An interview with Kevin Murphy and Dark Sky Books

Dark Sky is a fine new publisher from the Pacific Northwest whose books are strange and stunning and uncommonly good. Their most recent release, Ryan Ridge’s kinetic collection of short stories, Hunters & Gamblers,  further cements this reputation, while their regularly published literary journal, Dark Sky Magazine, offers an illuminating mixture of bold new voices and seasoned ink slingers. Recently, I checked in with Dark Sky’s publisher, Kevin Murphy, to see what life was like on the other side of the printing press. – Matthew

Where did Dark Sky get its start? What brought you into publishing and what are you up to now?

Kevin Murphy: Dark Sky began in Charleston, SC (where I used to live) in 2007 as an online magazine featuring literature and art. Initially the project was a simple attempt for me to learn some online publishing techniques and get to know local authors and artists, etc. Since then, as our output increased and our readership grew, we morphed considerably, which I consider a very healthy thing, and is why currently we publish physical books and magazines, as well as the online components we’ve featured since the early days.

I’ve always been interested in books, in publishing, and in writers, and in writing — when I was a kid I circulated to my neighbors a “newspaper” that contained “stories”, the genesis of which were gathered from discussions my parents had at the dinner table and in the living rooms of our house. Private conversations. The result was an intimate tabloid, written in pencil and copied on sheets of loose paper that I then hawked to the characters living in my tiny orbit. Must have been horrifying for my parents. In retrospect, though, it was a good business model — many of my neighbors were gossip hounds.

These days, Dark Sky Books, which is a little over one year old, has published seven books and two magazines. So far we’ve focused on short fiction and poetry and we just released Ryan Ridge’s Hunters & Gamblers, his debut, which contains a novella and a collection of stories. This fall we are releasing a book of poetry written together by Kendra Grant Malone and Matthew Savoca. It’s called Morocco and I’m really excited because the poems are unique and fun and racy and they’re the kind of poems that are so intimate and writ large that you forget you’re reading poetry and they just kind of inhabit this space that Kendra and Matthew have created. It’s pretty wild. Look for it in November. 2012 has books by Dave Housley and Jensen Beach and other fine folks. In 2013, we’ll expand into novels and other genres. Stay tuned . . .

Let’s talk about book design, which Dark Sky does exceptionally well. It’s not just that your titles look sharp, it’s that each jacket so excellently reflects the writing inside. Can you talk about the layout and design component of your press? What you’re looking for in a cover, what a good cover accomplishes, to what degree design matters to you when putting together a book…

The layout and design components of our press are just that, components. Each component of every book is given equal measure. It just so happens that the design component is the first thing a person usually encounters, and so, obviously, that’s hugely important, which is why I try to ensure that a book’s design and content are programmed to serve one another. To me, a good cover is a visual translation of the text, a piece of art that precedes the words a reader is about to consume. We design our own books, my wife and I and a close friend of ours, and so the process is terrific experience of experimentation, banter, frustration, and mutual respect. Yes, designing our books matters immensely.

Of course, Dark Sky is a publisher, and is here to make books.  What are you looking for in literature? Is there a mission statement to the kind of titles that you publish? If so, what is it?

We don’t have a mission statement because tastes change and evolve and we’re open to new things and our primary concern is publishing books that provide valuable experiences for our readers. If we’re successful in providing that experience, we don’t need a mission statement — it goes without saying what we’re about and what are are trying to do. Contemporary literature is a giant swarming storm of possibility. I want to tap into that possibility and publish books that are fresh, diverse, and meaningful.

Check out these great Dark Sky titles available now at Elliott Bay!

Hunters & Gamblers by Ryan Ridge

A sham pastor hires a cocaine-sniffing centaur to act as mascot for an Evangelical mega-church’s arena football team; Paul Revere flashes across a revolutionary sky on the back of a sunbird; an ammo-less infantry drummer and a bleeding medic are beat back to a Best Western parking lot in the Battle of Sacramento — such are the situations contained in Ryan Ridge’s Hunters & Gamblers. The tales in this lurid, edgy debut illuminate blackness with even blacker humor and a sense of outlandish beauty.

Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City by Michael Bible

This is your new favorite book. You will read it on highways and down in the sand of a deserted island. You will learn Michael Bible’s striking and gentle language, which booms and slithers like silver percussion, and ride elevators in the forest, this horse named Forever. You will know this book is not like anything. It’s a book of brightness and purpose. It’s a book that’s pure and liquid and fuel. This is your new favorite book. Get ready.

Trees of the 20th Century by Stephen Sturgeon

Stephen Sturgeon’s highly anticipated debut collection features over 30 poems which range in style from classically formalized stanzas on memory and vitality to allusive and lyrical free verses, chronicling — among other subjects — the stories of lost friends, a prophetic head that speaks from a tree branch, and an old black moon.

Cut Through the Bone by Ethel Rohan

In this stripped-raw debut collection, Ethel Rohan’s thirty stories swell with broken, incomplete people yearning to be whole. Through tight language and searing scenarios, Rohan brings to life a plethora of characters — exposed, vulnerable souls who are achingly human.

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