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?
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.