CULTURE TRAVEL TUESDAY
Destination: The Imagination
Interview by Jessica Voigts
Have you ever seen a rat on the subway–not a real rat, per se, but maybe a half-rat, half-human? Or have you been tended to by an owl doctor– not a doctor for owls, but a doctor that just might be an owl? Such is the world that author James Gough explores, in his new young adult novel, [amazon_link id="059035342X" target="_blank" ]Cloak[/amazon_link]. At once the story of Will Tuttle, his “allergies”, and his discovery of a new world – within a broader story of change, diversity, and culture, Cloak is a must-read.
Cloak takes the fantasy story plotline of a different world (e.g., [amazon_link id="0545162076" target="_blank" ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id="0060765488" target="_blank" ]Narnia[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id="B005TK85DK" target="_blank" ]Alice in Wonderland[/amazon_link]) and twists it to include the entire (and familiar) diversity of the animal kingdom, introducing all of those cultures, living side by side. Cloak is a book about culture, society, and civilization. It’s a book for all ages. It’s a book that I can highly recommend, as an intercultural glimpse into another world. And, Cloak is an excellent read, fun and intriguing and high on the can’t-put-down quotient.
We caught up with author James Gough for A Traveler’s Library, and asked him about creating a new world, how travel has inspired his writing, his best travel memories, creating a life of travel and culture for his kids, incorporating a sense of place into his book, and more. Here’s what he had to say…
Jessie Voigts: Please tell us about your book, Cloak – and what were the biggest challenges in creating a new world?
Jim Gough: Cloak is about a society of animal people, or enchants, that have lived among us for generations. Enchants coexist in our world, but, they are expert in keeping their tales, scales, claws and fangs hidden from our view.
In enchant culture, staying hidden is an obsession and camouflage means survival… My goal is to make readers look at a beat up old ice cream truck and think, “I wonder if there is an enchant at the wheel?”
JV: How has travel influenced your writing?
JG: Traveling gives me a chance to sample other cultures, the background, the people, the accents, the traditions. I try to find out about the history of a place before visiting. That practice carries over into writing too: I make up the history of the people and the places first, to give the story depth.
… I’m a big fan of getting lost. The best way to get to know a new city is to look at a map once then just start walking until you’re totally turned around. There is something amazing about the sights and smells you can discover off the beaten path. . . When I write I create the surroundings in my head, then just wander around my brain and get lost.
To me, part of discovering a new place is with your taste buds. I always ask what dish a region is famous for then I make it my goal to sample it. When you eat what people eat, you get a glimpse into who they are. Conch fritters in Fort Lauderdale. Bacon Rolls off the streets of Chester, UK. Crawfish etouffee in Baton Rouge…
JV: How do you, as a dad, create a life of culture and travel for your kids?
JG: My three girls have become fearless travelers. I think a lot of that has to do with my wife, Kristen, who authors the blog MyKidsEatSquid, and is passionate about collecting experiences. She sees a trip or even a meal as an educational experience. That has rubbed off on me. We’ve explored pyramids and eaten street food in Mexico. My kids have no problem walking through a market where they are the only ones not speaking Spanish, Japanese, Polish.
I also encourage them to look at the culture around them as something to explore. There are all kinds of cultural pockets to be discovered in our own community—restaurants, markets, shops, events…
JV: When you write, how do you incorporate such a sense of place? I really felt like I was riding the subway with Will, and then heading out into the new-to-me setting of Wyoming…
JG: I smell it. Yes, it sounds weird, but if I can imagine a place well enough to know what it smells like then I feel like I can write it. Scent memory is one of the strongest recall abilities we have. So I figure if I can smell the streets of Manhattan in the rain, or a larvae nursery deep in a hidden mountain, and I can help readers smell the same thing, then the experience becomes more real for all of us.
JV: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
JG: Maybe just a few rules of travel that I try to live by:
- Never eat anywhere that is too clean or too polished. The greatest restaurants have a little patina and grit.
- Don’t ride if you can walk. You miss too much if you’re moving too fast.
- Smell everything. Good, bad, spicy, sweet—sniff it all. That’s where the memories come from.
- Do as they do. Locals don’t always like outsiders, so try to be as local as possible and they’ll usually give you the benefit of the doubt. There’s nothing worse than that loud guy that thinks every Peruvian should speak English just because he does.
- Do the other thing. If everyone in the world is going to visit that touristy place in the guidebook, don’t be afraid to go somewhere else.
- Bring home memories. I would much rather come back from a trip full of rich, life-altering experiences than a suitcase full of trinkets. Memories last a lot longer than t-shirts.
Intrigued? I KNEW it!!
We also interviewed Gough about the backstory to Cloak at Wandering Educators.
You can read more about his book, background, and book tour (where he can visit your class or book club) on James Gough’s website.