Raising Stakes
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Raising Stakes


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"Full-Frontal Interview"

This past April on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon, I was at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books listening to a poet whose name now escapes me when my friend Rafael F.J. Alvarado quietly came up behind me and handed me a small journal. Being someone who likes to get free stuff (so does Rafael, it’s our common bond), I asked Rafael where he got the journal, and he pointed over to a small corner tent a few hundred feet away from the poetry pavilion.
I went over to introduce myself to Matthew McGee, who, like others I have interviewed in this column, spends a great deal of time and money (along with his girlfriend and fellow editor Kristen), editing a literary labor of love. His publication is called Falling Star, a promising small “print” journal that represents some of the best global contemporary writers. After indulging in some poetic name dropping – there is a bit of crossover between the poets/writers who have been published in Falling Star and in poeticdiversity – Matthew graciously agreed to answer my questions regarding his publication, the current decline of literary standards, and why he became nervous when I mentioned that I don’t care for poets “X” and “Y”– oh, wait. I never asked him that question!

pd: What circumstances brought you into a life of writing and publishing?

MG: I got my start in writing at a young age, around age seven. I was sitting in a pile of leaves in front of my family’s Upstate New York home, pretending to be at a desk typing. I wasn’t imitating Kerouac or even my English-teaching Dad, but was actually role-playing Marcia Wallace’s character on The Bob Newhart Show. I never went on to work for a psychiatrist or voice over a character on The Simpsons, so I suppose my real dreams have yet to materialize.
I really hooked into writing in 1992. It was a wonderful time to become an artist; there was rebellion in the streets, recession, Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers on TV, and a general embrace of all things creative by those who’d neglected them for years. I spent the whole year on my first collection of short fiction, Secondhand Store. It was the long waits for the one-line rejection letters from publishers at that time that got me into publishing. I can be a little more human, I thought.

pd: When did you decide to start publishing Falling Star, and what is its mission statement? How does Falling Star differ from other small literary journals?

MG: In 2000, I wrote a story to impress a girl. There were a lot of things I had trouble actually saying to her, so a friend encouraged me to put it in story form. I did, and the friend loved it, and then encouraged me to get it published. I scoffed. Scoffed, I say! It would take at least six months and by then I’d be in love with someone else. It would be easier to build a magazine around the story and publish it myself. So I put a submission notice on the web, and got so many good works I ended up leaving my story on the hard drive and publishing everyone else.
The act of producing the magazine has proved to be an ongoing work of art. Each issue allows me to add new photographs, drawings, sketches, and add elements as submissions dictate. Every issue is a new challenge. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.
Because I’ve limited the circulation between 300-1,200 copies, my job is still small and personal. I reply to every submission, often telling a writer (whether they want to hear it or not) what I liked about their work and what doesn’t work for us. I don’t openly criticize, even if provoked. I think that’s what we have to offer – a chance to get good work in print, something tangible, and to have your work critiqued by someone who’s been in the throes of the literary world since his days in a leaf pile.

pd: Why did you choose to name your publication Falling Star?

MG: Because I’d intended it to be only one issue. I needed a name that described something short, brilliant, and that would quickly end.

pd: Please define "slice of life" scenario? Why is a quotidian aspect more important than say, magical realism, or speculation, both of which are key elements in contemporary literature?

MG: It’s not necessarily more important, it’s just that I prefer slice of life works as a reliable reflection of the current human condition. Ultimately, if I’m lucky, the magazine will bear enough of these works to qualify as a document of our times, which is a lofty goal, but one that I consciously pursue. Many other selections I’ve made are written as narratives to a past event - I can think of three pieces that relate to the Vietnam War. Ultimately, their tale from yesterday becomes relevant to our place in the world today.
By the way, my preferences should in no way be construed as a distaste for science fiction, mystery, erotica, and other genres. Who doesn’t love a good mystery involving erotic robots?

pd: How has Falling Star and the needs of its readership changed since its inception?

MG: This is assuming we have a readership. The magazine itself has undergone a gradual transformation into a fairly respectable collection of contemporary literature both in content and physical make-up. The magazine you hold in your hand is a far cry from the first experiment in 2001. The first few years were a saddle-stapled booklet. Now we publish it in perma-bound.

pd: What are your personal criteria for judging submissions? If someone sent you a fabulous piece of poetry/prose that didn't quite fit Falling Star’s parameters, what kind of judgment call would you make, and why?

MG: I recently received a short story from an L.A. writer named Derrick Hurd called “Dancing with Terry.” This story is an O. Henry Award contender. I told him so. But it’s just too long for our modest pages. I hope he’s taken my advice and forwarded it to Glimmer Train and Tin House. It’s so good. I’m going to buy a copy of whatever magazine gets it first and keep it on my shelf when it’s published.
I’ve made exceptions. “Up North,” a longer piece of prose, a first-hand account of 9/11 was just too good to turn down. This, coupled with another longer work, forced me to make a decision; either pass on two great pieces of writing, or make a bigger magazine.

pd: You spend a great deal of time editing Falling Star. How does this influence your own writing?

MG: It inspires and shapes my writing. If left to my own writing devices, I’d spend hours, days, weeks, and months wracking my brain to craft my own stories. I know because I’ve done it. Editing Falling Star keeps my perspective fresh in that I’ll go back to my own work and be fairly objective, see it as if I’m seeing a submission. Anyone who edits has felt the same way, and if they don’t, they’re either lying or it’s fair to say they may be a selfish asshole better off staying on the publishing sidelines cheering other writers on.

pd: Who are some of your literary influences?

MG: They’re going to be contemporary, but anyone who tells a clear and concise story is my hero. Eddie Vedder said more in “Sleight of Hand” than many writers have in whole stories. In the last ten years I’ve seen this from a few short story writers: David Schickler’s Kissing in Manhattan, Lisa Kusel’s Other Fish in the Sea); a couple novelists like John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas, and Nick Hornsby’s High Fidelity. Slingblade is a great piece of work. Alan Alda wrote years of M*A*S*H episodes that were just tight, concise little stories. And he got to make out with a babe like Loretta Swit.

pd: You are So Cal based, but you publish people from all over the globe. How has that influenced your views on contemporary literature?

MG: Living in Thousand Oaks for 26 years has often been like living in a bubble; even when the world gets shaken up, things here have stayed pretty tepid. It’s allowed me to be a center of calm even in not-so-calm periods of American history. With that in place, I’ve been allowed to read the works of others around the globe and calmly dissect their opinions, why they’re reporting what they see, and how it might flavor the too often tepid lives of those around me, and maybe educate them.
Life just outside of L.A. is unlike any other I could imagine. Here, as artists, everything is at our disposal. Yet there are the views of Middle America and beyond to consider, and hopefully the magazine can be a conduit to deliver that.

pd: As an editor, how do you feel about the declining standard of basic attention to the detail to grammar, and of the decline of literacy in general? What advice would you give to someone who may be interested in writing, but is surrounded by nothing but sound-byte text-message lingo?

MG: Do your own thing. Just because your peers write and speak like illiteracy is a badge of honor doesn’t mean it fits you. Take it from me, an old school G.
On the other hand, there are those of us who may be speaking from one side of a generation gap. My parents couldn’t understand why I used “dude” in everything I said. A lot of today’s lingo is just a new mode of expression. Then again, there is the old argument about “if you think this is acceptable English, go fill out a job application and see how far you get.” Like our cheap Hyundai’s of the late 80’s, once they wear out and don’t take us where we want to go, we’ll drop them in the most convenient yard and get something more reliable.

pd: You publish in print, yet only accept submissions online. There are a number of small presses moving into electronic publishing as this cuts down on production costs, and increases readership. Do you see Falling Star eventually moving in this direction, and if so/not, then why?

MG: I still go out and buy the newspaper every day. I don’t subscribe; I go out and buy it off the rack. I like the feel of a newspaper in my hands as generations before me have. Yeah, I know this makes me a dinosaur, but if print is going by the wayside, why is the rack at 7-11 sold out every day by 5pm?
For the same reason, Falling Star may become electronic, but there will always be the print issue. I like a book in my hand. There were tens of thousands of people at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for a reason, the same reason–I think – nothing takes the place of picking up a book. In our case, nothing takes the place of picking up current literature.

pd: Last question: You aren't by chance related to Mike McGee, the well-known slam poet?

MG: Nope.

Bio: Matt McGee is the editor/publisher of Falling Star Magazine, a semi-annual literary publication founded in 2000. His Secondhand Store Productions helps fund different arts programs around the county, and beyond. He lives in Thousand Oaks, CA with his old dog, one rabbit, an old Mustang and his girlfriend Kristen.

copyright 2006 Marie Lecrivain

Marie Lecrivain

author's bio

Marie Lecrivain is the executive editor and publisher of poeticdiversity: the litzine of Los Angeles. She playfully, though metaphorically moonlights as an 8th-level whip wielder in Dante's Inferno, and is a writer in residence at her apartment.

- Poetic Diversity


Recently recorded "Don Patrol," instrumental for short in-store surfing film. Fresh material posted regularly on My Space:




L.A. based natives playing since we could hold tennis rackets and imitate Dave Davies. Currently recording instrumental works for film, television, commercial scores.

McGee - guitarist for Peradyme 2001-06, recorded & released 'The State,' concept album ala 'American Idiot' 2005. Released 'Beatrice' EP in 2003.