Author Interview – David Brin, Science Fiction Writer

This is another one of those Interviews that I was amazed to get to do.  David Brin is in the upper echelon of the great American Science Fiction Authors, with Ben Bova, for me.  I started reading his Sundiver books as they were released all those years ago, and have read almost everything from him since then.

I was lucky enough to have David answer my standard questions for me, even though I wish I had time to develop some more specific ones for me.  His answers were short, sharp and always to the point.

I give you the wonderful David Brin.

Who would you like to collaborate with (being living or dead) and why?

My heroes (tellingly) include Pericles, Ben Franklin, Mary Shelley, Shakespeare, Spielberg, Einstein… and what a kick it would have been sot share, creatively, with any of them! Or a thousand other brashly original thinkers.

What would be the best piece of advice you would offer a new author?

To go read my whole posting of many elements of advice to new writers! Containing a distillation of wisdom and answers to questions I’ve been sent across 20 years.

Many people have found it helpful. Essence? Art is like any other exercise in skill: a combination of talent, hard work and learning from criticism. And luck.

Any three can make of for a deficit in the fourth one. But those three had better be very strong.

Is routine important to you?

Somewhat. I am not bound by routine. But it helps.

What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?

I tell writing students that their first novel should be a murder mystery, because that is the genre that teaches you about plotting and (especially) the Pace of Revelation of things the reader needs to know.

I have poked at a play, I’ve written graphic novels (produced) and screenplays (not!) I’ve done a very successful nonfiction book on public policy (The Transparent Society). And a fair amount of science. As we speak, I am finishing my first major YA book and my first deliberate comedy.

I suppose I’d like to try choreography… plan out a pro wrestling match, with all its drama and pathos, from beginning to end.

You acknowledge music within your books. Do you listen to music during all processes of writing? Do you listen to music you know or new music when writing?

I enjoy listening while creating. Lately I’ve done it less. I wonder why. Perhaps aging neurons? I like a very wide variety of types.

Have you read a romance novel? Do you think you could write one?

Sure. Easy. Formulaic. I have been complimented for some of the romance in some of my stories. Get into that mood and wallow. Why not?

What sport did you play as a younger man? Were you good at it?

A lot of hiking as a kid and some swimming. In college I fenced all four weapons. Captained an intramural baseball team for some years, does that count?

Mostly, I was athletic without feeling much need to be an athlete.

When you are coming up with an idea, do you look at the market for trends? Or do you write for you?

I write for me. Holding my own interest is the chief aim. And I am a harsh reader! I want action, pace, drama, tears, joy, ideas, surprises, tension, more ideas, whodunit shocks that make sense… and more ideas!

Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?

They come from everywhere. Sure, a lot arise out of science and technological possibilities. But quirks of human nature are another source. And the assumptions that millions take for granted… gotta tweak those!

When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?

Now and then. Mostly then.

Do you see the future of fantasy and science fiction as bright? If so, which authors are driving it?

Paolo Bacigalupi, Michael Chabon, and so many other newcomers seem poised to bring science fiction to a whole new level. Meanwhile, the steampunk folks seem determined to take the fantasy ambiance, but take it out of the clutches of tired cliche-addicts who keep recycling Tolkien.

What themes are being overused?

Right now? Well… steampunk, I suppose! But nowhere near as over-used as secretive wizards, lost princes, chosen ones, fell prophecies, dark lords and freeeping lords and kings. Didn’t we fight revolutions to escape that stuff? Aren’t the folks who won those revolutions the real “heroes”?

Are movies of books ruining the book?

Nope. Book’s still there. The Postman. Last I checked. Still there. Costner did not ruin the book.

Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?

Of course they do. We must adapt.

Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?

I get sent manuscripts to blurb for new authors. It can be a joy! Except when you simply have to say nothing, rather than tell the sad truth.

What is it about fantasy that appeals to you?

Romance appeals to something inside the soul. We are all descended from the harems of conquering kings, so it is natural we are drawn toward wizards and kings and lords and all of that…

… and it is a foul, horrible habit. There was nothing good about that way of life, with a few crushing the hopes of all who lived below them in an inherited pyramid of privilege. You are reading this now with a “palantir” that can gather information across thousands of leagues and let you see and talk to others, far away. Is Tolkien’s Palantir better, because only a few existed, to be misused by kings and dark lords?

Look, I am being deliberately provocative… it’s my job! In fact, I quite enjoyed and admire JRR Tolkien, as by far the most honest and vivid of the romantic authors. See where I appraise him and his works in detail.

Still and all, we are the heroes who – for the first time in 6000 years – managed to escape te brutal, secretive, oppressive feudal system, letting the majority of kids grow up with health and education… so that ironically they can easily afford and wallow in fantasies about how much better it might be in an era of wizards and kings. Sigh.

Can I get an autographed book? (lol)

Give me an address & I will send some book plates. Or buy some books from me and I will send them signed.

Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?

On the last page of every book of mine I tank forty or so pre-readers, some of the toughest folks I know. I want to deliver a quality product that (above all) never bores the reader! I don’t know why more authors don’t do this.

Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?


Do you have a target each day?


Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?

Not every day. I have kids. Distractions.

Do you have characters running around your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?

They intervene sometimes, during a scene.

After so many books, how do you keep them unique?

Funny thing about that. It’s not that hard. The person I must, above all, not bore to death is…. me.

What is your biggest (self-imposed) time waster?

Kids. Number two? Kids. Oh and the kids. Oh, and then comes the #$%@%@! Internet!

Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?

yep. kewl

Do you read other people’s writing?

When I can. There is just one of me. I wish I had the copying machine from KILN PEOPLE! Till I get one, I have to draw lines.

David Brin’s web sites are:



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