Author Interview: Dan Chaon On Writing, and Inspirations. | More2Read Interviews
 

Author Interview: Dan Chaon On Writing, and Inspirations.


copyright: Geraldine Aresteanu


Dan Chaon’s most recent book is Ill Will, a national bestseller, named one of the ten best books of 2017 by Publishers Weekly. Other works include the short story collection Stay Awake (2012), a finalist for the Story Prize; the national bestseller Await Your Reply and Among the Missing, a finalist for the National Book Award. Chaon’s fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize Anthologies, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. He has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Fiction, the Shirley Jackson Award, and he was the recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chaon lives in Ohio and teaches at Oberlin College.

http://danchaon.com



The Interview with Dan Chaon


 

Lou Pendergrast

Welcome! Thank you for taking time out to chat on writing, works, and inspirations.

 

Dan Chaon 

Thank you, Lou!  I’m honored!  

 


 

Lou Pendergrast

What was the inspiration and seed behind your novel Ill Will?

 

Dan Chaon 

One inspiration was the urban legend of a supposed serial killer cult that kidnaps and drowns on young college-age men—sometimes referred to as the Smiley-Face Murder theory.  Similarly, I was fascinated by the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. I knew I wanted to write a story that played with our attraction to fringe beliefs and conspiracies. 


 


 

Lou Pendergrast

What were you trying to communicate to the reader with this tale?

 

Dan Chaon 

I’m interested in questions about how identity is created, and I wanted to explore the ways memory, self-deception, and manipulation are forces that can skew and distort our sense of “reality.”  

 


 

LP

The short story “The Bees” can be found in many collections of best short stories. What is the inspiration behind this tale?  

 

Dan Chaon 

My son was suffering from night terrors for a while as a child, and that was definitely the inspiration for the opening incident. As the story went on, I found that it became focused on the question of whether we can ever truly escape the crimes of our past. The main character of Gene is an exaggerated version of all the bad parents I have known—including myself—and it was kind of therapeutic to rain hellfire down on him.    

 


 

LP

When you sit and create what elements are at the forefront of crafting the scene?

 

Dan Chaon 

Image is at the forefront of my mind when I set out to write.  I have to be able to visualize a scene in my mind’s eye, I want it to feel cinematic and immersive.   

 


 

LP

Pantser or Outliner?

 

Dan Chaon 

I’d never heard these terms before, but I’m definitely a “seat-of-my-pants” kind of writer.  I rarely know what’s going to happen when I sit down to write.  

 


LP

Why?

 

Dan Chaon 

For me, personally, it’s important that the characters grow organically as the story progresses. If I knew what was going to happen, it would take away the character’s free will, in a weird way, and it would feel too pre-determined.  I tend to lose interest if I don’t have some kind of mystery or unanswered questions that need to be solved.  I don’t mean this to be prescriptive, though. A lot of writers I respect are Outliners, and that’s perfectly fine!  

 


 

LP

Do you journal or do morning pages? 

 

Dan Chaon 
I am not really a morning person.  I do my chores and errands in the AM, and prefer to work once the sun goes down. I do write in a journal (though I call it a “notebook” because of being forced to do a “journal” in middle school and still feeling bitter about it.) 

 


 

LP

Writing, when, where, and with what do you do it?

 

Dan Chaon 

My main writing time is between 9 PM and 4 AM.  I have a study on the third floor of my house, and I like to write longhand for the first draft—I use a Staedtler Norica #2 pencil and composition notebooks.   I am also into these six-column A4 sized grade school notepads that I found when I was in Italy.   I don’t know why, but I love to write on graph/column paper.   

 


 

LP

What key writing advice to the aspiring author? 

 

Dan Chaon 

I think it’s important to read.  And I mean read like a fan—like a connoisseur, not just the New Yorker or the stuff that gets big reviews, but actually perusing the literary journals that you aspire to be in, actually buying books at a bookstore or at the very least bringing a stack home from the library! It would seem like this would be obvious, but so many of the young aspiring writers I meet don’t engage enough with their contemporaries—they don’t have the insatiable curiosity of, say,  a typical music fan,  where they are out there looking to discover some new debut novel or story collection, where they’re going down a rabbit hole and just exploring some side branch of literature that no one has ever heard of….

 


 

LP

Truth work in framework of fiction, thoughts and relationship with this aspect in fiction? 

 

Dan Chaon 

I guess you’re asking here about autobiographical elements? On the one hand, there’s very little in the “plot” of my books that relates to my real life.  On the other hand, I frequently borrow anecdotes that people tell me, or news stories, or weird little scenes from my daily rounds. When I’m working on a novel, everything is fair game.     

I like to create situations that are wildly different from my own, and then give the characters problems that I’m trying to work through personally. So the autobiography is psychological rather than factual.    

 


 

LP

Short story writing, your thoughts on them, with publishing, publishers, the art, the readership.

 

Dan Chaon 

This is a big and complicated question.  I’ve been away from the world of short story writing for quite a few years now. My last collection, Stay Awake, came out in 2012,  and I’ve only written a handful of stories since then—most of them written by request,  for particular theme anthologies, like this one on Amazon.  



 

LP

You have a story in a collection many years ago, Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, called Little America. It is now in The Best of the Best Horror of the Year collection edited by Ellen Datlow, tell me more about the Ray Bradbury influence, his impression and inspiration for you as a writer and author?

 

Dan Chaon 

When I was in middle school, I wrote a letter to Ray Bradbury and sent him some stories that I had written. He wrote me back and gave me some advice and this started a correspondence that lasted for several years.   It was life-changing for me.  I’m still so amazed by his kindness and generosity.  I wouldn’t have become a writer if it weren’t for this.   

 



 

LP

Authors and their books that your re-read and have a special place on the bookshelf, those that you set you upon the road of the aspiring writer?  

 

Dan Chaon 

There are so many, but I will name only ten! Besides Bradbury and Carver, mentioned above, I would include Jean Toomer,  Vladamir Nabokov, Julio Cortazar, Shirley Jackson, Patricia Highsmith, Alice Munro, Peter Straub and Denis Johnson. 

 

LP

Share one thing that has delivered light and happiness into your life since becoming a writer and published author.

 

Dan Chaon 

I adopted a rescue dog a few years ago,  and he’s the kindest and most thoughtful animal I’ve ever met.  His name is Ray Bradbury, a Jack Russell/Border Collie mix, and he’s the first one I thought of when you said “light and happiness.”


 The great Ray Bradbury, Jack Russell/Border Collie, a light and happiness. 


 

LP

Any recent reads and recommendations to share?

 

Dan Chaon 

I think Jesmyn Ward is one of the best contemporary writers, and I loved her latest one, SING, UNBURIED, SING.   A recent debut novel I admired is DISAPPEARING EARTH by Julia Phillips. I also enjoyed Gabino Iglesias’ COYOTE SONGS, Nathan Ballingrud’s WOUNDS, Brian Evenson’s SONG FOR THE UNRAVELLING OF THE WORLD and Bette Howland’s CALM SEA AND PROSPEROUS VOYAGE.  

 



 

LP

When and what work can we expect to read next from you?

 

Dan Chaon 

I have a new novel that I’m working on and it’ll be out in a year or so, that’s all I can say.  

 


 

LP

Thank you for this insightful chat into your writing life.  

 

Dan Chaon 

Thank you, Lou!  I really appreciate what you’re doing with this website!    

 



 

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 05 July 2019