Hawke pursued a number of projects away from acting throughout the early 2000s. He made his directorial debut with Chelsea Walls (2002), an independent drama about five struggling artists living in the famed Chelsea Hotel in New York City.  The film was critically and financially unsuccessful.  A second novel, 2002's Ash Wednesday, was better received and made the New York Times Best Seller list.  The tale of an AWOL soldier and his pregnant girlfriend, the novel attracted critical praise. The Guardian called it "sharply and poignantly written . . . makes for an intense one-sitting read". The New York Times noted that in the book Hawke displayed "a novelist's innate gifts . . . a sharp eye, a fluid storytelling voice and the imagination to create complicated individuals", but was "weaker at narrative tricks that can be taught".  In 2003 Hawke made a television appearance, guest starring in the second season of the television series Alias, where he portrayed a mysterious CIA agent.