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Behind the Masthead: Dustin Pearson

Our new Managing Editor, Dustin Pearson, discusses adult-like things, sushi rice, and the most important thing he’s discovered since joining HFR (himself) with intern Michael Cohen.

Michael Cohen: You’re the new Managing Editor at HFR—what does that title mean to you?

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Dustin Pearson: Well, right now it means doing all the correspondence between our contributors. So the way that our process works is: the genre editors, they’ll go through the material—after it’s been passed up from the first, second, and third readers—and they’ll go through it, basically decide which pieces that they want, and then they’ll accept the piece initially. Then I’m responsible for all the formal processes, so the publication agreements, and all the kind of legal things that are involved with accepting pieces, [and] accepting contributors for the next issue. So it’s a lot of that. I’m pretty sure at some point it will involve budgeting, and all kinds of adult-like things I may or may not be ready to handle, but I will handle. And, you know, it’s basically just looking out for the magazine in a larger sense too, because I was able to negotiate a solicitation from one of our visiting writers, which we were really lucky to get. So I think in that way, it’s all about marketing, always making sure that at any point I get to advertise or tout the magazine, I do, and open up as many doors for Hayden’s Ferry as I can.

MC: You’re originally from South Carolina—what is the biggest difference, for you, between there and here?

DP: If I wanted to be boring, which I do at some points in time, I would say that it’s the humidity. I think today it’s like in the 90’s, and if we were in South Carolina, we’d be both wet and very very hot. I’d say 90’s in Arizona feels like what it would be like at 80 degrees with the sun shining and all the humidity in South Carolina. I’d say at some points in time when it comes to the humidity, I’m more comfortable in Arizona, but I definitely do miss the South Carolina weather.

MC: A follow up: What’s the best thing you’ve discovered since moving to Arizona?

DP: Oh, wow. The best thing I’ve discovered… who knows, man? Probably my apartment. My one bedroom, one bathroom apartment that I get to myself. I definitely did discover it; it was a weird, kind of crazy process getting here, because I had no idea—I didn’t visit Arizona before I came out to move here for the program. So, I had to negotiate all that basically over the phone and email. This is the first time I’ve ever lived alone, so in that way, I’m getting to know parts of myself I previously had neglected—there’s lots of singing to myself and talking to myself, and it’s all okay, because I’m the only audience for myself in my own apartment.

MC: Do you find yourself returning to any themes in your work frequently? Any itches you have to keep scratching?

DP: Yeah, definitely: Race. Trauma. Other forms of abuse. I feel like, at this point in time, I’m always looking to discover a certain kind of intimacy. I think that’s the craving that I have. Not physical intimacy, but human-to-human intimacy that doesn’t include any kind of physical interaction. So I think that’s the one thing that’s remained constant in my work, and the one thing that I think I’ll never stop writing about. I think there’s all this potential for human beings to have these great genuine interactions with each other, but society isn’t really built that way. It’s much more efficient to be casual and to leave all that other stuff at home. So in that way, if I’m going to continue with that metaphor, everything that people are leaving at home, that’s what I want to bring to the forefront in my work.

MC: You talked about living alone and having yourself as an audience. Do you find you’re discovering a lot of that intimacy with yourself in this new space that’s fueling any of your work?

DP: I think I get most inspired when I’m by myself in these kind of intimate settings, but when I had other people that I had to consider, I think I would definitely neglect, or try and postpone. This way, living alone, I do get to explore it deeper sooner than I would if I didn’t live alone.

MC: What’s the best thing you’ve read in the last six months or so? Or maybe the best three things—three to five.

DP: It’s so funny—I’m never able to do these “best of” questions. I feel like I have no pulse when it comes to the things that I’m reading. There will be things that I really like, but at any point in time when I finish reading something, I’m not immediately able to say “That’s definitely one of the best.” I look at other people and I’m thinking, when they start talking about “Yeah, this is the best book I’ve read this year,” and I’m like how do you know that? How do you make that decision? What does that decision look like?

I guess if I wanted to be superficial and just answer it like how you probably want me to in the first place, I’d say maybe Thomas Sayers Ellis’ Skin, Inc. That’s one. My home page, on my Internet browser, that’s probably number two, because the content changes and it’s always different and it’s invigorating, maybe because it changes so often. And number three: my students’ essays for freshman comp. That’s been some exhilarating work.

MC: Who or what would you say inspires you? (not necessarily just in your work, but also in life)

DP: I’d say probably the unknown. This hope that I have that there’s some great, unlocked potential that I’m working toward. It might not be that I ever get to it, but I think the aspiration of chasing the dream of unlocking that potential—that’s what motivates me the most.  I think about writing for my entire life and not knowing what I’ll be writing about 30 minutes from now or 70 years from now, and that’s really, really exciting. That’s the thing that really propels me when I don’t have anything else.

But who? There are some obvious answers, like my former teachers. I don’t think I would have been a writer if I hadn’t met my last teacher. But as far as somebody whose work I really model or channel when producing new work—I don’t have that person yet. I don’t think I would ever want to emulate somebody’s lifestyle that I admired. I would want to be close to that person, but I wouldn’t want to replicate that person in any way, because that would probably make them not so interesting to me anymore.

MC: You’re stranded on a deserted island—you can bring 3 nonessential items (basic food, water, clothing, shelter, etc. do not count) what do you bring?

DP: You know what? This is going to be so disappointing, because I’m going to go in that cliché route that’s usually like, “What book or what movie would you bring?” One of the writers that I really really admire is Patricia Highsmith, and she wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley, and that’s a whole series of books with similar characters and whatnot. That’s one of my favorite movies ever. I’d probably bring the book, because it wouldn’t be practical to bring the DVD, right? Unless I wanted to bring a DVD player… But, I think it’s so cool how it shows you how your work can transcend the person who’s writing it. If you read Patricia’s biography, you’ll find out she’s a reclusive kind of personality, and she was never comfortable with black people, and it seems like, from very outwardly, it would be silly for me to admire her work so much, but I really do. 

So that would be one thing. I think, sushi rice—that would be another thing. Just this jug of sushi rice that continually fills itself. And white sauce. The white sauce to go on top of that rice. That way, I could pick up some coconuts or some crabs from the island and have myself a good old time and have sushi. I imagine there will be seaweed where I’m going, so that’s it: sushi rice, Patricia Highsmith’s book The Talented Mr. Ripley, and white sauce. *laughs*

MC: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to go into the writing/editing/publishing field?

DP: My advice would be to write what you want, first. Definitely be smart, and educate yourself about it, but write what you want first, that’s the impulse that I think will be the most worthwhile and give you the greatest chance of succeeding at writing. Write what you want to write and write what you’re passionate about writing, because all that other stuff like getting published and all those practical, logistical things, all that material stuff, it’s not going to be rewarding unless you’re really putting something out there that you’re attached to and invested in.  

Behind the Masthead: Kevin Lichty

Our new special projects editor, Kevin Lichty, discusses top secret plans, old radios, and Toy Fox Terriers.

Shelby Heinrich: Special projects editor sounds like a very interesting and important title. What exactly does this title entail? 

Kevin Lichty: The special projects editor is job made and remade every year. Essentially, any idea that an editor has (as an individual or as a collective "editors") that falls outside of the traditional pages of HFR and everyone loves, it is the special project editors job to make that idea happen. 

SH: Are there any “special” projects for HFR in the works right now that you are particularly excited about? 

KL: I have two top secret projects I will be working on over the summer that will reach out to our community (both local and digital) and ask for active engagement and participation. I hope everyone will love them.

SH: How would you describe HFR to someone who knows nothing about it? 

KL: HFR is a literary magazine that is all about play, but serious play, the kind of play you engage in when you are trying to, say, break the unified field theory, or discover the immortal incandescent light bulb, or develop a new calculus for macroeconomics. That's the kind of serious play HFR's contributors engage in with their language and form and content. 

SH: What forms of writing do you personally like to create (fiction, poetry, lyrics, hieroglyphics etc.)? What other forms of creation do you enjoy?

KL: I am a storyteller, which usually means I work in prose, but not always (like 90 percent prose). I was a street musician in South Florida for awhile, which in itself is a form of constant (re)creation. When I was a kid, I used to tape a radio show with my younger brother. We had this old radio that somehow had a microphone built into the speakers and so we'd talk into this old radio and record songs by holding one speaker up to the other and use these old cassette tapes my dad had and gave them out to our friends. It was like an annotated mixed tape but with these horrible conversations and bad skits just sort of wedged in there.

SH: What is your spirit animal? 

KL: Right now, it is probably my Toy Fox Terrier, Saydee, because she plants herself on my shoulder when I'm watching TV or reading and watches vigilantly with her giant ears and her giant eyes and snaps at anyone who tries to take her off that perch.

Behind the Masthead: Editors at Work

When we're not reading, we're writing. This is where the magic happens.

"This chair was my husband's grandpa's.  The sun hits it perfectly in the late afternoon and I just sink in and scribble away before everyone else gets home at night.  At least one dog is usually around to lay on my feet and its close to the record player so I can be swallowed up by tunes while I work." -Chelsea H., Editor

"I bought this desk for $5 dollars at a surplus store, and the typewriter was the best goodwill find in my own personal history of thrifting. The desk faces East and overlooks the McDowell Mountain Range from my 3rd floor patio. The desk has a shelf underneath that holds my space heater for chilly nights - also, my cat, Thesis, loves hide there and fall asleep on the cool metal." - Kyle B., Poetry Editor

"I was going to post a picture of my desk, with its incense holder and neat pile of books and potted cacti and shaded lamp, but this feels way more honest. More often than not, I do my writing on the dining room table - one of my housemates barely visible behind a messy pile of overdo library books, a full bag of snacks close by (usually less respectable than pretzels), a pen "borrowed" from my latest hotel stay on hand, and one of my housemates' many pets stalking behind my laptop screen." - Dana D., Editor

"'Isn't the exterior an old intimacy lost in the shadow of memory?' -Gaston Bachelard" - Alex M., International Editor

"My workspace is in the living area of my apartment. I'm usually crosslegged on the small sofa typing away. I love this comfy spot because of its natural lighting, bright colors and my chirpy parakeet who sits by the window." - Jackie B., Poetry Editor

"This cozy space, nestled in the comforting bosom of my television, serves as my central writing zone, or WriteZone. To keep this brief I'll stick to an inventory of the present: a desk procured from the freshly-soaped back alley of a Christian university; a chair mined from a Xerox subsidiary--well worn in the pivotal places; a lamp and shade with unknown origins; roughly 84 unread Cease & Desist letters from local delis concerning an undisclosed personal matter; and one cat--a known associate and a cappella partner of a myriad of local shelter-bound street cats." - Gary G., Prose Editor

"My workspace is in my living room. The desk has a fake marble top. I got a nice deal on it from the furniture store I bought it from because it was damaged, but it's nothing you can see from the picture. I always keep candy at my desk, mostly to hand out to people that I ignore when I'm done ignoring them, but I also occasionally will have a piece. There are two pictures above my desk. One is a picture of a plant and is framed. One is a portrait a DJ did of me at a party. The portrait is done on a small paper plate. The fake tree in the corner is paramount to me sitting down to do anything at the desk for any significant amount of time. I like to pretend I can harness some kind of creative energy from it." - Dustin P., Editor

Behind the Masthead: Dorothy Chan

Only a few weeks until Issue 55 is released! Meanwhile, we are gearing up for our special themed issue: CHAOS. Lauren Mickey interviews our poetry editor, Dorothy Chan, about boy bands, Nylon, and our upcoming issue.

Lauren Mickey: What are you currently reading (besides submissions)? 

Dorothy Chan: I'm currently reading a bunch of fashion blogs: We Wore What, Sea of Shoes, Luxirare, etc. I like to keep up with current trends in fashion and lifestyle -- I truly believe this enhances my writing and gives me a different perspective besides the literary. On the literary side, however, I'm reading The Crucifix Blocks by Todd Fredson as well as the current issue of APR

LM: How has being a poetry editor at HFR changed the way you write / read?

DC: Being poetry editor for 2 years has enhanced the way I read. Besides the benefit of reading submissions with greater speed, I'm also reading much more meticulously. I'm trying to get to know the person behind the writer behind each poem. 

LM: What is your go-to play-on-repeat song?

DC: Oh wow, I have so many. And I promise you, I'm not one of those writers who names obscure bands just to sound cool. Let's see, right now I'm hooked on 5 Seconds of Summer, this adorable band that's labeled as a "boyband," though they strive to be more pop-punk. I like their song "She Looks So Perfect" because it keeps referencing "American Apparel Underwear." Interestingly, I'm also a big Sinatra fan--I fell in love with his voice in a taxicab in Hong Kong when I was four. I love his duet with Bing Crosby from the film, High Society. With that, I love songs from old MGM musicals. As far as a playlist: "Evil" by Interpol, "Live While We're Young" by One Direction, "Biggest Part of Me" by Ambrosia, "Forever Young" by Rod Stewart, "Eyes As Candles," by Passion Pit, and [fill in the blank with almost anything catchy]. 

LM: Issue 55 — the “Chaos” issue — is coming out soon… Were you surprised and/or impressed by how poets incorporated themes of chaos into their submissions? 

DC: I am very pleased with the Chaos collection Jackie and I are curating. At first, I was worried we'd get hundreds of Dada poems, but there's lots of standouts in this collection. I'm glad that many writers incorporated narrative with chaos.

LM: I read your previous “Behind the Masthead” interview and saw that you read Nylon. Do you have a favorite Nylon covergal? (Mine is Tavi Gevinson, I think, probably.) 

DC: I love Tavi! I saw this fabulous pink fur outfit she wore on a fashion blog the other day. My other favorite would have to be Sienna Miller for the anniversary issue. I also like Taylor Momsen's cover on a summer issue of Nylon Singapore.

LM: What is your ideal writing environment (coffee shop, a dark room, lost in the woods, etc.)? 

DC: My ideal environment is anywhere noisy...hopefully with enough attractive things or people to look at.

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Dorothy Chan is a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PlumeChaKeyhole, and Vine Leaves. She is a poetry editor at Hayden's Ferry Review