Six Questions With Rob Sturma (Freeze Ray Press)

Without question, Drunk In A Midnight Choir would not have grown like we have over the past year if it wasn’t for the strong support of our friends & family in the literary community. To return that support, we’ve started a new series where William James sits down with one or more editors from independent lit journals we love and asks them about where they came from, where they’re at, and where they’re going. This week, we’re spotlighting our friends in Freeze Ray Press. Take a look!


WJ: So, tell me about the humble beginnings of FreezeRay. More to the point, what brought on the decision to start a journal of pop culture inspired work?

RS: The short version is I had the idea for a book of zombie poems (Aim For The Head) and when I asked Write Bloody’s El Presidente Derrick Brown for publishing advice he offered to publish it, and that was a great experience to be part of, so I then pitched the idea of a superhero poetry anthology to Derrick and I brought on Ryk McIntyre to co-edit, and MultiVerse just made its way into the world to some pretty rad reviews. So by then, I’m getting kind of hooked on reading all these great nerdy poems, and it was a purely selfish decision to see if I couldn’t throw my hat in the litmag ring with a more broadly themed journal to see if it had any legs or if the success of the books was a fluke. Every issue becomes more humbling as we continue to get work that keeps setting the bar and then knocking it down. I also apologize if I get prone to hyperbole while answering these; I’m watching Monday Night RAW in the background to soothe my soul.

WJ: Since Issue 1, FreezeRay has really started to take off.  But I’m sure it wasn’t all rose petals and sunshine – what challenges came up in FreezeRay’s infancy? How did you & your staff manage them?

RS: The biggest challenge from the time I first announced this idea online until Issue #1 was that while I spent many of my formative years cartooning on every blank piece of paper I could find, my graphic design skills did not follow me to adulthood. The first version of the logo was hobbled together in Microsoft Paint by me and looked like it should have been on the FreezeRay MySpace page in 2005. Fortunately I have talented friends. Amanda Mathews (who did the stunning cover for Mahogany Browne’s book Swag) came onboard as our Art Editor, and designed our initial retro 60’s logo that makes me the happiest (I secretly imagine that the little boy in the logo’s name is Ray). And she taught me the ins and outs of effective layout, which fortunately I got better at. So HUGE thanks to Amanda for dealing with my inexperience and making sure the art spotlight was as rad as the poems.

The other challenge that I feared going into Issue #1 was that we wouldn’t have any material.
And the submissions we got for the first issue were there, if not a little light in volume. I think we were all feeling out our editorial process at that point and wanted to make sure we were establishing an aesthetic/voice for FreezeRay. And our staff has moved around a bit since the beginning; recently we said goodbye to Jason Bayani (who is doing great work with Kearney Street Workshop in SF) but said hello to Lauren Bullock, Mikkel Snyder, and Eirean Bradley. And of course, my core crew Grae Rose, Dalton Day, and Eric Morago. But all these changes have really helped us become a stronger unit.

And the perennial challenge, that seems to be lessening over time: to make sure submitters know that we’re a pop culture themed journal. For a while we were getting poems about wastebaskets and doorways, and while they were lovely, they didn’t follow directions. And that’s the worst for any editor to have to put the hammer down on.

WJ: You’ve got some really exciting print collections coming up – including the anthology Again I Wait For This To Pull Apart, curated by one of our frequent contributors, Hanif Abdurraqib, and featuring a truck load of Choir members. Tell me a little bit about what’s in the cards for FreezeRay?

RS: Well, there LITERALLY will be cards. Trading cards. The first edition of each of our books will be shipped with a limited edition FreezeRay Press trading card, unique to each book. You gotta catch ‘em all. And of course, all the books that will accompany them. We’re putting out four chapbooks and five anthologies; I had a great video conference with the editors of Black Nerd Problems recently, and am getting hyped to see their print collection, Black Nerd Problems: Zero Year, take shape. It’s been rewarding working with the poets and editors to help them shape their work into book form. I think Ellyn Touchette’s The Book Of Gene is going to be the sleeper hit of 2015. Because we need more Gene Hackman poems. I’m staying out of the editorial process until later in the year when Alan Passman and I will edit an anthology based on sci-fi movies, Lit Came From Outer Space. And of course, the journal will continue on its quarterly schedule, and I’d love to do more interviews and book reviews (of non-FRP books, of course). Just trying to keep the nerd gospel alive in Two-Oh-One-Five.

WJ: Take me through the process of putting together an issue. What’s it look like to take a poem from SUBMITTED to PUBLISHED?

RS: The biggest thing is that there is a pretty large window for submitting to each issue, and as someone who occasionally submits to journals, I know it can be frustrating to have work out in limbo for months, especially if you’re passionate about it. So simultaneous submissions are fine and totally understood.

DISCLAIMER: I just answered this question for another interview, so I’m going to crib the important parts. Stop me if you’ve heard this before…

Our submissions are read blindly via Submittable and subject to the “yes/no/maybe” voting system, so we give each submission a once-over and make our case for however we voted. The easy yesses and definite no’s take care of themselves, but it’s the stuff that divides our votes that is the heart of how our aesthetic continues to evolve. I am blessed to have a group of editors who are passionate and articulate about their choices.

Closer to launch time, I make the final cut (which is the most difficult part of wearing the editor-in-chief hat), and start assembling the issue. I spend a lot of that time online looking for fan art to complement the poems chosen. DeviantArt is a huge help there, because you can type something like “Undertaker 1991” and chances are someone will have created something super cool to fit that bill. We also try to have at least one art spotlight, pop culture influenced, of course, so I’m always finding sweet visual artists whose work I want plastered all over my walls. And then we put the thing out and get a little overwhelmed at the positive feedback. Then I sleep.

WJ: What’s an “ideal” poetry submission look like for you? What are you especially looking to bring into the spotlight?

RS: It just has to be effortless. AM I RIGHT EDITORS?

Um, the cool thing about this journal is that we’re constantly surprised—often for the better—at what connections other poets make to pop culture that are completely inspired.

I can tell you things that I like as an editor, which are by no means the absolute criteria for what I’ll say yes to…

I definitely appreciate poems that marry the speaker to the thing they are passionate about.
Amorak Huey’s poem in the latest issue of Radar, “Self-Portrait Following A Trail of Reese’s Pieces” is a stunning example.

We’ve also had some insightful persona pieces, all different approaches, but the thread through all of them are poems that dig beneath the surface of “TRANSFORMERS WERE AWESOME” and maybe tell you why Transformers were important to you as an Army brat in 1984. Something that tells us you felt passionate enough to talk about this musician, this comic book character, this movie, because you were inspired to.

WJ: Suppose I’m a hip new poet looking to get my pop culture inspired work out there in the ‘verse? What last minute advice would you have for me before I hit “SEND?”

RS: Deep down, FreezeRay is just a series of love letters. Be unapologetic about the things you love, and then write about them. If you think something about what you love is problematic, write about that. Fandom is a conversation, and we aspire to keep that conversation going. So, I dunno, talk to us.

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 Rob Sturma is the editor of Aim For The Head, a zombie-themed poetry anthology and  MultiVerse (superhero poems!) on Write Bloody Publishing, and is also the creator and curator  of the poetry-meets-wrestling show Extreme Championship Poetry (last seen at the 2014  Individual World Poetry Slam). His new chapbook Why You Tread Water is available from Tired Hearts Press. His work can be seen online currently at The Legendary, The Nervous Breakdown, Borderline, Ghost House Review, and on XBox Live. He lives in Oklahoma City, OK, where he co-hosts the Red Dirt Wayward Poets open mic and treats every meal like he’s the Chopped Champion. Check him out at THIS CRAZY WEBSITE.

author photoWilliam 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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