Tell us a bit about yourself. I am the central character in Cocytus: Planet of the Damned. I was a grad student at Cornell who got swept up in a nightmare with Tina Phokas, a second year medical student.
What made you choose computer engineering for a profession? Software always fascinated me. I found, growing up, that I had a real talent for writing computer apps. I’m probably what you would call a classic geek. For me it was always easier to work with machines than talk to people. But before you write me off as a complete nerd, I’ll let you know that as an undergraduate, I was a Division III All-American while running cross-country.
Knowing what you know now, if you had it to do over again, would you stick with being a computer engineer or choose something different? Given the predicament that I found myself in, my experience working on artificial intelligence projects for the DoD was helpful but I should have spent more of my weekends goofing off with my buddies at Cornell, writing computer viruses and malware instead of working on my PhD thesis on neural net systems. And quite honestly, learning a few karate moves instead of being a complete wimp would have definitely been beneficial.
What was your biggest fear? Yikes, given the mess I was in, just about anything that moved. The planet Cocytus is a brutal, unforgiving place. But my biggest fear is the feeling of total helplessness, and knowing that hundreds of people looked to me to solve problems that appeared insurmountable. Their lives are in my hands. The fear of letting down the people I've grown to love and losing the trust they put in me gives me nightmares.
Who is your favorite fictional character and why? A very interesting question. The answer essentially enabled those of us entrapped on Cocytus to have a chance for survival. Let me put it this way, if my parents didn’t name me Dante after the famous renaissance author of the Divine Comedy, I would not be alive today. You’ll have to read my adventure to find out what I mean by that. There was a second fictional author, Isaac Asimov, who wrote the famous I Robot series of books that inspired me at a key moment of our crisis.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received? You mean besides “Duck!” Yeah there was one good piece of advice that my buddy Virgil gave me. “Courage isn’t about being fearless, it’s about being able to persevere through those fears.”
Thanks, Dante. We wish you luck as you figure your way out of Cocytus and all its issues. Now it's John's turn at bat. Which writer or character[s], from either books or movies, [or both] have had a major impact on your writing?
The classic science fiction/fantasy writers are the ones that had the greatest impact on me. Folks like Asimov, Heinlein, CS Lewis and Tolkien. They could give the reader a rip-roaring adventure that has an underlying philosophical bent. I want to give the reader something to think about, if they so choose, after they put the book down.
A special tip of the hat goes to Dante Alighieri. His travels through Hell and Purgatory inspired me with this story. In fact the name of the planet, Cocytus, is the lake in his pit of hell.
With regard to research, where did you start for this novel? Did that lead you down different paths, thereby changing the original concept? I started out wanting to write a classic good vs evil sci fi novel but my characters wouldn’t let me. The protagonists changed the world they encountered but also found that they were changed by it. Adversaries evolved. “People” learned from each other.
Nowadays, we generally think of science fiction as being either fantasy adventures or technology based dystopias. In Cocytus: Planet of the Damned, I attempted to blend the two plus throw in a generous dash of classical literature and ancient history. The result is an entertaining, and also, I hope, a thought provoking story.
Tell us a bit about your publisher. How did you hear about them; what influenced you to submit to them. My publisher is Insomnia Publishing. They are a small(ish) publishing house but have an excellent editing staff. The advice always given to new writers is to network, network, network. That is how I was able to make my initial contact with them. A published author friend of mine knew an editor there and that got my foot in the door. They read my manuscript and accepted it.
What's next for you? I’m currently working on the sequel, Cocytus: Sanctuary in Hell. It will involve the same protagonists who start to unravel the mystery of humanity’s strange role in the galaxy. They will venture into new worlds and be forced to confront new and more powerful foes.
To learn more about John Caligiuri and the stories he creates go to:
Thanks, John and Dante, for taking the time to visit Wild Women. We hope you'll pay a return visit when Sanctuary in Hell is ready for release.
Kat and Veronica