James R. Bottino’s life-long interests mix esoteric and disparate fields of study. By day, his foremost influences have been the study of literature and the art of writing. Following these pursuits led him to read anything he could in these areas and to complete every under-graduate and graduate course available to him in the field of creative writing. Following this line, he taught high school English throughout the 1990’s, focusing on the teaching of writing.
By night, when no one was looking, he studied computer systems / networks, computer languages, and operating systems, learning anything he could in these areas, first as a hobby, and, finally, as a career. This mixture of literature and technology served as the inspiration for the The Canker Death’s protagonist, Petor.
James currently lives in a suburb of Chicago, with his wife, daughter, two Australian cattle dogs and far, far too many books and abstruse computers.
You can visit his website at TheCankerDeath.com
Q: Thank you for this interview, James. Can you tell us what your latest book, The Canker Death, is all about?
A: Thanks for having me. It’s both an adventure and a journey of self-discovery for the main character, Petor; a top-notch computer geek who gets more than he bargained for when he decides to track down an anonymous hacker who managed to break in to one of his personal servers. What Petor’s search uncovers forces his consciousness to shift between the minds of beings from other worlds where he struggles to both cope with his past and to understand what is happening to him. As the story unfolds, Petor gathers clues in a twisting mystery that leaves him embroiled in the upheaval of a clandestine society that transcends life, itself.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
A: Petor, the main character, is a non-sterotypical geek. While he certainly has many characteristics one might expect to find, like above-average intelligence, there is something strangely different about him. He is a self-purported misanthrope who does good deeds whenever no one is looking.
Faith, a woman Petor meets early on in the novel, is kind, passionate and mysterious. She is at the same time vulnerable and formidable. Faith simultaneously tantalizes and frustrates Petor with unexplained hints about what is happening to him while urging him to find his own truths.
Jude is a counterpoint to Faith. He is blunt, brooding, fearless and pragmatic. Where Faith will hint at something, Jude will tell it straight. There is no subterfuge to him; everyone knows where he stands. Even so, he is someone who is hard to get to know; the sort who has few friends but who fiercely defends those he loves.
Don is something altogether different. He leads with his instincts, yet has a calm, cool demeanor that comes from knowing himself to a degree few people ever attain. He is the true blue friend everyone wishes they had.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
A: Interesting question. I think it’s a cross between these two. I focus on specific characteristics and start thinking about how characters with certain tendencies will interact with others. Inevitably, I start thinking about people I actually know who have the characteristics for which I’m looking. What ends up on the page, though, is an amalgamation of real people and imagination. I’ve had people who know me ask if they are in the book. I always answer “maybe.”
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A: It’s a bit of both. I have a sort of high-level outline in my head that changes as time goes on. Sometimes I am extremely conscious of the plot, at other times things just seem to evolve in ways I didn’t expect. For me, it helps to have a basic storyline constantly in my head so I know where I’m headed, but the uncertainty of just how I’ll get there until I actually sit down to write keeps it fresh.
Q: Your book is set in Saint Charles, IL. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?
A: On the one hand, I spent a lot of time there and know the area well. It’s where I taught high school English. On the other hand, it’s just like any other normal place people know about, where things are safe. It’s the sort of place where people can believe that terrible, earth-shattering stuff can only happen to someone else, somewhere else.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
A: It does. Each setting is, in a way, another character. Each has it’s own mood, it’s own characteristics. To a large degree, I created settings that fit the overall allegory of the novel. Each place has an effect on those who live there and helps to shape their demeanor and their choices.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
A: The main character, Petor, is on another world inhabiting the mind of a giant who is bound and strapped to a massive, undulating beast of burden. His eyes still closed, he awakens and overhears what his captors are planning for him.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
A: We flew on; the clouds below us became our floor, more random than the ocean, curling here in wisps of smoky fluff, rambling there in thick mountains of crumbling avalanches tumbling eternally in the white light of the invisible sun. Despite his intentions Nanzicwital’s emotions returned, swirling like those clouds, twisting between remorse and vengefulness, anger and despair, contemplation and lassitude, sorrow and joy. Ever more and more, though, they ended in bliss. We sailed on through trails of mist, a restorative of white vapor, each minuscule drop of wetness washing away pain, anger and fear.
Time was meaningless; I had no way to track it, even if I had cared to do so. Trapped within another breathing, feeling, alien body, with my ability to physically assert myself subdued – still, I too soared through those clouds. I too felt every passion of my host. Every emotion washed over me as it did him. Reason’s grip had slipped away just as gravity’s had, and though I could not read the reasons for the feelings that flooded through us, I felt them as strongly as if they were my own. As I gasped in wonder at the sights swirling in the clouds, an ever evolving sky of gaseous constellations, it seemed almost as if Al was gradually becoming aware of me, like a traveler nodding at a passer-by — acknowledging but not engaging me, viewing me merely as a part of the scenery, caring not so much for the destination as for the journey itself.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, James. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure!