Shane Jones

Shane Jones’ latest novel Daniel Fights a Hurricane magnetizes the eye to its watercolor collision course. It’s a lighthearted, good-natured tragedy powdered with bubbles, feathers, shaggy-haired rock gardens and folded kangaroos. It’s playful enough to hold court in the camp of anti-pretentiousness, yet so sad and demented that even the anthropomorphic “bears throwing acorns like grenades at squirrels” add an air of menace.

Daniel, the hero, must build a pipeline to save his town’s water supply from the titular hurricane. Helping him along are a hyper-empathic mind-reading child poet prodigy named Iamso, The World’s Most Beautiful Man with the World’s Worst Teeth, and The Two-Second Dreamer. The result is a blend of Terry Gilliam “psilocybinesque” and original Grimm; it’s no surprise Jones is being lauded by the likes of Sam Lipsyte. Daniel Fights a Hurricane serves as a cautionary tale to those who have tendencies to succumb to their obsessions: for some it’s TV, video games, or fantasy baseball; for Daniel it’s the impending weather disaster.

 Shane Jones, an Albany local, is the author of the novel Light Boxes, which was named one of NPR’s Best Books of the Year in 2010. His other work includes the novella The Failure Six and poetry collection A Cake Appeared. I recently had the pleasure of asking him a few questions via email.                

-Sabra Embury

INTERVIEWER

First off: describe your average day. Does it start out with coffee? A newspaper? Are there any television shows you like to watch at night? Do you have HBO?

 SHANE JONES

My day always starts with coffee and I feel like I always drink too much. I brew a pot and sit and drink and get kind of buzzed up on coffee. Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s the best way to start a day, but I love it. Last year I stopped drinking coffee for a few days and half my brain exploded. I never read the newspaper. Recently my wife and I decided to stop watching television. I don’t miss it. Well, I miss Game of Thrones. I miss Peter Dinklage and his beautiful face.

 INTERVIEWER

Did you read a lot of books as a child? As a teen?

 SHANE JONES

I never read a lot as a young child but I did as a teenager. I must have looked like a real asshole – an eighteen year old reading Kafka and pretending to truly absorb it all. I guess I’m still an asshole reading Kafka. The only book I really remember as a young kid was one my Mother read to me often – Outside Over There. Have you read this? All the other kids were being read Where The Wild Things Are, but Outside Over There is Sendak’s more fucked up book. The more I think about it, that book had a big influence on me.

 INTERVIEWER

I’ve never read Outside Over There. But now I’m really curious to see it.  Nowadays, do you read new fiction, or reread fiction from a list you love? Do you read nonfiction – either for pleasure or research?

 SHANE JONES

As far as new fiction, I try to read what I can, but most of it is so boring. I reread parts of books I love. Recently I read random paragraphs from Infinite Jest, Trout Fishing In America, and The Soft Machine – which are all dead white guys. I want to read more nonfiction. I’m currently digging through the Brautigan biography which is over 800 pages and is really amazing. I read a bunch of Didion this year and really loved Pulphead by [John Jeremiah] Sullivan. I want to read more female authors.

 INTERVIEWER

What authors, events, household objects or ice cream flavors inspire you?

 SHANE JONES

Yesterday I went to buy ice cream. I was really set on cookies and cream – my personal favorite and always an inspiration when done right. But I ended up with cookie dough. I’m not even sure why I bought cookie dough. It’s just alright. There was an ice cream flavor there called Caramelot, but I was too scared to buy it. Whoever came up with that was inspired. I just moved into a new apartment and have my desk set up against an exposed brick wall. I find that inspiring. As far as authors, I go in spurts where I get obsessed with an author for a few weeks and then just move on. Right now it’s Zadie Smith, who I’ve never really loved, White Teeth was okay, but I watched a video of her speaking at BEA and fell in love. The Autograph Man is really interesting and I didn’t realize she was so influenced by [David Foster] Wallace.

INTERVIEWER

As an author it seems you possess a pronounced ability to infuse striking images with words. Did you build imaginary worlds often as a child?

 SHANE JONES

I don’t remember building imaginary worlds too much as a child. I do remember building a tree fort in the backyard that was really elaborate. I’m trying to recall anything specific…I played a lot with action figures, dug a series of trenches and traps for my G.I. Joes. I remember that. I guess I just spent a lot of time playing as a kid. I was outside a lot. That’s kind of a boring answer, sorry.

 INTERVIEWER

One of the saddest characters in your novel is “The World’s Most Beautiful Man with the World’s Worst Teeth.” Do you remember the main character in Invisible Monsters who was kind of like that? Did you ever get into Chuck Palahniuk when his books became popular after Fight Club became a movie?

 SHANE JONES

Fight Club is the only Palahniuk novel I’ve read. I remember thinking it was really sloppy, but could totally see why people loved it. There was a certain energy in the book. Palahniuk seems like an okay dude. I remember he did something where he answered all his fan mail in like six months. And that guy gets a lot of fan mail. That’s a nice thing to do. Classic Chuck.

 INTERVIEWER

Did you know dreams of falling, crooked, missing or rotted teeth are the most common dreams that people look up to read about? One theory is that dreams about your teeth reflect your anxieties about your appearance and how others perceive you. Do you ever have those dreams?

 SHANE JONES

I did know that but it wasn’t a conscious thought while writing the book. Which means, I have anxieties about my appearance! Going to go stare in the mirror for a while now.

 INTERVIEWER

Your character Daniel thrives in a dream world. Problems arise when fantasy begins to blend with reality. He meets a man called “The Two-Second Dreamer” along the way of his pipeline adventure. Whether he’s actually real is anybody’s guess.  Have you ever experienced a lucid dream? Are your dreams vivid? Have you ever kept a dream journal? Do you ever suffer from bouts of insomnia or are you one of those lucky people who can fall asleep whenever you feel like it?

 SHANE JONES

I can pretty much fall asleep whenever I want. Impressed? But I never remember my dreams. Is lucid dreaming real? I always thought people were lying when they said this, but I know a few people who say they can. One of them is Jesse Ball, the novelist, and I believe him. A dream journal? Fuck no.

 INTERVIEWER

That is impressive.  Sigmund Freud said, “We are simply actors in the drama of our minds, pushed by desire, pulled by conscience. Underneath the surface, our personalities represent the power struggles going on deep within us.”  The plot of Daniel Fights a Hurricane is complex and the characters who work together are diverse yet compatible. Do you feel that the characters represent different aspects of your conscience or are they archetypes you’ve concocted based on people you’ve observed in real life?

 SHANE JONES

It seems weird to say that the characters represent different aspects of my conscience, but my gut reaction says yes, they are. None of them are based on people I know, that’s for sure. At least I can’t think of any, but maybe somewhere under the surface of my conscience they are based on people I’ve met in the past and forgotten? I’m not sure where these characters came from. Pieces of them are probably pulled from dream and reality and then formed during the weird magic that happens while writing.

 INTERVIEWER

For much of the story, Daniel works with pipes:

“Daniel looked out the window and thought about the pipeline we was working on. He went over the details in his mind–the broad flanges, the expansion tanks, elbows, tees, unions, and the water meter that broke an hour after being installed, setting the project back several hours.”

How did you become familiar with the details of pipeline work?

 SHANE JONES

I did a bunch of online research. An early draft of the book had a few paragraphs that I just cut and pasted into the novel from a Wikipedia entry on oil pipelines but Penguin found out about it and told me I couldn’t do that. The email was something like: “So, we have a bit of a problem here, please see highlighted text.” I like the idea of Wikipedia entries showing up in books. It’s like found art put into a larger piece of art to make a new piece of art. You know what major publishers hate? Authors doing shit like that. In the end, I rewrote the paragraphs, did more online research about pipes. I looked at Google image searches of pipe configurations a lot.

 INTERVIEWER

An important character, a young boy named Iamso has the ability to tell a person what they’re feeling. He reveals this in poetry such as:

your green fatigues a green parachute

and you’re floating floating

and I’m only a lover of vintage pipes

and not of ladders

 Did you write Iamso’s clairvoyant stanzas separately? Your poetry and fiction have appeared in more than a hundred literary journals. Do you consider yourself a poet AND novelist? You have a 9-5 day job? Is that safe to say? What do you tell people you do when they ask: What do you do?

 SHANE JONES

Almost all the poems were written as I wrote the text with the exception of one or two, which were altered versions of poems that I wrote as a teenager. I used them because they felt really young and like something Iamso would write. I think I consider myself just a writer, and even that doesn’t sit well with me. I struggle with labels and how I define myself. I just see myself as a human being who eats and sleeps and loves and walks around looking at stuff and who types symbols that are letters that form sentences that sometimes form bigger things. And yeah, I have a 9-5 office job. When people ask what I do I say that I have a State job and also write books. This changes slightly from person to person and I’m never comfortable answering.

INTERVIEWER

There are funny section headings in Daniel such as: Mean Bitches, Elbows As Horns, Canoe-Shaped Coffin, Inside Every Woman’s Dress Pocket Is A Hammer, and Search Party Is the Worst Kind of Party, which act as portents for the absurdity of incidents forthcoming. Were these an afterthought or an outline?

SHANE JONES

An early version of the book, the one that was accepted by Penguin, didn’t have any headings. I did this thing where I had written THE FEAR and then a day. The day’s went from 1 to like 50 or something. I liked it, but it was kind of confusing and lame to say THE FEAR. My editor wanted more structure, and the headings were a great suggestion. I suggested using different colored ink for Daniel’s sections opposed to Karen’s and that was shot down pretty fast. I had a bunch of insane ideas. One was using (((((((((((( across the page. So after the book was written and nearing the copyediting phase I went back and did all the headings in a few days, very quickly. I wanted them to be loose, sometimes funny, and just interesting. I like how it worked out.

 INTERVIEWER

Did you have a hard time with your editor at Penguin? With lines such as “Out and across the ocean, my eyes created an emerging mountain on the horizon. My skin sprouted dogs that ran from the beach” and “The sky dripped ukulele. Music could be heard. The pipeline wrapped itself around the sun.” 

 SHANE JONES

I wonder if she’s going to read this. Allison, if you’ve read this far in the interview, email me the word BANANAS. I wonder if that will work. I’ll let you know. The editor who accepted Daniel was the same editor who acquired Light Boxes and at the beginning stages of Daniel he left for a job at New Directions. He’s a really great guy who everyone should know if they love books – Tom Roberge. Tom, if you’re reading this, email me the following: BUFFALO. So Allison was my new editor and I was scared and worried and it turned out that she was really attentive and understood what I was doing. We had some challenges. Like the line “The sky dripped ukulele” is one she commented on with, “I like this, but what does it mean?” I don’t think she changed a single individual sentence which is amazing. Her suggestions and changes concentrated on structure and voice. She made the book better.

 INTERVIEWER

What was more of a challenge: getting the book out of your head and giving it a body, or the subsequent editing process? Did you have a special editor assigned whose specialty set lies in progressive/experimental/avant garde type literature?

 SHANE JONES

I think writing the book was more of a challenge, but not one that I ever feared or hated. I had a lot of fun writing this book. My own edits, before I sent it to anyone, were pretty extreme. After my first draft I rewrote the entire book word by word, which I have never done before. Then I edited on a computer for months and printed versions out and edited for months. That took a long time, longer than I thought. I tend to rush and get sloppy. Like this interview. I don’t think my editor specializes in progressive/experimental/avant garde type literature. Her tastes are very varied, which is good, but they lean more toward the traditional. Most of her edits and wanting more came in the Karen sections. She does like Pynchon though, and he’s out there. In retrospect, I think having an editor who didn’t have a deep background in the weird was more beneficial. It expanded the book in new ways instead of just being fucked up.

 INTERVIEWER

The name “Daniel” has been used for seven tropical cyclones in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Daniel was the first tropical cyclone to be a significant threat to Hawaii since 1994. The storm brought light to moderate precipitation to the islands of Hawaii and Maui, causing minor flooding, although no major damage or fatalities were reported. Did Hurricane Daniel inspire in any way or is that just a coincidence?

 SHANE JONES

Totally just a coincidence. But I recently read, just last week, that a hurricane Daniel has formed. No chance for any land damage though. Too bad. I could have done a book release party in the middle of a hurricane.

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4 comments

  1. Pingback: Afternoon Bites: Shane Jones Vs. Hurricanes, Tobi Vail on Pussy Riot, Alejandro Jodorowsky Returns, and More | Vol. 1 Brooklyn

  2. Pingback: Largehearted Boy: Book Notes - Shane Jones "Daniel Fights a Hurricane"

  3. @Shane Jones! I like to read your presenting criteria which is simple near to me. Thanks for the informative post.

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