SBW TalkBooks recently completed its first group read of 2016. This January, the book club read Embers of the Earth, a dystopian coming-of-age story written by the vibrant and personable Robert Balmanno. He’s contributed numerous works for publication, including nine novels, over the last 38 years. Read on to learn more about this author’s work and influences, as well as his person-to-person approach to sharing his books with others.
The Year 519 A.G. After Gaia. Civilization needs a restart. The Gaia-Domes, technology-rich, oppressive, and fanatical are collapsing. Contending religions and sects roil the planet. Semilliterate primitives, decimated by environmental catastrophe, struggle to comprehend their obscure roots and uncertain prospects. A brilliant youth, groomed for the task from childhood, is sent by the New Rebels on a 12-year odyssey to uncover archives that will enable him to construct a new alphabet and write the Foundation Document for a postlapsarian world. But can he successfully complete the mission without losing his faith, his principles, or his life? Drawing on what Joseph Campbell called the monomyth narrative, Embers of the Earth chronicles a future where ecology is destiny, revolutionaries are venerated as goddesses, family secrets have global repercussions, and the reluctant hero is a teller of tales who sparks an underground cultural revival by refusing to tell lies about humankind’s past.
Live Interview Recap
Embers of the Earth reads as a stand-alone novel, but it’s also the third book of The Blessings of Gaia series. What led you to write these books?
The Blessings of Gaia is a quartet of books that includes September Snow, Runes of Iona, Embers of the Earth, and my current work in progress. While writing September Snow, I came to the realization that there would at least be a trilogy. A library patron inspired the name of the first book, after which I watched a show that commemorated Earth Day. That’s when the story idea clicked. There’s been more of an interest in climate change since then.
Some of us thought Embers of the Earth might fall within the science fiction or climate-change fiction genres. Who’s your intended audience?
I consider the Gaia books to be dystopian with a crossover into sci-fi, but I see them as closer to general fiction than sci-fi.
How did you come about meeting and working with your editor and publisher?
I met my editor, Adele, at the East of Eden Writers Conference. There, I had the opportunity to speak with literary agent, Elizabeth Pomada, who was also in attendance. After reviewing a favorable rejection letter about one of my books, Elizabeth pointed out that the letter said to cut 20% of the book, and then pointed across the table and introduced me to Adele. Intense rounds of editing went on for eight months, and my book published with a small publisher in Berkley in 2006.
Did your travels and studies influence your creation of Gaia?
Absolutely. I lived and studied in Scotland and moved back. I’m a semi-Luddite, and one of my themes for the books is the dangers of a non-critical, non-careful, overwrought embrace of technology. Oral transmission of knowledge and information is different from written transmission.
When I created this new world, I gave characters Greek and Roman names, as well as made-up names. Talia, for example, is a made-up name. I even named one of the characters after a reader (with permission) who was really excited about the book.
What writers made an impression on you?
A lot of writers influenced me. I’m a huge fan of George Orwell and his book, 1984. I also love works by Margaret Atwood, Albert Camus, Thomas Hardy, and William Faulkner.
If you could talk to any of your favorites right now, who would it be?
This question reminds me of an idea I had, and still have, for a play about an event that happened in 1945. George Orwell waited at a café in Paris to meet Albert Camus, who didn’t show up. My idea would be to capture what would have happened had they both shown up.
What does being “independent for your writing” mean to you?
I believe in being autonomous when doing my work. In other words, I’m not connected to a certain organization.
How do you approach marketing your books?
I have my own marketing plan and have done more than 200 book signings. I participate in meet and greets and seek out local support. I develop relationships with booksellers and readers that way. I really love getting their feedback.
Robert E. Balmanno earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara, receiving Highest Honors. He attended the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he did post-graduate work in Politics, International Relations, and Philosophy. Later he attended postgraduate studies at the University of London, King’s College, Department of War Studies.
Balmanno served in the Peace Corps in Dahomey in West Africa from 1973 to 1975. He worked training bulls to plow fields and pull carts in a region where no outsiders have ever been before—the place where the New World practices of voodoo originated among the Adja people of West Africa.
Between 1975 and 1978 Balmanno traveled through Europe and Asia. He’s dedicated his life to producing contemporary literary fiction, with a recent switch to the genre of science fiction.
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