I turned eight years old in the late summer of 1969. That was the summer a man walked on the moon, when the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate and her friends, and when the number one song of the summer, and later the entire year, was by a cartoon band, The Archies. It was also the summer I realized I wanted to be a writer.
I wasn’t a normal child; I wasn’t interested in being a fireman or a sheriff or a cop or a cowboy or any of the things little boys were supposed to be interested in. I wanted to go looking for dinosaur bones, or dig for lost tombs in Egypt, or study history. I was interested in Greek and Roman mythology; the history of our country; the kings and queens of Europe. I couldn’t decide between being a paleontologist or an archaeologist or an Egyptologist or an historian.
But in the summer of 1969, I realized the way I could do everything I wanted, to study everything I wanted, to learn about the things that interested me, was to become a writer. I also discovered Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators and the Dana Girls and Biff Brewster and Ken Holt and Rick Brant that summer; the first series books I’d ever read. So, that summer was kind of my turning point; where, if I had to pick a time when I decided, when I wanted to be a writer, it was that summer. That was also the summer I started writing; when I wrote my first “book.” From that point on, whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “writer.”
And now I am one; and have been, officially since 2002; at least that was when my first book came out. The first time I was paid to write was in 1996; the first time I sold fiction was in the summer of 1999, when I was thirty-eight years old. It took me, as you can see, a very long time to get there. But get there I did, and I never ever let go of that dream, no matter how impossible or distant or hard it seemed. It eventually happened.
I first met Bryan Camp, a young writer, when I was filling in for Bev Marshall at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, after Katrina. She was doing events for her novel, Right as Rain (which you should also read), and needed someone to fill in for her writing class (she was writer-in-residence there). She asked me if I would, so I did. It was fun and interesting–plus I didn’t have to read anything or grade anything; I was just a guest speaker so I spoke about writing and making a living as a writer. Bryan was in that class, and I’ve sort of known Bryan ever since then. Flash forward a couple of years and he gave me a novel manuscript to read, to see what I thought. What I thought was I’ve never read anything like this before and this is publishable.
And now, several more rewrite and revisions, that book is being released this week the John Joseph Adams imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; and as luck would have it, I won a Twitter contest for an ARC. I finished reading it yesterday.
And it’s extraordinary.
In the Beginning, there was the Word, and the Void, and Ice in the North and Fire in the South, and the Great Waters. A universe created in a day and a night, or billions of years, or seven days, or a cycle of creations and destructions. The waters were made to recede to reveal the land, or the land was formed from the coils of a serpent, or half of a slain ocean goddess, or the flesh and bones and skull of a giant, or a broken egg. Or an island of curdled salt appeared when the sea was churned by a spear. Or the land was carried up to the surface of the waters by a water beetle or a muskrat, or a turtle, or two water loons. However the world was made, it teemed with life; populated by beings who evolved from a single cell, or who were molded from clay or carved from wood or found trapped in a clam shell. They wandered up from their underworld of seven caves, or fell through a hole in the sky, or they crawled out of the insect world that lies below. All of these stories, these beginnings, are true, and yet none of them are the absolute truth; they are simultaneous in spite of paradox. The world is a house built from contradictory blueprints, less a story than it a conversation. But it is not a world without complications. Not without conflicts. Not without seams.
One of those complications was a man named Jude Dubuisson…
To quote that grandfather from The Princess Bride, “isn’t that a wonderful beginning?”
The City of Lost Fortunes is many things all at once; it’s a mystery story that is also a myth that is also a story of redemption, rebirth, and rediscovery. Jude doesn’t know who his father is but he can do magic; he has always danced between this world and that realm. But after the storm, after Katrina, his gift for finding lost things was too overwhelming for him; too much had been lost, and so he turned away from magic, turned away from his power, turned away from the realm of magic. He is unwillingly dragged back into that world by an invitation to a card game, where the other players are Thoth, an angel, a vampire, and Dodge, the fortune god. And Jude is forced to play, and to bet…but his cards are blank, and everything around him changes. Dodge is murdered,, and Jude has to find the killer, because his fortune is still being determined and the game must be played.
I am often considered an expert on all things New Orleans, but nothing can be further from the truth. I have written extensively about my home city, and I have read a lot of the fiction about her—the nonfiction, too; but I am hardly an expert. I consider myself to be, at best, a place to start; someone who can point another in the right direction, a point on the compass that is New Orleans. Bill Loefhelm has a hilarious saying about an attitude that can develop around that: being NOLIER than thou. I know I have sinned in that regard before; nothing irritates me further than books and television shows and movies that not only don’t get New Orleans right but don’t even try. (An excellent example of this is available on Amazon Prime currently; a terrible TV series from the late 1990’s called The Big Easy, based on the movie of the same name. It’s comically terrible.)
The City of Lost Fortunes does not fall into that category, either. New Orleans is not only gotten right here, but it lives and breathes in these pages in a way that it doesn’t even in my own, despite my best efforts. This book is about and of New Orleans; just as its a detective story and a mystery and magic realism and fantasy all rolled up into a beautifully written package; its characters are alive, the inter-connectedness of the characters and the plots and the subplots all mesh together, intertwined in the same way that everyone’s lives here are intertwined; and it all comes together beautifully, as Jude realizes who he is really is, and what is really going on, and what his destiny, his own lost fortune, is–and how much depends on his finally waking up to it.
And it is also a fable, a welcome addition to the literature of our city; one that I will happily reread and remember and cherish.
I cannot wait to read Bryan’s next book.
You should read this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.