1. The Canker Death is my first full-length novel. It's an adventure story about a reclusive, cynical computer geek who finds that one of his own servers has been cracked late one night and gets far more than he bargained for when he decides to track down the perpetrator. What his search uncovers thrusts him, unaware, into a mad shifting between worlds, time and alien minds
2. The Canker Death is not easy to classify. I realize that many authors say this of their novels. I only started saying so after my literary agent, editor, and, later, my readers all told me so. Oddly enough, I wrote the book with both the literary and the sci-fi, fantasy audiences in mind, which is a bit of a strange mix. I've been happily surprised to find that people with many different reading preferences have enjoyed the book. If I were to really narrow it down, I'd say that science fantasy is the closest classification – sort of like Star Wars, which has very little in the way of science, but is certainly fantastical and way cool. While there's more science to The Canker Death than that, and it does take place in a multiverse, it's not exactly what most of us have come to expect from any particular genre.
3. The research involved for the novel might surprise you. Most readers come across parts of the novel that have highly technical details and think I must have spent countless hours researching this stuff to get it right. The funny thing is, all the technical stuff I know off the top of my head, since I've done this sort of work for years. Perhaps fortunately, so long as they know that the main character, Petor, knows his stuff, no one who reads the book actually needs to “get” all the technical details to fully grok the novel. Most of my real research involved learning about what makes consciousness possible and how the brain works in respect to understanding such things as communication, time, memory and reality.
4. The Canker Death was inspired by real events. While my education was all in the field of English education, creative writing specifically, I haven't taught for over a decade. Instead, as I mentioned, I work in IT. As you might expect, I have a crazy collection of old computers at home. Late one night, one of my servers got hacked, and, while I wouldn't call it a battle, I had a virtual-skirmish with the hacker online. I got rid of him, but no one ever caught him. That event got me thinking, who was that guy? What did he want? And then I hit upon the question that probably begins most novels, “Hey, what if … ?”
5. In a somewhat ironic turn of events, I wrote The Canker Death as a kind of teaching aid. I love classic literature: Melville, Shakespeare, Hemingway and the like – the sort of stuff that is taught in schools. I love how classic authors can take an often simple story and layer it with allegory so that everything represents not only itself, but an entire higher plane of story that is comprised of allusions, themes and symbols. When I was a teacher, I found that most people, not just students, looked on many of these works as being difficult and dry. So, I decided to take a different form of writing I love: fast-paced, entertaining stories which, for me, are often either fantasy or sci-fi, and combine what I love of classic literature with this type of writing. What I worked towards was marrying these sometimes disparate genres into one in a seamless way, so there wasn't any heavy-handedness one way or the other. The ironic thing about it, though, is that, by the time I sat down to write the novel, I'd stopped teaching.
6. Each setting in The Canker Death is like another character. When someone asks me what the setting of the novel is, it can be difficult to answer. I can say, it takes place in the state of Illinois in the cities of Elgin, Saint Charles, and Chicago, but that doesn't really capture the scope by a long shot. Certainly parts of the novel happen in these places, but the novel ranges many worlds. Each setting has a significant effect on the people who live there and the events that take place. Each place has its own personality, its own vibe, you could say, and the beings who exist in each of these settings are shaped by them at least as much as they, themselves, shape the settings. There are peaceful, picturesque locations I'd love to visit, and disquieting locales that I'm quite happy only exist in my imagination.
7. The most important thing for me, as a writer, is the people. The plot ranges through immeasurable distances, and the events in the story are mysterious. But, I really focused on making every character unique and real. This is definitely the feedback I hear the most from readers. Every one of the characters is memorable, and each reader tends to pick his or her personal favorite. I really can't stand stereotypes in literature or in life, so I think the attraction to the characters is due to the fact that a reader has to get to know each one. Preconceived notions don't help much in The Canker Death, for the moment a reader thinks they've got a character all figured out, they do something unexpected, much like real people do. No one is just what they appear to be.
About James R. Bottino
James R. Bottino is a self-admitted computer geek and a creative writing teacher rolled into one. He earned a BS in English Education from Illinois State University and taught high school English in a suburb of Chicago for several years. After teaching all day, he studied creative writing in graduate school at Northern Illinois University. All the while, though, in the deep corners of the night, when no one was looking, he led a double life hacking and building computers and networks. Eventually, unbeknownst to him, word of his activities leaked out, and employment offers started coming in. In the end, he switched his hobby with his profession and became a senior computer / networking administrator for a scientific research laboratory. Just six months into this position, however, tragedy struck when, at the age of 31, James was diagnosed with cancer. Given ten to one odds of living out the year and knowing that his infant daughter would never remember him if he died, he began the fight of his life, enduring massive doses of chemotherapy that killed the cancer but nearly killed him as well. After years of struggle, he survived, but only after enduring systemic nerve damage from the treatments that left him permanently photophobic, phonophobic and with frequent difficulty in using his hands. These events focused his efforts and helped him to prevail in his dual goals: being a father to his daughter and completing his first novel, The Canker Death. 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.
James R. Bottino can be contacted at: "nokinis(at)thecankerdeath(dot)com"