On Writing: Matthew Kabik

Matthew Kabik is the founding editor of Third Point Press, an online literary journal that debuted in early 2015. Matt and his team strive to insure that some of the stories featured in each edition of the journal are from each of the “three points,” specifically, writers in Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg, PA. Matt describes his own writing as “PA Gothic,” and he has been published in several journals, and has been nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize. I met Matt in January of 2015, and have been intrigued by his social media posts where he occasionally wrestles with the existential questions all writers face; questions such as: Does a writer’s work matter? Does anyone care about my voice? Is writing worth it? Matt holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Arcadia University. You should follow him on Twitter at @mlkabik.

Jim: Let’s get right into it. Does a writer’s work matter?

Matt: I think a writer's work absolutely matters, yes, but it depends on who's asking that question, and who they are asking it to. I think that if you hone that question a bit, you can get widely different answers, and to me the answer depends entirely on that.

If you asked, for instance, if a white CIS male's writing mattered, I would say maybe. Maybe even no. Reason being that it seems that group of people, myself included, doesn't really have to try terribly hard to be published. That voice is a dime a dozen, and so often shared and commented on that I can't really care if I ever read another white CIS guy's writing.

That's not to say that there aren't great writers out there who fit that profile. There are. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands, but I think it's also true that there are others who can tell just as good a story and are pushed out because of how easy it is for a white man's writing to be put in the front.

If you asked if a person of color's writing mattered, I'd say probably, maybe even yes. If you asked the same about a woman's writing or a refugee's writing or almost anyone who wasn't so typically part of the canon, I'd lean much harder towards yes. Reason being that if we're going to get the same quality of stories from everyone, we might as well get it from some of the people who, traditionally, have not had the chance or audience to tell it.

I'm making big generalizations here, of course, which I have to do with such a broad question, but I think it's part of the formula that stopped me from writing fiction: over-saturation of white, straight privilege + the idea that I should be aware of that privilege and not try to take advantage of it + a personal belief that one should write to be read = a writer's block that's lasted for almost a year, now.

I guess another way of looking at it is whether my writing matters, which knowing full well the impostor syndrome we all have, and knowing I'm my own worst critic, I'd say no. No, my own writing isn't really changing the world nor is bringing about any sort of meaning to people outside of a very small sphere, so no. Nope.

Jim: Can you talk a little about how Third Point Press pushes for diversity? Are you happy with the diversity of submissions?

Matt: We have tried a few ways, and I don't know how successful they are. The first thing we did was make our submissions anonymous to our readers and editors (only I would know the names and bios of who submitted). We did that for an issue with the thought that in not knowing names, we would only choose the best.

Well, that's some limited thinking, we discovered. You can't push for diversity and be passive about it. So while our readers are still reading submissions blind, our editors now have access. We are working on ways to ask diverse groups to submit, and trying to create a safe space for people to submit. It's not quite soliciting from diverse voices, but more so about making sure we're not seen as yet another publication that leans towards the all white, all male side of the publishing world.

So far we've done well. At my last count we had more female (female based on name, not on self-definition) submissions, and we've published folks from backgrounds that aren't ours. It makes for some great pieces that lend themselves to ideas that I haven't ever come across, or perspectives that are only shown through one lens.

We're considering asking submitters to include any personal information they'd like to share during the submission process--not so much to choose one person over another based on background, but so that we have a better idea of who we're publishing--and making sure that we aren't only publishing a single group over anyone else. I know that can sometimes strike people as wrong, but it shouldn't. We're not aiming to not publish anyone, but we do want to see who we are publishing in each issue, and how well we're doing at crawling outside of ourselves and our own cultures. We want to have a place for everyone to be seen.

Jim: I love the “We Need Diverse Books” movement. I’m not optimistic the big publishers will do much, but I hope the diversity discussion spurs on a new DIY movement. We’re fortunate to be in a time where publishing online and on-demand is an opportunity for marginalized writers. Do you have thoughts on where this is heading?

Matt: I think you're right in being excited but wary that big publishers will be slow to catch on (big organizations are always slow on things like that). I am sometimes scared of how loose publishing seems to be - in that the gatekeepers, and in this case I mean people who separate good work from everyone publishing everything -  are easily able to be ignored, but it's also kind of exciting that we can ignore them. So I waffle: I like that more people are able to publish more stuff, but I'm scared that if everyone publishes everything, it'll become so hard to read the really outstanding work. That might be an unrealistic concern, though, so I don't stay up at night worrying about it.

I agree that on demand and DIY helps marginalized writers, but just as anything else, it doesn't guarantee that marginalized writers will be read or promoted. Again, it comes down to passive v. active effort. It's great that we can get folks published (or they can publish themselves),but it's only through active engagement that we'll be able to get more marginalized voices to the eyes of readers. Publishing on demand and self-publishing are only as good as the marketing and promotion behind them.

Jim: Agreed. So let’s circle back to your writing. At one point this year you mentioned you were taking a hiatus. Are you writing at all these days?

Photo Courtesy of Michelle Johnsen   

Photo Courtesy of Michelle Johnsen


Matt: Up until last night around 11pm, I would have told you I hadn't written since April of this year. However my mom got me a mechanical keyboard that feels and looks like a typewriter, and that kinda begged for me to try at least something.

But yes, I've taken a hiatus and maintained that hiatus in my writing group/creative work for almost a full year. I wrote one flash story in that time period that was picked up by NANO Fiction, but nothing else--ideas or otherwise--came to me. It's a weird feeling and a weird place to be, and I don't quite know the cause or the reason it's hanging around for so long.

What I will say is that it's kinda liberating. There was such an emphasis on production in my MFA and such an overall push for writers to always write that stepping away from it felt a bit like getting away from a thankless job. I enjoy the break. I enjoy not caring about whether I'm producing anything. It's nice to have that stress go away.

Jim: Can you recall the moment where you first thought, “I want to be a writer.” Were you influenced by a specific work or author? Related: What writers have inspired you the most?

Matt: I wrote since I was very young--poems in elementary school and middle school, and short stories in high school. I think decided I wanted to pursue writing sometime around my sophomore year of college, or at least pursue it seriously. Before that point it was just a way to be withdrawn and longing towards those I thought attractive and a great way to impress other thick-frame glassed students.

I think Kerouac really made me fall in love with writing, which is funny considering that I don't know if I could stand him, now. I bet it was a mix of reading stuff outside of the high school canon and the escapism of someone who was able to document a life outside of those walls.

The writers that inspire me the most now are Laura van den Berg, Lydia Peelle, Chealsea Laine Wells, Kelly Link. So many others I'm probably forgetting. Really I read lots of short stories in different online mags and what-not, and sometimes it can be just a single story from an author I never read that stops me in my tracks.

Jim: We started this interview on a serious note but let’s end talking about something fun - the Adult Spelling Bee Fundraiser. I had so much fun participating this year. For those who haven’t heard of it, can you tell us how it started and how you use the funds?

Matt: It started with Erin Dorney and Tyler Barton, who created the adult spelling bee to help fund The Triangle (which was interested in literary events in Lancaster and beyond). When Third Point Press was only an idea, they allowed me to tag along and get some of the funds from that first spelling bee to help get set-up.

Essentially it's just a fundraiser that's supposed to be very fun. We don't take it very seriously and, if everything goes right, the people participating aren't taking it seriously either. We use the funds to pay contributors for as long as we can, pay for submission tools like Submittable, and for upkeep of the website. It's certainly not enough to cover all of that (most of Third Point Press is funded by me, directly), but it does offset expenses and gives the staff a reason to have some fun.

Jim: Thanks for taking time to answer interview questions!

Enjoy excellent prose, poetry, and artwork at  Third Point Press. Learn more about Matt's writing at Matchstick Circus. Follow Matt on Twitter at @mlkabik