Tag Archives: Dark Sky Books and Magazine

SSR: For Out of the Heart Proceed by Jensen Beach

2 Aug

For Out of the Heart Proceed
by Jensen Beach
Dark Sky Books, 120 pages, $12

These stories are like a friend’s dad sitting down to talk to you and after a few minutes you realize he’s seen a lot more than you ever will and is possibly dangerous, but that’s a good thing and you want him to keep talking.

Nate Pritts at Dark Sky

12 Apr

I was reading a bit of Dark Sky Magazine earlier today and ran across Nate Pritts’s poem “No Memorial”:

I will not ever need to answer to anyone
     about why something isn’t where it should be in my heart.

It’s a poem that moves in interesting ways. Join me over there and give it a read, won’t you?

SS Review: Trees of the Twentieth Century by Stephen Sturgeon

5 Jan

Trees of the Twentieth Century by Stephen Sturgeon
Dark Sky Books, 66 pages, $10

I read Sturgeon’s poems like I look at trees today, holy mackerel their growth! and how lovely they intersect with the ground, but oh too easy sometimes to dismiss them as something past, but but oh I say oh I’ll look at them a little longer, listen to the crackle within, pay attention to the shadows they leave because I keep finding something spooky, like eyes in the bark (“When we began to think/of this man and his various ways/we had no more use for the world”), or something neat, like a stickbug (“A man tracked a curtain rod that blazed through a forest,/and as he furiously traveled, with him there went//the hair of Jesus’ head inching along, a river of skulls a black girl swam”), that keeps me wandering around, fascinated.

It sounded like a reasonable request…. (A Review of Hunters & Gamblers by Ryan Ridge)

17 Nov

Hunters & Gamblers
by Ryan Ridge
Dark Sky Books, 125pgs, $12

Hunters & Gamblers? Not quite the clever title I expected from Ryan Ridge, the writer I came to follow because of the Ox poems, those strange LOLZ-worthy poems (like these at elimae). However, I’ve read these stories and it’s admittin’ time: I can’t imagine this collection being titled anything else. These pieces tumble around with names and labels and states of being. And boom, an explosion illuminating how a label can affect so much, how a person can be lifted above the junk or, in most of these instances, thrown in a whirlwind of weird and tragic.

Infectious? Is that word a good label? Anyways, once I started, I pulled this thing out of my bag during my lunch break, snuck off during work to read pieces, found myself reading them before bed and having some wicked dreams. Originally, I was gonna write a single-sentence review of this collection, but no no no, not fair to these stories that kicked a hole in my comfort gut and not fair to myself. I’ve been wriggling around for a week now.

But first: that single-sentence review–On these bitter Indiana nights when winter is a bit early, these stories remind me how there are worse places to be, how a safe place can make all the difference, how there are worse people to be.

And here’s more: With superb language and an eye for the right situation, Ridge has crafted stories big and small to remind us of the goodness we have by showing us the ugly. There are labels and then there is life, a often forgotten distinction showcased by Ridge’s method of showing us the banner, then waltzing out the awful and having them/it dance around for us.

Like “Pussy (an Explanation).” It doesn’t get clearer what we are talking about, a boy whose coworkers call him a pussy. And as the story unfolds, from being about the speaker leaving work to get out of skinning deer, opting to take home a female coworker, it quickly unravels and then twists. The speaker, this whole time we learn, has been talking to his son in the story, explaining the elk head with a plated “Pussy” and the revelation that the kid’s mom is that same girl from that night, the one the speaker drove home. And we get it, how a label can collide with a life, like the phrase “jumping off a pier” blazing real once you’re in the mouth of the gator in the water.

Everything after the word becomes reality is shaken up:

Oh, I quit that bullshit job a couple months later, just after deer season. Your mother worked there a little while longer. Mike and Baxter even crashed our wedding. They showed up, called me a pussy, and said they didn’t think I had it in me and they gave us the strangest wedding present—
The mounted elk’s head with the word “pussy” engraved on it?
Yes son. I’m that Pussy. Does that explain things?
Yes, dad. Crystal. Hey, question.
Shoot.
Do you think you and mom will ever get back together?
Hard to say. The ball is in her court. You can tell her I said that.

Or like “After Fall,” a post-invasion story about a family trying to continue on after paratroopers took over. We see the craziness of life without order, or rather a jumbled order, with Girl Scouts selling single cookies for $20 or the women of a family gone, the speaker says to chase wildlife for food (but maybe we know better). Once the umbrella of “stable” government shuts, the power shifts and our comforts and expectations are toppled. The ending (besides an italics section detailing more of the takeover) is what gets me, the men of the family on the floor, asking for divine intervention, seeing how their safety net worked more smoothly when that umbrella was up: “It sounded like a reasonable request, and we were reasonable people, historically speaking. We just didn’t know what was hurtling toward us.”

But this is all to say that Ridge’s collection at once shows us life covered by its cloud of strange, pummeled by its raindrops of ugly, bad weather we call it.

I keep flipping back to the story, “Fuck Shop.” It goes like this:
“Welcome to the fuck shop,” said the old man in the red smock.
“I thought this was Wal-Mart,” I said.
“That’s funny,” he said, “I thought this was America.”

(Reprinted here with the permission of the author)

And that’s it, that’s perfect. If perception is more than a blip, but also a major catalyst for how we behave, also a label stuck to everything we see, also a hand in the back that pushes us forward and maybe down, then these stories are those rare stories that shake us awake, that remind us to stop gambling and hunt something that’ll keep us full, make us warm, keep us safe.

Available from:
Dark Sky Books | Powell’s | Amazon | Amazon Kindle

The Sky Grows Dark: Dark Sky Mag 2-for-1 Sale This Week

14 Nov

I woke up this morning to an email from our friends at Dark Sky. Evidently, they’re ringing in the coming holidays with a 2-for-$10 sale. As literary journals go, Dark Sky is top notch. Look at these beauties.

Here are some details from their site:

It’s November and you’re about to get lucky. For a limited time, we’re offering Issues 1 and 2 of Dark Sky Magazine for 10 dollars. If like us you’re not great at the math, that’s two magazines for the price of one.

$10 gets you:

* 15+ new stories
* 20+ new poems
* 30+ new visuals

As well as an assortment of other unquantifiable goodness from some of today’s most exciting writers and artists.

Sale ends this week, so hop over to the DS store and get your lucky on today. Thanks!

Click here to go to the Dark Sky Store and get in on this offer.

SSR: Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City by Michael Bible

23 Oct

Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City
Michael Bible
Dark Sky Books, 88 pages, $10

A tiny book packed with possibilities, in that lovely way like a deck of cards shuffled and slowly turned over, revealing Maloney’s wacky and wild world, Bible unfolds his stories with crisp sentences and details that paint beyond their word count.

Read this rad excerpt:

There is an illness in this part of the country that makes happily married men get up and leave their houses. Sometimes they walk to the next town, forget who they are and start new families. Once, after a sledding accident, I saw a man dying in the waiting room. He got off the bus by himself with an awful head wound, blood down his face. There was a magazine with a tiger on the cover. He picked it up. He set it back down.

If I were to mail my heart, would I use bubblewrap?

9 Jun

I was stoked to see that Dark Sky Magazine’s new issue features a new poem from one of my favorite poets, Mike Young. It’s called “Is That It’s You” and it’s a dreamride of discursion about relationships and love. Since reading this poem earlier this week, I’ve read it several times, marveling at it’s brilliant balance of thought and emotion, of chaos and control. I like when a poem makes me remember, face, confront, and process things I already know but am too much of a chump to deal with. As a very much relationship-confused, recently graduated, soon-to-be divorced twenty-two year old, this poem is a much-needed, much-appreciated, and seriously wonderful wake-up alarm.

Check out the beginning below:

Relationships are full of meaningful emotional intensity,
such as when a fast car hits a child whose Halloween costume
lacked visibility. Often you will see one half of a relationship
alone, talking into a glass soda bottle as if it’s a microphone.
Good things in relationships include mutual hobbies, such as
mesmerism or zoo arson. Bad things include appointing
yourself the relationship’s sleep-time barber. One thing
surprisingly thorny in relationships is the deployment of
rhetorical questions. One thing that gets better is vistas.

I Review Amber Spark’s Review at The Lit Pub

3 Jun

Over at The Lit Pub, I’ve reviewed Vouched contributor Amber Sparks’s excellent review of Ethel Rohan’s Cut Through the Bone that she posted here back in March. I ended up digging into my mom’s death a few years ago, and I wonder how much that might come up throughout the month as I delve deeper into Rohan’s book.

Dealing with the grief of loss takes work, dammit, and that’s what Rohan lets us do: work. She doesn’t patronize or coddle us. She trusts us to have the strength and courage necessary to make our own bright discoveries.

I strongly believe how you respond to Cut Through the Bone will reflect how you respond to loss in your own life. If you read these stories and respond with the simple, classic classroom question, “Why is everything we read in this class so sad?” then I’ll be frank with you: you’re either ill-equipped to deal or inexperienced in dealing with grief and loss.

Read the whole thing at TLP.

Rohan knows how to cut, how to kill.

1 Jun

I came this close to typing “SSM” at the beginning of the title for today’s post. But, Short Story Month is over, and today is June 1st, which gives way to another new and exciting development in my life: The Lit Pub.

The past few months, Molly Gaudry, Team TLP, and I have been hard at work getting this endeavor ready to launch. What is it? I’m glad you asked. We are something of a mashup of a Book of the Month club/publicity/online bookstore, focusing solely on indie/small press literature, so essentially a sister of Vouched. Each month, Molly, a guest publisher, and I all feature a favorite title of ours, and spin up some conversation and general enthusiasm about the book. For my inaugural month, I’ve chosen Ethel Rohan’s collection of flash fiction Cut Through the Bone, and it’d be rad if you’d like to follow along with my and other guest poster’s musing throughout June.

There’s been a lot said about Cut Through the Bone already here at Vouched, because it’s just that good. As I was rereading it this past week to reinvigorate myself for TLP’s launch today, this story “How to Kill” ripped at me, left a hole in my belly the size of an abortion.

The supposed gypsy had long, greasy hair, gold hoop earrings peeking from the dirty strands. Her gold arm bangles jingled while she dealt and lifted the cards. A mushroom smell off her breath, and earthy whiff off her skin. She accepted payment in Tequila Sunrises choked with cherries.

At first, she had waved-off the tarot cards for nonsense, but the hag’s grave voice held her mesmerized and dark, probing eyes sent shivers over her. When the woman claimed she could see a baby where there was no longer a baby, she felt snakes wrap around her body and cinch her chest.

Matt gestured with his fork at her coffee mug.

“I can’t eat breakfast, not since….” her voice trailed off.

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, staining himself with tomato ketchup.

She continued: “Not since the morning sickness.”

He looked down at his plate.

Read the full story at Hobart.

And I hope you’ll follow along with The Lit Pub community’s conversation about the book!

What is Lost, What is Gained: Ethel Rohan’s Cut Through the Bone

23 Mar

So I realize I’m a little late to the party on this one.  But I have good reason. Ethel is not only a fabulous and generous person but also a great talent, and I wanted to make sure I did her wonderful debut, Cut Through the Bone (published by Dark Sky Press) justice.  I’ve read this collection of short and very short stories three times since it came out, and each time it has overwhelmed and surprised me just the same.

The stories here vary greatly, but all are centered around themes of family, relationships, love, and loss. I feel that many of the reviews I’ve read of Ethel’s book have focused mostly on the loss. With good reason: the characters that walk through these pages are all missing something, whether it is a leg or breasts or a child or love. They have all suffered a great and scarring rending away of some kind. Yet to me, the real wonder, the bright discovery made within these stories was not so much the losses sustained, but what was gained with some uneasy grace, after the initial shock.

The characters in these stories, mostly women, are missing much. But they are full to overflowing with other compensations; they are possessors of extraordinary strength, of great determination, of forgiveness, of passion, of joy. And it was this I found especially amazing: Ethel’s ability to write characters who inspire, but never in insipid or easy ways. These protagonists are often full of what others lack, such as the wife/daughter in “Under the Scalpel,” who can carry the burden of horrifying disfigurement, where her mother and husband cannot, or Tracy in “On the Loose,” whose fear and loss of control must be the final kick to start her fighting her assailant. Or the massage therapist in the title story, “Cut Through the Bone,” who must overcome her own fear and shame to comfort a veteran who’s lost a leg. The protagonist in “Gone,” too, must forget her own loss to lend the necessary strength to her new lover to see her as she really is, scars and all.

This description may be too pat, may make it seem as though this was one of those books, where the women are strong and the men are weak, where the women are good and the men are all assholes. Not so. Ethel is far more of a complex, nuanced writer than that. True, her men are more often than not in need of help, morally weak, or just the less able of the partnership; but there is not too much bitterness in the extra help the women lend. Instead this seemed to me a deep understanding Ethel has of the weight and balance of love, and the special kind of strength women have always had to possess. Sometimes, too, the women are fragile, are weak, break under their burdens. In “Lifelike,” and in “Make Over,” the women collapse into their own fantasy worlds, unable to cope with life as it is.

Ethel has a style that is all her own, perhaps owed in part to her dual American and Irish lives and influences. Her voice has a lovely musicality, with lines dancing out of the stories and begging to be read. Yet she can also tell a story, with tight urgency, expert pacing, and a deft hand at dialogue that rings so true I barely even noticed it was dialogue.  She can weave fantastic bits into a story so that you almost don’t notice them–until you’re meant to. Until you suddenly start to believe or disbelieve, and then the happenings pop like firecrackers, just when you though you were safe. This is magic as only someone deeply familiar with the most mundane as well as the most fantastic elements of magic could write it. This is writing that only a truly gifted writer could pull off–and she does, with great gusto, every time.

I would highly, highly, highly urge you to pick up a copy of Cut Through the Bone, if you haven’t already. This may be her debut, but Ethel Rohan is clearly going places and you’ll want to say you were there, won’t you? These stories will serve to light the way as you follow her steady climb through the literary atmosphere.