Dock Street Press designer Kelly Rae Bahr was kind enough to join me in a round of questions and answers about the creation of Sandy and Wayne: A Novella.
Q: Kelly, I have to tell you, this is my fourth published work of fiction, and I have never had so many book designers, booksellers, and even journalists respond with such positive zeal for a cover design. Well done! What was the spark of inspiration for this cover?
A: I have to give some credit here to the editor, Dane Bahr. Typically he will come to me with a few ideas for how to visually portray the story, and I then figure out how those ideas translate into cover artwork. We wanted invoke a sense of isolation with this cover. The landscape is as much a character in this narrative as Sandy and Wayne themselves. The Ozarks, to a degree, hide the true feelings of these people. But it’s not completely melancholy either. Dane and I loved the blue image, there’s mystery there, yet it’s still inviting and warm. The typeset for the title works wonderfully against it. Just enough contrast between the rural scenery and the articulation of the story being told. We are quite happy with it.
Q: Where did you learn book design?
A: I received my degree in graphic design from Montana State University. There I learned the fundamentals of commercial art, though, I have to attribute my working knowledge of print design and file prep to my former co-worker and mentor Marla Goodman. We shared an office at my first agency job and I learned more from her than any other single person.
Q: And so how many books have you designed?
A: Before Dock Street I focused on marketing collateral work; brochures, brand books, print and web ads, etc. So for books I’m at six, with two more in the works coming out later this year.
Q: A designer here at University Press of Mississippi where I work was REALLY knocked out by the way the letters arose from the hills, the landscape. Where did that type innovation come from?
A: I touched on this before, but there needs to be a feeling of emergence here. On any cover, really, there needs to be something withheld, just like good writing. It needs to mimic the story. If a cover is done well, it will reveal everything it was once trying to hide. So, in this instance, what was the author (you) ultimately wanting to illuminate about Sandy and Wayne? They’re are smart, but for the most part provincial in their beliefs and opinions, and to have any growth as characters they must rise from or descend back into their surroundings. You’ve chosen the former, so we see them emerging.
Q: Do you have some favorite book designs or designers, influences you feel have been pivotal in shaping your vision?
A: That’s a very good question. Book stores are maybe my favorite type of store, whenever I pass by one on a trip I always stop in just to look around. I keep an eye out for covers I like and get inspiration from the ones that stand out amongst the hundreds of others. A couple really neat ones right now are: No One Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel (Designer: Jon Gray), Hiding in Plain Sight by Nuruddin Farah (Designer: Janet Hansen), and Lost for Words by Edward St.Aubyn (Designer: Jennifer Carrow).
Q: May we talk about type and pagination, please? I am blown away by the interior, how fast it reads and how large and friendly the type is. And I will freely admit here, the breaks and blank pages, and the pacing of these—I just let that happen and gave you no guidance. The original novella had just a few white space breaks. What were you goals when you started the type and page design?
A: White space is a designers best friend. It’s like fresh air, you can’t have too much. The breaks and blank pages are just that, room to breath. As for the typesetting and font size, that is a Dock Street standard. What good is a book that is uncomfortable to read?
Q: Since I am a nosy provincial, forgive me, please, but I have to ask a small-town question. What is your relationship to Dane Bahr, the editor of Dock Street Press?
A: Dane is my brother in law. He’s the big brother I never had, equally as protective and kind as he is obnoxious and patronizing. Just ask him about the time he broke my sticks.
Q: If you could change publishing, what would you wish for? What would you add? What would you ditch?
A: Getting published is a hard thing for writers to crack their way into. It’s like those jobs that require experience, but in order to get experience you need a job, so where do you start? I’d like it to somehow be easier for talented writers to be recognized and their works cultivated. That’s what’s great about Dock Street, it’s about the art form, not about big bucks.
Q: If there is one book you could redesign out of all book on the planet, which book would you transform?
A: Hmmmmm . . . at heart I’m an illustrator, so I’d have to pick a children’s book to re-desing and illustrate. Something old, maybe a classic fairy tale or nursery rhyme that isn’t tied to any one iconic illustrator. Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Pigs or something like that.
Q: What project are you most eager to work on next at Dock Street Press?
A: My own actually. Dock Street has a children’s book imprint in the works and will be publishing a picture book of mine. Keep an eye out for Sunshine for Sale late 2016!