News and Reviews

A Book of Uncommon Prayer, Forthcoming

I’m proud to have two pieces in this, out May 2015:

uncommon prayer

A BOOK OF UNCOMMON PRAYER collects everyday invocations from 60 acclaimed and emerging authors. Edited by Matthew Vollmer, and inspired by the Anglican original, the anthology spans a remarkable range of beliefs and inclinations, producing a kaleidoscopic portrait of contemporary concerns, from the heart-wrenching to the irreverent. All proceeds will benefit 826 Valencia, which is “dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their writing skills, and to helping teachers get excited about the literary arts.”

COMING MAY 2015 from Outpost19. Pre-order available here: http://www.outpost19.com/UncommonPrayer/

Story in Packingtown Review

Thanks to Chicago’s PACKINGTOWN REVIEW and editor Snezana Zabic for including my story “Chinese Boy” in their new edition.

Packingtown Review

The story actually appeared once before, in Dutch, in the Dutch literary journal VORM, but this is the first time it sees print in English. It begins:

Chinese Boy

I woke up that night with the feeling that somebody else was in my room.

Maybe you’ve had this feeling yourself sometime; most of us have, after all. It’s not that a noise or movement wakes you, but rather, the knowledge of something where there was nothing before, a change in the atmosphere of a place . . .

See it here.

The Night of the Comet is a Faulkner House Staff Pick for May!

Thanks to Faulkner House Books of New Orleans for choosing The Night of the Comet as their staff pick for May.

If you haven’t visited Faulkner House Books yet, you should. Travel and Leisure Magazine lists it as one of the best bookstores in America.

I’d up that, and call it one of the best bookstores in the world.

COMET is Bestseller in North Carolina

Thanks to all the good folks in Salisbury, NC, who are reading THE NIGHT OF THE COMET. The Salisbury Post lists it as number 4 on their bestseller list, right between Earnest Gaines’ A LESSON BEFORE DYING and Pat Conroy’s THE DEATH OF SANTINI. Good company, I’d say.

In case you’re wondering where Salisbury, NC, is, here’s a map:

Salisbury

Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen . . .

. . . Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.

The Night Before Christmas

The good folks at the Greenfield, WI public library have thoughtfully included THE NIGHT OF THE COMET on their list of reading recommendations based on the names of Santa’s reindeers in the 1823 poem “The Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Moore. Here‘s the full list:

DASHER (Books on Running)
-Complete Book of Running – Runner’s World 796.426 RUN
-Better Training for Distance Runners – David E. Martin & Peter N. Coe 796.425 MAR
-Fundamentals of Track and Field – Gerald Carr 796.42 CAR

DANCER (Dance in DVDs)
-Singin’ in the Rain – DVD SIN
-Dance Like a Star: Salsa Lessons – DVD 793.33 SAL
-Pina: Dance, Dance, Otherwise We Are Lost – DVD 792.8

PRANCER (Horse-Related Children’s Books)
-Wonder Horse – Emily Arnold McCully PIC MCC
-Safe Horse, Safe Rider: A Young Rider’s Guide to Responsible Horsekeeping – Jessie Haas J 798.2 HAA
-Horse Heroes: True Stories of Amazing Horses – Kate Petty J 636.1 PET

VIXEN (Varieties of Foxes)
-Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist – Michael J. Fox BIO FOX, Michael J.
-The Ultimate Experience (feat. Foxy Lady) – The Jimi Hendrix Experience CD ROC HEN
-Fox Terriers: Everything About History, Care, Nutrition, Handling, and Behavior – Sharon L. Vanderlip 636.755 VAN

COMET (Books and Stories About Comets)
Comets!: Visitors from Deep Space – David Eicher & David Levy 523.6 EIC
Comets – Samantha Bonar J 523.6 BON
The Night of the Comet: A Novel – George Bishop F BISHOP, George

CUPID (Romance Fiction Audiobooks)
The Inn at Rose Harbor – Debbie Macomber CD FIC MAC
First Sight – Danielle Steel CD FIC STE
The Perfect Hope – Nora Roberts CD FIC ROB

DONNER (Fashion Books)
-Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet – Tim Gunn 746.92 GUN
-Fashion Makers, Fashion Shapers: The Essential Guide to Fashion by Those in the Know – Anne-Celine Jaeger 746.92 JAE
-The Power of Style: Everything You Need to Know Before You Get Dressed Tomorrow – Bobbie Thomas 646.7042 THO

BLITZEN (Football Biographies)
-Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman – Jon Krakauer BIO TILLMAN, Pat
-Driven: From Homeless to Hero, My Journeys On and Off Lambeau Field – Donald Driver BIO DRIVER, Donald
-Alan Ameche: The Story of “The Horse” – Dan Manoyan BIO AMECHE, Alan

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from everyone at Greenfield Public Library!

Comet Review and Interview in Faulkner Society’s “Double Dealer”

Thanks to Geoff Munsterman for his thoughtful review of The Night of the Comet in this year’s massive Double Dealer literary journal. Geoff’s first book of poetry is just out, “Because the Stars Shine Through It.”

The Double Dealer literary journal has a long and storied history in New Orleans. It was founded in 1921 in the French Quarter, and in its early years featured writing by Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Earnest Hemingway, and Hart Crane. Here’s an old issue:

md-the-double-dealer--cover

The Night of the Comet Featured in Country Roads Magazine

Thanks to Chris Turner-Neal for his marvelous feature story on comets and THE NIGHT OF THE COMET in December’s Country Roads Magazine. Here’s the article:

UNEXPECTED TRAJECTORIES
by Chris Turner-Neal
December 2013

Unexpected Trajectories

What an Unpredictable Comet and a Newly Published Novel Have in Common

I’m in the dark. But by the time you read this in December, you’ll already know if comet ISON is blazing beautifully across the night sky, aweing billions, or if it fizzled during the course of its great do-si-do around the sun and drove respected astronomers to the bottle. All I can do, from my cozy temporal perch in late October, is invite you to follow ISON’s unpredictable development, tell you a little about the unpredictability of comets in general, and suggest you reflect on these grand themes while reading a great new comet-themed novel, which details the unpredictability of life.

The word “comet” comes from the Greek word for “long hair,” referring to the streaming tails visible comets have. These tails come from steaming ices—composed not only of water, but also frozen gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia—that generally surround a rocky, dusty core, and which vaporize as the comets approach the sun and encounter light and heat. In addition to these gases, comets can also leave tracks of solid debris; and if the Earth passes through one of these cosmic chat piles the result is a meteor shower like the Perseids—the every-August light show you always forget to get up early to look at.

Regular short-period comets, like Halley’s Comet, which famously swings by every seventy-six years or so, are thought to originate in the Kuiper Belt, the collection of small rocky bodies outside Neptune’s orbit that make up the first-tier suburb of the solar system. Longer-period and one-and-done comets probably come from the fun-to-say Oort Cloud, an even more distant group of small bodies loosely gravitationally bound to the sun. In either case, something happens—as dramatic as a collision or as gentle as a little gravity nudge from a passing neighbor—and knocks the comet-to-be off its path, sending it toward the sun.

It’s hard to predict what a new comet will do, which is why predictions for ISON are all over the map. If ISON has a lot of ices on its surface (we can’t be sure from this distance), and if it doesn’t lose them all or shatter as it makes its closest approach to the sun during November, leaving the solid debris of its body behind, then ISON might be putting on a great show by the time you read this.

ISON has invited its fair share of calamitous predictions, in good company with its historical brethren. The star of Bethlehem that sent the wise man in search of the Christ child may have been a comet, and so, possibly, was the cross in the sky seen by Emperor Constantine before he, and Christianity, became rulers of Rome. Halley’s comet by itself accounts for several dramatic omens, “announcing,” if you’re willing to be a little squishy on the dates, the Norman Conquest of England, a major invasion of Hungary by the Ottomans in 1456, and both the birth and death of Mark Twain. Even before ISON is visible to the naked eye, the usual suspects have set up websites blaming the usual suspects, with at least one connecting the word ISON to a mispronunciation of the Hebrew word “ason,” meaning “disaster,” which proves… something, apparently, probably about the United Nations and fluoridation.

New Orleans author George Bishop takes the comet’s traditional role as omen and uses it as the backdrop for his new novel, The Night of the Comet. It’s a big device, but Bishop’s able storytelling weaves it seamlessly into his book. Narrated by the fourteen-year-old son of a science teacher and amateur astronomer in small-town Louisiana in 1973, The Night of the Comet relates the story of a family reacting to the individual stresses of growing up and growing older while Comet Kohoutek approaches, eliciting promises for a spectacular show. As some readers may recall, Comet Kohoutek’s 1973 fly-by proved to be a colossal dud, barely twinkling instead of blazing, but Bishop’s novel is anything but a flop.

Bishop worries about it being billed as a coming-of-age novel, because we’ve all read enough of those to fill in the blanks ourselves: a (boy/girl) in (the Deep South/a rural Midwestern farm community/Brooklyn) learns about (death/injustice/friendship) over the course of an (unforgettable/magical) summer. Bishop ditches the formula and speaks frankly to his readers about moving through the stages of life; while Junior, the narrator, is learning how to be an adult, his parents are learning how to be middle-aged.

Once a promising young scientist and the prettiest girl in town, Junior’s father and mother are now forced to face the reality of being a high-school science teacher and a high-school science teacher’s wife. Jokes about mid-life crises staged with Ferraris and plastic surgery form a staple of open-mic nights, but the sadness of waking up one day and realizing you haven’t led the life you convinced yourself you should expect is a more rarely told, and more interesting, story.

Junior’s awkward advances toward the teenage bombshell next door and his sister’s attempts to become a hippie before it’s too late will make you smile, but their parents’ hell-for-leather efforts to Be Someone later in life will sucker-punch you right in the tear ducts. I’m hesitant to give you more of the plot, because one of the joys of reading The Night of the Comet is watching the story unfold—it has all the inexorability of a Greek tragedy, but is populated not with demigods and queens, but with the kind of people you’ve known all your life.

Bishop is a born storyteller. So many moments in The Night of the Comet just feel so true and right that you find yourself whipping through it faster than you wanted to. He even pulls off the feat of writing realistic dialogue for teenagers that’s neither corny nor “gritty”—and as a former teenage boy, I can tell you that “full frontal sex” is exactly the kind of fractured phrasing you come up with when your curiosity outstrips your knowledge.

Another great highlight is Junior’s mother’s remembered childhood encounter with Ava Gardner, who is brought so quickly and fully to life in a few short pages that you can almost smell her perfume lingering in the room.

As his parents grow more distracted and their marriage teeters, Junior continues to ask that they repeat for him the story of their engagement in exactly the same way, with every detail and plot point neatly in place, as a ritual reassurance—but also because all families have those stories that are recited, not told. The whole book rings true like this. You occasionally hear of an author who “writes women” or “does children” well; Bishop writes people well.

So, to conclude my own comet-like path through various topical orbits: good luck seeing Comet ISON; but by the time you read this, my good wishes will be either unnecessary or too little too late. Even if ISON fails to impress, I have two pieces of advice: read George Bishop’s The Night of the Comet, and take a little time on a dark, clear evening to look up at the stars. Even without ISON headlining, it’s the greatest show off Earth.

On December 19, LASM will offer a live presentation highliting Comet ISON. Weather permitting, observation of Comet ISON on the levee will follow. 7 pm at 100 South River Road, Baton Rouge. lasm.org. See page 37 of the calendar for a full description.

Comet in “Best Books of 2013” from Kirkus Reviews

I’m happy to announce that THE NIGHT OF THE COMET has been chosen as one of Kirkus Reviews “Best Books of 2013.” Below’s their original review.

Thank you, thank you. (Bows.)

2013sticker_180x231

THE NIGHT OF THE COMET
by George Bishop

KIRKUS REVIEW

Filled with the kind of wistful longing that characterizes the coming-of-age novel, this latest from the talented Bishop brings stardust and domestic disillusionment to the bayous of Louisiana.

In 1973, when Junior Broussard blows out the 14 candles on his birthday cake, his wish takes the form of one word—Gabriella. Instead of her magical appearance, he receives a telescope from his father, the high school’s geeky science teacher, an amateur astronomer and author of the newspaper’s weekly “Groovy Science” column. His father has become obsessed with the sighting of the comet Kohoutek; the new telescope will provide a father-son bonding opportunity. Junior could care less and soon points his telescope across the bayou to Gabriella’s mansion. As his father is involved with Kohoutek, Junior becomes fixated on the wealthy Martellos across the water. Their life is like a television show—they dress better, look better, seem happier—and he watches them like an anthropologist and a lover and wonders what will become of himself, raised in a house of small dreams and missed opportunities. His mother, Lydia, befriends Mrs. Martello, and the two hatch a plan to throw a charity ball with a comet theme. Lydia is also bewitched by the Martellos (especially husband Frank) and begins to feel she deserves so much more than science teacher Alan Broussard can offer. Their meeting years ago—the beautiful pharmacy counter girl and the new science teacher—is a story Junior begs from his parents, as if the re-telling will provide some magic to keep them together. His father becomes dangerously unhinged, his mother runs away, harboring fantasies of a life with Frank Martello, and the comet will soon appear. Junior is sure it will bring both disaster and magic to their lives. Coming-of-age novels examine youthful revelations about the world—filled with cynicism and wonder and rearranged expectations—and the quality hinges on the honesty of the voice, the truth of the observations, the handling of innocence lost; Bishop succeeds on all these fronts.

A fine story of everyday sadness and otherworldly joys.

Pub Date:Aug. 6th, 2013
ISBN:978-0-345-51600-8
Page count:352pp
Publisher:Ballantine
Review Posted Online:June 23rd, 2013
Kirkus Reviews Issue:July 1st, 2013

Interview in the New Orleans Review

I was recently interviewed for the New Orleans Review by Erin Little of Loyola University. Here it is. My only excuse is that I might’ve had a glass or two of wine before we spoke.

New Orleans Review

INTERVIEW by ERIN LITTLE
George Bishop: The Night of the Comet

Native Louisianan and Loyola alumnus (1983) George Bishop is emerging as a fresh and vibrant voice in the literary South. His previously successful novel Letter to My Daughter (Ballantine, 2010) showcased his ability to capture complex familial relationships in an inviting, though heart-wrenching way. Since then, Bishop has delved even further into the secret lives of families—prompting his characters to admit their shortcomings and disappointments, no matter how difficult that may be. In his second novel The Night of the Comet (Ballantine, 2013) cultural phenomena give way to harrowing realizations for a middle-class Louisiana family. The Night of the Comet soars with quiet truth and a clear-eyed vision.

INTERVIEWER

The Night of the Comet follows your previous successful novel, Letter to My Daughter. How was your creative process different in writing this new novel?

BISHOP

The first novel was comparatively easy because that novel was short in manuscript, only around 110 pages. In fact, I thought I was writing a novella. I had a very clear idea going into my first novel. I dreamed the whole novel before I wrote it, so I knew what the whole novel was about. I knew the voice and rhythm before I started writing. But for Night of the Comet, I didn’t have any of that going into it. I just had ideas. I knew I wanted to write about Comet Kohoutek and I also had recurring images in my head of a man in a raincoat leaping off a roof and a broken telescope. Then I had to build the novel from the ground up.

INTERVIEWER

The Night of the Comet plays out against the backdrop of small town Louisiana. Was it challenging or natural to write about a setting you are so familiar with? Did you find it rewarding?

BISHOP

I grew up in a small town too but it was north of here—Jackson, Louisiana. The small town in this novel is a bayou city. I wanted to set it there because it seemed more exotic to me. For me, to set it in this fictitious town called Terrebonne, I might as well have been setting it in Mongolia. It sounded that exotic to me. I wanted it to be a fictitious town so I wouldn’t be tied to the real geography or history of a city.

INTERVIEWER

What inspired you to choose Comet Kohoutek to aid you in telling this family’s story?

BISHOP

I barely remember Comet Kohoutek from when I was a kid. But I do remember all the excitement surrounding it. A couple of decades ago I made a note in one of my writing journals that I thought Comet Kohoutek could be a good backdrop for a story. But I didn’t know much about the Comet. When I began researching, I discovered interesting information about doomsday cults surrounding the comet and how big it really was then. I had no idea it was that much of an event in America at the time. But then it was a huge disappointment. It became like the laughing stock of comets after its big failure. In the world of astronomy, Kohoutek has become synonymous with huge failure. I thought I could hang the story on the timeline of the comet.

INTERVIEWER

Many readers have described The Night of the Comet as a coming of age story. How do you approach that label?

BISHOP

I don’t like that label. I don’t know who slapped that on the book because I wouldn’t call it a coming of age story. But I understand why it seems like that. I understand you have to label it as something. The fact that it’s told through the point-of-view of a fourteen-year-old kid who’s going through a sexual awakening perhaps makes it a coming of age story. But I was also thinking of it as the family’s story. I see it as a family story, really.

INTERVIEWER

What influenced your choice to set this story in the 1970’s?

BISHOP

The comet was coming in 1973. I had to set it at that time, but I didn’t want to make it a period piece. I didn’t want to make it a stereotypical 70’s piece so I really toned down the cultural references and time markers. I didn’t want it to be a book about the 70’s. I thought that would be too easy. I was also trying to avoid the clichés of Southern fiction. I wanted it to feel timeless.

INTERVIEWER

How did you develop narrator Alan Broussard Jr.’s original voice? What was challenging about adapting a perspective as youthful as his?

BISHOP

Limiting myself to Alan’s voice was the big challenge. It took awhile to come to this first person narrator because I kept trying to switch to third person. I settled on the first person narrator because I thought it felt more intimate and realistic. Once I settled on a fourteen-year-old narrator, I worked really hard to find the balance in his voice. I started out trying too hard to write as a fourteen-year-old. Later, the solution I found was to develop a sort of hybrid narrator—an adult looking back and telling the story. We do that when we tell stories about childhood. We use our vocabulary and understanding to explain how we saw things then. It’s a fourteen-year-old’s perceptions with an adult vocabulary.

INTERVIEWER

Alan Broussard Sr. has a pretty advanced knowledge of the cosmos. Was there heavy research involved in informing Alan Sr.’s perspective? Was the research enjoyable?

BISHOP

Oh yes, it was fun. Research is the fun part. Research is what you do when you can’t write.

INTERVIEWER

In the end, do the stars aid young Alan Broussard Jr. in better understanding his family and his own place in the world?

BISHOP

At the end of the novel, when Alan is an adult, he realizes his life is very small compared to the cosmos. But from the kid’s point of view, he can see his family being affected by the comet. Everyone’s going crazy because of the comet. And Alan gets caught up in it too. His parents and the whole town draw him into it. So I think Alan begins to feel like the comet is screwing up their lives completely. He feels that. He’s also a smart kid, though, so he’s resisting.

Erin Little is an intern for New Orleans Review and an English Writing major at Loyola University New Orleans.

Book of the Month on Bookmovement.com

The Night of the Comet is the Book of the Month on Bookmovement.com, a site for book clubbers. I haven’t tried the recommended Night of the Comet cocktail yet.

Bookmovement Book of the Month