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Michael Bishop: The Blessing and the Curse November 2004

Michael Bishop spent much of his youth with his mother in a small town near Wichita, Kansas, while visiting his father at Air Force bases around the country during the summers. He graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in English, taught English at the Air Force Academy Preparatory school and at the University of Georgia, then became a full-time freelance writer in the mid-1970s.

Bishop's first story appeared in 1970, his first novel, A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire, in 1975. Later novels include the "Urban Nucleus" series, about Atlanta in the future, A Little Knowledge (1977) and Catacomb Years (1979); Transfigurations (1979); Nebula Award-winning time-travel novel No Enemy But Time (1982); horror Who Made Stevie Crye? (1984); Ancient of Days (1985); alternate world SF The Secret Ascension (1987; as Philip K. Dick Is Dead, Alas, 1988); contemporary fantasy Unicorn Mountain (1988); comic superhero novel Count Geiger's Blues (1992); and Locus Award-winning Southern Gothic WWII baseball novel Brittle Innings (1994). He's also written two mysteries with Paul Di Filippo under the joint pseudonym "Philip Lawson".
Photo by Beth Gwinn

A prolific short story writer for most of his career, Bishop's collections include Blooded on Arachne (1982), One Winter in Eden (1984), Close Encounters With the Deity (1986), Emphatically Not SF, Almost (1990), At the City Limits of Fate (1996), Blue Kansas Sky (2000), and Brighten to Incandescence (2003). Novelette "The Quickening" (1981) won a Nebula Award, while novellas "The Samurai and the Willows" (1977) and "Her Habiline Husband" (1983) both won Locus Awards.

He's also published poetry collections, nonfiction, and has edited anthologies. He lives in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Excerpts from the interview:

“I sold my first story to Galaxy in 1969, and here I am 30-odd years later, still looking at my prose and wondering why I can't do it better. I spend a lot of time on revision now. I don't want a dirty window in front of my readers when they encounter the prose. I'd like them to be able to see through it to the substance, as opposed to having the style block them. As a young writer, I thought I was a helluva stylist, but a lot of it was just flinging words around. I've learned that much. But I can still come a cropper. How does one write a successful story every time out? I haven't figured that out. Maybe that's the point -- to be confused, bewildered, and bemused!”


“Over the last ten years, I've written outside the SF field a good deal, including the two mystery novels. I've also written a mainstream novel set in Georgia in 1980, An Owl at the Crucifixion. It's wholly mainstream, about a young man in a small town who discovers that his Sunday school teacher (who is also his drama teacher at high school) is gay. Its subject matter seems to me completely pertinent to what's going on right now, although I did not plan it that way. It's been shopped around, and I'm still waiting to hear from a couple of publishers currently considering it.

"I never started out to be a science fiction writer. I had mainstream ambitions early on, but I never wanted to restrict myself to that, either. I wanted it all. When I first started writing, I can't tell you how much the tropes of science fiction meant to me. Ursula K. Le Guin's early novels were a big influence, as were Ray Bradbury's short stories. The first three or four novels I wrote were all off-planet tales; working with aliens and off-planet societies fascinated me. But as I've grown older, I've drawn closer and closer to Earth and the present time. That's probably my education reasserting itself. Growing up, I read Steinbeck, Hemingway, Cather, and Faulkner more closely than Heinlein.”


“Now I'm working on a collection of essays, reviews, and incidental writings about science fiction and fantasy for Peter Crowther's PS Publishing in England, A Reverie for Mister Ray: Reflections on Life, Death, and Speculative Fiction. Mister Ray is Ray Bradbury, and it's partly about my love affair with his writing as a young man and what that's modulated into over the years.

“One of the essays that will appear in A Reverie for Mister Ray, 'Bringing It All Back Home', is about how the main characters in James Tiptree's stories are almost always searching for a place of connection, some kind of home. And I can see that longing in myself too: searching for home, whether it happens to be in the SF field, or as a Georgia writer, or as someone trying to get his foot in the door of mainstream publishing. Maybe this longing goes back to my childhood -- my dad was in the military, and we moved every three or four years. Oddly, though, I'll have lived in Pine Mountain, Georgia 30 years this October. I'm not looking for a physical home, because I've found that -- I have community and friends there -- but I'm still searching for a real literary home. Maybe I always will. I regard this search for acceptance as a kind of character flaw. I ought to be able to find a certain degree of centeredness in myself that permits me to get beyond being concerned about those sorts of things, and I haven't done that very well.”


“When I was a kid I read many writers who spoke to me, and I wanted to do what they were doing. I also wanted recognition. Again, I regard that as a personality flaw, like wanting acceptance in all these different areas. When I'm deeply involved in a writing project and enjoying the work, I don't shirk the process. When I'm not working, I'm always thinking, 'What could I be doing?' Maybe it would be better if I had this life, but not this niggling itch to write. But I don't want to be just a teacher; I want to be a teacher and a writer. And you don't retire as a writer. I can't see myself getting to the stage where I never think about writing. So it's having this blessed life on one side and this curse on the other -- together they make me go deeper into who I am, and eventually to write again.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the November 2004 issue of Locus Magazine.

You may purchase this issue for $7.95 by sending a check to Locus, PO Box 13305, Oakland CA 94661; or via credit card submitted by mail, e-mail, or phone at (510) 339-9198. (Or, Subscribe.)


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