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Dan Chaon: Meat Is the Reward

by Marc Silver
Nov 28, 2006

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Dan Chaon captures the lives of lost Midwesterners in his short stories (Among the Missing was a National Book Award finalist) and in his acclaimed first novel, You Remind Me of Me. The Houck Associate Professor in the Humanities at Oberlin College is currently working on three new novels.

How He Writes: "For the last few years I've tried to force myself to write at least one page every day, which doesn't sound like much but it's actually pretty hard to manage. Because I'm not allowed to do a make-up day. I can't do two pages the next day. The punishment for not completing my page is that I have to eat a vegetarian meal the next day. One of the big boons for me as a writer was smoking. But when I turned 40 I decided I had to stop smoking. Then all the problems with stopping smoking appeared and one of those included weight gain. So I do all these healthy things, and I guess I look at the unhealthy lifestyle as the reward. I really do set up all kinds of hoops to jump through with carrots at the end, including TV shows that I want to watch. I have to finish my page before I watch the show. Lost is the show that I'm currently obsessed."

Writer's Block Remedy: "I usually have more than one thing I'm working on at once — I've been working on three different novels. When I get stuck on one, I hop back and forth. It's sort of freeing: I can say I'm abandoning this thing that I hate forever and I'm moving on to something that's good. I'll find that I'll go back to [the other project] in a day or a week and like it again. But that moment of wanting to trash something — that Virginia Woolf moment when you have to be stopped from filling your pocket with stones — comes pretty regularly for me. Switching is probably a good thing."

Best sentence: "'Twenty years passed.' It's the opening sentence of a novel I'm writing. It's unshowy. I guess I like it just because it's so blunt."

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