Book Nerd Interview
Pop culture junkie. Comic book nerd. Author of The Cloak Society the first book in a new series about a boy born into a family of supervillains–out October 2, 2012 from Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins. My work has previously appeared in places like Salon, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Gizmodo.
I grew up in Odessa, Texas, studied advertising and English at TCU, and graduated from the MFA program at Columbia University where I studied nonfiction writing. I’ve worked as a snow-cone maker, barista, retail mannequin dresser, and intern in the editorial department at Marvel Comics. When I’m not writing about superpowers, I work in the animation industry and watch a lot of cartoons. Who says you have to grow up?
I like bad horror movies, comic books, cheese boards, and music that sounds like laser pistols. I live in Texas with, predictably, my cat, Loki.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I almost studied music instead of journalism/English as an undergrad. I still sing probably half of the things I say throughout the day. I’m a big fan of a good falsetto belt.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
How to procrastinate effectively. I got really good at knowing exactly how much time I needed before a deadline to get a given project done. That’s been very helpful as a writer.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Neil Gaiman has a great saying I first in an interview he did about American Gods. He recently repeated it in The Guardian: “Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” Technically that wasn’t advice just for me, but it’s great nonetheless.
For those who are unfamiliar with your novel; The Cloak Society, how would you introduce it?
Alex Knight is a fourth-generation member of an underground group of supervillains called the Cloak Society. Ten years ago, Cloak was nearly destroyed by their rivals, a team of heroes called the Rangers of Justice, so they’ve been lurking in secret since then, waiting for the perfect time to strike back and take over Sterling City, Texas (for starters). On Alex’s debut mission—Cloak’s first public appearance since their defeat—he instinctively saves the life of a young Ranger named Kirbie. After that things get…well, complicated for him. You can imagine that the Cloak Society—especially his parents—aren’t exactly pleased by this.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Kirbie?
She’s a character whose backstory I didn’t have pinned down when I started out. I knew she was strong and full of spunk, but also maybe a little guarded, like there was some hurt in her past (what’s a superhero without a little trauma?). The scene where we learn her history was something that just kind of spilled out onto the page one night, which is weird for me because I usually have a strict outline going into a chapter. That scene ended up being one of my favorite moments in the book.
Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
Like a lot of writers, I had to tell it because I couldn’t get it out of my head. I studied nonfiction writing in grad school, but I wrote a lot about comic books and interned in the editorial department for the X-Men group at Marvel. I was pretty steeped in superpowers. This story was something that started out as notes and brief character sketches in the margins of my research notebooks, and grew to be the only thing I wanted to work on.
Plus, as a big comic book nerd, I was excited by the idea of getting to do my own take on the superhero genre. And to write a book I would want to read both as an adult, and as a kid.
For those who are unfamiliar with Alex, how would you introduce him?
Alex is a twelve-year-old supervillain with telekinetic abilities. He’s under a ton of pressure from his parents (and his peers) to develop his gifts and become as powerful as possible. His potential is the most important thing I’d point to as far as his character is concerned—both in terms of his powers and his position within the Cloak Society.
Do you have a favorite quote that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire you?
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” – the opening line to The White Album by Joan Didion. It’s technically not posted up by my desk, but it’s a quote I think of often. Plus, Didion was one of the first authors I read back in undergrad whose writing really affected me.
If you could introduce Alex to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Jean Grey from the X-Men comics. He could use advice from someone who has dealt with wielding great power and walked the line between good and evil.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m hard at work editing the next book in The Cloak Society series, and finishing up my outline on the third one. That’s about all I can say right now. I’m a big talker, so it’s sometimes excruciating not to be able to talk about specifics.
What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
I had a writing professor who once told me to take home all of my workshop critiques, read them, and then burn them, because the stuff that made sense for me would stick. He didn’t mean it literally (I don’t think), but I agree with the sentiment. That’s not to belittle the importance of workshops or critique groups, but I think it’s easy to start writing for a certain audience so specifically that you lose your own voice. Write what you like. Write what you want to read. Write what challenges you.
Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
Driving in the middle of nowhere in Texas at night, when you can see the sky 360 degrees around you. Nothing clears your head like that.
What book are you reading now?
I just started The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. So far I’m enjoying it, despite the fact that it keeps making me think of that awful Liam Neeson adaptation from the 90s.
Who was your first girlfriend?
Jennifer, in the fourth grade. I was kind of a stud in elementary school.
Tell me about your first kiss
I was 13 and playing spin-the-bottle at a theatre party held out at someone’s ranch (a perk of growing up in West Texas). It felt very dangerous and mature at the time—one of those instances where you know it’s a capital-M Moment happening.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
“How’s the writing going?” The answer is always “fine,” whether I had the best or worst writing day of my life.
What's the worst summer job you've ever had?
I was a barista at one of the five busiest Starbucks in Manhattan one summer. I worked with some great people, but the constant rush of customers was brutal. On the upside, I can make you a cappuccino if you put me in front of an espresso machine.
What did the last text message on your phone say?
“I was JUST thinking that I need to get him in the Halloween cat model circuit.” –Me talking about my cat, Loki.
When was the last time you cried?
Reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I read it in one sitting on a Sunday morning. I JUST WANTED THE ANIMALS TO BE HAPPY. (It’s a wonderful kidlit read, despite the tears.)
Where can readers stalk you?
I’m all over the place. I’m usually most active on twitter (@jerameykraatz), but the contact page of my website lists the other places you can find me: http://www.jerameykraatz.com/contact/
Ten years ago they were defeated by the Rangers of Justice and vanished without a trace. But the villains of Cloak have been biding their time, waiting for the perfect moment to resurface. And twelve-year-old Alex Knight wants to be one of them.
Alex is already a junior member, and his entire universe is Cloak's underground headquarters, hidden beneath an abandoned drive-in theater in Sterling City, Texas. While other kids his age are studying math and history, Alex is mastering his telekinetic powers and learning how to break into bank vaults. His only dream is to follow in his parents' footsteps as one of the most feared supervillains in the world. Cloak is everything he believes in.
But on the day of his debut mission, Alex does the unthinkable: he saves the life of a young Ranger named Kirbie. Even worse . . . she becomes his friend. And the more time he spends with her, the more Alex wonders about the world outside of Cloak--and what, exactly, he's been fighting for.
Having a point of view of the villain is a nice shift from the crowded galore of books that mainly focus on the heroes. I like how author Jeramy meticulously develops Alex from a boy who sees things one sided, into a boy who thought and decided for himself. Although Kirbie is able to show Alex the world through her eyes, readers do not get an exact indication if Alex would join the Rangers or continue on with his mission. Jeramy’s writing style is able to precisely capture Alex’s thoughts and moods towards a world that is new to him. The characters’ development and progression all worked well with one another and helped moved the story along quite well with exciting battles. The Cloak Society is a well-written story with plenty of fast-paced action. One may expect a story such as this to be hurried or all over the place but it is brilliantly spaced throughout and readers are able to receive the full impact of the story. It has the superhero/villain element with tremendous action sequence and excellent dialogue that it will satisfy any reader.