Author Interview: James Gough on his YA novel, Cloak

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Rowling, Carroll, Riordan, Baum – it’s time to make room up on that shelf of elite writing goodness for another author. Scoot over. It won’t hurt. James Gough, take your place. His new novel, Cloak, is a classic, an eminently readable, interesting, extraordinary book. If you’re like me, you’re already imagining a movie. But I digress.

Gough has written the BEST young adult book I’ve ever read, and one of the top books EVER for me (because, well, Pride and Prejudice will always be a favorite). Intrigued? I was. The cover draws you in. The inside blurb makes you eager to begin. The story? It keeps you interested, rooting for Will Tuttle and half wanting to read fast, to get to the next page; half wanting to read more slowly, to better soak in the play of words and the new world Gough has drawn for us.  I loved the possibilities of life for Will, and how he is brave, and kind, and always learning and adapting. I'm on my third read-through, and keep finding new things to think about.

Without further ado, here’s our talk with author James Gough

James Gough

WE: Please tell us about your book, Cloak...

JG: Cloak is the story of untapped potential. It’s about an adventurous bubble-boy, Will Tuttle, who’s been stuck in a hermetically sealed life for thirteen years. No doctor can tell him why the source of his mysterious allergies. His nanny/nurse thinks he’s helpless. Even his parents have consigned themselves that Will’s life will always be plastic-wrapped. But Will’s dreams for adventure become a dangerous reality when he breaks out of his bubble for a normal day in the city. En route he discovers that what he had always thought as allergic hallucinations of half-animals-half-humans, were all too real.

These animal-people, or enchants, have been among us for thousands of generations. We see them as that beaky librarian that looks a bit like a hawk, or that cabbie with the face of a ferret. Their ancestors were the source of our myths and legends, but today, enchants use their intellect and instinct to keep their claws, fur, scales and tales hidden from everyone … everyone but Will.

His ability to see enchants makes him special, but it also makes him a target. Soon, a group of misfit bodyguards are sent in to keep him safe in a society that isn’t supposed to exist. With stampedes, murderous insect-people, and wolf assassins, Will finds his thirst for adventure more than quenched and his yearning for friends finally satisfied. Now the question is whether or not he can survive long enough to enjoy it.

WE: What inspired you to write Cloak?

JG: I love young adult fiction. (Probably because I try to avoid being mature as much as possible.) There is something incredible about escaping into a book and knowing you don’t have to worry about flipping the page and hitting a theme or expletive that you wouldn’t want your kid to read. But I noticed more and more that very adult themes seemed to be creeping into the genre. To counteract it, some authors lean the other direction, making the themes very kidsy and cute. I believe there is a great place right down the middle where a story can be intense without being gory. It can tackle real world issues without being political or religious. I wanted to see more of that kind of book out there. The result was Cloak. I hope I hit the mark.

WE: The main character, Will Tuttle, is so relatable. What was the process of creating him?

JG: Will took a long time to bring to life. He started too rebellious. At one point, he came across a little bitter. Then I met a few teenagers in some tough situations that had exceptional attitudes. They didn’t look at their problems as blockades—they saw them as challenges waiting to be conquered. Those real teens were my inspiration for Will. It made me realize that there are millions of cool kids out there that beat the stereotypes every day. I wanted Will to be that kind of kid. Once I knew who he was and what motivated him, his personality flooded the pages.

WE: How/why did you choose your locations (NY, Wyoming)?

JG: They say you should write what you know. I used to live just north of Bronxville, New York, and work in Manhattan. I rode the commuter train from the book every day for five years, but never saw a yak. A rat enchant, yes, but no yaks. Great place, I still miss the city.

And I was raised in Rapid City, South Dakota, just a hop, skip, and a two-hour ride from Wyoming. In that part of the country driving two-hours is nothing. We used to take busses seven hours for high school sporting events. You cover a lot of country. My dad used to drive me all over the plains and mountains of the Dakotas and Wyoming. It is a beautiful and isolated place, perfect for secret settlements.

WE: You're a renaissance man - what were your main influences in this book?

JG: Wow. Renaissance man, remind me to send a copy of this to my mom. She’ll be so proud.

Mythology, history, zoology, medical books, cookbooks, fairy tales—I picked up pieces from all over the map. It started with a little question that kept scratching at the back of my skull, Why are there so many animal people in myths, legends and stories? I mean the Greeks had centaurs and satyrs. The Egyptians worshiped jackal-headed gods and sphinxes. The Indians had elephant deity. The Chinese—dragons. The list went on. Then there were the old Brothers Grimm’s stories. Talking Wolves? Animal musicians? I even started looking at modern culture. How many talking animals do you see in cartoons or on your cereal boxes?

I wanted to find a universal explanation for the animal-people fascination. Then it hit me—it’s the world’s greatest, longest-lasting cover up! Animal people would have the instincts to stay well camouflaged and the intellect to manipulate history and the media. And of course they would have children and communities. The idea just blossomed from there.

One of my favorite discoveries was a modern scientific study that talked about how scientists had found out ants communicate by a pheromone language. Not only that, but the researchers were attempting to learn how to speak ants’ language! That became a huge part of the plot.


WE: You love interesting and global food. Was it fun to create a character who could finally explore the glories of food, after eating ancient spam?

JG: Oh yeah. I knew Will had to be a culinary spelunker. That’s one of my little passions, too. We try all sorts of crazy food in our house, so the idea that somebody could go nuts over tasting orange soda or dandelion burritos for the first time was thrilling. I’m also a big believer that you can be an adventurous eater if you’re a vegetarian or vegan or a meatetarian, just like the different cafeterias in the book. It’s all about sampling things you never thought about before.

Whether it’s alfalfa-chocolate ice cream or pinecone etouffee, you’ll notice that even if Will eats something nasty, he still appreciates the experience. That’s a fun way to have a meal, trust me.

WE: What's up next for Will Tuttle - and you?

JG: Well, I’ve already started on book two and it’s gearing up to be an intense adventure. Readers will be introduced to a lot more enchants and really get the chance to explore below the surface of the culture. So far, most of the main characters will be back, some with more prominent roles.

The next book will also answer questions that this one left hanging, like: Where did the Hunter (a wolf-like assassin) come from? What’s Agent Manning’s back story? How do you get to New Wik? Does sweet and sour tarantula really taste like chicken?

Maybe the biggest question that will be answered is: How does Will handle being a celebrity? I’m wondering how that one turns out myself.



WE: Thanks so very much, James! I am so happy to share your book with our readers. Highly recommended!


Last week, we talked with James about the behind-the-scenes of Cloak - you can read it here.