Dan Chaon’s novel, Await Your Reply (which made it onto a slew of Ten Best lists), is the sort of book that whisks you away immediately and doesn’t let you out of the car for even a brief rest stop until the trip is over. It’s also the sort of book which allows tantalizing peeks, if you think about it, into the author’s process: all the wonderful visual details he collected over time, which magically came together into a story.
Dan’s office is full of such details. Who knows what they could add up to? Have a look:
It’s a pretty standard computer desk which I got from Best Buy or Staples or something about ten years ago. One of those multi-tiered models that you have to spend an afternoon putting together and screaming at. It’s starting to fall apart now. It’s made of that crappy particle board and the laminate has begun to wear off and blister from water stains and such. I’ve been thinking I’m going to get a new one soon—maybe something nicer this time. Real wood, maybe? Not an escritoire, or anything, but something a little more grown up.
The computer, of course. Ashtray and cigarettes. Pencil and green Rub-a-Way eraser. Stapler. Water pistol. Old cashew with some lint on it, gross. 3×5 notecards, various moleskine notebooks, a letter I need to answer, some jump drives, pencil box. Sharpies. Scissors. Little statue of “The Thinker.” Nail clippers.
What do you wish wasn’t on your desk?
Hard to say. Right now, Max Ernst’s “Une Semaine de Bonte” is looking like it might be related… And all those Day of the Dead skeletons I’ve collected must be significant somehow.
My dog, Nora, a Sheltie/Australian Shepherd mix. She spends a lot of time here—even when I’m out of town, she likes being in my study. She keeps a lot of her bones and treasures hidden in here.
There’s also a plant, a carnosa, which has been alive a very long time. It was grown from a cutting I got from my great grandmother. When I was in second grade, I gave it to my mother for Mother’s Day with a pot I had decorated… and it’s still alive, here in my study, 40 years later. Sometimes it decides to flower at odd times, for no reason.
What else surrounds you?
What’s on the walls?
I’ve got some photos of my family, and my late wife. I’ve also got some framed drawings from my friend, the cartoonist Lynda Barry, that I find inspirational.
What have you lost in your office that you really wish you could find?
My youth and good looks.
What tools do you write with?
Pencils, first and foremost. Sharpies for notes. Then Microsoft Word, that devil.
Is anyone allowed to come in and clean?
Sure. Anyone is welcome to come in and clean. Just call me.