Monday, April 22, 2013

Setting Sail with Rum Punch Press: A Journey into Parts Unknown

It all started with a drink. Shocking, we know, but hear us out. It was a very cold night in Boston, which had been inundated by a blizzard of snow and a tsunami of AWPers, and after a day of paneling we found ourselves at our alma mater’s AWP party. As any writer who makes the annual pilgrimage to AWP can guess, it was that kind of party, a perfect storm of shadows and free booze, with a famous face or two thrown into the mix for good measure. Drunk on this heady combination, our fellow partygoers morphed into Writers. Writerly writers who spoke of blurbs and agents and Yaddo applications, angling for face time with the famous faces.

We should have left immediately. But did we mention the free booze? It was the highlight of our evening, and beautiful to look at. Tall pitchers of sangria, ripe with lush pieces of fruit. We couldn’t resist, so we staked out a corner of that very chic lounge and settled in for an evening of excellent drinks and even better people watching, talking only to each other and leaving our base camp when our glasses ran low. There are certainly worse ways to ride out a blizzard, though, as usual, we both felt out of place at that party—a recurring theme made most acute at an overwhelming event like AWP, but also one that got us thinking.

Full of wine and whimsy, we started talking shop about the types of stories and essays that we’d been writing and getting published (and the ones that weren’t), the magazines we thought were on fire and the ones that were letting us down. We talked about the kinds of stories we were reading and the ones we desperately wanted to see in print. There’s good work being done out there, writing that feels vibrant and different and new, but it’s not getting published.

As writers who have earned MFAs in a system that has been both lauded and criticized for the types of stories writers are trained to produce, we’ve both often felt like literary outliers. We’re part of the club, hopefully, but definitely the members-at-large. We have genre sympathies, yes, and what can we say: we like some pop in our culture. We believe that we’re not alone in what we want to see in print, but we realized that the current marketplace doesn’t really have a place for all of those stories. We saw a dearth, and we saw an opportunity.

We were almost sick of hearing ourselves talk (yeah, right) when the bartender brought out the next tray. It was a new drink, and a real showstopper, with tropical swirls of pink and yellow, the color of dawn in Mallory Square, scenting the room with rum and sunlight and offering a firm eff-you to the blizzard outside. Confounded, the Writerly Writers looked up from their craft beers and rum-and-cokes in dismay, like, “Pink drinks? Really?”

And there we were, a two-woman stampede to the bar, collecting our quarry and bringing it back to base camp for proper admiration. The drink was sunny and unapologetically tropical, two features that made our displaced Floridian hearts ache. (Life and work brought both of us sun-worshipers to the mountains, and we’re still bitter about it.) But this? This drink was a taste of home, and something else. It was sweet and tart with a frosty chill, and a bold punch of liquor that warmed us from within. It was bright and different from everything else on that Boston night with one blizzard raging outside and another tempest beginning to stir within.

“We should start a literary magazine.”

And so we did.

We did research, then we’d talk. We sent each other links, then we’d talk. We wrote, then talked. There was a lot of talking, texting, and emailing going on. We discussed our vision of writing with a pop -- no, with a punch. We learned very quickly we were riding the same brain waves. We’d both been readers of literary magazines for years and collecting samples at many different AWP bookfairs. We liked -- and wanted to see more of -- a lot of the same stuff. We starting comparing notes about our favorite journals and recognized commonalities in the ones we favored, magazines that were innovative, thematic, and, fine, a little tarty and tongue-in-cheek. This gave us an idea of the thematic and aesthetic direction we wanted to take.

Once we really started working on it, we were thinking about website design and marketing. We now know more than we ever thought we would about website design, social media, and marketing. We must have looked at a thousand magazines to be inspired and then had to come up with our own original design. Some sites were surprisingly amateurish looking while others were so pretentious.  We drafted submission guidelines and the other pages. The day we launched we were back and forth texting and emailing.

“Are we ready?”

“Can we put it on facebook?”

“Should we tweet this?”

“Are we go for launch?”

“We are go for launch.”

It seemed only days had passed from our gawking at famous writers and sipping on that
crisp, unapologetic tropical rum punch. Once we started getting submissions, it was real. So real. Writers, our peers, are sending their work to us, and it is our job to share it with the world. There is a specific and unexpected kind of joy to be had from this exchange.  Rum Punch Press is such a great way to participate in the writer-world from backstage. We are behind the bar, mixing the drinks, shaking them up, and serving them over ice.

This is what makes Rum Punch Press such a humbling project. While we do have
expertise, we sometimes forget this. Rum Punch Press is a reminder that we, too, can have a say in what should be going on with our craft. It is an honor to be asked by peers to consider work for publication. It’s also so exciting. For so long, we’ve been participating in the system, in the vicious cycle of writing, editing, submitting, praying, and then getting rejected or accepted. And this is fine; this is what everyone who wants what we want does. But having the chance to influence, in some small way, what goes out into the world and to be able to champion the writing that we believe in, well, that’s intoxicating.
To submit your fiction, mircofiction, and nonfiction to Rum Punch Press, go and check out our submissions page. We’re looking for brave work that is sincere and unwavering. Give us your best shot (pun intended).

Courtney Watson is an English professor and writer who resides in Roanoke, Virginia, far from her native sub-tropical climate. When not daydreaming about salt air and sandy beaches, she writes fiction, non-fiction, and literary criticism that has appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, 100 Word Story, The Key West Citizen, Studies in Popular Culture, and more.

Gloria Panzera is a writer and English teacher who resides in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband. When she isn’t whipping something up in the kitchen or missing her small beach town, she writes non-fiction and fiction. Her work has appeared in One Forty Fiction, The Inquisitive Eater, and more.

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