The Many Faces of Rick Thomas
Above: An Artist’s Life by Rick Thomas
By Rita Button
Rick Thomas is a tough guy to pin down to one idea. I’m supposed to be writing a book review of his novel A Dead Artist Can Make a Good Living, but after I talked to him last week, and tried to stick to the topic, I realized it was impossible—at least for me—so instead, I’m going to write about the many iterations of Rick’s life and the one unifying thread that’s a part of each of the dominant characteristic that permeate all he does.
It’s diverse creative ability, of course.
These days, amid painting, sketching, and writing, Rick also mentors a new Canadian, advising on where to work, to live and how to interact with the way we are in Victoria. In the past, when he worked for the government, he contributed to the mapping of British Columbia’s ecological systems. In creating the maps, it was Rick who chose the Old Masters’ paint colours to indicate different elements on the maps. He also helped people to access government funds for re-training when the civil service was down-sizing and people needed to develop skills that had been hibernating during their previous work. Rick sees beyond conventional boundaries, helping others in the process.
Currently, he also contributes art to The Beacon. At the last planning meeting, he commented on the amazing trees. He’s been drawing them in Beacon Hill Park for a while now, and is amazed at various trees’ abilities to “engineer” (his word) a branch that’s longer than he expected it to be. “How did the tree know to do that?” he wonders.
The same curiosity informs his travelling. Loading his jeep the weekend after he retired from his government job, he was on the road on Monday, heading for Mexico. His modus operandi is to stay for a while—at least a month—to find a place where he can draw and record what he sees in his sketchbook. His pencil becomes his vision, enabling him to return to the scene after he has disappeared from it. He watches customs, people, and makes sense of the experiences in his own seemingly ordinary, yet extraordinary way. Mexico, Portugal, France, South Asia are a few of the places to which he’s travelled and lived for extended periods of time.
Part of his goal in the travelling was to figure out his own character, and so he started writing. And then he moved from journals to fiction, allowing his environment to become a part of what he was writing about such as the golden elephant in his novel, The Monkey with the Golden Arm. Since I’m supposed to be writing about A Dead Artist Can Make a Good Living, you’ll have to read about the elephants and the monkeys on your own.
The settings in A Dead Artist Can Make A Good Living are real because of Rick’s travel. The reader can tell that the route to the Algarve is authentic—TGV from Paris to Lisbon where Jonathon, the protagonist stays for three days before he takes a catamaran to get the train to Algarve on a complex trip which requires two train changes. Jonathan is on the run, having faked his own death.
The plot moves quickly; the setting vacillates between British Columbia and wherever Jonathon is hanging out in Europe or Morocco. It’s an interesting contest between the hunter and the hunted with a number of exotic adventures along the way.
Also, along the way between the words are a few pictures—all, of course, drawn by Rick. These add to the novel’s feeling of authenticity.
He’s always drawing. His novel plans are pictures, maps and places drawn and painted in a way that allows him to see the elements of the plot in one detailed picture. Here’s the plan for his novel Where’s My Sister?
While we were talking, Rick stated emphatically: “Writing is content.” He searches for content in his travels where he finds the exotic and the real. His writing is true to that concept—unusual, unpredictable events are somehow totally credible, in part, because of the convincing settings, and in part, because the characters are true to themselves. Rick also maintains that he’s learned a lot from Hemingway: use few adjectives and adverbs, as well as simple sentences with changing structures. It works. But I do have one wish: tenses need a little revision.
Rick’s novels are published by Trafford; he sends them a camera ready document which is then published. His daughter helps him with editing and proof-reading. Amazon.com sells the books which are available under the broad title of The Tales and Adventures of Jonathan B. Owen at varying prices, but generally, the cost is $2.28 for the electronic version and $18.50 for the hard copy.