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Interview with James R. Bottino – Author of The Canker Death




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”

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, James.  Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

A:  I guess that depends.  I’ve been published in the genres of: scholarly essay, short fiction and poetry, but this is my first novel.  So, I’ve been published once each in a number of different genres.

Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?

A:  The Canker Death is my first novel.

Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?

A:  A crazy amount.  I’m not positive, I would say something like seventy or eighty queries before I found my literary agent, and between one and two dozen publishers.

Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?

A:  Well, plainly, they sucked!  :-)  Actually, I found that form rejections were easier to handle, you know?  The message I gleaned from these is that the agent might not even have read anything I wrote, like they were swamped and simply couldn’t look at everything that came in the door.  The rejections with notes and comments were all very positive, like, “I really enjoy this, but I’m not looking for something in this genre right now.  Please try me again.”  The best way I found to deal with the rejections was to always have another query letter circulating, somewhere.  So, whenever, I received a rejection I could think, “the next one that comes back is going to be it.”

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

A: I think the feeling is the same for all sorts of public activities: singing, dancing, racing, playing an instrument, etc.  The feeling is one of acceptance, knowing that other people are enjoying what you love to do.  Certainly, writing is a greatly delayed sort of gratification, for, unlike some of the other forms of public performance, the writer doesn’t get feedback until long after the fact.  As far as celebration, I took my family and a few friends out to dinner.  There’s actually a book party being planned for the release of The Canker Death, but I don’t have any real details about that yet.

Q: What was the first thing you did as far as promotion when you were published for the first time?

A:  Well, first, I told *almost* everyone I know.  Then I moved on to finding ways to reach others that might be interested, people with similar interests with the main character (and the author), people who read some of the genres The Canker Death touches, etc.

Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?

A:  If I could somehow make everything it takes to get published really, really easy, I’d go that way.  Other than that, not every choice is up to the author.  Book selling is a business.

Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?

A:  I haven’t submitted anything else, recently.  I have things in the works, but they are not yet ready to be sent out.  How have I grown?  I think I’m still growing in this respect, but at least I have something I didn’t have when I started writing my first novel – some idea of how to break up that momentous effort into smaller, more manageable tasks.

Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up?  What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?

A:  I honestly don’t know what I could have done differently.  I didn’t go into anything blind.  I read books about the publishing industry and about literary agents.  I read books on how to write a query letter; searched the Internet for agents; bought books that listed publishers and agents by genre; and that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head.  I figured that I was going to have one shot to get it right, so I did my homework and tried hard not to make mistakes.

Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

A:  I have continued to write in my “off-time,” but haven’t finished my current project, yet, so my greatest accomplishment is related to work where I secured a great job as the head of IT for North America for a mid-sized company.

Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

A:  I work in the field of IT currently, and I used to be a high school English teacher, so, in some ways, I’ve worked at opposite ends of the spectrum.  I enjoyed both professions for different reasons.  At the moment, though, I enjoy working in IT.

Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

A:  I have a difficult time imagining what profession would fulfill me so much that I would stop writing.  I work at finding a balance between work and writing, though, I’ll admit it has been difficult to find that balance since I started my new position.  I’ll get there, though, no doubt about it.

Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?

A:  Grayer, possibly a smidgen shorter from the effects of gravity, and with ten years worth of additional life-experience to translate and work-in to some future story.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

A:  Well, I don’t feel like some master writer who can dispense advice to others, so I can only say what helped me.  Keep writing, practice every day.  The only thing can help more than practice is persistence.  Think of the entire endeavor as real work.  Getting published isn’t an afterthought; it’s not something that just might happen one day.  It will not happen unless you work hard at it.  Keep that in mind, and you’ll be on the right track.


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