There were a number of inspirations for my debut novel, The Canker Death. On the factual plane, the inspiration came from the fact that an FTP server I was running on one of the old Unix systems in my basement got hacked. I have a collection of unusual computers that run esoteric operating systems. Where most people’s computer knowledge ends is where mine begins. This fact alone gave me the idea for a main character who was based quite a bit on various facets of people I know – computer geeks, that is.
But, I didn’t want to write a novel that was only tailored for sci-fi lovers. I wanted to write something that was accessible to everyone, so I worked hard to make sure that the technical stuff was accurate and true, but that understanding it in any detail was not at all required for enjoying the novel.
Additionally, as I was getting started, I made a number of decisions about where the book was going to go. I had been a high school English teacher for about a decade, and, while my main area of expertise was the teaching of writing, specifically creative writing, I whole-heartedly enjoyed reading and teaching the classics: Melville, Shakespeare, Hemingway and the like. I loved how classic authors could take an often simple story and layer it with allegory so that everything represented not only itself, but an entire higher plane of story that was comprised of allusions, themes and symbols.
So, I knew I wanted to write something that echoed back to those writers, something that I knew would take years and years to create. Coupled with this, though, was my love of fun, fantastical literature. Fast-paced stories with cool ideas really grab my attention and hold it. I can usually read two or three such books to one classic novel. Often times, these fast-paced, page-turners have nothing more to offer than a quick escape from reality. They’re just entertaining stories.
So, the challenge of taking these two somewhat opposing styles of writing and blending them together was what really inspired me. When I combined a main character I felt I knew well with the goal of writing a novel that combined these disparate genres, and then added all that to the beginnings of a plot I had stewing wherein a computer hacker, himself, gets hacked, I knew I had all the pieces I needed.
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”