Category Archives: Jamie Bishop

Hidden In the Leaves

Jamie tombstoneYesterday was the six-year anniversary of the Virgina Tech shooting and the day that Jamie Bishop was killed. I was mostly occupied with breaking news about the bombing in Boston, and making sure that my family and friends who live in the area were okay. Today, after some slight temporal distance, I’m saddened even further that the 16th of April will now be remembered for two separate tragedies.

Stephanie Bishop Loftin, Jamie’s sister, posted the photo at right (taken by Janet Frick) on Facebook sometime yesterday, and it hit me with all the severity of a punch to the chest. Up to now, I hadn’t seen Jamie’s tombstone*, and it staggered me to realize that the sight of it could still affect me so much emotionally. There have been times over the past six years when I thought I might have finally come to terms with his untimely death, but it’s clear to me that it’s not something I’ll soon get over.

And so, apropos of this day, I’ve decided to post here a short-short story that was published in The Ayam Curtain, included in my ebook collection The Alchemy of Happiness, and found as a postscript to my print chapbook Embracing the Strange that will be released next month. It’s one of my more autobiographical pieces, but I hope that doesn’t distract from any enjoyment to be gotten. Cheers.

* After posting this entry, Stephanie informed me that the image is not of Jamie’s tombstone, but of one of the many memorial stones erected to honor the 32 victims of the 2007 campus shooting. You can see an image of the entire memorial site here at NPR.


“Hidden In the Leaves”

The day before Chinese New Year break, Sophia walked home alone from school with heavy steps. All of her primary school friends were full of excitement for the holidays, for the reunion dinners, for the many ang pow they expected to receive. There was no more Chinese an event in Singapore all year long, but Sophia always felt left out of the festivities. Her father was American, and her mother didn’t get along with her extended family, so Tara never got to see her cousins, or learn Teochew, or eat the Peranakan dishes that her great aunt was famed for cooking. She might receive a red packet from her grandparents, but that was about it. Sometimes, she felt as if she was the only one among her classmates who didn’t get to do all of the fun cultural things surrounding the celebration.

These troubled lonely thoughts took her away from her shuffling steps and the sweltering afternoon heat, and it wasn’t until her shoes scraped red clay tile rather than rough concrete sidewalk that she stopped, looked up, and realized she was standing in front of the haunted tree.

The ancient banyan occupied the dark center of the small park adjacent to her housing block, and the area around the tree always felt occluded and gloomy. She had previously obeyed the warnings of her friends at school not to stare at the tree, for (according to them) it was the home of malevolent spirits; but in a fit of pique at the jealous thought of them having such happy times with their families for CNY, she ignored the superstition and peered into the banyan’s depths, eager to prove them wrong. Just a tree, she thought, nothing wicked whatsoever.

The darkness where all the branches sprouted outward from the trunk wavered a bit, and then, to Sophia’s surprise, a patch of shadow shifted position, detached itself like an intelligent oil slick, flowed down the aerial prop roots surrounding the trunk, slithered toward her on the clay tiles, stopped several feet away, bubbled upward, and then settled itself into the featureless form of a tall thin person, its edges hazy. The sounds of nearby traffic and birdsong receded into silence, and Sophia’s fingertips tingled. She held her breath.

“Hello, Sophia.” Its soft male voice came from a vague area in the middle of its chest, its accent surprisingly similar to her father’s. Though the spirit knew her by name, she sensed no negativity or ill intent.

“Hullo,” she said.

“I have been watching over you for some time.”

“Who are you?”

“In life, I was a good friend of your father’s. My name was Christopher.”

“You knew my daddy?”

“Yes, dear. Many years ago.”

“Would you like to see him now?” she asked. “He’s home sick today with a sour tummy. Too many pineapple tarts. And I can make you some elderberry juice. I know how, you know.”

“I am sure you do.”

And so the spirit of her father’s friend followed her the rest of the way home. Sophia looked over her shoulder several times, and though the spirit was more translucent in the harsh sunlight, his form remained. No one else around her, apparently, could see him.

Just before they reached her housing block, Sophia stopped and turned. “You’ve been in the tree a long time?” she asked.

“Yes. Almost ten years.”

“Why?”

“Your father is still upset over my sudden death. He hasn’t yet let go.”

“So why did you come down today?”

“Because you summoned me,” he said.

Satisfied with the simple explanation, Sophia led him through the block’s empty void deck, past the mama shop’s displays of convenience store junk food, and over to the lift lobby. A swift silent ride up the lift, and then the doors opened onto the eighth storey. Down the corridor to her flat, the painted metal gate unlocked, the front door wide open. After Sophia entered and then closed the gate behind the spirit, a voice from the third bedroom called: “Soph, is that you?”

“Hi, Daddy!”

“Be right out, sweetie. I just need to finish marking this test.”

Sophia dropped her book bag to the smooth white tiled floor, pulled off her shoes with two loud scritches of velcro, then headed into the kitchen with the spirit following behind. She extracted the pitcher of elderberry juice from the refrigerator and poured it into two glasses, which she then placed on the wooden kitchen table. She sat down in one of the chairs; Christopher’s spirit occupied the other, the opacity of his form pulsing, as though he were breathing hard.

Her father stepped out of his home office and into the kitchen, unshaven, hair mussed, still wearing the clothes he’d slept in the night before. He picked up Christopher’s glass and said, “Hey, thanks for pouring juice for me, sweetie.”

“It’s not for you,” Sophia said, then reached up, gently took the glass from her father, and placed it back on the tabletop in front of the pulsating spirit. “It’s for Christopher.”

A strange look came to her father’s face then, as if he had just eaten something particularly sour. “I’m sorry, honey, could you repeat that?”

“It’s Christopher’s juice,” she said, motioning to the chair in which the spirit patiently sat. “He’s visiting.”

And before her father could say another word, the surface of the spirit’s form rippled in polychromatic waves along its surface, faster and faster until the darkness and shadow faded and lightened and the form he had taken in life—a kindly Caucasian with shoulder-length brown hair, circular spectacles, prominent nose, spindly frame—resolved into clarity.

Sophia’s father gasped.

Sophia rose from her chair, maneuvered her father on wobbly legs into it, poured another glass of elderberry juice for herself, then slipped into the living room and turned on Animal Planet at low volume. Her father and his good friend had a lot to discuss, and she wanted to make sure not to disturb them.

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Re-release of The Curragh of Kildaire, All Proceeds to Charity

The Curragh of KildaireI’m happy to announce that I am releasing a revised edition of my 2001 limited-edition chapbook The Curragh of Kildaire as an ebook through this website. The original edition was illustrated throughout by Jamie Bishop, and I am reproducing his interior and cover art in the ebook, with permission from Jamie’s widow Stefanie Hofer. These seven stories were written pre-Clarion (although two of them later saw publication), and even though my writing has vastly improved since then, I think it’s important to make them, and Jamie’s accompanying illos, available once again.

The price is only $1.99 USD for the ebook bundle (PDF, EPUB, and MOBI), and all profits from each sale will be donated to The Jamie Bishop Scholarship Fund in Graphic Arts and The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

You may be asking why I’m selling this myself rather than going through Smashwords, like I did for “Complications of the Flesh” and the previous edition of Red Dot Irreal. Well, hypothetical person, it’s because of the nature of this project. Because all of the proceeds are going to charity, I’d feel a bit strange giving a cut to B&N and Apple and Kobo, etc. in addition to Smashwords. This is not a commercial product the way my short stories or collections might be.

And so I’m going to need some help. If you’re reading this, do please pimp it on Facebook and Twitter and anywhere else you can think of. I want to raise as much money as possible, but I’ll need visibility to do so. Spread the word far and wide, review the book on Goodreads, tell your friends! My thanks and appreciation in advance.

Once again, the link to buy the ebook bundle is here.

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Five Years

Jamie Bishop

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Bishop Loftin

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Art’s Saving Grace

Tomorrow is November 9th, what would have been Jamie Bishop’s 39th birthday. I haven’t talked about Jamie in a while, because his untimely death is still as raw for me as it was three and a half years ago, but also because I was accused of using his murder and my connection with him to somehow vaguely further my writing career. This is of course a ridiculous notion, but as I’ve mentioned before, I’m now very aware of how egotistical and attention-seeking my public mourning of Jamie could have appeared to some.

So I cooled it for a while, at least online. But I’ve been thinking a lot about Jamie today, and celebrating his life, in a small way, by reading his father’s amazing collection Brighten to Incandescence, for which Jamie provided the cover art and design (and an appearance in the author photo). Art was a huge part of Jamie’s life, and one of the ways through which he defined himself. His portfolio website, memory39, no longer exists except in a broken fashion accessible only through The Wayback Machine, and this seems a terrible tragedy to me, akin to losing Jamie all over again.

Brighten to Incandescence

A Google Image Search reveals some of the book covers that his art adorned (and a lot of completely unrelated images), but this is an incomplete picture of Jamie as an artist. He was highly influenced by mixed-media masters like Dave McKean, Cliff Nielsen, and Bill Sienkiewicz, coming across their work initially through comics. Jamie was a huge comic book geek; on my and Janet’s visit to Blacksburg in 2007, I finally got to see his massive drawer filing system for his comics (I don’t remember if Jamie built it himself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had), with rolling racks that slid out on whisper-soft ball bearings. The Sandman was one of his all-time favorite series (he seemed inordinately proud to have the entire 75-issue run bagged up; it is my presumption that this is where he encountered McKean’s art for the first time), as was Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil. He loved comics, but I think he appreciated even more the fine art touch that these artists added to them.

The first time I visited my sister Kristin up in New York, sometime in the early 2000s in October 2001 (yes, just a month after 9/11), she took me to Forbidden Planet, which had about a thousand percent more comics, comics-related, and SF-related items than even the chain stores back in Raleigh. (This was, of course, before Graphic Novels got their own section in the bookstore.) As I was browsing around, mouth open, I spotted a paperback copy of Dustcovers, a collection of McKean’s cover art for every issue of Sandman, printed on thick beautiful art paper, plus commentary by McKean and Neil Gaiman, and an eight-page meta-Sandman story. Though I’d seen (and bought) all of the collected volumes of Sandman in the science fiction section of my local Borders, I’d never seen this book before (I likely might have found it at my neighborhood comics shop, but I’d stopped going there years earlier).

I immediately bought the book, plus a set of McKean-illustrated postcards, and when I returned to North Carolina and next saw Jamie in Carrboro, presented the gifts to him. His face lit up as if I’d just given him precious treasure, and we spent much of the rest of that visit poring through the pages and talking about McKean’s techniques, and what he might have done to get a particular effect. (I later bought a copy for myself, although I don’t remember from where.) The postcards he ended up framing and displaying in his living room, which made me doubly happy each time I visited as I could see how much they meant to him.

His art style was influenced (in part) by Dave McKean, my writing style was influenced (in part) by Neil Gaiman, and so it felt only natural to collaborate the way those two great creators had. Jamie illustrated a number of my stories, some published professionally and others self-published, and the back-and-forth process as we discussed how to approach each piece felt natural and invigorating. He was not only a friend but an artistic soulmate.

As he worked on other projects, he’d sometimes email or call and complain about a part of a work that just wasn’t coming together, or the lack of time to complete it, or a number of other things, but in the end, he would always finish the piece, on time, and to everyone’s satisfaction. (I sometimes think that those missives were a way for him to work some things out verbally that he couldn’t quite do in his head alone.)

Whatever his day job, he kept coming back to his art, the one place he truly felt at home, again and again, always refining, always improving. His later work (and I’m thinking specifically of “Passing for Human,” “Thanatopsis,” and “A Reverie for Mister Ray”) was a quantum leap in style, subject matter, composition, and confidence from those earlier pieces I was exposed to at the Trinoc*con Art Show where we first met. He seemed to have finally found his “voice” as an artist, still wearing his influences on his sleeve, but also clearly producing a vision that was solely his.

As incredible as his late work is, he seemed to be on the cusp of true greatness. Steadily moving forward to something remarkable and awe-inspiring. To think that the world is now deprived of his future brilliance only adds to my depression. As does the fact that he had been accepted into the art school at Virginia Tech, ready to start classes in the summer of 2007; not content to rest on his talent, he saw the need for graduate study in VT’s MFA program, and I imagine him looking so forward to the new exposure and knowledge to come, but which would be denied to him several months too soon.

And so I must be content (although a part of me knows I never can be completely) with the art that Jamie did leave behind. I page through the digital prints that he gave to me, fresh from his own printer. I pick up my copy of Brighten to Incandescence and remember all the little secrets he told me about the composition of the cover art. (I’ll reveal just one: the besuited figure was taken from a photograph of Colin Powell; Jamie took a certain glee in giving the then-Secretary of State the head of a rat). My fingers touch his inscription on the book’s blank frontispiece, and I still somehow feel connected to my friend and his talent.

Illustrations and photography by Jamie Bishop under the jump…

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Anamnesis for the Artist


“Self-Portrait with Flowers” by Jamie Bishop

He sits across from me with his lovely wife. Among the dozen or so around us at the large restaurant table, he and she are the only ones close to my age. The second night of the very first Trinoc*con, September 2000, and I’ve managed to insinuate myself into dinner at a seafood place in downtown Durham with Hugo and Nebula winners. It is because I am so reticent around the others at the restaurant, writers whose work I admire and idolize, that he pushes his glasses back up his nose and introduces himself.

“Hi, I’m Jamie,” he says. He points a thumb at Michael Bishop next to him: “I’m this guy’s son.”

I give my name and shake his hand and the hand of his wife Steffi. He asks if I’m a writer, and though unpublished at that point, I say yes.

“See, I admire you for that. I barely have enough energy at the end of the day to sit and stare at the television.”

“But I’ve seen your stuff in the Art Show,” I say, remembering now why his name is familiar. “I imagine that took time and energy to produce.”

He dismisses this with a wave of his hand. “That’s just noodling, nothing serious. The skill that it takes to create a story out of nothing, that’s something special.”

No matter how much I try to convince him otherwise, that I could never do what he can do, that his digital collages show ingenuity and originality, he insists that his artwork is no big deal. We continue to discuss art, writing, science fiction, movies, and books, and soon I forget about the other luminaries at the table, the author guests in whose presence until very recently I’d been intimidated into silence.

We will continue this amazing and fulfilling friendship over the next seven years, getting together to watch movies, converse about our passions and our lives, and collaborate on literary projects (my words and his illustrations, our humble version of the Gaiman/McKean dynamic). He will advise me on the merits of graduate school, and the twisty roads of marriage that must be navigated with care. We will support each other in our artistic endeavors (which will later be found at memory39.com and jasonlundberg.net respectively).

Jamie will lose his life at the hands of a crazed gunman while teaching a German class in April 2007, and the news will devastate me half a world away in Singapore. His absence will leave such a hole in my heart that I will worry it can never be mended. I will fervently wish for time travel technology, so that I can go back and warn him.

But all of that, the wonderful shared times and the eventual heartbreaking loss, is in the future. Tonight, at that seafood restaurant in Durham, I discover a kindred spirit, a brother-in-arms, a generous friend. And it makes me undeniably happy.


“Anamnesis for the Artist” is © 2007 by Jason Erik Lundberg

This remembrance was written for the Trinoc*con 8 Program Book.

More formal tributes can be found below:

Christopher James Bishop (1971-2007)
Passing for Human: One Year Gone” (2008)
Forgiveness and Friendship” (2009)
Art’s Saving Grace” (2010)

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