IMAGE: Philip Chaon
You really should read: You Remind Me of Me
If a writer is measured by his accolades, Chaon is your man. You Remind Me of Me was named one of the best books of 2005 by a host of publications, and his story collection, Among the Missing, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Likely because he tackles the tricky stuff—fate, redemption and detachment, all through restrained prose and flawed characters. Chaon also teaches Creative Writing in Cleveland, Ohio, and will lead a workshop here on “The Author, His Characters and Narrative Distance.” Noon Saturday, Oct. 10. Oregon Convention Center. 3 pm Saturday, Oct. 10. Columbia Sportswear Stage.
What’s your personal writing ritual?
I need good mood music. I’m afraid I spend more time making music playlists than I do writing.
What are your favorite themes to write about (or that you’re most guilty of rehashing)?
Identity. The nature of the self. Getting stoned.
The most beautiful word in the English language is: Still.
It’s very multifaceted. It can be a noun, a verb, a conjunction, an adverb and an adjective. Plus, it’s pretty. Say it with ellipsis afterwards, and listen to the way it echoes.
What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place, and why?
I think I was most inspired by two Rays: Bradbury and Carver. I fell in love with Bradbury in pre-adolescence, because of his language and his dreamlike but recognizable worlds and his big, melancholy heart. Carver came for me in college—in many ways Bradbury’s opposite, I thought. I loved that he was writing about the lives of “ordinary people, but I particularly admired the precision of his writing and the deeply spooky mysteriousness he could evoke by leaving things unspoken. I realize now that they are really two sides of the same coin.
Fight Club time: If you could fight one author (or critic), who would it be and why?
I don’t really like to fight, but I would be curious to know which weapon Joyce Carol Oates would use if she were a ninja assassin. My guess: a kusarigama and possibly a ninjato to deliver the killing blow. I have no particular reason to choose Joyce Carol Oates, besides that I think she would look awesome as a ninja. And I have no doubt she would kick ass.
Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.
Overrated by whom? The term “overrated” makes me think of indie music websites which build up some hapless band and then viciously turn on them when they get too popular. “Overrated” seems like a smug and snotty word, and it kind of grosses me out. I’m much more interested in talking about artists who I wish got more attention. One of those is Lynda Barry, whose novel Cruddy is beautiful, funny and frightening, and whose book of cartoon/collage essays, What It Is, is an incredibly profound meditation on the artistic process.
Finishing another book.
Most recent nightmare:
Never finishing another book.
Your cure for writer’s block:
I make up little rewards (usually food and/or TV) if I finish my daily quota.
Pessimistic question: Will you keep writing even after people stop reading?
Do you mean that people will stop reading my stuff, or that they’ll stop reading altogether? If you mean the former, I’ll definitely keep writing. It might even make things easier (see question No. 9, above). If you mean the latter, I don’t know. I think stories will always be around in one form or another, so I’m not that worried about it.
Cautiously optimistic question: Obama? Discuss.
He seems like a good guy. The 24-hour news hysteria cycle makes it hard to be optimistic about any aspect of American politics, though, frankly.
Share one thing you’ve had to change in your everyday life thanks to our current recession.
Nothing that I can think of. I’ve been lucky. I don’t make a lot of money, and don’t spend a lot, and haven’t built up a lot of debt.
Please paste a short paragraph from a story you’re currently working on:
“The robbery was in progress when my son Peter came out of the back storeroom. Everything happened so quickly. That’s what we would say later. I was on the floor by the cash register and the robber was pistol-whipping me and without thinking my son took our gun from its hiding place beneath the counter. At that moment the robber looked up and Peter shot him in the face.”