Ask Russ Davis what led him to make the transition from photocopies to publishing, and his answer is unhesitating and simple: “Insanity.”
The longer yet less colorful explanation for brief but increasingly brisk evolution of Gray Dog Press is that the timing seemed right.
As far back as 2003, Davis, the owner of Ditto’s Print and Copy Center on Spokane’s South Hill, had “acquired a couple of pieces of equipment that did the magic of perfect binding,” he says. “Within a couple of years, we were doing a considerable number of books for local selfpublished authors. Everything from grandma’s memoirs to poetry to fiction.”
In the years that followed, the quality of Ditto’s equipment improved. As did the quality of manuscripts that passed through its presses. By 2008, Davis felt confident enough to found Gray Dog Press — named after a schnauzer named Zak! (“Exclamation point intentional”) — as a traditional imprint. But that meant royalties, author representation, and risks.
Enter Marcus Corder, who holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Whitworth and an Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Eastern Washington University. He began working as a freelancer for Davis during those early stages when Gray Dog was finding its feet.
“While at EWU, I introduced myself to Russ via email, and he asked me to edit a book that Gray Dog was publishing, John Heffernan’s Not One Drop of Blood,” Corder says. “Later I took over proofreading the fiction and nonfiction for SpokeWrite [a local literary journal published by Gray Dog] and then selecting submissions and editing.”
Today, Corder works full time as a one-man quality control and publicity team. In 2010, he joined the slender Gray Dog staff as a senior editor, marking a significant milestone not only in Gray Dog’s growth but also its long-term goals. He brought with him valuable experience working on Willow Springs, EWU’s respected literary journal, and strong opinions on why the Inland Northwest should seek and foster homegrown literary talent.
“There’s a lingering perception that Spokane doesn’t really appreciate artists, which is why you see notable writers and musicians leaving for Seattle or other metro areas,” says Corder. “Doesn’t our region deserve to have its stories heard, to have a publisher that people can be proud of? Why shouldn’t we be a place worth staying in?”
Davis shares Corder’s mindset and enthusiasm. But, also like Corder, he has no intention to disavow Gray Dog’s back catalogue, which, though hit-and-miss, includes established writers, such as Dawn Nelson, author of popular cowgirl romances, and pseudonymous crime novelist Frank Zafiro, whose “River City” thrillers are set in a thinly disguised Spokane.
Instead, as Gray Dog prepares its subtle and unofficial revamp, they’re trying to strike a balance. That means showcasing regionally important titles, like Estar Holmes’ top-selling Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes Unofficial Guidebook, alongside wider-reaching literary fiction, like Richard H. Miller’s forthcoming All You Can Eat, a darkly comic vampire tale that doesn’t actually use the trendy V-word.
That balance also means choosing and marketing titles more professionally.
“The great thing about GDP is that we’re not going to publish local writers because they’re local,” says Corder. “We’re going to publish local writers because they are local writers who are very, very good. And people should know that. It’s why we do a lot of events at Auntie’s. It’s why we’re working to get involved in Get Lit! We’re grounded in this region but our ambition lies beyond that.”
Those ambitions are already being recognized locally. Gray Dog was recently selected to publish the annual winner of EWU’s esteemed Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, and it has quickly established a significant Twitter and Facebook presence as it follows the lead of social-media savvy indie publishers like New Directions.
have plenty of flexibility but not nearly the muscle that the big boys
have,” says Davis, reflecting on the press’ immediate challenges. “Over
the last few years we have learned there are things that work and things
that don’t. We celebrate the successes and try to understand and learn
from the failures.”