The Penmen Profile: Contemporary Southern Writer Dixon Hearne

by Rebecca LeBoeuf

PHOTOS-Dixon 002 smLouisiana native Dixon Hearne uses his Southern roots as an influence in his writing. The author of “Delta Flats: Stories in the Keys of Blues and Hope” (2016), a collection of short stories, tends to incorporate Southern imagery and themes into his work.

Hearne writes short stories, novellas, poetry and essays, and he has edited several anthologies. His work is found in many magazines, journals and anthologies, including his short story, “Never Was,” which was published in The Penmen Review.

Though semi-retired, Hearne continues to write. He has been nominated for several awards and even won the Creative Spirit Award-Platinum for best general fiction book. Visit his website for a complete listing of his work.

Have you always written?
I began tinkering with poetry while in undergraduate school at University of St. Thomas in Houston. My high school curriculum offered no opportunity or encouragement for creative writing. As an academic, I wrote primarily for professional journals — all research-based publications. I served on several editorial boards and presented at conferences. At some point, I tired of writing “factual,” empirical research reports. I yearned to try my hand at writing in a different genre and in a different voice — that of “creative” writer.

What’s your process in developing your storyline and characters?
I’m asked this question often, and I’m never really quite sure how to explain it. Some stories come to me fully realized, that is, from start to end. Others evolve from bits and scraps. Short stories frequently begin with a voice, a character. I’m sometimes not sure where a narrator is going to take me, but I have come to trust myself. I often cite Ray Bradbury, who said: “Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.”

Characters swirl in my head, many of them reminiscent of persons I met in my travels along the back roads of Louisiana with my father. He was a traveling salesman, and I loved tagging along in the summer. What a wonderful collection of people and voices — chattering about the weather, their fields and farms, LSU football, politics and all the local gossip. They had no idea that I was making copious mental notes. I’ve never sat down and mapped out a plot — I’m simply not made that way. My hand writes it all down, but I let the characters tell their stories in their own way. Their voices are so clear in my mind that I trust them with the task.

What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them?
Like most writers, I question whether my stories and poetry will be of any real interest to readers. Because I write primarily about my native South, I expect my readership to be a niche market. While my stories frequently deal with universal themes, I’m content if they ring true and entertaining to fellow Southerners. In recent years, I have somehow caught the eye of a broader audience, many of whom I believe are just now awakening to the voices of wonderful contemporary Southern writers.

As for challenges, revision remains my biggest adversary. I do not spend much time revising. When I finish a story, there is little else to say or do. Short stories, as a rule, naturally require less revision than novel-length stories. They don’t typically present the range and array of characters one encounters in novels — all of them requiring keen attention to their purpose and their individual stories.

My recent novella, “From Tickfaw to Shongaloo” (2015), was my first attempt at writing a longer story. I was thrilled that it was awarded second place in the William Faulkner Novella Competition, judged by Moira Crone. It encouraged me to try my hand at a novel-length story, “Don’t Try Me,” based on a short story I published several years ago. It was short-listed in the 2015 Faulkner-Wisdom Novel-in-Progress category.

What has the road to publication been like for you?DELTA FLATS-COVER IMAGE
I have been very fortunate to place all of my short stories and poetry in magazines and journals. I will never forget the wonderful feeling I got when I opened up my first letter of acceptance. I was thrilled to find that someone had actually read my story. I still get that feeling every time I receive a response to a submission — whether an acceptance or a rejection. I decided early on to send out manuscripts simultaneously to those magazines and journals that allow it. I love having several things out for review. With rare exception, I have been treated with respect by editors. However, I do recall one who told me that I should read all the work by (a specific writer) before I submit to them again. I never did. In short, I have no real complaints about my road to publication.

How do you market your work?
Facebook has been a boon for writers. There are many Facebook groups where writers can post information about their books, readings and signings. Twitter is perhaps even more popular. Networking with fellow writers and writing groups is another excellent way to promote one’s work. I am a member of three writing groups, all of them actively promoting members’ creative work.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
I wish I had discovered/attempted creative writing long before I did. I did not know that writing groups existed. I spent many hours in Barnes & Noble checking out fiction and poetry markets. I probably could have saved a lot of time had I taken a college course in creative writing. Still, I think my way has served me well in the long run.

Who are the authors that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
I am most attracted to Southern writers — their subjects, themes, language and style. We seem to have made a shift from traditional Southern gothic to “Southern grit,” which, to my mind is a throw-down to see who can be the most garish and vulgar and explicit. I like, among others, the work of Skip Horack, John Dufresne, Stephanie Dickinson, David Armand, Daren Dean, Tim Parrish and Tom Williams. There are too many to name here.

If you could keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why?
“Pride and Prejudice” – a reminder of what beautiful, sophisticated language once was.

The Bible – for a range of reasons.

I cannot decide upon just three!