Stranger Than Fiction: When Sci-Fi and Finance Collide

A chance encounter with a radioactive brick inspired Michael Mina to pursue finance instead of nuclear physics. He went on to teach himself creative writing and now uses storytelling in his day job as a credit card analyst and United Way volunteer.

CLEVELAND – It sounds like something out of a science-fiction story, but sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

Michael Mina’s dream as a child was to become a nuclear physicist. But that all changed one day in a college physics lab.

“I saw a beautifully symmetrical lead brick, and like a little kid, I just had to touch it,” Mina explained. “I picked it up right as my professor walked past me. He yelled at me to put it down because it was radioactive.” Fortunately, Mina walked away unharmed.

Startled by this close encounter with radioactivity and concerned about future career opportunities, Mina switched to a math major, eventually landing a job as a business analyst in 2005 with National City, which was later acquired by PNC.

Then, in 1991, while perusing the science-fiction section of a bookstore near his downtown Cleveland office, Mina found himself thinking he could write his own stories that were better than the selection available. Although he had always been interested in reading sci-fi and had written some stories as a diversion from graduate-level math, he had never seriously pursued writing. 

A Brave New Author

With no formal training in writing, Mina had to teach himself the basics. By combining how-to books on creative writing and his trove of story ideas, Mina started to write fictional stories in his spare time and submit them to sci-fi publications.

One of the first things he taught himself was how to plan a story’s plot. Twenty-four years from his first published story, and true to his role as an analyst, Mina still likes to outline the story details first.

“I make a flow chart so I have all the pieces to the story in place before I start writing,” he said, noting that he sometimes strays from the original story plan as he writes, because “ideas can come from all over the place.”

To get one story published, Mina estimates that he needs to submit it approximately 20 times – a successful ratio for an author in his genre. Mina has been published 36 times and has won awards for his work. He attributes this success to his focus on the audience.

You have to write an outstanding story, but it also has to be what the editors want for their readers. I need to understand what the reader wants and then give them my best work.

Analytics and Storytelling for a Cause

Mina applies this same “customer” focus combined with some strategic storytelling to his daily work analyzing credit card balance transfers of PNC customers.

“I work in a very fact-based role, but there’s still an element of storytelling involved,” he said. “It’s not enough to throw information together and hope someone can understand what’s happening. Part of what I do is look at the facts and weave them into a cohesive recommendation of what to do next.”

This integration of storytelling and analytics earned him a position on the advisory committee for the United Way of Cleveland’s 2-1-1 Program. For the past 10 years, Mina has reviewed the nonprofit’s finances, collaborated on marketing ideas, developed models to forecast expenses and used his storytelling to fine-tune strategic plans.

Even though his career with PNC and his United Way volunteer work keep Mina busy during the week, he said those two aspects of his life are critical to his success as an author.

“One of the things that always bothered me about full-time writers is that a lot of their characters are writers. Even as a part-time writer myself, I have a hard time relating to that. It’s better to have real-world interactions that inspire you to write certain characters. That gives the writing more honesty and helps it appeal to a wider audience.”

Writing Time: Hours to Years

Mina’s commitment to creating realistic characters that appeal to his readers can require a lot of time and work. While he typically plans stories throughout a week of intermittent work, writing the stories themselves can take as little as one day, or in the case of “The Myroblyte,” as many as 19 years.

“For that one, I didn’t change the story substantially from where it started. I worked on it maybe once a year until I had the writing just right,” Mina explained. That time and attention paid off—the story was ultimately published and reviewed in a prestigious sci-fi magazine.

As a result of Mina’s success, he has spoken at a writers’ conference, a book signing and even receives requests for his autograph.

“I found signing autographs to be the weirdest feeling in the world,” Mina said. “When people are lining up to get my autograph, I think to myself ‘Do you know what I do for a living? I’m just an analyst. Why are you lining up for this?’” 

Excerpt from Cybernetic Angels, by Michael Mina:

"She took her first steps four days later, and an image came to her mind--the image of the first protohumans standing erect, not knowing that their descendants were destined to be masters of the earth.

The Rockies stood before her. If she could make it before being seen by the satellites, survival would be easy. She could live off dirt and water if she had to. Then she would have time to think, and decide what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

For the first time in years, she felt a glimmer of hope."

Michael Mina uses storytelling as a credit card analyst and sci-fi author

Hear About the Myroblytes?

One of Michael Mina’s stories is about myroblytes, which are saints that exude an oil with healing properties. In “The Myroblyte,” he wrote about what can happen with large quantities of that special oil.