By Kristy Webster
Thursday Review Contributing Writer
It was only a few weeks ago that a co-worker at the Eagle Harbor Bookstore asked me to review the first print issue of Pacifica Literary Review, a publication headquartered in Seattle, just across the “pond” from us. Right away I was impressed with the content and layout of the publication. The selection of poetry and prose definitely merited respect and attention. Fledgling literary magazines are abundant on the web, but something about Pacifica stood out. I felt strongly that it was a serious effort, a publication with great potential for success. I wanted to know the people behind the publication.
The opportunity to meet founders Matt Muth (editor-in-chief) and Rachael Armstrong (fiction editor) presented itself when I received an invitation to read my contribution (after looking over the first issue, I promptly submitted a short story) at the release party for the second issue of Pacifica Literary Review. I wasn't sure if I had it in me to do a public reading, but with the support of my husband, and a very good friend and fellow artist, I accepted the invitation.
I was deeply moved by the reading. I was moved by the unique talent as well as the diversity of backgrounds of each contributing writer. I was moved by the spirit of community and collaboration that night. It was a humbling and inspiring event.
Once meeting Matt and Rachael, it was clear that behind Pacifica was a team of talented, enthusiastic writers, artists and lovers of literature. It was obvious this was a staff of people with a vision and I wanted to know what that vision was.
The Eagle Harbor Book Co. here in Bainbridge Island now carries the Pacifica Literary Review, and it is with great pride that our independent bookstore can contribute to the local literary scene and support such a worthy literary endeavor.
I recently interviewed Matt and Rachael about how the idea of a literary magazine came to fruition as well as their plans for the future of Pacifca. Here is what they had to say:
Kristy: How did the idea to start a literary review begin?
Matt: It all started with a conversation Rachael and I had at the Ballard Locks last summer. Pacifica started on-line but we never intended for it to be in digital format only. It was always our vision to publish print copies.
Rachael: We were looking for a way to express our creative freedom. I was under-employed at the time, and looking for something I could do. With Pacifica, we’re able to share our ideas with one another, bounce things off of each other. Plus, Seattle is such a fertile ground for artists who are looking for the same thing. It’s always been a goal of mine to start a literary journal.
Kristy: Tell me something about your background and how you came to develop a love of literature and creative writing?
Matt: I grew up around Detroit and in high school I had this young, animated teacher that introduced us to the poetry slam scene. I was really into that for a while. But eventually I found that in many cases volume was a way to overcompensate for some very bad writing. Later I moved to D.C. where I worked for Congress.
Rachael: You worked for Congress? Really? What was that like?
Matt: In congress I learned that you have to take delight in very small victories. It helps if you're not an idealist. I never quite found my niche there. It all seemed like a big frat party to me. I returned to my love for writing, applied to the MFA program at the UW (the University of Washington) and was accepted.
Kristy: Rachael, what about you?
Rachael: I always had a very rich inner life. My parents divorced and I used to spend hours in my father's vet clinic where I would read everyday. I developed a love for the written language and writing became my way of interacting with the world. I started to understand how important narrative can be in our lives. Our personal narrative is at stake because it can too easily be usurped by others. My mother loved stories and narrative, as well as my step-aunt. She identifies as a witch and I found rich storytelling and narrative through my experiences with tarot.
Kristy: Is that also why you think you are drawn to magical realism in your reading and writing?
Rachael: Maybe. The practices of tarot that I shared with my aunt proved to have a creative component that I hadn't experienced through other faiths. In high school I was also part of a literary magazine and then took creative writing classes in college at FAU.
Kristy: Your staff is made up entirely of volunteers, right? Was it difficult to get others to commit to this endeavor?
Rachael: No, not at all. People were very enthusiastic and they wanted to contribute their skills.
Matt: We had a list of people we wanted.
Rachael: Our dream team.
Matt: Pacifica gives smart, talented and driven people a venue where to share their creative work, where people from diverse fields of study and professions, such as Boeing or Microsoft and so forth, who have literary aspirations can be a part Seattle's literary scene.
Kristy: How has running a literary magazine informed or influenced your own writing practice?
Matt: It gave me a better understanding of how and why editors choose the pieces that they do. Sometimes we don't accept a piece because it doesn't fit well with the rest of the submissions we've already chosen for the issue, not because it wasn't a great piece of writing. You come across such a variety of forms and styles, that even when you come across a piece of writing that you end up rejecting, you can still find something interesting even in that. You can still learn something.
Rachael: Being an editor gave me a better idea of how to present my own work to other editors. At Pacifica you get to share so many creative ideas and you get to do research you have to do anyway as a writer. It opens up artistic dialogue and brings collaboration into another dimension and helps me feel like I'm part of something bigger because I'm able to publish other writers. Also, being an independent publication we have complete creative freedom.
Kristy: Speaking of writing practice, what are you both working on right now?
Matt: I've been working on a collection of poetry. My issue is that I'll have a stack of thirty-seven poems or something, then I'll write a new poem that I'm really happy with and compare it to what I've written so far and feel like the other thirty something come up short. So I'll ditch the thirty something and start all over.
Kristy: So you're a perfectionist?
Kristy: What about you Rachael?
Rachael: I've been working on a novel, it was my thesis for the MFA program. It's set in Florida, and it's about a woman with synesthesia who is involved in a same sex relationship in an area that isn't known for being supportive of same sex unions.
Kristy: Sounds really interesting! I was lucky enough to be included in one of your readings to celebrate the second issue of Pacifica. I had a wonderful time. How did the idea to throw release parties and hold readings develop?
Matt: I don't think it was ever not an idea to do readings.
Rachael: In our MFA program we regularly held readings, so it just seemed like a natural thing to continue doing them.
Kristy: What is your vision for Pacifica?
Matt: I want this to become a national magazine. My focus is to get Pacifica the widest distribution I can. Rachael and I share different visions, which creates a positive creative tension. I would say my vision is more corporate, Rachael's is more...spiritual?
Rachael: I would say, “soulsational.”
Kristy: Great word! What does that entail?
Rachael: My vision for Pacifica is for it to be an extension and representation of the spirit and soul of the Pacific northwest. The Northwest is known for being a place that is tolerant, free thinking, innovative, and a place that is both culturally and artistically diverse. I want those voices to come together. We can all inspire each other, sharing our own unique visions until we create something whole, something that nurtures the goal of human connection.
Matt Muth is a poet and writer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He received his MFA from the University of Washington in 2011, and teaches Storytelling and Screenwriting at Digipen Institute of Technology. He is also an amateur ice hockey player and encourages you to buy American automobiles.
Rachael Armstrong is a creative writer and editor from South Florida. She received her MFA in Fiction from the University of Washington in Seattle, and her work has been published in Florida Atlantic University's Coastlines, where she holds a degree in English. She is currently at work on a novel and a collection of short stories. Rachael adores all things literary, as well as her dog and cat, comedy, and lavender ice cream. She resides in Seattle.
Visit the official website for Pacifica Literary Review: www.pacificareview.com.