Author Bruce Ballister won two medals in the 2020 Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Book Awards: The Gold was for a non-fiction project, Welcome to the Zipper Club, while The Bronze medal was for Room for Tomorrow.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I’m a Tallahassean, not by birth, but I’ve been in this city since elementary school and only left to join the Army during the Vietnam war. I also left in my 30s to seek higher wages in Texas to repay the hospital debt for my preemie daughter. I now have three daughters in or nearing their 40s, and I sometimes have to stop and count that there are six grands. Being a North Floridian affected my writing early on as I experimented with short stories that began to bubble out in my 50s. My first novel, Dreamland Diaries, is set on the coast just south of Tallahassee and is a Sci-Fi – coming-of-age thriller. My most recent novel, Room for Tomorrow, is set in California but its MC’s roots are here in North Florida and the plot takes us to the remote pine woods of the panhandle.
My first degree was in commercial art, not a lucrative profession I found. I translated into construction drafting, then moved into civil engineering design and project management for municipal infrastructure projects and private developments. My second degree in Urban and Regional Planning got me into a slot as County Planning Director and finally as a grant manager for community development projects.
With my education split between left brain and right brain activities, heavy in the arts, and then the sciences, science fiction with a strong dose of humanist character development comes naturally. I’m currently working on finishing the last of a four-part series begun with Dreamland Diaries. Meanwhile, the plot thickeners for a completely new work simmer on the back burner.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
I’ll answer this for Room for Tomorrow. My last job had me on the road a lot serving rural communities across the panhandle and I became an audiobook devotee. Several of these had a strong influence on my environmental awareness. Room for Tomorrow’s plot, includes time travelers from the future who have survived the Last Day, the day that our atmosphere boiled in nuclear death. On a mission from the new world capital in New Zealand, they are in an abandoned time capsule built before the holocaust. Their mission is to mine technological secrets from a cloud storage facility in southern California so they can recapture lost technology.
My main character is from the present, but she literally falls into their portal to their time gate and becomes an agent for change. She has seen a future in which humanity destroys itself over diminishing resources amid an environmental collapse. With the help of her partner and the time travelers, she creates a new agency for change. The agency, Room for Tomorrow,infuses future energy efficiency technologies into the present to forestall many of the shortages that led to the Last Day.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
Consistency. My attention seems to jump from project to project. For instance, the fourth installment of Dreamland Diaries went on hold for two years while I worked on Room for Tomorrow. Even now, as I work on that project, the next one threatens to take my attention. Sigh.
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
Well, winning a gold and a bronze in this year’s FAPA President’s Book Awards was certainly satisfying. The Gold was for a non-fiction project, Welcome to the Zipper Club. This proved that I have the chops to write and create a successful project. The Bronze was for Room for Tomorrow. I’m happy that it placed, it’s a tough crowd.
What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Frank Herbert, Jerry Pournelle, Isaac Azimov, and Arthur Clarke are all noted sci-fi writers. Frank Herbert, especially affected my sense that a fiction story can have at its roots an environmental back story. But equally important are Michael Connelly, John le Carré, and Patrick O’brian. Three very different writers whose craft, style, and attention to detail influence my need to tell a story fully with strong central characters. Albee’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, and Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz are direct inspirations for Room for Tomorrow as are several climate change non-fiction works.
Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
No, unfortunately, I do not write every day. See next Question…
What are your interests outside of writing?
I am an unsuccessful retiree. I never quite learned the power of the word no. When asked to join the board of the Tallahassee Writers Association, I said yes. Then found myself on the track to that group’s presidency while fostering two conferences. I have just given up a five year track as the managing editor of the TWA’s Seven Hills Review. A contest similar to FAPAs, but limits entries to the first 3,000 words of larger works, short stories, plays, and includes poetry and haiku. I produced five anthologies which publishes the winners in the several categories. Finishing that involvement, I found myself, not saying no to being involved in FAPA’s book awards and now chair that committee.
Hmm… Outside of writing. I love to kayak the rivers and lakes of north Florida. I am presently in training to do the Apalachicola RiverTrek in October. That will be a five day, 103 mile paddle from the Georgia line to the Gulf. At seventy, I don’t have the stamina I once had, but have found that I still am an avid DIYer and a few hours a day in the open air keep me vital. I’m presently building from the bare dirt up, a storage shed to relieve my garage of some of its tools and equipment.
Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
Keep at it. Start now, you never know what complication life is going to throw at you. My brush with cardiac disease resulted in a gold medal work. And pay attention to the minutia in life. Putting your observations into the mind of your main character makes that person believable and real to your readers. And remember, your main character has to get into trouble. As John Lewis said, get into ‘good trouble’. Save the world, rescue a forsaken child, right wrongs. Let your writing speak, educate, make a difference, and above all, entertain.