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CHOCOLATE. ALIENATION. COMING OF AGE. Lodi author uses his life, family and 20-pound Maine Coon cat as inspiration for his novel

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Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 7:08 am

With a wife, child, two cats and a career as a Franklin High School English teacher, Lodi author Bill Howard James takes time out from his daily life to write novels. “Parnucklian for Chocolate” is the coming of age tale of Josiah, a 16-year-old boy who is told a tale about his father — who is unable to be active in his life due to his career — and how he finds out the truth.

Can you tell me a little about the book?

Josiah, the protagonist, is almost 16. He grew up being told by his mother that his dad is a very high-ranking official on the planet Parnuckle. This was created for the less-than-special circumstances about his actual origins, a fraternity party hook up. Josiah grows up believing in the story. He only eats chocolate because, according to his mother, that is what Parnucklians eat.

Around middle school, the story falls apart. His mother has been making pop references taken from movies and the mythology breaks down. The rebellion leads to him going to a psychiatric facility. We meet him after he came out of a group home after figuring out the tale about his father is not true. He returns home to his mother, who is engaged to a man who has a daughter whom Josiah falls for.

What inspired you to write about aliens?

It is not about aliens. There are no aliens in the novel. (It is about) the feeling of alienation that his mother covers with an elaborate tale.

How do you go about writing?

I started a few years ago while sitting in a credential class, and I was bored. I wrote a sentence and built the story on it, under the pretense that I took copious notes. Over the next couple of classes I had about 20 pages. I had to submit work for my Master of Fine Arts program, and this is what I did. This became my thesis.

What is the hardest thing about writing a book?

The hardest thing is to write about myself. I have a blog that serves as a provider of self-guilt, for lack of updating. The hardest thing for me is to be explicitly true. There are some truths in the story but they are allegorical.

What is the main inspiration for your works?

The story is more about the style than the content. I was inspired by the styles of novelists George Saunders and Kurt Vonnegut.

How long have you lived in Lodi?

I grew up in the Lodi and Galt area. I have lived in Lodi for five years now. I attended St. Anne’s School then went to St. Mary’s High School.

What do you like to in and around Lodi?

In Lodi, I like to walk Downtown and at the nature trail at Lodi Lake.

Can you tell me about your family?

My wife, Elizabeth, and I have a 6-month-old son named Thomas. Since he has added to our family, we no longer go to the movies and are in bed by 7:45 p.m.

Who is Rooster?

Rooster is my male Maine coon cat that is 20 pounds.

I have another cat, who is a female calico cat named Mike Tyson, because she used to bite but does not anymore.

Why did you leave rodeo?

I competed in rodeo starting in high school continuing throughout the rest of my education. I was then part of the amateur rodeo and part of the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association. Rodeo was fun to do and a hobby; however, I am no longer active in rodeo, because I have been busy with the book. I still attend the rodeos in the area, and participate in local jackpots.

Where are you teaching?

I am currently in my fifth year at Franklin High School in Stockton as an English teacher. I did teach one year Lincoln High School in Stockton.

Why did you go into teaching?

I started teaching in my mid-to late 20s as a means to pay the bills, but it was an eventual goal. Teaching English is something I wanted to do. I really love it at end of day, despite of the bureaucracy, paperwork and grading. I get to talk about my passion for books and writing. The same elements have helped me teach and write.

Do you hope your students will read your work?

It is not something I talk to them about. The book is something outside of teaching. I keep the book separate from my school life. The book was recommended for young adults, but there is some adult themes within it. If a student is inspired by the book, that is fantastic.

Contact reporter Brian Ratto at brianr@lodinews.com.

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