My Favorite Bit: Bryan Camp talks about THE CITY OF LOST FORTUNES
Bryan Camp is joining us today to talk about his novel The City of Lost Fortunes. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The fate of New Orleans rests in the hands of a wayward grifter in this novel of gods, games, and monsters.
The post–Katrina New Orleans of The City of Lost Fortunes is a place haunted by its history and by the hurricane’s destruction, a place that is hoping to survive the rebuilding of its present long enough to ensure that it has a future. Street magician Jude Dubuisson is likewise burdened by his past and by the consequences of the storm, because he has a secret: the magical ability to find lost things, a gift passed down to him by the father he has never known—a father who just happens to be more than human.
Jude has been lying low since the storm, which caused so many things to be lost that it played havoc with his magic, and he is hiding from his own power, his divine former employer, and a debt owed to the Fortune god of New Orleans. But his six-year retirement ends abruptly when the Fortune god is murdered and Jude is drawn back into the world he tried so desperately to leave behind. A world full of magic, monsters, and miracles. A world where he must find out who is responsible for the Fortune god’s death, uncover the plot that threatens the city’s soul, and discover what his talent for lost things has always been trying to show him: what it means to be his father’s son.
What’s Bryan’s favorite bit?
There’s a scene toward the end of THE CITY OF LOST FORTUNES, where the main characters need to regroup and figure out their next step, and so they stop in at a greasy spoon style diner named The Camelia Grill for a meal. This place is a New Orleans landmark; sometimes it’s empty except for you and a couple of locals, sometimes there’s a line of tourists stretching out the door and onto the sidewalk outside. There’s not a whole lot of seating, just a line of stools in front of a counter that contorts itself to fill as much of the space as possible, but whether you can walk right in or have to wait, the food is worth the trip: breakfast no matter what time of day or night it is, thick, dark chicory coffee, giant sandwiches, chili cheese fries that contain your caloric intake for the week, “freezes” which are like the Platonic ideal of milkshakes, and slices of pie that the cooks will griddle for you on the flat top right before you eat it.
I’ve, uhh, I’ve been there a time or two.
When my main characters first walk in to the diner, I take about a page to describe the place and the cooks behind the counter and the other patrons. In that description, there’s a throw-away line that most readers will likely skim right past, but which is, in its own small way, my favorite bit of the whole book. It says: “The only other customers were a handful of tourists—who advertised themselves by wearing Mardi Gras beads in the middle of summer—and a younger white couple sharing an order of fries and laughing over whatever they were showing each other on their phones.”
That line is my favorite bit because, quietly, secretly, and without fanfare, I snuck myself and my wife into the magical, deity-filled version of New Orleans in my novel.
My delight is two-fold, the inclusion part and the secret part. In terms of the inclusion, knowing that the world I was writing was the world that I lived in (even if no one else did) made it easier for me to do that writerly thing of stealing those bizarre moments and snippets of conversation and random connections from my own life. After all, if you’ve already shared your favorite diner with a demigod, a psychopomp, and a girl fresh from her own resurrection, why not your favorite bar, or the park, or the grocery store around the corner?
In terms of it being secret, I found a surprising amount of pleasure in this single line. Nothing about that handful of words would identify us, not even to our closest friends or family. It was a connection that existed from draft to draft and revision to revision only in my own mind. In fact, I didn’t even tell my wife that it was us until I was sure that the line or the scene wouldn’t get edited out of the final book (as one of her favorite scenes was, sadly, lost to the Island of Forgotten Pages). I never pointed it out to my agent, never explained to any of the editors why I wanted to keep that scene, that line. It was as though I had buried treasure without making a map or marking the spot with an X. Just left the jewels there, hidden and precious and secret. To keep a little smoldering ember of that secret joy, I vow that this will be the only time I share this little detail about the novel, online or in person or in writing, unless I’m specifically asked about it.
So that’s my favorite bit, a brief and subtle cameo appearance known only to me, and to my wife, and now you, reader of this blog. If you read my novel, I hope you get a little spark of joy when you find yourself in this scene. For just a moment, the three of us will be there together along with Jude and his supernatural friends and problems. And if you don’t tell anyone else, they’ll never know.
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 lives in New Orleans with his wife and their three cats, one of whom is named after a superhero