomas to Murderby4. Pattie and I have been writing friends for a long time. When I read about her experiences in Scotland, they thrilled me, and I asked if she'd share them with us here today. She graciously agreed. ;o) 

 

I hope this sends a shiver up your spine like it did to me. (and how DO you explain those upward flying "raindrops?")

 

Welcome, Pattie!

 

Aaron Paul Lazar

www.legardemysteries.com

a

OUT OF THE MIST 

copyright 2011 by D. Pat Thomas



OUT OF THE MIST

We authors all know that when you do research, it’s to find out what you don’t already know. Thing is, you never know where that will lead you, and in my case, it came as a whale of a surprise. 

The heroine of my first novel, Any Given Tuesday, is Scottish. Her name is Audrey. Having always been intrigued by Scottish history and culture, my second novel will have Scotland as one of its key locales. Attempts to research the history I was interested in were proving useless; local libraries had very little, the Internet was not getting me there and even Amazon didn’t have what I was looking for. There was but one thing to do: burn through some frequent flyer miles and go see what I could dig up.

As exotic as that sounds, the trip started out with whole days at the Scottish National Library in Edinburgh, sitting at a table, prohibited for using anything other than a pencil to record what I found. But the inventory of books was mind-boggling, and I sat with stacks of them piled in front of me, feasting on more information than I could hardly digest. 
The Picts were a people who mostly inhabited the northeastern part of Scotland, then mysteriously disappeared leaving only an array of carved stones and some metal work behind for the rest of us to try to decipher. It wasn’t until my third day in the library that I learned something I never imagined: modern day witchcraft derives from Pictish religious practices. Say what? Of course, my research at night consisted of going on ghost tours and visiting graveyards, underground passages and dungeons. Edinburgh is like that.

Oh, my friends, that’s just the beginning. At this point I should make it clear that I have never written or aspired to write paranormal fiction. But I digress. 

From Edinburgh I drove north into the misty highlands to Perth and stayed at a B&B on the River Tay. The owner was a garrulous bookworm, much taken with having a writer to pass time with. She told me stories. Like about the friend she’d had for over 20 years who just recently floored her by divulging her sideline as a medium. 

Now I’m from Ohio, and things like that just haven’t happened in my neighborhood. It seemed everywhere I went, the supernatural preceded me.

I had picked out a small village for Audrey to be from. The local museum was rich with information about nearby Pictish stones, and the helpful and friendly librarian turned out to be (get ready) a past practitioner of the very witchcraft I’d been reading about! 

Are you beginning to think this is all a bit odd? Me too. She introduced me to her friend, who sold jewelry and crystals and had just opened up a back “healing room” in her store. 

I quite surprised myself by being totally comfortable with my new friends. And curious, I was very curious. Before I left, my new friend took me for a walk through the "Fairy Glen." She said she had seen pictures taken there that showed orbs glowing amongst the trees. I didn’t disbelieve her. But my pictures only showed lovely autumn woods with waterfalls in a heavy rain.

From there I drove along narrow roads curving through empty fields, on through moor and valley and along Lock Ness, gray and unsettled below. It was stark terrain with burgeoning, jagged rock outcroppings. At times I was sandwiched by soaring cliffs smeared with rust colored ferns, pressed deep inside narrow valleys with rushing streams crashing down from above. From Oban I took a ferry to the Isle of Mull and wandered there, lost from civilization, wrapped in foggy mist, dwarfed by the stark expanse of the desolate moor.

I’d read about a prehistoric stone near the B&B where I stayed on Mull. So I went there, and in a darkening drizzle, I lept across widening puddles in a broad field and squinted against the rain drops, trying to pick out the white stones marking my approach from the scattered sheep dotting the pasture.  

Just as I started wondering if I should turn back, I saw it. An old mossy stone slab, sticking up from the soggy turf, making a statement that could no longer be understood. 

I approached, stood transfixed, finally took a picture. I almost turned back but decided I needed to see the other side of the stone. Something about this decision felt very daring. I circled around, reverent before the ancient silhouette framed against the looming mountain across the pasture. I took another picture. For some reason, a part of me was magnetized, wanting to stay, to be still and assimilate this amazing prehistoric mystery, perhaps even to gain understanding. 

I stood for a moment, pulled in. Then I took another picture and with indistinct but quickly increasing discomfort, I turned away to hurry back to the dry warmth of the car.



Now, cynic that I am, the “orbs” you see could probably be explained by the rain. Maybe there were droplets on the lens and they caught and reflected the flash that went off in the dimness of dusk. (Or not.)
  

But the last picture stumps me. They show the droplets, if that’s what they are, moving upwards. Last time I checked, it just doesn’t rain upside down. I have not altered these pictures; I wouldn’t know how to “create effects.” They were taken with a Canon PowerShot SD700 Digital Elf. (No pun intended)

You are invited to explain, comment, opine and educate me and others in my guestbook.  If the orbs and streaks are supernatural, what are they? If they aren’t supernatural, how did they come to be in my pictures?


***


D. Pat Thomas is a budding author from Cleveland, Ohio who harbors a fascination with reading and writing blood-thumping thrillers. Her first novel, Any Given Tuesday, takes the reader deep inside the reclusive culture of North Korea to expose a galling threat to the free world. Her second novel, Stone of Destiny, is in process and delves into the mysterious disappearance of the Pictish people of Scotland. To find out more, go to www.d-pat-thomas.com.



Saturday, December 17, 2011

AUDIO BOOKS: HOW IT’S DONE THROUGH ACX.COM Part I

http://www.audible.com/pd/Mysteries-Thrillers/Double-Forte-Audiobook/B008XO7GLG/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srTtl?qid=1390132438&sr=1-1

copyright 2011, Aaron Paul Lazar

Have you ever wondered how writers get their books made into audio books?

It's a lot of fun, as well as being another opportunity to share your work with the world and add some money to that monthly subsidy.

I currently have five books in production with ACX, Audiobook Creation Exchange. ACX is a wonderful site where authors, producers, and actors can network and pair up. It's owned by Audible, which in turn belongs to Amazon. It's been growing in leaps and bounds over the past few years, and many authors and listeners swear by it as a reliable resource for affordable audiobooks. (2014 update: Audiobook count is now 15.)

Want to give it a go?

Read on! I’m going to document the process for you in a few articles so you can give it a try yourself. You’ll need to know how to get started, how to get through the editing process, and what to do once your book is available for sale.

A little bit of history:

I’ve tried to record my own books. Lord knows, I’ve tried. I spent a week downloading various (free) audio programs, playing with the settings, recording just a few chapters over and over again every time I messed up a word, or a loud truck went by, or the dogs barked.

I drove myself nuts. Finally, after hours of labor, I created some audio files of me reading the first few chapters in Tremolo: cry of the loon, and posted them on my website.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed it. I really did. But while I was doing this, I wasn’t writing. And if I had ever hoped to get my complete set of sixteen books recorded as audio books, it would have taken months for each project. I’d never get my current book finished at that rate.

I sent off a few of the mp3 samples to my publisher. She had her “audio guy” listen to them, and he said they had too much “hiss,” that I’d need a different mike. Of course, I had used the simple microphone that comes with my MacBook Pro, and that naturally isn’t geared for serious recording.

For the time being, I let it go at that. After all, I had seven books to edit that were scheduled for 2012 release, and was working on the third book in my Tall Pines mystery series. With the full time day job, there wasn’t must time left for anything extra.

The tip:

The dream of getting my books into audio books didn’t die, it just simmered under the surface for a little while, until a good friend gave me a tip. Her Simon & Schuster book was going to audio book format through a company called ACX.

Excited, I started to investigate. The nicest part of the whole deal is one available option called “Royalty Share” where the narrators/actors/producers and authors to do the recording work up front, put no money down, and then share the royalties when the sales start coming in. Of course you can also simply hire a narrator and his studio to do the recordings, and keep your share of the royalties for yourself, if you want.

Alternatively, you can record your own books, but you’d probably have to invest in a good mike, become well-versed in manipulating audio files, or have a an audio-techie colleague to help you.

Important stuff to know:

Now this part is really important. Please read this carefully:

You need to find out who owns the audio rights for your book(s).

Check your book contracts, and if you’re not sure, call your publisher.

I hadn’t really paid attention to that part of the contract(s) with my publisher, Twilight Times Books, but soon discovered that she hadn’t included audio rights in our contract, so the rights were mine.

For those whose publishers’ have retained the rights, don’t panic. Your publisher or agent can submit your books to ACX if he or she is so inclined, you’ll just have to share the royalties with her and your actor/narrator/producer.

If you establish that you own the audio rights, the next step is to register. Please note you must already have books in the Amazon bookstore to be able to register.

I was surprised that Twilight Times Books wasn’t on the ACX publishers list (lots of companies weren’t, since this is a new program and they are still growing their lists), but didn’t let that stop me. I knew my publisher was highly-regarded in the industry, that she’d been interviewed by Publisher’s Weekly, and that our company was a member in good standing of Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and International Thriller Writers. These credentials were legit and impressive.

I was able to chat with Nicole O., one of the ACX customer support folks, who was extremely helpful. We talked on the phone several times about my publisher and my books, and I provided all the information needed. After a while, the books were listed on the site for actors to listen to and (hopefully) submit auditions. Of course, I had to upload all the details about the work – number of pages, genre, synopsis, and a short excerpt for the actors to use in their auditions.

http://www.audible.com/pd/Fiction/For-the-Birds-A-Tall-Pines-Mystery-Audiobook/B00DQ9WCYO/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srTtl?qid=1390133926&sr=1-1
The first audition:

I was thrilled to receive an audition almost immediately for TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON.
The voice actor/narrator, Erik S, did a great job, creating a very young-sounding voice for my eleven-year-old Gus LeGarde. I was pleased with his accents for Gus’s grandparents who live in Maine, Oscar and Millie Stone (British transplants), Elsbeth and Siegfried (German twins, Gus’s friends,) etc. Each voice was consistent and unique, and wonderful rendered. (2014 update: Erik just finished recording the sequel to Tremolo - Don't Let the Wind Catch You.)

The First Fifteen Minute Sample:

After we started work on TREMOLO, Erik prepared the first fifteen-minute sample. I listened, made a few minor suggestions, and then approved the posted files. This is important for many reasons. For one thing, you need to confirm that the voices for each character are suitable and hopefully match the “voices in your head.”

Well, that sounded a little weird, but if you’re like me and consider your stories like parallel universes, then you know exactly how your characters sound, and you often picture them in movies with actors you’ve already chosen for them.

Am I right?

Okay, so the whole idea of checking out the first fifteen minutes is so your British character doesn’t sound like he’s from the Bronx, or your plucky heroine doesn’t sound too frail. Also, it gives you a good chance to check the quality level of the recording facilities that your producer is using.

We didn’t have to do much adjusting, frankly, because Erik really nailed the accents without any coaching. He recorded the entire book over a period of a month, sending me batches of audio files to listen to, and when we were done catching any errors that might have crept into the files, he worked on the technical items that needed fixing.

I panicked!

Erik went back to working on the files, and it was at that point that I panicked. I was trying to upload my book cover art into the required field on my TREMOLO ACX page, when I discovered that the cover art needed to be a square image.

Square? All of my covers were rectangular, in roughly 5x8 inch format.

I tried to cut the book cover down by cropping it, but there was no way it was going to work and look proper in a square format.

Finally, like most guys, I used my last resort, and read the directions. I studied the examples on the webpage of what was “acceptable” and what wasn’t. Right there in front of me was the botched up cover just like the one I’d attempted, with top and bottom cropped. Next to it was another stuck in a square with white borders.

Nope. The cropping or squeezing-it-all-into-a-little-box approach was not going to cut it!

The “acceptable” cover was designed from the beginning to fit in a square template.

It was at this point that I started to worry about my rights again. I would need the layered version of my covers so I could play with the original art and design it to fit in a square box using Photoshop.

http://www.audible.com/pd/Romance/The-Seacrest-Audiobook/B00H9S0AQU/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srImg?qid=1390133974&sr=1-1

Who owns your cover art?

Did I own the rights to my cover art? Would my publisher object to me using them, since she wasn’t involved in this venture? I helped with the designs, and yes, many of my own photos and concepts were used, but I soon discovered I didn’t own the artwork. My publisher was very sweet about it, but she pointed out that she’d paid an artist to do the designs, and that they were legally hers. I love my publisher and would never try to cross the line. So, off I went to create new, square audio book covers.

Fortunately I have used Photoshop for years and knew how to go about it. I’ve been designing “place holder” covers for years, even before I submitted my manuscripts to my publisher, so I had lots of images to play with. I like having a colorful image in my head (and on my websites) that gives a feeling for what’s coming in the books. 

I set about creating new, square covers using my Photoshop Elements application.

There are specs you need to follow. For example, the cover must be over 2400 by 2400 pixels, etc.

Here is the original cover for Tremolo and my new audio book cover:


Erik uploaded the final files to ACX, and I automatically approved them, since I’d already listened to each one so many times and felt comfortable that they’d be fine.

My first mistake:

I always say, “Double check! Triple check!” and am usually quite obsessed with being absolutely sure all is good.

Just recently, I received notification from ACX that some of the chapters were missing or repeated. Both Erik and I had missed the uploading errors. But thankfully, the Quality group at ACX does a screening up front, and the errors were quickly corrected.

We’re waiting now to see Tremolo pop up on the Audible website. It’s supposed to take a few weeks after we approve the final version. (2014 update - the book was successfully published, the first of 15, with more to come!)

More auditions came in!

Meanwhile, in the midst of the TREMOLO efforts, I received and enthusiastically accepted an audition from a Canadian Recording Studio,  for HEALEY’S CAVE, book 1 in Moore Mysteries, otherwise known as “the green marble series.”

If you’ve ever wanted to have your books recorded and available for folks to listen to, give it a try! 

www.ACX.com

You can listen to some samples of all my audio-books here.

NOTE: Part II discusses many more tips and lessons learned along the way.

Aaron Paul Lazar
www.lazarbooks.com

-->
Twilight Times Books by multi-award winning author, Aaron Lazar:

DOUBLE FORTÉ (print, eBook, audio book)     http://www.legardemysteries.com/doubleforte.htm
UPSTAGED (print, eBook, audio book)  
MAZURKA (print, eBook, audio book)
FIRESONG (print, eBook, audio book)
DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (print, eBook, audio book)
VIRTUOSO (~2014)

HEALEY'S CAVE (print, eBook, audio book)
FOR KEEPS (print, eBook, audio book)

FOR THE BIRDS (print, eBook, audio book)
ESSENTIALLY YOURS (print, eBook, audio book)
MURDER ON THE SACANDAGA (~2014)

STANDALONES
THE SEACREST (2013)
BITTERSWEET HOLLOW (2014)

WRITING ADVICE: 

WRITE LIKE THE WIND, volumes 1, 2, 3 (ebooks and audio books)

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, writing books, and a new love story, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at http://www.lazarbooks.com and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, SANCTUARY (2014), and VIRTUOSO (2014).


AWARDS:

Double Forté 
  • 2012 ForeWord BOTYA, Mystery, FINALIST

Tremolo: cry of the loon
  • 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Awards: Grand Prize Short List
  • 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Awards: Honorable Mention, Eric Hoffer Legacy Fiction
  • 2011 Global eBook Award Finalist in Historical Fiction Contemporary
  • 2011 Preditors & Editors Readers Choice Award – 2nd place Mystery
  • 2008 Yolanda Renée's Top Ten Books
  • 2008 MYSHELF Top Ten Reads

For the Birds
  • 2011 ForeWord Book Awards, FINALIST in Mystery
  • 2012 Carolyn Howard-Johnson's Top 10 Reads

Essentially Yours
  • 2013 EPIC Book Awards, FINALIST in Suspense
  • 2013 Eric Hoffer Da Vinci Eye Award Finalist

Healey’s Cave
  • 2012 EPIC Book Awards WINNER Best Paranormal
  • 2011 Eric Hoffer Book Award, WINNER Best Book in Commercial Fiction
  • 2011 Finalist for Allbooks Review Editor's Choice
  • 2011 Winner of Carolyn Howard Johnson's 9th Annual Noble (not Noble!) Prize for Literature
  • 2011 Finalists for Global EBook Awards

 Terror Comes Knocking
  • 2013 Global Ebook Awards, Paranormal – Bronze

For Keeps
  • 2013 Semi Finalist in Kindle Book Review Book Awards, Mystery Category

***

Connect with Aaron Lazar!

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How a Rocket Scientist Becomes a Writer


Hi, folks!

Please help me give a warm welcome to Stephanie Osborn today. This is Stepanie's first post on Murderby4, and after reading about her fascinating history and plethora of books, I hope she'll come back to post again soon.

Thanks, Stephanie, for joining us here today!
Aaron Paul Lazar
www.legardemysteries.com

How a Rocket Scientist Becomes a Writer


copyright 2011, Stephanie Osborn



My first published novel was a SF mystery (I seem to have a fondness for combining those two genres) published by Twilight Times Books back in 2009. Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281 is a techno-thriller about a Space Shuttle disaster that turns out to be no accident.

There's a loooong story behind the writing of Burnout. For one thing, it took me between 10-15 years from the conception of the idea, and the published book.

Why? Simple.

I was too close to it.

Let’s back up a couple decades.

I’d just started working in the field when the Challenger disaster occurred. The program I worked at the time of the disaster was to have led to a Shuttle mission, and I would have been a Payload Specialist candidate. Shortly thereafter, the next phase of my project was cancelled due to the grounding of the Shuttle Fleet. So I moved into the payload flight control area.

Over a couple of decades I worked seven Space Shuttle missions, at least four increments on the International Space Station, and a number of space defense programs. You get into some interesting conversations from time to time.

The seeds of Burnout began as a conversation concerning certain abilities of the Shuttle. It does have an autopilot, and a very limited remote control capability. We discussed under what circumstances a Shuttle could be damaged on orbit and still manage a reasonably safe descent.

Sounds morbid. But the first step to preventing a disaster is to figure out what might cause one, then develop preventive measures and recovery procedures. This means talking about it, working out the details of the malfunction, then working backwards to “fix” it.

And yes, this required considerable knowledge of the guts of a Shuttle. Betwixt us all, we possessed the requisite knowledge. I don't know that we ever did decide whether it was possible.

But that was the birth of the idea. What if I wrote a story about a Shuttle accident, and the ensuing investigation? What sort of accident should it be? Should it cause merely a dangerous, or a catastrophic, malfunction?

And then the idea hit: What if it WASN’T an accident?

And that was when Burnout was born.

My first Shuttle mission was the first Spacelab flight after the post-Challenger Return To Flight. So my research for Burnout included all of the investigative reports and such for that disaster. But I didn’t want anyone thinking I was playing off a tragedy, so I changed the scenario. Whereas Challenger blew during the ascent phase, I’d make my fictional disaster occur during re-entry. I started writing.

So here I was, squarely in the middle of a career in the Shuttle program, writing about a Shuttle disaster. The exact thing that I, as a payload flight controller, did NOT want to see, at least in real life. Certainly not on my watch.

It messes with your head, that.

So I’d write on it awhile, then put it aside when it got to me. I wouldn’t look at it again for months. Then the “plot bunny” would bite again, and I’d pull it out and go at it for awhile.

Somewhere in there, my husband Darrell introduced me to Travis “Doc” Taylor, best-selling science fiction author, TV star of National Geographic’s When Aliens Attack and Rocket City Rednecks and at that time, my husband’s co-worker. Darrell is a graphics artist and does all of the artwork for my book covers, and had done some cover concepts for one of Travis’ books. So when Darrell told Travis I was trying to get published, Travis suggested he introduce us. Darrell did, we clicked, and I acquired a writing mentor.

With that encouragement, I pushed on. Darrell got used to stomping up to me when I was writing: A husband suddenly materializing at my shoulder and saying something is apt to end up with him peeling me from the ceiling.

Eventually I finished a rough draft and sent it to Travis, who’d promised to read it and give me a helpful critique. When he felt it was polished enough, he’d help me further by submitting it to one of his publisher friends. He said he’d been helped like that, and he intended to pass it forward. I promised him I would, too.

So I sent him the Word file and sat back, glad I’d finally gotten the thing finished.

And then, the unthinkable happened.

Columbia went down. And I had a friend aboard.

By that time, I was into military work, or my emotional response might have been even worse. As it was, I put the manuscript away for six months or so. I'd lost TWO friends at one go: KC, and Columbia; because that was the Shuttle with which I'd worked the most.

I talked to Travis later; he said it kinda freaked him too. He went over the whole manuscript in detail, and sent me back a list of compliments, critiques, and suggestions. Unfortunately I wasn’t in any kind of emotional condition to use them. And wouldn’t be for nearly a year.

I seriously considered trashing the manuscript. I downloaded the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s report and studied it, looking to see if I was way off in left field with my scenario. If I was, then I should probably trash the manuscript anyway. If I wasn’t…

I wasn’t. I didn’t have to change a word.

In the end, I went forward and dedicated the novel to Kalpana and the Columbia crew. I dug up Travis’ notes and printed them out. I had to double the size of the manuscript, which meant essentially writing a whole ‘nother story. So I wrote several stories, and intertwined them in a series of subplots.

I also wrote an afterward in which I basically swore up and down that the book was written BEFORE the accident. I didn’t want anyone prone to conspiracy theories thinking that, as a NASA insider, I’d written the real story of Columbia under the guise of fiction.

And THEN… I sent it to Travis.

The first publisher he sent it to rejected it. Not for any particular flaws in the book; it turns out that 1) they weren’t taking on newbie authors at that time, 2) it didn’t fit the type of book they usually published. That was hard. But I was thankful I had a mentor, because Trav wouldn’t let me get down about it. Instead he sent it to Twilight Times Books. I clearly remember his email going out on a Thursday. On Sunday, the editor in chief, Lida Quillen, sent me an email outlining the standard contract for accepting a book. By Monday, I had my very first book contract in my hands. I was about to become a published author!

Next came a year of reviewing, editing, honing, adding, subtracting, finding a rather large plot hole and plugging it, galley proofs, and being asked to write a book with another author. The Y Factor, co-authored with Darrell Bain, the 2nd book of the Cresperia Saga begun by Bain and Travis with the award-winning Human By Choice, came out in ebook the same day Burnout came out in ebook and print – Tax Day, 2009. Both hit best-seller lists with various sales groups, and both were favorably reviewed by a syndicated columnist in the New York Times.

Burnout has done rather well in the time it’s been in publication. It’s been nominated for awards in four different genres – ebook, science fiction, mystery, and thriller – and has garnered some interest from Los Angeles. I already have the contract in hand for the sequel, and a screenplay is written for a feature film project.

Burnout’s sequel, tentatively titled Escape Velocity, is in work. The master script is nearly finished (though the shooting script isn’t even begun), and hopefully some producers will be interested in bringing my imagination to cinematic life in the near future. The Y Factor’s sequel, The Cresperian Alliance, is out; I’ve written a book with Travis titled Extraction Point. And I have an entire series, the Displaced Detective saga, in work, with the first story in two volumes, The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival and At Speed, just released.

I left the space program shortly before Travis submitted Burnout for me. Now I write full time, and have 10 books, novel and anthology, under my belt. From rocket scientist to author in a couple of years’ time.

Not too shabby, I suppose.

 

Stephanie Osborn (www.stephanie-osborn.com) is a former payload flight controller, a veteran of over twenty years of working in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs. She has worked on numerous Space Shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Of those astronauts she trained, one was Kalpana Chawla, a member of the crew lost in the Columbia disaster.

She holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics, and she is "fluent" in several more, including Geology and Anatomy. She obtained her various degrees from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN