Thursday, December 19, 2013

Another Hot New Release from Twilight Times Books - Dragon Fire - by Dina von Lowenkraft

[When the Mad Muncle heard about Dina's debut YA fantasy, Dragon Fire, he couldn't wait to tell the world. That day has finally come. Not only does he get to share the goods, but Ms. von Lowenkraft has graciously provided a bit of world building wisdom. Enjoy.]

Dragon Fire

Some choices are hard to live with.
But some choices will kill you.

When seventeen-year-old Anna first meets Rakan in her hometown north of the Arctic Circle, she is attracted to the pulsing energy that surrounds him. Unaware that he is a shapeshifting dragon, Anna is drawn into a murderous cycle of revenge that pits Rakan and his clan against her best friend June.

Torn between his forbidden relationship with Anna, that could cost them both their lives, and restoring his family’s honor by killing June, Rakan must decide what is right. And what is worth living – or dying – for.

Born in the US, Dina has lived on 4 continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt – and still thinks the two are connected. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat.

Dina loves to create intricate worlds filled with conflict and passion. She builds her own myths while exploring issues of belonging, racism and the search for truth... after all, how can you find true love if you don’t know who you are and what you believe in? Dina’s key to developing characters is to figure out what they would be willing to die for. And then pushing them to that limit.

Excerpt (Chapter One):

In the Arctic winter, the sun never rises.
In the Arctic summer, the sun never sets.
In the Arctic, the world is at your feet.


 Chapter 1
The Circle Tightens

The candle flickered in the subzero wind but Anna made no move to protect it. She stopped on the hill in front of Tromso’s three-year high school and watched the water of the fjord shimmer below. Even though it was mid-afternoon there was no sun, just the luminous reflection of the moon. The procession of students continued on without her, leaving only the fading sound of crunching snow in their wake.

“You seem as eager to go to Fritjof’s memorial vigil as I am,” June said, startling Anna with her sudden appearance.

Anna fingered the oval piece of bright orange coral that she had carried around like a talisman since she was a child. She usually kept it in her pocket, but today she wanted to feel its soothing energy closer and had it in her glove. She had never liked Fritjof, and even though she wasn’t glad he had died, she wouldn’t miss him.

She turned to face June whose cobalt blue eyes were at odds with her otherwise Asian features. June and her boyfriend had also been out on the mountain when the avalanche claimed Fritjof. “I’m glad it’s not yours too,” Anna said. “I’d really miss you.”

“It would take more than an avalanche to kill me,” June said, trying to smile. But Anna could feel her friend’s pain lurking under the surface.

“Hey.” She wrapped an arm around June to comfort her. But as soon as her hand touched June’s shoulder, a burst of energy exploded from her stone. Anna ripped off her glove and the piece of coral went flying. “What the—”

June spun around, pushing Anna behind her as if to protect her from an attack. She scanned the area, her body tensed for a fight.

“Who are you looking for?” Anna pressed her palm to dull the pain as she glanced around the deserted hilltop. “Whatever it was, it came from my stone.”

June relaxed her stance. “Are you okay?”

“I think so.” Anna gestured towards the coral-colored sparks that crackled in the darkness of the Norwegian winter. “What do you think it’s doing?”

“Don’t know.” June crouched down to get a better look. Her hand hovered as a bright green light flashed around the stone.

“Don’t touch it,” Anna said sharply. Her stone had always had a special energy, but never coral-colored sparks. Or green flashes of light.

“It’s okay now.” June pulled her hand back. “Look for yourself.”

Anna knelt next to June. The stone was dark and lifeless and she felt a sudden pang of loss. She prodded it gingerly with her good hand, but felt nothing. She picked it up. It was just a pretty bit of coral. The gentle pulsing energy that she had liked so much was gone.

“Can I see it?” June asked.

Anna nodded, her throat constricted. The stone had always reminded her of her father. Its energy was something he would have been able to feel too. The only other person she had met so far who was open to that kind of thing was June. Everyone else got freaked out, or thought she was crazy. So she had learned not to talk about it.

June closed her fist around the stone. “Where did you get this?” Her voice wavered.

Anna’s attention flicked back to June. She never wavered. “I found it in the mountains. Years ago. Why? What is it?”

“A trigger.”

“A trigger for what?”

June returned Anna’s searching look. “I have no idea.” She handed the stone back.

“So how do you know it’s a trigger?”

“I just feel it.” June picked up the candles that lay forgotten in the snow. “If you’re okay, we should go.”

Anna picked up her discarded glove and froze. In the middle of her left palm was a star-shaped scar. She stretched her hand to get a better look. It was about the size of a dime. She touched it. Like an echo under the fading pain, she could feel the energy of her stone pulsing faintly in her palm.

“Here,” June said, offering Anna a candle. She stopped mid-motion. “What is it?”

“I don’t know. The stone…” She held out her palm. “Look.”

June dropped the candles and took Anna’s hand in hers. Gently, she ran her fingers over the slightly raised ridges of the scar. “A Firemark,” June said as if talking to herself. “But how…?”

“What’s a Firemark?” Anna examined the scar. It was almost silvery in the moonlight.

June looked up, her fingers still on Anna’s palm. “It’s like a living connection between two people. But… there was only the stone.”

“It always felt alive,” Anna said. She touched the Firemark one last time before putting her glove back on. It was warm and smooth.

June shook her head. “But even if it felt alive, it shouldn’t have left a Firemark.”

Anna shrugged. “Maybe. But I like it.” Anna closed her hand around the Firemark. It felt like she was holding her stone. She smiled. She’d never lose it now.

June re-lit the candles again and handed one to Anna. “Ready?”

Anna hooked her arm through June’s. “I think so.” They walked silently through town and across the bridge that straddled the green-black fjord.

“Do you think it’s over?” Anna eyed the Arctic Cathedral that sprawled like slabs of a fallen glacier on the other side of the fjord. It was lit up like a temple of light.

June shook her head. “It’s only just begun.”

            “That’s enough.” Khotan’s voice snapped like a whip across the barren land of Ngari in western Tibet. “You’re not going to kill her. I will.”

[Hooked? You can read more at Twilight Times Books.]

Guest Post - World Building

I have always loved world building - and, as most kids do, I did it constantly, whether playing with my friends in the trees or building homes for my stuffed animals. What we were all doing, without thinking about it, was creating a setting for our story. No story can happen without characters, and no character can come to life in a void. They need a setting. The setting is the structure in which the characters will evolve and the story will unfold. It shapes how the characters view the world and how they react. Whether done consciously or unconsciously, the world we create as writers informs the story problem and its themes.

One of the exciting things about world building is that you can create your world starting from any point, be it the physical realm, the society, the character or the story problem. But no matter where you start, at some point you have to decide how your main character and his/her story problem fit into the larger world he/she lives in. It is this interplay between the character and his/her world that will help give a story the depth, and coherence, necessary to engage readers and create a vibrant world that will live on in their minds well beyond the end of the book.

Although it is easy to see details of world building when reading about Middle Earth or Starships, a contemporary novel set in a small town also has a distinct world that the author has created – either by constructing a fictional setting or by choosing which parts of a real setting to include or to omit.

A world is a complex system of interdependent threads ranging from the physical to the metaphysical and covering everything in between. Geography, population, government, history, ethics and religion are just a few examples. The clearer you are about the impact of each thread on your characters and story arc, the more depth your world will have and the more alive it will feel.

A river that floods, such as the Nile, can be seen as destructive or life-giving or both – but it can’t be ignored. No matter how it is perceived, the river’s cycle will affect how the civilization that it nourishes develops. Climate and local resources influence everything from clothing to fighting techniques to societal structure and religious beliefs.

Just as in our world, the way fictional characters perceive the world around them is shaped by the culture they grew up in, their past experiences and their own ideas of right and wrong. This in turn will affect how each character can evolve over the course of the story.

For example, in The Game of Thrones, Dany wouldn’t be who she is, or where she is, without the past events that pushed her and her brother into exile. Of course, what she chose to do afterwards was based on her own experiences and understanding of the world around her and the potential she had within herself.

All worlds, even ones with magic, have limitations – and limitations are often a great starting point for introducing problems and increasing tension. And tension, especially when it is innate to your world’s structure and your character’s personal view of the world, is what makes a book something a reader can’t put down.

What are your thoughts on world building? What do you usually create first, the world, the characters, the story problem? I’d love to hear from you!

Hot New Release from Twilight Times Books - Mythos - by Heather McLaren

[The Mad Muncle is very pleased to offer his forge as the fiery setting to present this hot new release from Twilight Times Books-- Mythos, a debut YA fantasy by Heather McLaren.]


True love was the last thing David Cooley expected to find in the Bahamas, But the moment he laid eyes on Faren Sands, he knew he had found the girl of his dreams. How could he know she was a mermaid from the lost island of Atlantis?

Because of the strict laws regarding human contact, the couple flees the consequences of their forbidden passion, struggling to survive a conflict that has been brewing between the mermaids and sea demons for the last eleven thousand years.

Once the epic battle begins, fate forces David to make a decision that will forever affect his young life. Should he stick by the woman he loves, risking his mortality for a civilization that hates him?

Heather McLaren is a Cherokee writer living in southern Illinois with her husband and four children. Mythos, the first of five books in the Mer Chronicles, is her debut novel. She is currently working on the second book in the series, Beyond Legend, and plans on bringing fantasy into the lives of young adults for years to come.

Faren reared back and kicked Mineane with everything she had. The demon’s eyes popped open, and she flew off her feet, crashing headlong into the television screen. There was a loud crunch, and Mineane grew still. Her body turned to dust, leaving her tentacles behind as the only evidence she was ever there.
Suri looked up but she didn’t seem to care about her dead partner. She continued to strangle David without blinking an eye.
Faren ran up and ripped the knife from her back, but Suri knocked her to the floor before she could stab her again. The weapon flew from Faren’s hand and skidded across the tile out of reach. She crawled toward it, grunting and groaning. Suri grabbed her leg, and Faren fell flat on her face.
“No!” Faren screamed.
So close, so close.
She reached for the knife again; her hand grazed the handle, knocking it even farther away. As a last minute decision, Faren attacked Suri, pounding her in the head with her tiny fists. The monster let go of David’s throat and grabbed Faren’s hair again, yanking her to the floor.
“Let me go!” Faren cried, latching onto the demon’s wrists. She tried to twist her way free, but Suri’s strength outweighed hers by ten. “No, stop!”
David punched Suri in the back of the head once, twice. She fell to her side, but kept a good grip on Faren’s hair. David managed to crawl out from underneath her, and he punched her in the head again.
As soon as Suri released Faren, the couple took off for the stairway leading to the bedrooms. They didn’t get far. A pair of the most enraged eyes they had ever seen met them halfway.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Suri croaked.
Faren couldn’t think straight. The hefty demon blocking their path no longer existed. All she could see was the stairway, their only lifeline to the outside world, across the room. But it seemed a million light years away.
“You’re trapped,” Suri said, shoving a chair out of the way.
“Come on!” David rushed Faren to the glass patio door, slid it open, and pushed her out onto the balcony. “We have to jump!”

Monday, November 18, 2013

Larger Than Life Antagonists - Guest Post by Christine Amsden - Author of the Cassie Scot series

And the guests keep rolling in. The Mad Muncle is pleased to welcome Christine Amsden to the Forge. The anvil is yours, Christine...

“There is nothing so evil in the world as what humans can do to one another.” – Edward Scot (Cassie's dad)

The fantasy genre loves larger-than-life heroes, which is probably why we tend to turn to larger-than-life antagonists. Who can stand up to a man with the ability to crush a tree into splinters using only his mind? Not you or me, for sure. So instead we turn to werewolves, vampires, orcs, goblins, and demons, just to name a few.

But for some time I have felt that in the search for evil, we really need look no further than our own backyards. Human beings have an amazing capacity to hurt one another, and many of us even manage to rationalize that it's all for a greater good.

If my hero can crush a tree to splinters using only the power of his mind, then I can give you an anti-hero with the same power. Using that formula, you could say we may as well cancel the magic out and just write about regular people, but where's the fun in that? I do love make believe, or I wouldn't write fantasy. :)

There are serious advantages to writing human anti-heroes, chief among them being that it's rare to find a human who is pure good or pure evil. My kids may like knowing who the good guy is and who the bad guy is at all times, but life isn't like that. When you go beyond demons, you have the opportunity to figure out why the antagonist does what he does in terms that the average reader can understand.

On the flipside, why is your hero basically good? How did a two-year-old with some destructive power learn that he doesn't always get his way? Or did he?

As the fantasy genre matures, the demons themselves are becoming less evil in response to authors' instinctive realization that “BWAHAHA!” is not a great motivation for sowing destruction. Dark heroes are becoming the norm rather than the exception, vampires are simply misunderstood, and shape shifters are getting cuddly.

In Eagle Rock, Missouri, where Cassie Scot makes her home, I opted to create a world of mostly human sorcerers to prey upon one another. And in Secrets and Lies, you'll see some of the worst humanity has to offer.

Author Bio:
Christine Amsden has been writing fantasy and science fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. Speculative fiction is fun, magical, and imaginative but great speculative fiction is about real people defining themselves through extraordinary situations. Christine writes primarily about people and relationships, and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

In addition to writing, Christine teaches workshops on writing at Savvy Authors. She also does some freelance editing work

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children.

Social Media Links:

Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective
Cassie Scot is the ungifted daughter of powerful sorcerers, born between worlds but belonging to neither. At 21, all she wants is to find a place for herself, but earning a living as a private investigator in the shadow of her family’s reputation isn’t easy. When she is pulled into a paranormal investigation, and tempted by a powerful and handsome sorcerer, she will have to decide where she truly belongs.

Buy Links:

Secrets and Lies (Cassie Scot #2)

Cassie Scot, still stinging from her parents’ betrayal, wants out of the magical world. But it isn’t letting her go. Her family is falling apart and despite everything, it looks like she may be the only one who can save them.

To complicate matters, Cassie owes Evan her life, making it difficult for her to deny him anything he really wants. And he wants her. Sparks fly when they team up to find two girls missing from summer camp, but long-buried secrets may ruin their hopes for happiness.

Buy Links:

Praise for the Cassie Scot series:

From Publisher’s Weekly:
“In this entertaining series opener, Amsden (The Immortality Virus) introduces readers to the eponymous Cassie, a decidedly mundane member of a magical family. …Readers will enjoy Cassie’s fish-out-of-water struggles as she fights magical threats with little more than experience and bravado.”

Kim Falconer, bestselling author of The Spell of Rosette, Quantum Enchantment Series, had this to say:
“When sorcerers call the shots, what’s a girl without powers to do? Get ready for a ripper of a murder mystery full of romance and intrigue, where magic potions bubble, passions spark and vampires are definitely not your friend. Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective grabs you by the heart and won’t let go until the very last page. Well written, immersive and unputdownable. This is urban fantasy at its best. More please!”

"Christine Amsden unleashes her brilliant storytelling magic as the adventures of Cassie Scot

escalate to the extreme. Rife with betrayal and a debt too deep for money to clear, Secrets and Lies plunges the reader into an utterly believable world where villains and heroes spring lifelike from the pages. Brace for a whirlwind ride of sorcery, romance and knife-edge peril. A truly original urban fantasy. Not to be missed!

Thanks for stopping by, Christine. Good luck with the Secrets and Lies (Cassie Scot #2) tour.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

There’s No Place Like Home - Guest Post by Maria De Vivo, Author of The Coal Elf

The Mad Muncle welcomes fellow Twilight Times Books author, Maria De Vivo. Take it away, Maria.

What’s the old saying?  "Home is where the heart is."  It must be true because one of the prevalent  Humans have an innate honing device that draws us to a nostalgic place of comfort and love. Some of the most influential stories of our time use HOME as a central theme.  After having experienced the wonder and glory of Oz, Dorothy said there was no place like it.  Her journey brought her to the realization that her black and white world of farm animals and twisters was really where she belonged.  Thrust onto an island while the war-torn world around them has no idea of their whereabouts, the children in The Lord of the Flies are in constant pursuit of returning home while in the process, create a home. And more recently, Katniss Everdeen initially strives to win The Hunger Games to go where?  Back Home.
themes in story-telling is the concept of Home - Having one, being a part of one, rejecting one, leaving one, desperately trying to find your way back to one.

In The Coal Elf, Ember Skye deals with this notion of Home from the moment she is called to her Life Job.  When she is sent to the Mines, her memories of her life Aboveground grip her so tightly that she is almost blinded by nostalgia.  The entire novel follows her path of dealing with those memories, confronting certain realities, and altering her own perceptions as to where she belongs, where she fits in, where she’s meant to be.

So what is HOME?  What defines it?  For me, it’s an unseen structure made up of memories.    Spring birds singing in the morning as I waited for the school bus.  Running outside on a cool summer night to flag down the ice cream truck.  Standing on tree stumps in my backyard as dead leaves fell from the autumn trees.  The smell of my father’s work boots in the hallway.  Cuddling with my sister on Christmas Eve.  Coming home from school and being so angry with my mother for cleaning up my room.  My uncle’s voice booming as he and my mother sang Kenny Rogers’s songs.  My concept of Home expands far beyond the actual dwelling itself, and now I’m making a Home for my daughter, hopefully helping to build those memories of love and comfort she will seek refuge in her future.

Maria DeVivo is a New York native who has had a lifelong love affair with "the pen."  A graduate of St. John's University, she has a passion for all things mystical and mythological.  She has taught 7th grade Language Arts since 2000, and in 2010, designed the curriculum for an academic elective course entitled Folklore, where she was able to share her passion and knowledge on concentrated topics such as folktales and mythology with her students.

Having grown up in a large Irish/Italian family (where Maria is the oldest child, and of course, the wisest) the mystery and wonder surrounding the holidays were a main staple of her upbringing.  At the age of seven, when her mother finally admitted "the truth" to her, she has become somewhat of a "Santa-phile", an obsession that has rooted its way into every fiber of her being.  Maria is one of those people who cries when Santa makes His grand appearance at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Coupled with an obsession for all things dark and demented, her debut novel, The Coal Elf, was born.

Maria now lives in Florida with her husband, Joe, and daughter, Morgan.  When not teaching or writing or running around after her daughter, she enjoys drinking iced coffee, watching horror movies, and playing video games.

For a cool journey into the inner workings of the elves at the North Pole, check out Maria's, The Coal Elf.

Ember Skye is a fed up teenage Coal Elf with a big ashy chip on her shoulder. Having been torn away from a carefree life and forced into a world of dirt and darkness has started to get the best of her. And being the only girl-elf working as a coal miner at the North Pole doesn’t help much either!

Then there’s Sturd: a power-hungry, twisted elf with a checkered past and a serious grudge against Ember. Slowly but surely, his maniacal tendencies are revealed, leaving Ember with the sacred “Naughty List” literally in her lap.

When a mysterious illness threatens to decimate elves both Above and Underground, Ember is thrust into a journey that will see her confront the literal and figurative demons of her past and lead her to the head of the North Pole himself.

Yes! Santa is real. But this isn’t your childhood Christmas tale!

"...A story with plenty of twists and turns, the reader is drawn into a world of dust and darkness with tension so strong it can be felt throughout. You will hold your breath at the challenges Ember must face and be pulled along as the plot thickens." ~ Anne K. Edwards, author of The Last to Fall.

Amazon Buylink: The Coal Elf is currently at a special holiday price of $2.99
Connect with DeVivo:

Monday, October 28, 2013

What Scares You? (Or where do writers get their ideas?) by Aaron Paul Lazar

(The Mad Muncle is pleased to present a guest post by Aaron Paul Lazar. Be sure to check out his new romance release, The Seacrest. It's out today! Welcome to the Forge Mr. Lazar!)

As an author I'm often asked, "Where do you get your ideas?"

It's one of my favorite subjects, so if you decide to ask me on our next exchange, pull out a chair and settle in. It's hard for me to stop talking about it once I start.

In previous articles, I've mentioned how life in general (news, friends, movies, etc.) can inspire story lines. Today I'd like to discuss how my fears drive my plots.

Allow me to open up right from the beginning and tell you what scares the hell out of me.

1) Losing my wife, daughters, grandkids, or other family members (including pets)
2) Being caught in a fire (hey, I didn't say my fears were original, did I?)
3) Drowning
4) Heights
5) Bad guys
6) Plane crashes (if I'm inside)
7) Tornadoes
8) Floods (and a subsequent drowning)
9) Snakes. (shudder)
10) Being in a bad accident in a massive snow storm
11) Falling under the ice and not being able to get out
12) Geez! Isn't 11 enough?

As I analyze this long list of fears, I realize I've used those themes over and over again in my twenty-one books. Those twists on all the themes have given my characters fits on a number of occasions. In Double Forte', Gus nearly drowns, his daughter is threatened, his grandson disappears, and he goes off the road with said grandson in the vehicle in a bad snowstorm. Uh huh. Looks at all those fears!

In Upstaged, Gus has to deal with a big snake, he's terrorized by a psychotic maniac, and his fiancee's beloved dog is kidnapped.

Mazurka opens with a near plane crash, Gus and Camille are hunted by Nazis, abandoned unground in the Parisian Catacombs, almost drowned when their car plunges into an alpine lake, and are imprisoned during a fierce fire. Oh yeah, Mazurka hit a lot of them.

In Tremolo: cry of the loon, we do the handcuffed-to-a-bed-in-a-roaring-fire bit, the being-attacked-underwater-and-almost-drowning-bit, and also have Gus misunderstand and think his mother died. Phew. That was a bad one, too.

So I won't go through Firesong, which includes many of the above as well, but believe me, fears are intertwined in all the books. And facing those fears by writing about them is good therapy. It's also a good way to get your readers' hearts pumping, for you can be assured that many of your fears are shared by them.

And now that I’ve written my first love story, The Seacrest, I realize that I’ve utilized many examples from the first two on the list above – Finn loses his mother, father, grandfather, sister ten years before the story opens, and then he has another huge loss in chapter 1, which starts in 2013. Not to mention the fire! Wow, it’s pretty amazing when you analyze your own work from this angle.

So, writers. What scares you?

Aaron Paul Lazar
Here's where you can pick up your copy of The Seacrest:

Friday, October 4, 2013

Knight of Flame Virtual Book Tour Schedule

10/8/13 - ***New October Tour Stops Added***

Pump Up Your Book! is coordinating the Knight of Flame Virtual Book Tour. I'll be popping up all over the net talking about writing, Knight of Flame, and all kinds of things. Follow along and join in the fun.

Here's the schedule for October:

Monday, October 7 – 1st chapter reveal at Wanted Readers
Tuesday, October 8 – Book featured at Naturally Kim B
Wednesday, October 9 – Book featured at Moonlight, Lace and Mayhem
Friday, October 11 – Interviewed at Broowaha
Monday, October 14 – 1st chapter reveal at Miki’s Hope
Tuesday, October 15 – Interviewed at Pump Up Your Book
Tuesday, October 15 – Interviewed at Acting Balanced
Wednesday, October 17 – Interviewed at Review From Here
Thursday, October 18 – Guest blogging at Literarily Speaking
Thursday, October 18 – Book featured at The Wormhole
Monday, October 21 – Interviewed at Straight From the Authors Mouth
Monday, October 21 – Book featured at Wanted Readers
Tuesday, October 22 – Guest blogging at I’m Shelf-ish
Wednesday, October 23 – Guest blogging at Between the Covers
Friday, October 25 – Interviewed at Literal Exposure
Friday, October 25 – 1st chapter reveal at Literary Winner
Monday, October 28 – Guest blogging at Allvoices
Monday, October 28 – Book review and Guest blogging at Inside BJ’s Head
Tuesday, October 29 – 1st chapter reveal at Queen of All She Reads
Wednesday, October 30 – Guest blogging at The Writer’s Life

More dates will be added in November. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How a Rocket Scientist Becomes a Writer - Guest Post by Stephanie Osborn

[The Mad Muncle welcomes his first guest to the Forge, Twilight Times Books author Stephanie Osborn. Her Displaced Detective Series is burning up the charts.]  

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.

Interstellar Woman of Mystery

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.

The Displaced Detective Series by Stephanie Osborn is a science fiction mystery in which 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.

Osborn’s take on the series, in her own words, is “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.”

Books 1-4 of the series have been released:
The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival
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

Check out these and other great books by Stephanie: