Since 1969, Michael Bishop has been an author.
A native of Pine Mountain, Bishop’s work has encompassed science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and contemporary literary stories. A former writer-in-residence for LaGrange College, Bishop’s literature has been featured in multiple publications including “The Georgia Review.”
His first novel for young adults, “Joel-Brock the Brave and the Valorous Smalls,” was published in 2016, and is currently up for the 2017 Georgia Author of the Year Award in the Young Adult category.
The award-winning novel has been followed by a project set to release in June of this year. Bishop has written a collection of short stories titled “Other Arms Reach Out to Me: Georgia Stories.” A summation of almost all of his work set in Georgia, the collection is the result of a life-long project.
Bishop recently corresponded with Sunday Arts reporter Carrie Beth Wallace to discuss the new collection, the topics covered within the body of work, the GAYA nomination and upcoming projects.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What led you to write “Other Arms Reach Out to Me: Georgia Stories” as a collection?
A: First, this book gathers almost (but not quite) all my mainstream stories set in Georgia or featuring characters from Georgia in foreign settings (see “Andalusia Triptych, 1962” and “Baby Love”) in a single volume. So, in that regard, it represents the culmination of a career-long project that I did not fully realize that I had embarked upon, but that I did always have in the back of my mind as an important project.
You will notice that “Other Arms” opens with a hommage to and an affectionate parody of the short fiction of Georgia’s own Flannery O’Connor (called “The Road Leads Back”) and that it concludes with a controversially satirical take on gun politics in Georgia set in an alternate time line (“Rattlesnakes and Men”).
I might add that this last story grows out of our lifelong desire to see the United States adopt sensible nationwide gun legislation that mandates background checks in every setting. We also are advocates for the banning of sales to private citizens of military-style weapons, high-capacity magazines, and certain excessive kinds of body-maiming ammunition without extremely good reasons for them to own such armament, which is totally unnecessary for protecting one’s home and hunting.
Q: You seem passionate about this issue.
A: Our feelings about the necessity of such legislation only intensified after our adult son was among the 32 innocent students and faculty members slain almost exactly 10 years ago (on April 16, 2007) at Virginia Tech. It is still the worst school shooting in the history of the United States, and the one that we prayed would lead to exactly the steps that we are advocating.
Instead, it caused the NRA and other gun organizations to ramp up their cries for more guns in more places and fewer sensible regulations everywhere.
Q: What other topics are addressed in the collection?
A: Many, but not all of the stories, are set in the fictional town of Mountboro, Ga., which bears at least a passing resemblance to Pine Mountain, the hamlet north of Columbus on Highway 27 where my wife, Jeri, and I have lived, in a two-story country Victorian-style house in which Jeri’s mother grew up, since the fall of 1974.
Q: Can you give us a brief overview of each of the stories included in your collection?
A: One story, “Unfit for Eden,” is set in the Okefenokee swamp during the 1950s and 1960s and centers on a young man growing up within the swamp near a community called Fosterville and that young man’s rebellion against a religion-crazed stepfather.
Two stories are set in nursing facilities. The title story, “Other Arms Reach Out to Me,” is about a violin-playing single mother who performs for the dying in a hospice. The story focuses on and her brief encounters with an allegedly terminal old man obsessed with watching VHS tapes on television and Ray Charles’s version of the song “Georgia on My Mind.”
In another story, “No Picnic,” narrated by a black male nurse whose run-in with a male patient raised in Georgia in the late 1920s, discloses the latter’s presence at a lynching when he was only eight years old.
A third story, “Crazy about Each Other,” takes place in a psychiatric center where a young working-class white man and a married black woman with a strange metabolic disorder develop a love-hate relationship that oversteps institutional proprieties.
“Unlikely Friends” treats of a relationship between an older retired man and a young-adult male with a raging anger against his self-seeking private-detective father, who narrates the story.
“Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” confronts the overweening grief of a married millworker (and part-time preacher) and a self-employed craftswoman in the town of Mountboro.
“How Beautiful with Banners” shifts to another small town, Zalmon, to disclose the quaint local ritual of laundry-bannering and its impact on a family of newcomers from the U.S. wheat belt.
“The Russian Agent” arrives in Mountboro to solicit work for a magazine that he publishes in Russia from a Georgia-based mystery writer with strong Christian connections and equally strong reservations about his own worthiness.
In “Doggedly Wooing Madonna,” on the other hand, the narrator is a self-confident teenage boy who writes eloquent proposal letters to the titular pop star, who actually makes an appearance in the story.
“Baby Love” follows the adventures of a single father (from Georgia, of course) in Brussels, Paris, and Strasbourg, with his toddler daughter along as psychological ballast, and the fate that befalls them both in an underground garage of Strasbourg.
That leaves “Change of Life” and “Free.” “Change of Live” focuses on semi-comical events occurring in the mountains of North Georgia after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, and the latter involves a small-town newspaper man visiting his racist brother in prison near Macon and the issue of freedom as it pertains to each man’s assessment of their relationship as a result of the convicted man’s actions. “Rattlesnakes and Men” I’ve already discussed.
Q: I see that Hugh Ruppersburg wrote the introduction for the book. What can you tell me about him?
A: Ruppersburg is an emeritus professor who retired from the University of Georgia. He is the author of books on William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren, and the editor of five anthologies of work by and about Georgia writers. His work includes After O’Connor: Stories from Contemporary Georgia, in which my Flannery O’Connor homage first appeared.
Q: Where can our readers find “Other Arms” when it is released?
A: Readers can most easily find “Other Arms Reach Out to Me,” even before it actually appears in June, at www.fairwoodpress.com, where it is already on sale for pre-publication orders.
Q: You are up for the Georgia Authors Award in the Young Adult category. When will you find out if you’ve won?
A: The GAYA awards are presented in June, so I don’t imagine I’ll know the fate of “Joel-Brock the Brave and the Valorous Smalls” in the Young Adult category until the awards ceremony itself actually takes place.
Q: What other projects are you working on currently?
A: I’m doing research for a novel set in the South Pacific during World War II. Also, as I am probably best known as a science-fiction writer (with many of my works set in Georgia), I will be preparing a revised version of an early science-fiction novel of mine, entitled “Transfigurations.” It will be re-published by Fairwood Press and my own imprint there, Kudzu Planet Productions, in November of this year.
Many of my early novels are available from Fairwood Press in revised editions with new introductions by different writers, editors, or critics, and with new covers as well.
Hometown: Mulvane, Kan.
Formal Education: Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Georgia
Family: Wife, Jerri; son, Jamie Bishop, died at age 35 in the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007; daughter, Stephanie Bishop Loftin of Watkinsville, Ga.; Grandchildren, Annabel and Joel.
Hobbies: Reading, travel, teaching an adult Sunday School class, walking
Anything else you'd like to share: Air Force veteran, Former stringer for the Ledger-Enquirer, Retired English professor