This book was sent to me by Titan Books in exchange for an honest review.
21.05.19 / Titan Books / Urban Fantasy / Paperback / 608pp / 978-1789091229
Target Audience: Readers who like fantastical, mythological and paranormal narratives with plenty of intriguing characters and relevant themes including race and natural disasters. For those who are looking for an ambitious and addictive new series from a passionate author who knows his stuff! For fans of Joanne M. Harris and Neil Gaiman.
About Bryan Camp
Bryan Camp is a graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop and the University of New Orleans’ Low-Residency MFA program. He started his first novel, The City of Lost Fortunes, in the backseat of his parents’ car as they evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. He has been, at various points in his life: a security guard at a stockcar race track, a printer in a flag factory, an office worker in an oil refinery, and a high school English teacher. He can be found on twitter @bryancamp and at bryancamp.com. He lives in New Orleans with his wife and their three cats, one of whom is named after a superhero.
About Gather The Fortunes
Renaissance Raines has found her place among the psychopomps – the guides who lead the souls of the recently departed through the Seven Gates of the Underworld – and done her best to avoid the notice of gods and mortals alike. But when a young boy named Ramses St. Cyr manages to escape his foretold death, Renaissance finds herself at the center of a deity-thick plot unfolding in New Orleans. Someone helped Ramses slip free of his destined end – someone willing to risk everything to steal a little slice of power for themselves.
Is it one of the storm gods that’s descended on the city? The death god who’s locked the Gates of the Underworld? Or the manipulative sorcerer who also cheated Death? When she finds the schemer, there’s gonna be all kinds of hell to pay, because there are scarier things than death in the Crescent City. Renaissance Raines is one of them.
Q&A with Bryan Camp
Thank you Bryan for taking some time to answer a few questions about your second novel in the Crescent City series, Gather the Fortunes. Could you give us your own personal overview of what readers should expect in within the book?
Gather the Fortunes is the story of Renaissance Raines, who was introduced in my first novel. She’s a psychopomp, one of the guides who lead the dead through the Underworld. When a young man named Ramses St. Cyr somehow manages to sidestep his appointed time of death, Renai learns that the relationship between life and death is more complicated than she believed. Despite storm gods and locked Underworld gates and demons both inside and out, Renai has to find Ramses, discover who helped him escape his fate, and bring him home.
The City of Lost Fortunes and Gather the Fortunes are outstanding reads filled with strong mythological/paranormal and racial themes and set in the city of New Orleans, post Katrina, where the devastation still ruminates with its citizens. What was your initial inspiration for these stories?
The City of Lost Fortunes came from a lot of different places. I was taking an undergraduate fiction workshop and a detective fiction survey course at the same time, and I was also working at a steakhouse as a waiter. (These things all connect, I promise) So, there was this television show being advertised at the time, where this creepy kid says “It’s real, you know.” Someone asks, “What is?” The creepy kid whispers in reply, “Everything.” Every night at work I’d be picking up drinks at the bar for my tables, and that commercial was playing on the tv over my head.
In that fiction workshop, we did a writing exercise focused on sensory description. The teacher, Bev Marshall, had us picture a room, and as we wrote, she’d interject with things we were supposed to describe. “Where is the light coming from, what does the air smell like,” that sort of thing. Because I was reading a whole lot of noir detective fiction in that survey course, the room that first came to mind was a seedy, back-room poker game. The last thing that she said in the exercise was, “Now put something in the room that doesn’t belong there.” It being an illegal gambling situation, I sat an angel at the table.
Our assignment for the next week was to take those paragraphs of description and turn it into a story. And I had that commercial spinning in my head, “Everything is real, everything is real.” So instead of just an angel at a card game, I had a poker game with a bunch of deities from all the various mythologies I’ve been reading about since childhood. I started writing the story that became the book that weekend, which was the weekend we had to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina.
Gather the Fortunes grew pretty organically from the first book. The main character, Renai, is an important, but secondary, character in The City of Lost Fortunes, and the more I thought about the “happy” ending I gave her in the first book, the more I realized that it wouldn’t necessarily be an easy transition. Add that to a lot of the feelings I was having after the 2016 election, and you end up with a book about a psychopomp trying to figure out her place in the world while death and destruction deities are trying to pull that world apart.
Your novels are so intricate yet well balanced and developed over the duration. I am going to have to read them 5 times over to fully appreciate how much there is to see. How hard was it to fit everything together into a coherent plot?
First off, thanks! Secondly, this is a great question, because plot is easy. You just cook up some interesting, conflicted, layered characters and let their wants and needs clash against each other until they make enough sparks to start a fire. But “coherent” plot? That’s a far more significant challenge, especially because I’m not a meticulous outliner. I’ve gotten to be more of a “plan-ahead” sort of writer, but a big part of revision for me is still making sure the machinery of the plot all meshes together smoothly and efficiently, that I rein in as many of my digressions as possible, and that my “subtle hint that is only profoundly relevant in retrospect” is actually a subtle hint that sticks with the reader and not some random, strange sentence that is skimmed over and forgotten.
A lot of that has to happen in revision, for me. I can sometimes tell when I’m writing myself into a corner or wandering too far off the path, but for the most part, I’ve got to have the whole book to see what’s almost working and what’s not working at all.
How does it feel to have published part two of the series? And do you know how many installments you are planning to include?
Finishing Gather the Fortunes feels great. It was my first real deadline, and I had no idea if I could actually produce a novel worth publishing in a matter of months instead of years. I’ve got at least one more book in mind using the Crescent City world and characters, but to be honest, whether I continue writing these books or not has a lot more to do with the publishing industry than with my plans.
Had you always planned to make the series into an almost episodic narrative?
Not always. The first few drafts of The City of Lost Fortunes ended with more of an open ending for Jude, but at some point in those eleven years of writing and rewriting I decided to leave it all out on the field, as it were, and make that novel one solid, complete arc. He’s still a player in the narrative, of course, but by the time I’d sold the book, I knew any other stories in the world would be focused on another character. The same is true for Renai at the end of Gather the Fortunes. I’m not done with her, exactly, but if I get a chance to write more Crescent City, the spotlight will move to someone else.
You have an impressive eye for character detail and I felt that each individual that Renai encountered brought something to the overall feel of the novel. Could you tell us a little bit about how you approach the design of your characters both lead and secondary?
Honestly, I just try to think of everyone as people, even the ones who are only on the page for a few lines. There are writers who fill out questionnaires about all of their characters—everything from eye color to shoe size to childhood nightmares—but I’m not that organized. I do, however, try to imagine the worlds I create as real places populated by real people. So the minor characters that my main characters interact with all have complete, inner lives of their own. One of the ways that I try to do this from a craft perspective is to remember that people always, in some way, contradict themselves. Honest people lie. Strong people have moments of fragility. Or they contradict your expectations. A stone-faced, too-cool-for-this-lame-party person will drop to the ground and energetically play with a dog. A frumpy, middle-aged, more than a little overweight person will chase down and tackle someone half their size and weight. Show the reader a moment like that, and the character will feel real in a way that a whole list of details won’t give you.
It works on us writers, too. Give a goth girl in a voodoo shop one moment of singing Willie Eagan’s “Wear Your Black Dress,” and she becomes so compelling that you write a whole book about her.
Who was more fun to write about, Renaissance Raines or Jude Dubuisson? (They’re both stellar characters!)
Jude was definitely more fun to write. He’s the kind of person I wish I was. He moves through the world more easily and more confidently than I ever could. He always thinks of the snappy retort right in the moment, not ten minutes too late, like me. Internally, Renai is a lot more like me, and that made writing her less fun and more . . . reflective.
What was the most challenging parts of writing about the afterlife, world mythology, harvesting souls and fighting death?
One of the biggest challenges was taking the throwaway lines and rules that I’d dropped into the first book for my own convenience and turning them into a consistent, layered ecosystem that didn’t contradict what I’d already said, but still introduced new and interesting elements.
The other thing that’s always a challenge in these books—but one I’m determined to get as right as I can—is not using someone’s faith in an appropriative or exoticized or harmful way. It’s one thing to take like, Zeus, and put words in his mouth and actions on his name, and another to do the same thing for say, Legba. There aren’t a whole lot of people still worshipping the Olympian deities, but the voodoo faith is a living, devotional practice. It can be difficult to get that right.
How did you cultivate your understanding and passion for such a vast amount of gods, the occult, mythology, cultural beliefs and other paranormal beings/concepts?
I wish I had a better answer for this, but the truth is I’m just a big ol’ nerd. My only friends in junior high were the librarians, and so they’d let me hang out in the library at recess. I quickly read through their science fiction/fantasy section, and when I asked for more like that, they sent me to the mythology section. I’ve been reading all sorts of mythology ever since.
So, in a way, I’ve been researching these books my whole life.
How long did it take you to write Gather the Fortunes compared to The City of Lost Fortunes?
Before I got to the “no longer rewriting, just revising” version of The City of Lost Fortunes, I wrote four completely different drafts over eleven years. For Gather the Fortunes, I wrote one draft that needed a significant rewrite of the middle chunk, and it took me just over a year to do it.
Is there a part of the book that you are particularly proud of? Do you have a favourite quote you can share with us?
The first one is a line that my editor, John Joseph Adams, really seemed
to like the first time he read it: “Ah, you ain’t done a damn thing wrong,” Sal said.
“I mean, you let some shit-for-brains deity lead you into the briar patch and then
thanked him for the fuckin’ thorns . . .”
And the second one is my wife’s favorite line: “These days, Jude Dubuisson was
a god—the Fortune God of New Orleans, in fact. And his fine ass owed her a favor.”
Did you always have your eye set on being a writer/author and what sort of books did you grow up reading?
Yeah, actually, being a writer was pretty much always the goal for me. I wanted to teach and write, and—while it took a good bit longer than I thought it would when I was a teen—that’s been the path I’ve followed.
In terms of what I read when I was younger, aside from the previously mentioned mythology, I read basically everything Stephen King had written by that point. There was a LOT of epic fantasy, too, The Wheel of Time, Game of Thrones, the Fitz and Fool books, a lot of Raymond E. Feist’s books, the Xanth series (before I realized how gross a lot of his ideas are), that sort of thing.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
I really like tabletop RPGs, especially D&D. I know that’s essentially more writing, especially since I’m the DM for one of the groups I play with, but it’s a whole different kind of writing. The interactive nature of it makes it way more a relaxed, playful kind of creative process.
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
Based on just what I’ve read recently, I’d say Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse, The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey, We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, New Suns, an anthology edited by Nisi Shawl, and A People’s Future of the United States, an anthology edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams.
Thank you to Bryan Camp for going through my questions with the thought and passion that I see in his novels. Especially since I misspelled the name of his novel numerous times in the Q&A. I apologise again! If this interview isn’t enough to convince you to go get your hands on these novels right away then I am at a loss for words. Bryan Camp has poured everything into both The City Of Lost Fortunes and Gather The Fortunes and his ambition is boundless, his knowledge is extensive and his talent for fantasy is compelling. Gather The Fortunes is a hell of a novel and I had an exceptional time getting lost in the streets of New Orleans and traversing the underworld that sits directly beneath it. Renaissance Raines brings a ferocity and edge to this world that took it too a whole other level. Thanks for coming by to check out this Q&A, definitely give this series a go as its strength of character is impressive, the depth of mythology is stunning and the narrative is rich with the unexpected.