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Dan Chaon: LibraryThing Author Interview

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Dan Chaon is the author of the novel You Remind Me of Me, and two collections of short stories, Fitting Ends and Among the Missing. Chaon lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and teaches at Oberlin College. His new novel Await Your Reply is a twisting tale of three seemingly unconnected characters.

I'm not sure how to sum up the book without giving too much away, so I'll make you do it. How would you describe your new novel, Await Your Reply?

It is a story about identity in our contemporary digital age. It follows three seperate stories of people who step out of their own lives and into new ones, and the stories eventually converge. The book begins with three images: A severed hand in an ice chest. A lighthouse in the middle of the Nebraska prairie. A man driving a car toward the Arctic Circle, in the light of the midnight sun. And then it begins to weave those scenes together.

Where'd the title come from?

The working title of the book was "Amnesiascape," but it turns out there's a book by Steve Erikson called "Amnesiascope" so that didn't work out. I thought maybe I would call it "Sleepwalk" but no one was really happy with that.

At the last minute, we came up with "Await Your Reply."

It came from that spam email that we all get, and which is quoted at length in the book: the daughter of a wealthy Nigerian gold merchant needs our help, if only we can give her our bank account and social security number. I love the melancholy formality of "Await Your Reply," and I like that there's something slightly sinister about it.

If you could be someone else, who would you be?

Doug Dorst!

Your novel takes place all over—from Las Vegas to Nebraska to the Arctic. Have you been to all these places?

I visited some of them. Some I more or less invented, after doing a little research on the internet and looking at travel brochures. It's good that I'm a fiction writer, because when a place didn't suit my needs, I just made stuff up.

You're on Twitter (@Danchaon)—what do you think of writing in 140 character bursts?

I like the way information gets disseminated on Twitter, and I find that I'm always learning a lot of new stuff. I'm mostly following people who are interested in books, and it's a great way to keep track of what's happening. Oddly, many of the people who are following me on twitter are naked single women with videocams, but I guess that is the price of fame.

I read somewhere that you have a reward/punishment system in place to keep yourself writing. True?

Sort of. I try to make sure I keep to a schedule, and one of the ways I try to keep myself on the straight and narrow is by setting goals and having consequences for not reaching those goals. For example, being forced to have an all vegan day if I don't make my writing quota. Or no beer. Or no TV. All equally harsh.

Tell us about your personal library—what's on your bookshelves?

I read a lot every year, and it's hard to narrow it down. Some of the books I've recently enjoyed include:

—interview by Abby Blachly

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