Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Mike Brotherton

Posted by Randolph Carter on June 8, 2009

spider starAuthor website:

Could you take a minute and explain what Spider Star is about?

Basically there’s an human colony on a planet orbiting the star Pollux. The planet, Argo, once hosted a technologically advanced civilization that apparently destroyed themselves. The new residents set off a slow but powerful doomsday weapon, and the only hope for the colony itself not getting wiped out itself is a mission to the Spider Star, the ancient alien space station where the doomsday technology originally came from. I’m a professional astronomer, and the story turns on details of stellar evolution, gravity, relativity, and other astrophysical concepts. It was fun but challenging to write.

What was the process like in getting your first book published?

I wrote articles called Writing Star Dragon and Selling Star Dragon about this. In short, I pitched a synopsis of the book (also at the link) at Clarion West to a Tor editor. She liked it and said it was the kind of book she would like to buy. Eventually I wrote the damn thing, sent it to her, and waited over a year but got an offer. After that I got an agent who negotiated the contract and after waiting another year or so the book finally came out. Publishing is a slow business, and the process is often measured in years.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

Apparently one of my early quotable quotes was “A book can be your best friend.” I don’t know what that says about my social skills as a kid, but I can’t remember not reading and loving books. Philip Jose Farmer of the World of Tiers and Riverworld series was my first favorite author. Others early on were Frank Herbert and his Dune books and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I always read like crazy, mostly science fiction, but books of all sorts. I still read a lot, but don’t have as much time as I once had.

Would you mind talking a little bit about your literary influences?

These are constantly changing and I keep finding new favorites. It’s great that there are more books than a person can read. Can you imagine the opposite? Genre writers who influenced me would have to include Philip Jose Farmer, Dan Simmons, Roger Zelazny, Larry Niven, Robert Heinlein, David Brin, Joe Haldeman, Nancy Kress, Jack McDevitt, Vernor Vinge, Fred Pohl, Poul Anderson, and many, many others. Asimov and Clarke, too, although not as much as someone might expect. From outside genre, I always liked Hemingway and his economy of words. Hemingway shows up as the personality of the ship’s computer in my first novel Star Dragon.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

I’ve been playing games a long, long time. I was an avid chess player. My achievements there include winning a $500 chess scholarship for college, scoring a draw against former world champ Boris Spassky in a simultaneous exhibition, and tying for Missouri amateur champion in high school. I played role-playing games starting with Dungeons and Dragons, and expanding to AD&D, Dragonquest, Gamma World, Star Trek, and many others. Later I played Magic the Gathering, although never bought anything later than beta release cards, and sold a handful of my alphas to pay for the entire Magic expenditure. My console gaming started with an Atari 2600 back when they first came out, and later systems included Sega Genesis, Sony Play Station, and now I have an XBox 360. I saved up my lawn mowing money for a year and bought an Apple II+ back in the early 1980s, and played lots of games on that. Things like Wizard and the Princess, Apple Panic, Wizardry, Ultima, and more. I also wrote my own computer games and thought about making a career out of that more than once. I have a few friends in the video game industry and it’s gotten too big and corporate for me now. Back in the 1980s, you could sit down and write the entire game by yourself. Now it is a big team effort and not as easy to control. I’m tend to get hooked on one or two computer games at a time now, things like Bejeweled or strategy games like Heroes of Might and Magic. Diablo was a big time sink at one point as well.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

I got into Diablo II online quite a bit, which was for the most part fun. Some game hacks and mindless “go go go” players made it less fun sometimes.

I got involved with one MMO with some addiction level: Asheron’s Call. My buddy Eric Nylund (author of various Halo novelizations and the recently released Mortal Coils) invited me to join and play with him and I got sucked down the rabbit hole. I was not a big fan of the spell system, however, which involved a lot of grinding, and waiting on monster spawns was already with us. The biggest dealbreaker for me back in the day was that I was on dial up, and didn’t live alone. Fighting over a single phone line and trying to play MMOs doesn’t work out so well, ultimately. They also suck all your available time like the most ravenous uncaring vampire would suck your blood, so I avoided Everquest and WoW. I’d never have written a second novel!

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer? Please explain.

I always wanted to write. Started writing my first stories in 2nd grade. When games like D&D came along, I was usually the Game Master and in high school wound up writing my own original dungeons. There are some creative parallels between that and writing fiction, although the process differs a lot in the details. You do come to realize that readers and players get their rewards in very different ways. Leveling up. setting high scores, or other surrogates for real-life achievement, drive players to play (in my opinion). Readers are driven by tension, the need to know what happens. So, while there are a lot of things in common like characters, plot, setting, the audiences do not have exactly the same needs. A lot of RPG campaigns that were great fun would make terrible novels, and vice versa. And while a skilled gamemaster can make a difference, for me there’s a big difference between performing in the moment and writing everything down exactly the way you want it, in the order you want it, to provide the effect you want.

Similar skills, but far from the same.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game.Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

There is for the writer! There shouldn’t be for the reader. If there is, the writer has screwed up.

For me, the worst grind is line editing. I love plotting and writing a first draft. Polishing that draft, rewriting awkward sentences and catching every little error, that takes a lot of time and isn’t intrinsically interesting. But it has to be done.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Seeing your dream come to fruition. I get these ideas for stories and want to see how good they can be, how they can manifest. When you put in that work and see the book you envisioned, it’s magical.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Write, write, write. Get feedback from people, ideally other writers, and revise your work. Finally, if publication is the goal, submit it professionally and regularly, and continue writing.

star dragonYou wake up to a world where Spider Star has been made into an MMO. What class would you play and why?

Specialist. Those are the equivalent of Star Fleet officers, I guess, to make a quick and dirty comparison. There’s little left of Earth left to seriously explore. I’m a world traveler, with extended stays in Germany, China, and currently Brazil, and the astronomy job takes me to some pretty remote mountaintops, but I can already read about what these places are like from my own home in the United States. The reality is a little different, but not exactly like challenging the unknown. Science generally, and astronomy specifically, is where I get to play explorer.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Buy my books, of course! (Becoming shameless is a lesson for the aspiring writer as soon as they start publishing.) And read my blog which sometimes features gaming, although science and science fiction tend to be my focus.

2 Responses to “Reading the text: Mike Brotherton”

  1. […] with an interview with this Mike Brotherton guy over at Grinding to Valhalla.  A lot of other interesting interview of science fiction writers […]

  2. MJ said

    i love mike’s site, been reading it daily since finding it 2 weeks ago on a total fluke!! great interview! and finding another great site too!

    p.s.: I’m ordering Spider Star right now.

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