Behind the Scenes of Cloak with Author James Gough
I just can't wait any more. I HAVE to share this with you! Last month, I read THE best YA book I've ever read. The book, Cloak, is about enchants, travel, the magic of life, eating (Spam, or bugs, or...), friends, growing, learning, BEING. Here's our review - and talk with author James Gough.
But one of my very favorite things (yes, I am a researcher) is finding out the backstory - to a location, business, book, movie. It makes it all so much more meaningful, and interesting. So - I'd like to whet your reading tastebuds and share our exclusive interview with Gough. He's an extraordinary author, a creative genius, an artist, a great dad, funny, an adventurous traveler and eater, and, well, one of THOSE PEOPLE that you instantly want to be friends with.
So, when we sat down to chat with him, I couldn't wait to ask James about being a published author, writing, the process of getting a book into print, art, using REAL people for characters, his advice for aspiring writers, and more. Here's what he had to say...
WE: How does it feel to be a published author?
JG: It’s about fifty-percent surreal dream and the other fifty stressful reality. I keep looking at Cloak and thinking, Wow, how did that happen? These characters I’ve nurtured are all of the sudden real and out there for the world to stare at. It’s a bit like sending your kids out in public and hoping they don’t embarrass you. At first it was thrilling to hear that readers were connecting with the characters. It was like the Cloak cast was making new friends.
But then another reality set in—these characters are stuck in there, frozen in book one until I can write a second book to bring them back to life. Cloak was always meant to be a series, but now, there are a lot of people waiting for their new friends to return. My own grandmother it putting the squeeze on.
It’s a lot of pressure to be responsible for someone’s existence.
WE: What's the first thing you remember writing?
JG: (Ever?) The first time I ever really tried to write a scene I think it was in junior high. I don’t remember the assignment or the plot, but the scene was of this wild, gnarled landscape on the Dakota/Wyoming border called Slim Buttes. I probably ended up with a mediocre grade on the paper, but that image has always stuck in my head. And now I’ve slipped Slim Buttes into the pages of Cloak. So technically, now that I think about it, I wrote my first scene of Cloak in junior high. Maybe I could go back now and get my grade up.
(In Cloak?) The first Cloak scene I actually tried to write was the commuter train ride into Manhattan. I could see this skinny kid scrunched into one of those plastic seats staring up at this giant part-man-part-yak that nobody else could see. The thought of Will’s worst fear sitting next him, casually reading the paper was something I had to capture. It went through a lot of refinement, but the scene in the book is pretty much how I first saw it in my head.
WE: How long did it take you to write Cloak? Where do you write best?
JG: Authors describe writing a novel as giving birth. If that’s true, then I was pregnant for four years and gave birth to an 87,000-word baby elephant. When I add it up, I guess I actually wrote a couple thousand pages to arrive at the three-hundred-and-eleven in Cloak. I also chose one of the most insane times of my life to write a book: I sold a house, moved twice, and started a new job at the same time. Now that it’s published, I do agree with the book birth metaphor, and I have the stretch marks to prove it.
When I’m at home, I sit in leather chair sideways with my feet in the air and prop my laptop on movable computer table. It’s not good for my posture, but it seems to stir the creative juices. Actually, I write all over the place, libraries, airplanes, hotels, benches, I’ve even written in the car (while I was parked, of course).
WE: What was the journey of Cloak, from writing to being in print?
JG: Imagine getting on what you think is a nice slow bus and all the sudden you’re flying down a mountain on an insane bobsled run. One second your stomach is in your throat the next it’s rolling on the floor behind you. You swerve and lean, scream and cry. After what seems like an eternity, you hit the final straightaway, stumble out and kiss the solid ground. Then you hitch a ride back to the top of the mountain and do it all over again.
That was Cloak’s journey, only with editors and deadlines.
WE: And the Art - YOUR Art! Please share how you created the art for Cloak...
JG: I’ve spent my life attempting to do creative stuff—theater, music, writing, art. Day to day, I’m a Creative Director in the advertising world. In a past life, I was a graphic designer. When I write, I’ll sometimes sketch something out if I have trouble picturing it. That’s what I did with the Point of Sanctuary, the enchant symbol of unity. After I created it, I thought it might be nice on a website or something so I sent it to WiDo, my publisher. They came back and said, “We love it! Let’s stick it on the cover and use the symbols as chapter headings.” I was shocked, but I wasn’t going to argue. It’s kind of nice to see your fingerprints all over something you’re proud of.
WE: Have you worked real people into the Cloak characters? Lines? Characteristics?
JG: Hmm, I might get in trouble for this one … but my dad is this really big, athletic, guy who uses a “tough love” motivation style when he coaches. I really wanted to find a place for that mindset. The funny thing is that it came to life in Agent Manning, a four-and-a-half-foot tall fawn woman with an unhealthy love of violence and sharp objects. Sorry Dad.
I usually take pieces of a lot of people I know and smush them into a character—my brothers, wife, mom, kids, friends—they are all there somewhere. There is also a little of myself in every character in Cloak. I tend to wear black, like Will, and I was silly skinny as a teen. I like messing with people like Rizz. Kaya got a bit of my hot-headedness. I mutter in Spanish, like Flores.
Mars? She’s one of a kind. I’m not really sure where she came from. She’s the kind of character that just jumps up and writes herself then smacks you in the head if you try to interfere.
WE: What sparks your ideas - a whole story, or characters, or...?
JG: Anything and everything. Places I’ve visited or lived. Crazy food I’ve tried. Wherever I go, I am compulsive about trying to see normal things from a different perspective. That’s why I’m drawn to a hidden world that co-exists with our own. I’m intrigued by the idea that chewing gum on a wall could be an enchant secret door buzzer or that cruddy cars could be a fashion trend. My feeling is that if you can see the weird in the seemingly normal, you can make normal exceedingly weird.
WE: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
JG: My advice is that if you ever get stuck, find the one thing that you don’t want to get rid of in that scene or in a plotline and cut it. Just chop it out of there. That’s what great writers do well. They don’t get attached to the little things. They do use lots of detail, but they’re not afraid to sacrifice a sentence or scene or even a character for the good of the story. If you cut your favorite thing first then re-work the problem, nine times out of ten you’ll improve it dramatically. Plus, it beats staring at a blinking curser and grumbling under your breath.
WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
JG: When I was a kid, adults would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The expected answer was always something simple—doctor, lawyer, author, fireman. When I would throw out some wacky answer like a movie-star-football-playing-cowboy-fighter-pilot-deep-sea diver, most adults would chuckle and say, “Isn’t that cute,” then look at my parents with pity, hoping I would grow out of it. But my folks never discouraged dreaming. They said that wanting to do a gazillion things well was called being well-rounded or becoming a Renaissance man. The idea that you can dream with your feet on the ground has always stuck with me. My parents truly believed in football-playing-intellectual-singing-acting-discus-throwing-advertising-author. And I’ll never be able to thank them enough for it.
WE: Thanks so very much, James! It is so interesting, hearing the backstory and inspiration of Cloak. Wandering Educators, check back next week for our review, and (yay!) author interview.