according to Twilight saga official illustrated guide by Stephenie Meyer:
James was born near the end of the American Revolution. His father was a French trapper and his mother was an English girl who had come to the Americas as an indentured servant and subsequently run away from her master. They lived a nomadic lifestyle, spending most of their time on the trail and occasionally returning to Montreal or Pittsburgh to trade. James was raised to track and trap, and he learned quickly. The Iroquois killed his parents before his eleventh birthday, but already his skills were developed enough that he was able to survive on his own. He gained a measure of fame during his late teens and early twenties as the best tracker on the frontier, as well as sometimes being called the ugliest. He didn‘t care about his face; all he cared about was winning. He was boastful about his prowess, and always up for a challenge. He won all contests of skill, until one night in Montreal, when he met a mysterious Frenchman—also claiming to be a tracker—who found James‘s confidence amusing. The Frenchman offered to best him in any test, his only condition being that the competition had to be at night. James was unimpressed by the dandified appearance of his competitor, and he agreed without hesitation, even when the Frenchman—seemingly in jest—upped the stakes to life or death. James‘s test was to release a marked deer into the wild, allow it an hour to run or hide, and then track it. Of course, the Frenchman found the deer in a matter of minutes. He returned the carcass to James, who had just begun his search, and reminded James that his life was forfeit. James—who had witnessed the speed with which the Frenchman moved and also saw no evidence of traditional hunting methods on the deer‘s body—cried foul. He said the Frenchman obviously had an undisclosed advantage, perhaps witchcraft or demonic help. If James were given the same advantage, he was sure he could beat the Frenchman. The French vampire was entertained by James‘s brash confidence. He agreed to give James the exact advantage he himself had, thinking it a good joke to end the bet by taking James‘s life in a different way. He bit James and left, laughing, offering a rematch in a decade or so. He was quite pleased with his heightened abilities, and surprised that he was no longer considered ugly. James adjusted to vampire life fairly easily. He was quite pleased with his heightened abilities, and surprised that he was no longer considered ugly. But that didn‘t soften him toward the Frenchman. It was only about six months after the newborn madness had faded when he found the French vampire and killed him—James‘s idea of winning the bet. Being a vampire made normal tracking—James‘s lifelong pursuit—somewhat boring. His senses were so developed that it was child‘s play to track any animal or human. To liven things up, James began giving himself harder and harder challenges. He would pick someone on a crowded city street, allow himself one sniff, and then walk away from the chase for a week or a month. Then he would return to the scene and track that individual. When that became too easy, he would do the same thing on a crowded dock, follow the ship a few months later, and search for his victim in another country. Sometimes these hunts took years, but James always found his prey. Because of his success, this got boring, too. He looked for bigger challenges, and began moving away from the practice of tracking for food. Instead he tracked vampires, a more worthy prey. This practice nearly cost him his life a few times, when he‘d killed one member of a coven and then been set upon by the vengeful remnants. These dangerous experiences did not stop him; he enjoyed the escalated consequences of his game. James met Victoria in England while playing this game. He caught the vampire scent, and though he had no idea whom he was tracking, he tried to hunt her down. It was the longest hunt he ever embarked on. No matter how fast he moved, she was one step ahead. He realized quickly that she somehow knew he was after her, though she‘d had no warning. He got close enough a few times to catch glimpses of the beautiful redhead, but she always escaped. After a few years of endless chasing, James was intrigued. He knew his tracking abilities went beyond just having excellent senses. He had a gift: He could predict his prey‘s moves in advance. But this vampire seemed to have a similar ability to know his own plans. He no longer wanted to kill the vampire; he wanted to learn more about her. Unbeknownst to him, the less he meant her actual harm, the less effective her own skill became. She could feel the shift and eventually allowed him to catch up with her—in a place she‘d chosen for its easy escape routes, just in case. She was also curious about this dogged pursuer who could somehow always find her trail again. Victoria‘s super-developed sense of self-preservation made teaming up with such a lethal vampire look promising. His own desires were always more important to him than Victoria was. There was an immediate attraction between the two. They teamed up for more reasons than attraction, however. Victoria‘s super-developed sense of self-preservation made teaming up with such a lethal vampire look promising. James knew his ongoing search for the next big challenge was only going to get him into more dangerous circumstances as time went on; joining forces with a vampire so good at escaping would be a definite benefit. After a time, Victoria was totally bound to him; he was her mate. However, James was never as committed to the relationship. His own desires were always more important to him than Victoria was. James did not view Victoria‘s survival as a failure, because he had found her and—in a way—claimed her life. He considered Alice Cullen his only failure. While pursuing a different hunt, James came across Alice‘s scent. She was what the Volturi call ―a singer‖ for James. The scent was very old, but James had tracked older. So, not abandoning his other hunt, James paused for a snack. Victoria, always the cautious one, was the first to be aware of the other vampire involved when James found the asylum where Alice had been incarcerated. She made James pause to get the lay of the land, thinking there might be more than one vampire; possibly this area was their hunting land, the asylum their headquarters. James never truly forgave her for making him hesitate in light of what happened. The second James caught her scent, Alice saw a vision of him coming to kill her. The second James caught her scent, Alice saw a vision of him coming to kill her. She confided in her only friend, the old vampire who worked nights in the asylum. This vampire knew Alice was special and cared about her like a daughter. He decided to save her from James, but she foresaw failure after failure, and he started to realize what he was up against. He stole her from the asylum and hid her as well as he could, biting her before he left her alone. He went back to try to delay James, knowing he was no match for the strong tracker but hoping to give Alice the time she had foreseen might be enough to keep her alive. James easily overpowered the older vampire. As a precaution, Victoria questioned the old one, using rather extreme measures to extract all information about Alice and anyone else involved. James found the vampire‘s concern for Alice and interest in her baffling but intriguing. He paid attention to the story—until he found out that the old one had bitten Alice. He left Victoria with the still-living vampire and continued on to his prize. He was disappointed to find Alice clearly in the last throes of the vampire conversion—though she made no sound, an aftereffect of the shock treatments. All of her blood had been changed by the transformation, and there was no satisfying snack to be had. Alice was totally vulnerable, too lost in the pain of the process to even notice James‘s presence. He watched her wake and scramble away to look for blood, in the typical newborn fashion. He wondered if she would be special, as the old one believed. He decided to give her time to develop into a worthy adversary, though she looked too tiny and weak to give him much hope. Irritated by the loss of her blood, he returned and destroyed the old vampire. As James grew more and more ambitious in his games, Victoria grew more cautious. As James grew more and more ambitious in his games, Victoria grew more cautious. She was the one who suggested teaming up with expendable allies just for the sake of numbers. They did this successfully a few times, letting the additions act as the canary in the mine during potentially dangerous situations, cannon fodder in others. Laurent was wilier and more skilled than some others James and Victoria had chosen, so he lasted longer. He enjoyed the novelty of James‘s lifestyle. They all worked together easily through a couple of uneventful hunts. James and Victoria heard rumors of large clans of vampires claiming areas in the Pacific Northwest, and James was attracted to the rumors of these unusually large covens. Victoria was wary; she wanted to find more backup, but James didn‘t want to waste time. He thought Laurent was more than enough. The surprise of seeing Alice there only fueled this desire to win at last. James had no immediate objective in mind when they first met the Cullens. This was just an information-gathering trip. He let Laurent lead the way so that if the coven was hostile, Laurent would be their first priority. James was shocked and then thrilled by Bella‘s presence and Edward‘s protectiveness. Here was a hunt that would combine the best of both worlds: a delicious prize (though Bella was not a singer for James, she smelled much sweeter than the average human), and a huge coven bent on protecting her. He was determined to get to the prize before she was ruined, as Alice had been. The surprise of seeing Alice there only fueled this desire to win at last. He hoped that as they had not turned the girl so far, they had a reason for not acting, but he couldn‘t be sure. James was furious when he learned of Laurent‘s defection, but in his hurry to get Bella before someone thought to change her, he postponed vengeance until after the hunt. The hunt proved a huge disappointment. Rather than keeping Bella physically under his protection, as James would have preferred, Edward opted to try misdirection. Following his hunches, James wound up in the same city as Bella, and then struck upon a successful lure to separate her from the vampires. He was hopeful, however, that Edward and his family‘s search for revenge would prove more exciting. He lied to Bella just once, in the dance studio. Of Alice, he said, ―So I guess her coven ought to be able to derive some comfort from this experience. I get you, but they get her. In fact, he had no intention of letting Alice live. Now that Alice was able to care for herself and had the support of a strong coven, James planned to finish that hunt, too.