Monday, September 24, 2012

And The Last Goes Home

by Stephanie Osborn

Endeavor was the replacement orbiter for the lost Challenger. Many of us in the program (at least in my area of payload flight control) were in favor of naming it Phoenix, “out of the ashes,” but either that was not submitted in the school naming contest, or NASA headquarters was in favor of staying away from references to the lost orbiter and its crew, and the name Endeavor was selected. Endeavor was somewhat different from the other shuttles in the fleet, since previous experience in constructing the others enabled some “lessons learned” to be incorporated into its design, most notably a difference in the shape and application of the heat shielding tiles.

I worked payload control for STS-47, which was Endeavor's second mission and the 50th mission of the program (flight numbers notwithstanding; launch delays often scrambled the number sequencing, so eventually the numbers became more about the order of manifesting rather than launch). It carried the Spacelab Japan payload, an all-NASDA payload, as well as the first Japanese astronaut, Mamoru Mohri, the first black astronaut, Mae Jemison, and the first husband/wife astronaut team, Mark Lee and Jan Davis. Ground-breaking life- and materials-sciences experiments were performed aboard, and considerable information was gleaned about extremely long duration space flights upon organisms as well as details of materials manufacturing in the microgravity environment.

It was a good bird. It performed well and reliably.

Each final flight of a given Shuttle pained me considerably. Somewhere along the way, I started personifying them. They were almost as much old friends as some of the astronauts were to me. Once they were decommissioned, the process began of stripping them of internal components, preparatory to being sent to their respective sites. Someone sent me newspaper clippings of the process, and others emailed photos, which I have filed for historical purposes, but truthfully I could hardly stand to look at the imagery. It was, for me, something akin to watching a friend's autopsy.

And above all, it was the end of an era. The end of MY era.

Stephanie Osborn

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Oft-Misunderstood Art of Book Reviewing

Today we're going to talk about something a little different. Barb Caffrey is a professional book reviewer. After reviewing several of my books and liking them, over time she became a friend and we have had numerous talks about the arts of writing and reviewing. So I asked her to guest blog for me today about the process of reviewing books. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you Ms. Barb Caffrey.

-Stephanie Osborn

The Oft-Misunderstood Art of Book Reviewing

By Barb Caffrey

Folks, Stephanie Osborn has asked me to discuss with y'all the often-misunderstood art of book reviewing. Because I have reviewed many books in my lifetime, plan to review many more, and have a regular gig reviewing books at Shiny Book Review (, SBR for short, she figured I'd be a good person to explain what goes on in a book reviewer's head – or at least what goes on in mine when I review a book.

Now, you might be wondering, "Why talk about book reviewing at all? Surely it can't be that difficult to review a book – can it?" Well, that all depends on the book.

And the fact that book reviewers are often just as misunderstood doesn't help. Some of the popular misconceptions run the gamut from, "Those who can't write, review," and, "What does she know about books, anyway?" Yet writing a book review isn't that much different, if you do it properly, than writing anything else – the trick is to read whatever book you're planning to review thoroughly, then ask yourself a number of questions.

These questions, roughly stated, are:

  1. Did this story make sense?
  2. Did this story make me care about its characters?
  3. If it's a fantasy, did I believe in the underlying premise, or not? (If not, why not?)
  4. If it's science fiction, did I believe the math, physics, and/or other scientific concepts were plausible?
  5. If it's a romance, did I believe the two characters could actually be a couple in real life in whatever time period the book in question has set them?
  6. If it's a mystery, was the mystery compelling? Difficult? Understandable? Or just weird?
  7. If it's intended to be funny, did it make me laugh?

All of these questions may seem incredibly obvious. Perhaps they are. But those are the initial questions I ask as I read – and those are the questions that must be answered in order to get a good or better review.

To give one example not exactly at random, Stephanie Osborn's three novels in her Displaced Detective series answer the relevant questions in this way:

  1. Did the stories make sense? Absolutely.
  2. Did the stories make me care about their characters? Yes, yes, yes. (I loved modern-day physicist Skye Chadwick, and who doesn't love Sherlock Holmes?)
  3. As this is a science fiction/romance, did I believe in the romance? Yes, I did. (I said so, too, in my reviews.)
  4. And did I believe the scientific background was plausible? Again, yes – I definitely did.
 [The relevant reviews -;]

All of these questions were answered to my satisfaction, which led me only to one conclusion – these are good books. I enjoyed them immensely, found them internally consistent and highly satisfying, and gave each book an A rating (or better).

In other words, with any book that's fun to read and/or makes its points well, the above-mentioned questions get answered satisfactorily or better – which makes reviewing them much easier. Being able to process these various things in question form helps me as a reviewer to sense the overarching plot, which helps me assess a grade and get the review done and out.

The problem with reviewing a book comes in when the above-mentioned questions cannot be answered satisfactorily. To use another example drawn from one of my reviews at SBR, I had a difficult time reviewing Debbie Macomber's "Hannah's List" ( because of its various shortcomings.

Here's how my initial list looked for this book:

  1. Did the story make sense? No way. The doctor character was supposed to be happy his late wife "suggested" three potential mates for him via a letter he received on the first anniversary of her death, which I found to be extremely unlikely.
  2. Did this story make me care about its characters? Well, while I cared about Dr. Michael (the main character), I was angry that he was letting his dead wife lead him around by the nose. I also wasn't thrilled with any of the three women his wife pointed him toward, as the two good women basically weren't available, while the one flighty, available woman was not worthy of his time.
  3. As this is a romance, the next question is whether I believed the two people who end up together could really be a couple if translated to "real life." My emphatic answer was "No." (I'd use stronger language, except this is a family blog.)

The upshot was, I couldn't recommend Debbie Macomber's book because as a widow, I knew that most of how the main (widower) character acted was, if not wrong, highly unusual. And the idea that Hannah, the late wife, was somehow being saintly in giving her husband her little list, when at best Hannah was being meddlesome – and at worst, she was being Machiavellian in the extreme – really bothered me.

Now, the main reason I'm using Ms. Macomber as an example of a negative review is this – she's a well-known romance novelist with over one hundred books out, thus should be able to handle a negative review now and again. Most of her books are good; some are outstanding. But this one just didn't work because I had more than enough knowledge, as a widow, to realize that what was going on with the main characters just didn't make any sense.

So the next time you read a book review, remember that the reviewer is doing her level best to discuss and describe what she saw. Please remember that the reviewer is not "out to get" the writer if she gives a negative review of one of your favorites, because that just isn't the case with 99.999999% of the reviewers out there. And if you want to discuss this blog, or anything else regarding reviews, writing, or life in general, please feel free to say something here, at my own blog (, or at SBR (

Thank you, Barb. I appreciate your experiences and your knowledge, and thank you for guest blogging for me!

-Stephanie Osborn

Monday, September 10, 2012

Time Management For Writers or How to Herd Cats – Part 2

by Sarah A. Hoyt
Originally posted on her blog “According to Hoyt” on July 30, 2012

* * *
I've been pleased to have famous author Sarah Hoyt as my guest last week and this on Comet Tales! Last month she wrote an excellent blog on time management for authors, and the psychological struggles thereof. I asked permission to reblog, and she graciously and enthusiastically gave it. But since her blogs tend to be very lengthy, much more so than mine, I chose – again, with her permission – to break it into two installments. Here is part 2.
* * *

To make things worse, for the last two years my time management has gone haywire by… Freedom. In a way, I’m back to the initial stage, where I had all this freedom and therefore nothing got done. The difference is that now I DO get paid for my writing, and therefore that is a huge incentive to write.

However, it’s not a huge incentive to write on a specific project.

Structure used to be lent to my writing by two things – what my agent chose to green light to send to editors, so if I approached her with a project and she said “Sarah, I can’t sell that” I didn’t bother to write the proposal. OTOH if I approached her and she said, “Yes, ASAP” I worked on that proposal – unless I had a book on deadline. Between those two I was more or less always running (and often not doing anything I wanted to do, but that’s something else again.)

Now I do have my books under contract with Baen. But unless a book roars out with force – and somehow, books under contract never seem to – it’s too easy to hit a snag. And when I hit a snag, there are books I’m doing for indie publishing, or short stories to edit, or work for Naked Reader Press, or the short stories I need to write, like, you know Nuns in Space is selling like crazy, and if I do three more short stories, I can do a five story antho, and then…


The problem is that I can manage to be insanely busy and not get anything FINISHED while at the same time wearing myself down.

Now, I don’t know how much of that was the health issues – which are, fortunately, not fully gone but on the wane.

However, it’s becoming obvious it’s time to start a new attempt at control. I do have a planner – virgin, since January. And a calendar, ditto. (Part of it being it’s too far from my desk, so I keep forgetting it exists.) I do have a write on board which at this point is permanently etched with the November deadlines (I met the first, then I got sick.)

I won’t survive by my wits alone.

So, here is what I’m going to try: I’m going to try the timed thing again, nine to five, no deviation, start with Noah’s boy, because I could use the money. Work on it till finished. Start on another one.

Next: I need a planner that will work. The problem is the planner I have is depressing because it assumes I am in a corporate job. The writers’ planners I’ve bought seem to be for literary writers and designed to do a book every three years or so. They have “inspirational poetry” on the side, and make me want to gag. What I think I need is a project-based planner, with the option of setting deadlines, then setting phases of the project. If any other writer has found something that works, I’d appreciate a tip. If you don’t have one, I might end up designing one. Eh. I can then sell it, so all is not lost.

And then I’m going to try the two groups so I have someone I’m accountable to.

Will this work? I don’t know. But I hope so. With no deadlines and no boundaries it’s too easy to get lost in dolce far niente, with the twist that it’s not even sweet and it’s definitely not far niente (do nothing) but more wasting myself in myriad little pursuits that don’t come to anything.

I shall report. And those of you who have had the same issue and have perhaps found something that works, chime in. We will figure this out.

If it makes you feel better, with more and more of the people who still have a job finding themselves working at home or self-defined jobs, we might be on the vanguard of the way of the future.

Poor future.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog to bring you breaking news! WE HAVE SWAG! Cool swag! Love Potion Magickal Perfumerie, a wonderful artisan fragrance boutique, and I have collaborated on a series of perfumes based on the Displaced Detective series!

We have Watson, a men's fragrance...

We have 221b, a women's fragrance (think Skye!)...

And we have Elementary Chapter 4, Holmes' own scent, which men AND women can wear! (If you're THE Woman, that is!)

Descriptions of the fragrances can be found at the links.

This is the same boutique that the writers of Love Potion #9 asked to create a scent based on that unforgettable song! They say, "Here at Love Potion Magickal Perfumerie, we combine over 25 years of experience in crafting artisinal perfumes with care for the historical and magical meanings of the ingredients as well as cutting edge science pertaining to pheromone research and new data on human responses to olfactory stimuli."

Now, as a scientist, I can't speak to any magic effects! But I do know that 1) they are Holmes fans and have been for years; this is the fourth version of Elementary they've concocted (all based on the same ingredients but with slight tweaks in each batch), and 2) they make some wonderful fragrances!

These are limited edition fragrances, and when they're gone, they're gone. (They may be back in some form in the future, but like I said, they'll be a liiiiitle bit different.) If you want to add fragrance to your Holmes fandom, now is your chance!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Time Management for Writers or How to Herd Cats - Part 1

by Sarah A. Hoyt

Originally posted on her blog “According to Hoyt” on July 30, 2012

* * *
I'm pleased to have famous author Sarah Hoyt as my guest this week and next on Comet Tales! Last month she wrote an excellent blog on time management for authors, and the psychological struggles thereof. I asked permission to reblog, and she graciously and enthusiastically gave it. But since her blogs tend to be very lengthy, much more so than mine, I chose – again, with her permission – to break it into two installments. Here is part 1.
-Stephanie Osborn
* * *

This is my attempt at writing about time management. Which is to say, what follows is largely – though not entirely – fiction.

Not entirely because there have been times when my method – brute force, aka duct-taping writer to chair – actually works. Those are usually my most productive times. When I manage to sit down and write and work on only one work, and not stray, I can do a book in a week… though my record is three days.

So, why don’t I work like that all the time? Mostly because I fall under my own influence.

When I was a brand new writer, knee high to a thesaurus, I wanted to give myself the impression that I had a “real job.” Coming from being in college and working almost full time on the side, the concept that I got to set my own hours made it feel like I was really unemployed and lying to myself. The fact that back then I was not making a cent off writing made things worse.

The touch-feel of work was needed for me to take writing seriously.

One thing I’ve learned which worked, from that time was that I should get up early – preferably get up when my husband got up to go to work. If I didn’t do that, it was all too easy to tell myself I’d take just one day off, lounge in bed till noon, then next day take just one day off – the way to h*ll on the installment plan.

So at this phase of my so called career, I got up early, dressed at least as well as I’d dress to go to a business-casual job, and set hours. “I’m writing from nine to five” worked when I didn’t have kids, when the hours shifted to match school hours. (On the other hand, getting up early wasn’t a problem, since I needed to wake up an hour before the kids, to have an hour to collect my thoughts before I had to deal with bathing/dressing/taking to school.)

Did it work? – Waggles hand. – About half the time. The problem in that time was the lack of a goal. I didn’t have a reason to get up and work. I had ambition, but that’s not how humans work. Like a novel, a life needs short term achievable goals on the way to the next one. Not knowing when or how of if I’d ever sell would send me into months and months of depressive silence and I fell in traps I later learned to avoid. The two years lost to Tetris are the reason I don’t game. The only exception I allow myself for that is this: if I’m ill – really ill, as in the doctor has me under prescription – I allow myself to take a week off and play mah jong on line. That’s it.

Next came my realization that I needed short time goals. This was the phase of the planners. Dan had just started using Covey planners, and he bought me one. Every morning I’d write my goal for the day. I’d give myself deadlines for each story/book.

Did it work? Surprisingly, yes. I don’t know how much of it was that it coincided with:

A writer’s group. I am right now on the verge of starting two of those with friends: one local, to provide support and encouragement to those of us planning to do indie publishing. One wherever, online, providing critique too.

What I’m trying to do is split the two functions of a writer’s group. I don’t know how that will work. However, here’s the thing, the local one can only meet once a month – it is a fact of life that both the friend starting it and I are busier than a one armed one-man-band in a sinking boat – which is too far away for critique, particularly if you’re working on novels. I would like, however, to work into it a goal-setting and reporting segment. Whether that will work on its own, I don’t know. It doesn’t online. I’m hoping it works in person. Of course, the other part of this is to make the indie writing seem as important as the traditional. We’ll see.

The critique group, on the other hand, is well… A critique group. I’m hoping to attract enough of my close friends, who frankly have no respect or awe whatsoever for my skills, to get honest critiques. The last local critique group I had didn’t work at all because I found myself in the uncomfortable position of sacred cow. In fact, unless the people in the group really know you well, or unless you’re all at about the same level, when you have what we’d call “success” however you define it, you’re going to find people taking one of two tacks with your writing. It’s like being on a panel with newbie writers. They either shut up in awe of you, or they come at you and rip everything to shreds, in an attempt to PROVE they’re just as good.

Neither of these is useful. Look, at this point I know d*mn well I can tell a story. I don’t need you to tell me “you know how to tell a story” – conversely I also don’t need you to come at me claws out and go “this is has to be the most stupid idea I ever heard of, and do you know Michael Unknown wrote a short story with this theme in 1920″ or, my favorite “you never explain what dimatough is. How is it manufactured?” Or… What I need is sort of a pre-first-reader thing. Tell me “Sarah, I felt like you got a little lost in the infodump, here” or “uh… are you really going to make Thena grow a second head in this book? Because that’s what this line led me to think.” Minor crap, but crap that’s really hard for me to see by myself.

Anyway, it’s almost impossible to get a group that works like the group I had for ten years. Because we were all beginners and all trying (very trying. Yes, there were occasionally personalities.) And because if you didn’t write something for three weeks, without major illness, you were put on probation, it was the best production encouragement I ever had.

This is neither here nor there, as the conditions are not likely to return.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Twilight Times WANTS You to Have Books!

by Stephanie Osborn

Twilight Times Books, one of my principal publishers, is offering several deals and contests for the entire month of September!

1) An ebook sale for book lovers

100 ebooks with five star reviews are on sale from Twilight Times Books. Priced from $1.99 to $3.99 now via our ebook distributors: Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook,,,, Sony, etc. until Sept 30th. Historical, literary, mystery, SF, YA and more.

2) Twilight Times Books 2012 Treasure Hunt.

Prizes, puzzles and scavenger hunt starts September 1st.
And YES, I'm participating! See what you can find on my website!

3) Twilight Times Books' Foghorn contest [Blog and Tweet for bonus points] 

Blog or tweet and post to Facebook between Sept. 1st and Sept. 30th in order to earn points to win free ebooks. Instructions at the bottom of the page here:

So go out there and see about getting yourself some new books!

-Stephanie Osborn