Rachel Nix: So, Kevin, you’re practically my neighbor. As a ‘Bama girl, I’m wondering: what brought ya here?
Kevin Rodriguez: I came down here from Manchester, New Hampshire when I was eighteen for school and a girl. Ten years later, I’ve finally got a degree and married a different, better girl, so I guess it was worth it.
RN: Obviously Bop Dead City is a badass name for a publication. Let’s hear the story behind it, yeah? I have high expectations here, so don’t you disappoint me.
KR: The name comes from Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans. Well, technically, it comes from a recording of Kerouac reading an excerpt from the novel, since the line in the book is “a kind of bop dead Frisco,” referring to San Francisco.
I set a lot of my stories in my hometown at the time that I conceived the name. A hundred years ago, Manchester was a booming cotton mill company town, probably the biggest in the world at its peak. After World War I, the mills died, and so did the town. Learning more about Birmingham and its own boom and bust history, I started noticing the similarities between my old town and my new town, down to the borrowed English manufacturing town names. And I saw that while both cities had their wealth and success and coolness yanked out from under them (rendering them bop dead, you see), there was still life and hope in both places. So, I guess I hoped that we’d publish work that shows the beauty that can come from darkness.
RN: What made you want to start your own publication? Can you tell us about your first year?
KR: I started Bop Dead City for a few reasons. First, I’m nosy and reading people’s work is about as close as you can get to being in their head. Of course there’s lots of editing, but at first the author is just taking thoughts and spilling them across the screen. Second, I like the idea of being able to help authors along on their journey. Third, I wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire with my work, perhaps because I wasn’t creating a whole lot of it. I figured that the mag was a good way to at least stay involved in the literary community.
The first year was a lot of learning. I printed off an… optimistic amount of issues. Still sitting on quite a few of them, actually. Somehow, the second issue ended up only being about twelve pages because I didn’t accept any stories. The third and fourth issues really picked up from there, however. Both required second runs of issues, and Bop Dead City made Duotrope’s fastest response time list for the first time. Around the time of Issue Three, I even got interviewed on a podcast (I’m sorry I didn’t save myself for you, I’m so ashamed). Since then, it’s been pretty smooth sailing, progressing each issue, even if it’s more incremental than I’d prefer.
RN: To those who are considering creating their own publication, do you have any advice?
KR: Learn to accept all the mistakes you’re going to make and learn to accept all the disappointments as well. Do not expect to make money. In fact, if you’re going with print, I’d say expect to bleed a little. Go into it excited about reading new stories and poems every day, about getting to make other people’s weeks when you get to accept their work, and the feedback you’ll receive from readers, both good and bad.
RN: What have you learned being behind the scenes of a small press? Does it ever inspire your own writing?
KR: I’ve learned that a lot of people write, and a lot of people are much better than I am at it. I’ve also discovered that while there’s only a few ways to be truly bad, there’s a ton of different ways to make a good story or poem. And on average, it doesn’t inspire my writing since for every story I read that makes me think “Jesus, I can do better than that,” there’s one that makes me think “I don’t know anything about anything.”
RN: Do you have anything going on outside of Bop Dead City you’d like to tell us about?
KR: Eh, not really. Buying a house soon, trying to find a better job with my new degree. I’m kicking around the idea of publishing a chapbook next year, but that’s still Bop Dead City related, I suppose.
RN: What’s your favorite book? Like, the book you’ll clutch to when you’re running, or lightly jogging(?) away from the brain-munching zombies during the upcoming takeover by the undead? We believe in realism here. This is happening.
KR: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. And it’s going to take a lot more than the zombie apocalypse to actually make me run.
RN: What journals are you a fan of?
KR: Whiskey Paper, Bat City Review, Pear Noir, Fugue, Rabbit Catastrophe, and Black Warrior Review. A nice mix of quality without pretense. Well, Black Warrior‘s kinda pretentious.
RN: Since this is our Travelogue issue, tell us about your favorite trip. When was it? Where’d ya go? Did you come home with an embarrassing tattoo? If so, we’re gonna need to see it.
KR: Well, I’ve had a lot of favorite trips. Why don’t I tell you about my worst?
I went to New Orleans for the first time in August two years ago because I was invited to audition for Jeopardy!. We didn’t have a lot of money at the time and had just one car, so I took the train from Birmingham to New Orleans, and booked a hotel for just the night before the audition, figuring I would just spend all night out to save money the next night, and hop a train at 7 AM in the morning.
When the train was around Meridian, Mississippi, I realized I had forgotten my debit card at home. I managed to check into the hotel without my card, and with my last two dollars I feasted on a Payday and washed down with a Dr. Pepper. Couldn’t get the card replaced since there are (fun fact!) no Wells Fargo banks in New Orleans.
The next morning, I drink some free coffee from the lobby and go to my audition. Two years later, I can conclude that I was not Jeopardy! material, but I was feeling good when I left the hotel. My lovely wife wired me about fifty dollars to get through the night, the sun was shining, and I was ready to start my partying at 1 in the afternoon.
Now, let me preface this by saying that every single person I spoke to about what to do in New Orleans mentioned their open container laws (I have trashy friends), so I went into the first corner store I could find and bought a tall boy Four Loko (I am a trashy person) and drank the whole thing in about three minutes. Then, realizing that I hadn’t eaten anything but a candy bar in about 24 hours, I popped into a Subway for a sandwich.
While I was waiting for it to be toasted, the alcohol hit me all at once. I staggered out the door, sitting down on a park bench to eat as a popcorn shower started. I ducked into a library next to the park and sobered up for an hour with the other transients, too drunk to even enjoy reading. Still pretty buzzed, I proceeded to wander, leaving my wallet behind in a casino, which was actually there when I came back for it, and sweating, sweating, sweating. Chafing thighs, blistering feet, and then my phone died.
At about 7, I curled up on a stretch of concrete near the water and napped for about an hour while people walked by. I got up and wandered the Quarter, ate beignets and drank coffee at Cafe du Monde, and eventually sat down for three hours in a 24 hour gay bar called The Ninth Circle with about four other people in it. I read Sam Shepard’s Day out of Days by streetlight coming through the open door, drinking two dollar High Life longnecks to not seem like a jerk for hanging out, and wrote bad poetry on the napkin coasters when I ran out of stories. Eventually I got back out and walked for three more hours around the Seventh Ward (so safe!) and Merigny (so clean!) until I plopped back down at the Amtrak station at 6 AM, sleeping on the sidewalk again till the doors opened at 7.
tl;dr: New Orleans is a horrible place of my own making, and now I don’t get to go on trips without my wife because I suck.
RN: This is by far the most important question, as we’re Southern folk: coffee or tea? There’s only one correct answer, by the way – and it’s a tricky one.
KR: Oh my answer is all kinds of wrong, but meh. I take my coffee iced and black, no sugar, yet my tea sweet. My mother shuddered when she tasted sweet tea for the first time, but that’s nothing compared to the looks I get down here walking around in January with a giant iced coffee.
But, between the two, coffee. I’m in it for the uppers, baby.
RN: Got a question for us? About the publication, the staff, the birds and the bees? This is our interview, mind you, but we’ve no secrets from our readers. Well, we have a few, but we don’t mind fibbing.
KR: Here’s one: aside from Alabama, do you see yourself living anywhere else soon? Like for reals. And why?
RN: Honestly, yes, I’d love to live elsewhere. I love Alabama, but I’ve grown terribly disgruntled with the lack of progression our state has. If I had my rathers, I’d like to live some place where the South can still be felt but not in the 1956 kinda way. The idea of a move definitely stays in the back of my mind and I may just run off one of these days. Really, the main thing holding me back is Alabama shaking its no-no finger at the lottery. Moving is expensive, especially considering I’d have to pack up my 4 dogs, evil cat, and ridiculous collection of books.
Kevin Rodriguez is the editor and publisher of Bop Dead City, a cheap and tawdry literary magazine in print. For more information, visit bopdeadcity.com.