Six Questions With Jordan Rizzieri





 
A semi-regular series in which contributing editor William James sits down (metaphorically speaking) with the editors from some really dope indie lit journal, who – not unlike ourselves – are hard at work trying to bring the baddest-ass of literature for your eyes to feast upon. In this installment, we talk shop with Jordan Rizzieri, editor in chief at the Rain, Party, & Disaster Society.

 

WJ: Let’s start with the standard, get-to-know you type stuff: How did RPDS get started, and can you talk a little bit about those early beginnings?

JR: The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society got its start in the summer of 2013. I was my mother’s primary caregiver at the time and wrote an essay that was published online alongside some incendiary click-bait. Needless to say I was not pleased that a piece I took so much time with, and that was so emotionally draining for me to create, would be published along with what is basically nonsense. I started exploring the online litmag community in search of a place where people were talking about things that are considered taboo, or too personal. I wanted a place where you could come and say “this happened/is happening to me and it’s ugly and messy” and it would be safe. I approached my friend/poet Bee Walsh to help edit poetry, my friend/advocate Kay Kerimian to edit fiction, and was introduced by mutual friend to Jen Lombardo who has tackled non-fiction. Since then we have had two other fiction editors, including our current editor Adam Robinson who came to us first as a poetry contributor. As the magazine grew, we had to grow as well. We brought on regular contributor Kaity Davie as our Social Media Mistress, and now Bee has an assistant, Wilson Josephson (whom you may know from Literary Starbucks).

In the beginning, we made a lot of mistakes. How long should our reading period be? How do we get the word out that we exist? How do you utilize social media? What are the right works for RPD? How do we keep from choosing writers who are exactly like us? None of us were html wizards, either, so there were a lot of technical issues with the magazine in terms of how it should look and what our audience should have access to. We never wanted our contributors to feel like they could be attacked, so there is no commenting allowed at RPD. It is the direct online representation of a physical litmag. If you picked up a copy of Poets & Writers, you wouldn’t be able to anonymously harass anyone who was published in it directly on their work. You’d really have to go out of your way. The same is true of RPD. But we also try to protect our audience. We will never bombard an RPD reader with salacious nonsense just to set people off. Promise.

WJ: It seems like there’s a handful of new journals popping up every single day; your archives date back to December 2013, so you’ve been around a little while. What do you think has contributed to that staying power?

JR: We at RPD are proud of our workshop-based style. We try to work with each contributor on their piece before we accept it for the site. In the past Bee has not been as able as she’d like to do this (she’s averaging 100 – 150 poems a month now in submissions) but now that she has Wilson to work with her and move more quickly through the submissions, hopefully we will see more of this in poetry. Adam and Jen have both taken to this style like fish to water. I’m very proud of how nurturing they both have been with their contributors. This has built a real family for RPD – we see a lot of the same contributors coming back to us. We can’t always guarantee a home for returning contributors work, as we hope to continue to grow the RPD community. But when the work is good, it’s hard to say no. And a lot of it is better than just good. Also, when an artist finds a home, they want everyone to know, so I think a lot of our contributors are very enthusiastic about sharing their publications with their friends and family and we get a lot of people who say “oh, so-and-so was published in the January issue and thought this might be a good place for my flash fiction!” We live on word of mouth.

WJ: One thing that intrigues me is the way that RPDS is presented – as a “workshop based online literary publication.” The typical submission process tends to be that an author sends in a finished work, and the editor then accepts/rejects it, and any suggested edits are done behind closed doors. What made you want to put that part of the process out front? Has it affected the volume of submissions in any way?

JR: RPD became a workshop-based magazine after we had already started. It was not the original intention to be that way, but after a few rounds of submissions it became clear that it was not in our best interest to accept works as-is, or to let our potential contributors think we would not ask for changes before we published their works. Sometimes it’s a style problem, sometimes it’s a technical problem, but whatever is happening in the piece that is keeping the editor from immediately saying “yes” should be addressed. Also, as artists ourselves, we on the editorial staff HATE blanket no’s. How are you supposed to grow from something like that? It’s one thing if you right strange sci-fi poetry and you’re submitting to an erotic fiction magazine, but if your work appears to be appropriate for the publication, knowing why you were not accepted seems helpful. I think a lot of magazines don’t do it because it’s time consuming. We have two phases to workshopping. The first is working with contributors whose submissions seem in the vein of RPD, but are not quite ready for publication. These are the “maybes” that are leaning toward yes. We also have work that is leaning toward No, the pieces that would take so many rounds of edits it might change the purpose or intention of the author. In that case the editors usually talk with me before they pass. We always offer our rejected contributors the option for further discussion of why their work wasn’t chosen. Even that can be problematic. If that person doesn’t check their email for weeks and asks for an explanation when we’re already in the next submission period, sometimes we don’t remember why we didn’t take their work! Being a workshop magazine seems to only have affected how quickly we can get things ready for publication. Your work can move from “submission” to “ready for publication” as fast as you can respond to emails. I don’t know that the way we do things is affecting the number of submissions, but once Bee & Wilson start workshopping more pieces I guess we’ll see. I’d much rather have to gather more staff to tackle more work than to have less pieces in our inbox each month.

WJ: Here’s another thing I found interesting from the site: “You may also write your own rebuttal and submit it for publication in a future issue.” Do people take you up on that offer? How often does it happen, and (if applicable) what seems to generate the most interaction?

JR: So here’s an interesting fact about RPD: this has never happened. The reason I put that on the site was to give people an alternative method of responding to works since we don’t have comments enabled. Also, if people are going to be set on fire by a work, we’d love to be able to publish a rebuttal in the following issue. I think the reason we’re not getting any of these is because “rebuttal” seems to be mostly related to non-fiction and we just don’t get as much non-fiction. I think in the beginning we got some amazing non-fiction that set the bar very high, but we were publishing mostly poetry, and so people stopped sending us as much non-fiction. The only contributor to appear in every single issue of RPD is essayist Adam Kane who now has his own column the third Saturday of every month. We moved Adam out of the regular issue to try and spotlight non-fiction and encourage others to submit, but we’re not there yet. (Side note: please submit non-fiction to RPD. Jen Lombardo will not bite you {until she knows you better.})

WJ: So, what’s the lifecycle of an issue of RPDS look like? Pretend I’m a potential piece of writing; what’s my journey look like, from initial submission to final publication?

JR: Let’s pretend you’re a work of flash fiction. You submit during our submission period (now between the 15th and the close of every month.) Depending on where in the submission period you submit, Adam will read the piece and open it as Google Document where he will begin to make suggested edits as notes in the margin. We do not edit your work for you with track changes unless it’s grammar. We suggest everything and let you make a decision. A lot of time people will make changes and comment back. This back and forth will go on as long as it takes to get the piece as tight as possible. Then we have our staff meeting. At this meeting we decide how many pieces each genre is getting based on how many publishable days there are that month (weekdays). Then if your work is accepted, you get an email letting you know and asking for your social media handles as well as keywords that might direct someone to your piece (we use these for tags on the website.) On the first of the month you’ll get another email with more Yay! and Congrats! and also a little calendar with that month’s works listed by title so you know when to look for your story. If your piece is rejected, you’ll get a very nice sorry email asking if you’d like an explanation why. If you do, you can email Adam back who will talk about voice and send you some pieces that are in the same vein as what you produced but are closer to our aesthetic to further illustrate exactly what we’re looking for. If you submit poetry and are rejected, Bee will recommend you consider your tea leaves and travel to the Moors. Jen usually gets the angry people and then I have to step in and go all Long Island on them. Just kidding. Ish.

WJ: Your tagline reads “NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.” Besides tenacity, what are you looking for in a writer? What does the “perfect” submission to RPDS look like?

JR: At RPD we are looking for people who are not afraid to rip open the most freshly healed parts of themselves and let whatever spills out, spill out. We are looking for writers and poets who have to walk away from their computers halfway through writing because it’s getting a little too fresh. We are looking for works that make us bang on our desks, that make us feel different after we’ve read them, and that make us text each other and say “LOOK IN THE NON-FICTION FOLDER AT WHAT JUST CAME IN OMG DEAD”. I remember back in July we had a particularly large group of submissions and I was functioning as Bee’s temporary assistant. She had already gone through the submissions and I was making a list of my own and then we were going to compare. When I got to Erin Jendras’ piece “14.” I sent a G Chat message to Bee of just the title, “14.” And she said back something along the lines of “no kidding.” You just know right away sometimes. But mostly what we want is to read something we’ve never read before. Don’t try to be your favorite poet or your favorite author. Try to be you. Try hard. We understand you’re giving us something very fragile, something that’s still attached to you. I know we all look kind of evil, but we know to be gentle. And the thing that’s great about being workshop-based is that almost nothing that comes in to our inbox is “perfect” for RPD. But, damn, by the time it goes up on the site, it sure is.

 

 

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Jordan Rizzieri is the 90’s-loving, extremely tall founder of The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society. After having a brief love affair with Western New York, Jordan now resides on Long Island, NY. She holds a degree from SUNY Fredonia in Theatre Arts (aka lying before an audience) with a minor in English (aka lying on paper). Jordan became her mother’s primary caregiver in 2011, a role she held for for three years. She has been running a caregiver’s blog on her experiences as well as publishing essays on the topic. Now, Jordan spends her daylight hours working on RP&D and interning at The Carol Mann Literary Agency in NYC. At night she takes on the identity of pro wrestling’s sassiest critic, The Lady J. When she’s not trimming her bangs or trying to decide what to order at the local bagel shop, she is listening to Prince and pretending to be a Robert Palmer girl. Feel free to contact her with questions about the Attitude Era, The Twilight Zone, comic book plot lines involving Harley Quinn, and the proper spelling of “braciola”.

 

author photo William James writes poems and listens to punk rock – not always in that order. He’s an editor  at  Drunk In A Midnight Choir whose poems have appeared or are forthcoming in SOFTBLOW,  Atticus Review, Emerson Review, The Rain, Party & Disaster Society, NightBlock, Split Lip  Magazine, and  similar:peaks::, among others. His first full length collection “rebel hearts &  restless ghosts” is  forthcoming in 2015 from Timber Mouse Publishing.

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