In Mosaic – Richard Bowes Interview

richard bowes

I have a habit of paying attention to recommendations by authors whose work I admire. Whether an indirect recommendation or one given to me personally, or via an interview, it has really lead to some great reads for me. I was alerted to this week guest by a recommendation via a past interview I conducted with Jeffrey Ford, whose work I was put on to by another interview guest, K.J. Bishop. Like the other occasions, I was not lead astray. Golden Gryphon Press was good enough to facilitate me with a copy of Richard Bowes’ fantastic From the Files of the Time Rangers, the latest effort from the Word Fantasy Award winning author. I recently reviewed Bowes, “mosaic” novel, after which I found myself scouring the net for his various available short work.

I’d like to welcome and thank Bowes for joining me to us today, as we talk about From the Files of the Time Rangers, mosaic novels, and the greatest city on earth.

Jay Tomio — Your latest project is From the Files of the Time Rangers from Golden Gryphon press. What can you tell us about this project? This originates from a series of short fiction you have written, correct?

Rick Bowes- A lot of material in the book appears there for the first time anywhere. But I wrote the bulk of the novel over the last few years as short stories published mainly in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and on Scifi.com. A couple of the stories made it to the Nebula short lists, a couple got anthologized. I even used two stories that had been published long before I’d thought of the Time Rangers. The structure of the novel allowed that. It’s multi layered, a series of episodes, a mosaic.

From the Files of the Time Rangers is a time travel novel, so the chapters occur mostly at different moments in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The Rangers patrol the Time Stream trying to maintain order. So in part it’s a police novel, about their jobs and also their private lives. But these particular cops serve the god Apollo and are sometimes allied with or opposed to the servants of other gods. I’ve given the deities their Greco-Roman names. But they are the essential immortals. In a scene set in a Catholic church in Boston in the 1950’s, the statues of the savior, saints and angels also represent various gods. At another point there is a shrine in a grove with a holograph image that might be Apollo or might be Elvis.

Jay Tomio — You also have a project forthcoming from PS Publishing From the Files of the Time Rangers, which features an introduction from Jeffrey Ford. I recognize the title piece as your World Fantasy Award winning novella Street Car Dreams, what else is included and when should we expect it to be released?

Rick Bowes- As you may know, release dates are a sometime thing. Until a few months ago it seemed that both books were going to be published in September. Instead, unexpectedly, From the Files of the Time Rangers shipped at the start of August. And now it seems that Streetcar Dreams and Other Midnight Fancies, will be coming out later in the fall. It consists of six stories, Street Car Dreams itself is the novella that connected the nine stories which became the chapters of my novel Minions of the Moon (Tor, 1999).

The other five stories are everything in short form that I published until this year and that didn’t become part of either Minions or Time Rangers. There are a couple of early ‘90’s dark fantasy stories, Someday I Shall Rise and Go and Transfigured Night. Both of them appeared in Algis Budry’s wonderful Tomorrow magazine. A Huntsman Passing By which originally appeared in F&SF is about a dyslexic private detective who is hired by people connected with the Downtown Manhattan Art Scene and who solves a mystery through his knowledge of fairy tales.

The opening story, Circle Dance has just appeared in Postscripts #3, a beautifully done magazine that PS Publishing puts out. It’s about me and my brother Gerry who died last year. The closing story is “My Life in Speculative Fiction” which is about being in my late teens and very confused in the early 1960’s and about my starting to write and about my father. Both it and Circle Dance contain within them stories written by the narrator. It’s something I took from Stephen King’s The Body (the basis for the very sentimental movie Stand by Me). King’s long novella is a remarkable evocation of growing up the hard way in New England in the 1950’s.

Jay Tomio — At the end of From the Files of the Time Rangers you talk about “mosaic novels” and describe your novel as a descendant of such works. I find it fascinating, and I was wondering if you would mind sharing your thoughts here on ‘Mosaic works’, both your novel and the tradition it stem from and continues.

Rick Bowes- In its original usage, a mosaic is a work of art created out of bits of glass, of tiles, of colored stones. And that’s kind of how I see ‘Time Rangers’ with chunks of fantasy and pieces of science fiction, myth and politics, ancient gods and cable TV, embedded side by side. In my novel as the promotional copy says, “Runaway and abandoned children get molded into a police force that patrols the Time Stream, Mercury and Cupid walk in Twenty-First Century New York, an 18th century English Lady cavorts in a post World War Two U.S. suburb, a powerful American family arises on a magic island off the coast of Maine, and a future devoid of anything we might recognize as human marks a possible ending for the long reign of gods and men.”

In the SF genre in the1940’s/50’s the market was ruled by the pulp magazines and the short story was the dominant form. So there arose the tradition of the ‘fix-up’, the novel created out of several shorter pieces. Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and Simac’s City are examples. Reading them and others as a kid with no insider understanding of how they had originated, I was especially fascinated by the way each chapter was a separate reality linked by an overall concept to those around it.

Those books seemed to cover more territory, have more depth, than through-written novels of the same size. They took a subject and presented it at various times and from a variety of vantage points. They seemed a better bargain for my 35 cents or for my 10 cents if they came out of the pile of paperbacks with their covers torn off on sale at the local variety store/numbers drop.

With the 1960’s, the balance had begun to shift and there was more emphasis in the genre on the novel. Simple ‘fix-ups’ faded. But because New Age speculative fiction was more open to experimentation with form and subject, the mosaic novel flourished.

Keith Roberts’ Pavane evoked rather than explained an alternate English Renaissance and Technological Revolution in a series of chapter/stories. Gene Wolfe’s Fifth Head of Cerberus used a mélange of post colonialism, artificial intelligence and mind games to display a rich and deeply alien culture in three linked novellas. Thomas Disch’s 334 offered a dozen different viewpoints of a near future New York every bit as complex and conflicted as the one the passage of time has given us.

Tending to show and not to tell, these books managed to avoid the horror of the information dump. If Speculative Fiction is a literature of ideas, they were more like symposia than lectures.

Recently, Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman series of graphic novels was in many ways the ultimate fictional mosaic. In the contemporary mainstream, the diverse chapter settings of David Mitchell’s mainstream Booker Prize favorite Cloud Atlas and his first novel Ghost Written are instantly familiar to someone who had in his youth pawed through piles of remaindered paperbacks.

I have much more to say on the subject. Buy Time Rangers and read the afterword and you’ll see.

Jay Tomio — When did the Time Ranger concept come to you, and what influenced it? Was the creative decision to use the Greek Pantheon conceived at the same time?

Rick Bowes- The novella ‘From The Files Of The Time Rangers’ which you can still read online at Scifi.com was the first Time Ranger piece that I wrote. In it we have Logue with his strange ability to sense death and travel on the Time Stream. The Sisterhood (witches, the Fates) and the Rangers themselves get introduced. But not the gods specifically.

The next piece was the very short story Straight To My Lover’s Heart originally published in Black Gate (and available online from Infinity Plus about Eros/Cupid in contemporary New York.

A much earlier piece that I eventually used in the novel is ‘Diana In The Spring’ written about ten years before any of the Time Ranger stories is a modern retelling of the legend of Actaeon with the goddess Diana as a corrupt narcotics officer on the NYPD. So I think the gods were always there waiting to come out.

Three other Time Ranger stories are available online from Scifi.com

They are:

The Quicksilver Kid, about a sixteen year old runaway who becomes a servant of Hermes Lord Mercury who runs a flourishing public relations business in New York in the early 1960’s.

Days Red And Green, about some Time Rangers who become embroiled in the strange doings of an Irish Catholic Parish in Boston circa 1954 where the pastor has fallen under the spell of a Cluricaun (a kind of evil Leprechaun).

Godfather Death, in which we are introduced to three young Time Rangers who serve Lord Apollo and the ‘godson’ of Pluto Lord Dis and we see their interaction with each other over the years.

And there’s a lot more. These online stories add up to much less than half the book.

Jay Tomio — What future projects do you have planned that we should be expecting? Is the ‘Time Ranger’ backdrop, one you plan on revisiting in novel format again?

Rick Bowes- I’ve collaborated with Mark Rich over the last few years, and the stories have appeared in ‘zines and small press venue — places I’d never appeared before. We’ll have a novelette in the special tenth issue of John Klima’s Electric Velocipede. It’s about a kid who’s an early ‘60’s American poet and about Maxee the city of a thousand busted metaphors and none of it is set in New York

Otherwise, at the moment I have two story cycles I’m working on.

One is tentatively called Dust Devil On A Quiet Street and it will be about Spec Fiction writers and actors and artists in contemporary Manhattan. My Scifi.com story There’s A Hole in the City, set in the aftermath of 9/11 was the first and I was busy thrashing out another one about old New York literary legends before I began doing this interview. The title ‘Dust Devil…’ is the name of an episode of the old Naked City TV series which fascinated me when I was a kid living in Boston. The series had a very noir, 1940’s look, a city that had pretty much disappeared before I managed to move here almost forty years ago.

The other story cycle is what I call the Jackie Boy Stories. These are about a Fey/human crossbreed gay kid who’s brought up in a kind of demi-monde in Elf-Land and later comes to this totally devastated mortal city of Gotham. I wrote the first story ‘The Wand’s Boy’ for the So Fey gay fairy anthology that Steve Berman is doing. And I thought this was going to be a story that one of the characters in ‘Dust Devil’ was writing. Once I’d written a second Jackie Boy story, though, they kind of escaped from that orbit.

Jay Tomio — It is quite obvious from reading both From the Files of the Time Rangers, and since going back and reading your short fiction, There’s a Hole in the City, that Kage Baker was correct in her statement she made in her introduction in From the Files of the Time Rangers, in which she said “Mr. Bowes is a writer’s writer, and excels at the evocation of Place and Time”. What is it about setting, particularly New York that invokes such authentic imagery when you put it down on paper?

Rick Bowes —  Kage Baker is something a lot better than a writer’s writer; she’s a reader’s writer. I’d take that any day if I got to chose.

The city is what I know. I’ve lived here for almost my entire adult life. Done some interesting stuff. Also some stupid stuff. Sometimes those were the same things. If you live a long time in a place, especially a place like this and you build up an immense reserve of references. Every block has something that reminds you of an event, a person. Just the way the light falls evokes a day in the past. In the story in progress Dust Devil On A Quiet Street I just wrote a paragraph in which the narrator thinks about the different buildings he’s walking past, tics of the ones which he’s been inside over the years, the one where long ago a lover lived up on the top floor, the one on the corner where the psychiatrist he went to had her office.

Jay Tomio — Can you recommend my  readers some work you admire and would recommend?

Rick Bowes — Well, of course, Kage Baker. Remarkable time travel novels — once you get into her Company series you’ll never want to leave. Jeff Ford. His novel, The Girl in the Glass is being released just about now. It’s a wonderful read. Set on Long Island in the 1930’s. Redolent of old Thin Man movies. Paul Witcover. I read his Tumbling After in manuscript last year and gave him a critique. But I got the better of the deal. He read From the Files of the Time Rangers in manuscript and gave me the ending. My old friend, William Sanders is a master of the alternate history story. Elegantly done. He says he’s retired. I hope he’s lying.

Among the younger writers, Charles Coleman Finlay, Robert Wexler. Mary Rickert. Her ‘Map Of Dreams’ is coming out from Golden Gryphon next year. Christopher Barzak is wonderful! He and I both have stories in the upcoming ‘So Fey’ and the Datlow/Windling Tricksters anthologies.

Then there are the members of the 8th of February writing group to which I belong: William Shunn, Jae Brim, David Barr Kirtley, Barbara Krasnoff, Robert J. Howe, Ian Randal Strock, Deborah Green, Andrea Kail, Lorraine Schein.

Have I forgotten anybody? Most probably. You know, I’ve worked on a library information desk for over thirty years. A piece of ancient, info desk lore is that when people call up wanting to know the names of the Seven Dwarves; the one they’ve forgotten is always Bashful. There’s a lesson for us all in that.