The Big Idea: Bryan Camp

Cover to Gather the Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Even when you write fantasy, the real world can influence your work. So Bryan Camp discovered when recent events caused to rethink the design of his latest novel, Gather the Fortunes.

BRYAN CAMP:

When I sold my first novel, The City of Lost Fortunes, I was lucky enough (and had a savvy enough agent) to sign a two book contract. I knew that I wanted this next book, which came to be titled Gather the Fortunes, to be set in the same world as its predecessor, but I wanted it to be a new story, a second, stand-alone novel, not a sequel. In fact, my main concern in the early stages of this second book was that I would repeat myself. That I would simply put a new coat of paint on the first book and call it something new.

Thus, my early decisions were a series of sidesteps from the first book: death deities instead of tricksters, a search for a missing person instead of a murder mystery. I knew what I didn’t want Gather the Fortunes to be—and so had a handful of things that it could be—but much to my dismay, I still had no idea what the book would be about. And then in late 2016, things, as they say, took a turn.

The aftermath of that election was a weird time for everyone, but doubly so for someone trying to create art. How do you cheer on the good guys in your fantasy world when, in the real world, the bad guys win? I felt split, torn into two people, one of them a pacifist who had always been cautiously optimistic about the future, and the other a rage-filled cynic who wanted to burn everything down. Eventually I managed to boil a significant portion of my inner turmoil down to a single, difficult question, “how can anyone be a positive force for change if the world fills them up with hate?”

And suddenly I had an idea big enough to build a novel around.

What I didn’t want, though, was a basic good vs. evil dichotomy. “Choosing love over hate” is a story that’s been told many times before, and the question I was grappling with wasn’t that easy to answer. More to the point, humans aren’t that simple. There’s no alignment chart in the real world. We aren’t either all good or all evil, but a walking, conflicted, contradictory capacity for both. What felt far more accurate to me was the idea of the Rada and the Petro nations of loa in voodoo. The Rada are generally seen as benevolent and good, but the more accurate description is that they are “cool” in the sense of calm. Likewise, the Petro, the “dark” side of the family, aren’t evil but “hot” in the sense of angry. That, for me, is a better representation of what people are like. Compassion and forgiveness and reconciliation are all positive forces, and we should all strive for them. But to quote my boy Zach de la Rocha from “Rage Against the Machine,” sometimes anger is a gift.

This big idea led to a lot of fun smaller ones. Gather the Fortunes is a novel filled with doubles and twins and mirrors. There are storm deities and psychopomps and zombies and gods who fill the scavenger part of the supernatural ecosystem. There are themes of violence and power and taking a deep, long look at your place in the world. But at the core of the book is this question of rage, of the desire to destroy.

I won’t tell you how I answered it (I had to write the whole book to figure out how I felt), but for me, part of the answer is that there are two kinds of destruction: necessary and natural destruction like, say, a forest fire, and self-indulgent and artificial destruction, like arson for an insurance payout. We don’t always get to choose our moment in history, or how the world treats us. We don’t get to choose whether our blood runs cold or hot. We don’t get to choose whether we are, a creator, a preserver, or a destroyer at heart. We do, however, get to choose how we act. How we use the capacity for change within us.

And some things, quite frankly, deserve to be destroyed.

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