By Jaime Rush
Having foiled sabotage of Project: Tesseract, Sherlock Holmes and Skye Chadwick try to find the spies responsible. But they don’t even know what the spies want! Their relationship complicates matters; both feel strong attraction, but Holmes especially refuses to admit it. Can they work out their relationship? Can they determine why the spies are after the tesseract? And can they stop it?
I sat down with author Stephanie Osborn to talk about her career, her life, and the first books in her Displaced Detective series, THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVAL and THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: AT SPEED.
Okay, Stephanie, you’re the alien changeling writer. Why have you dubbed yourself that?
Well, a changeling, in European (specifically Celtic) mythology and folklore is a fairy or elven child who, while still an infant, is switched in the cradle for a human child. The human is taken to the fairy world, while the fae is raised as a human. Unfortunately, usually the fae person never quite fits in. An alien changeling, therefore, would be a changeling who, never mind being a different Earth species, comes from another world, or even another dimension.
Some years back, when I was working as a Shuttle payload flight controller, one of the branch managers, noting my “difference in style” from most of the people I worked with, and himself being a science fiction fan, described me as an Alien Changeling. Rather than take exception to the description, I took it to heart and made it my title. I thought it would be fun, as a SF writer, to incorporate it as a fun bit of “lore” about me – a touch of imaginative mystique, if you will.
What is your new series about and why do you love it?
The Displaced Detective Series is a science fiction mystery in which 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 Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, 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, who inadvertently flies through the tesseract wormhole connecting his universe with ours, while his enemy 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. Along the way, he and Chadwick become a high-tech crime-fighting detective team.
I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes fan since childhood, when THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES scared me half to death! But I’m also a scientist and science fiction writer – and fan. The notion of combining a Holmes-style mystery with science fiction aspects, and of putting Holmes in a situation that would bend even his brilliant mind, appealed to me. Coming up with ideas for stories in the series has been TOO easy! It’s proved to be great fun, and stretches my mind, too!
Sounds like a great idea, very innovative. I love the idea of other dimensions, something I write about as well, but what a neat twist that one is populated by literary characters come to life. Especially with bringing Sherlock Holmes to our dimension. How did you come up with that idea?
Put simply, since I was already writing science fiction, and have multiple science degrees, I wanted to find a way to legitimately put Holmes into a science fiction setting. But since Holmes doesn’t exist in OUR reality, I had to postulate a reality in which he DID exist – and then I had to explain it.
I think you’ve created a new genre: sci-fi mystery. What inspired you?
Oh, I hope so! That would be very cool.
I don’t know that it was exactly the usual definition of inspiration. I just like to combine the things I like. Growing up I was a mystery fan, and I was a science fiction fan. To me, really good science fiction stories – at least the ones I liked best – have a similar air of mystique to those of really good mysteries. It seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess. And I picked Holmes because he is my all-time favorite detective. I guess I’m not alone in THAT…
You have quite the interesting background, which obviously plays into the sci-fi elements of your books: astronomy, physics, chemistry, working with military space programs. Which aspects play into your stories the most?
Oh wow. Pretty much all of it. For the Displaced Detective books, I’m dredging it all up. Just working out the faux physics of Project: Tesseract involved hours of research and teaching myself as much as I could about M theory (a higher-order version of string theory), as well as cutting-edge particle physics. In fact, the very recent science news about possible faster-than-light neutrinos has left me on the edge of MY seat, because the ramifications factor into Project: Tesseract’s operation! (My beta reader, who happens to be a Ph.D. particle physicist, has indicated that it looks like I developed my “science” well, and that it’ll be fine no matter the outcome.)
My first novel, BURNOUT: THE MYSTERY OF SPACE SHUTTLE STS-281, made heavy use of my space program background, but it also made use of my training in geology and physics. I plan on using chemistry and geophysics in upcoming Displaced Detective books, as well. Needless to say, with Holmes as the leading man in these adventures, I’ve done a ton of research into Victorian era history and technology, too.
Your series involves physics and mind-bending concepts. How easy is it for the layperson to understand the science?
It seems to be reasonably easy, according to the feedback I’m getting from readers. I have also taught Space Camp, been a substitute teacher and a tutor, so I have some experience in taking scientific and technological concepts and breaking them down into stuff that’s easy to understand.
Is there a theme in your books, a thread that you see coming up in your stories often? For instance, underdog fighting for justice?
I don’t know that I see the SAME themes coming up repeatedly, but it does seem like each story will have an underlying “moral,” if you will. And it’s odd, but I’ve realized that, when I get writer’s block and am stuck writing the manuscript, it means I haven’t gotten a good handle on what the theme of the book is. For BURNOUT, it was, “The end does NOT always justify the means.” The first Displaced Detective story, comprised of THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: THE ARRIVAL and THE CASE OF THE DISPLACED DETECTIVE: AT SPEED, has a kind of parallelism as its theme, as well as the notion that there are larger things at work than those of which we may be aware.
You’ve written a lot of books. Is there a story or theme you’re longing to write that you haven’t had the opportunity or time to yet? Something completely different from what you’re writing now?
Oh yes. There are two, actually. One is historical fiction – I want to write the Gospel story from the perspective of Jesus’ Jewish roots. Because the majority of Christians are Gentile, there’s a wealth of information in the Gospels that sails right past the typical reader, because they don’t know the cultural background. How many people, for instance, are aware that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah?
The other is fantasy – I want to write a – well, it will probably end up being an epic story arc of multiple books, because I don’t see being able to cram it all into one! I want to write a book about an Atlantean world culture, high tech, that is destroyed in the cataclysm now known in Western civilization as the Great Flood. And I want to gather up all the information from different cultures around the world about that flood – because they almost all have a Flood mythos – and interweave them. That’s why I think it will be more of an epic telling. It’s so big a tale to tell, it’s actually a bit daunting!
I haven’t done more than really start researching either of them yet, though. There’s SO MUCH information to gather, and so much detail to organize.
What’s your best reader comment? The funniest? Any book signing stories to share?
Well, my favorite is always, “When’s the next book coming out?” One nice comment I got in person was when a reader told me that he had originally thought I was a man, because my male characters were written so well, even in terms of internal dialogue. I don’t know if it’s generically true or not, but his perception in his general reading was that men tended to write males better, and women were better at writing females, but I was good at both.
The funny – or frustrating, depending on how the writing is going – comments are usually the ones that follow up on the “When’s the next book?” queries. They usually go along the lines of, “Stop eating, stop sleeping, let your husband fend for himself and FINISH THAT NEXT BOOK!”
Book signings can get interesting for someone who writes science fiction, especially when that person happens to have worked for NASA and DoD for many years. The strange ones can come out of the woodwork, if you know what I mean. “You really nailed your UFO description. Back during my last abduction…” or, “I know your books are your way of telling the public what NASA’s REALLY holding back…” and stuff like that. And yes, those sorts of things HAVE been said to me. And to set the record straight: no, I haven’t been abducted, and no, NASA isn’t holding anything back, and yes, we really did land on the Moon. (Yeah, I’ve gotten that, too.)
Do you have any writing rituals before you begin a book or start your day?
Not really, no. Boot the ‘puter, open Word, open the web browser, check emails, open up tabs to Wikipedia, Google, and Thesaurus.com, then have at it.
What does your writing space look like? Do you have any inspirational sayings tacked to your monitor or wall?
Heh. My writing space consists of my Lazyboy recliner, my laptop, my water bottle on the end table at my elbow, my big screen TV (usually set to either The Weather Channel or a music radio station), and my cat somewhere close by, sometimes on my feet. (Sometimes half on the laptop.)
My inspirational sayings are all tacked with magnets (or they’re ON magnets) to the refrigerator or the steel door into the garage.
Tell me about your life, your passions, and what you do when you’re not writing.
I’m happily married to the guy I met in college, Darrell Osborn. We have one furbaby, a rescued kitty named Elrond Half-Siamese, who owns us and the house. I live in Huntsville, AL (where else would a rocket scientist live?) and one of my best friends is my writing mentor, Travis S. Taylor, who is not only a NYT-bestselling author, he’s the star of NatGeo’s hit series, Rocket City Rednecks. (Yes, I knew him when, heehee.) Another of my best friends is that Ph.D. beta reader I mentioned, a guy named Jim Woosley – he’s a Heinlein essayist, too. Oh, and I’m very close to my family – my parents, my sister, her husband and son.
I used to be seriously into noncompetitive bodybuilding and polo, and had just gotten well into studying karate and sword-fighting. Unfortunately a few years back I started to have knee problems due to a previously-missed congenital defect, and now it kind of precludes any serious athletic endeavors. I’m officially handicapped, actually. I keep active, though; it helps knee stability if I keep the surrounding muscles strong. So I still go to the gym at least a couple times a week, and walk when I can. I won’t get one of those little go-carts, though it’s been suggested, because to me that’s giving up, and I flatly refuse.
I love to travel. I get some of my best ideas for plots when I’m traveling. I do a lot of science fiction conventions – have started being invited as a guest of honor! – and that’s fun. I talk about the science in SF, how genres can be similar (like mystery and SF!), the latest discoveries, and occasionally dress up in costume. I recently joined the Nashville, TN chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars, called The Nashville Scholars of the Three-Pipe Problem (Nashville being one of the closest active chapters), where I was duly invested as “Boswell.” And I’ve been invited to present a paper at the Annual Gathering of Southern Sherlockians next April. I’m always game to go somewhere new, to explore and meet cool new people.
And I keep my hand in the science field. I recently participated in the First Annual Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, held in Oak Ridge, TN. We discussed interplanetary and interstellar drive concepts, possible “Goldilocks” planets, and whether or not we were limiting ourselves by looking for E.T.s like us. I was honored to chair a panel discussion of one of the biggest mysteries in the universe, known as the Fermi Paradox, the gist of which is, “Where is everybody? As big as the universe is, they should have been here by now.”
What’s the best way for readers to get in touch with you? Do you Tweet/blog/etc.?
I tweet, Facebook, blog, Google+, and rarely, MySpace. I seem to have problems with MySpace compatibility with my computer and so I’m not on there as much as I should be. On Twitter, I’m WriterSteph; on Facebook and MySpace, I’m Novelist Stephanie Osborn (and on Facebook I also have a personal fan page, and pages for my books/series). My blogspot blog is called COMET TALES, though I only post there when I have something interesting to say. On Google+ I’m just Stephanie Osborn. I have an account at Formspring called AlienChangeling, and am a semi-regular blogger on the science blog, LET ME CHECK MY NOTES… I’m also on numerous Ning writing groups as Stephanie Osborn.
Or you can just go to my website and send me an email using the form.
Thank you, Stephanie, for filling us in on all the goodies. Your new series sounds a delicious blend of sci fi, thriller, and a dose of old-fashioned mystery!
Stephanie Osborn is a former payload flight controller, with twenty years in the civilian & military space programs. She worked on numerous Space Shuttle flights and the ISS, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Of those she trained, one was Kalpana Chawla, lost in the Columbia disaster.
She holds degrees from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN in Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics, and is “fluent” in several more.
Now she writes SF mysteries with a strong thriller element, while “passing it forward” in public appearances.