Shane Jones's Fantasies Shit on the 'Real World'
Shane Jones’s new novel, Daniel Fights A Hurricane, was just released this week. It’s a wild book full of brain-consuming storms and jacked-up teeth and mysterious tigers and breakfast at McDonald’s. While so many other books and movies these days seem to be afraid of their own fantasies, Shane Jones goes for the throat. Fans of his previous novel, Light Boxes, or who like Donald Antrim or Kelly Link or, I don’t know, Buñuel, can expect a black, fun freakshow.
VICE: This book is really interesting in that it seems to start in a really realistic, everyday place: a guy telling a woman about his day, and then keeps progressively getting more and more insane. How did writing this book start?
Shane Jones: Yeah, it started with me writing mostly nonsense in a notebook with a picture of a lion on it. I had some loose ideas on what I wanted to do, and thought that writing by hand would lend a raw or organic feel to the story. I'm not sure if that worked, but maybe it did. Even thinking the word "organic" makes me feel like an asshole, so maybe I am? One of the first images I wrote in the notebook was of a kid walking ten rats by ten different colored ropes. This eventually became the character IAMSO. The story then developed with Daniel and his world and then the more realistic "real" sections growing around it. It was like a big tree getting taller and crazier and then these vines wrapping around it, sometimes intersecting with the tree.
Do you think there's pressure on a novelist to attend to the "real world"? I mean, do you feel pressure to do that, or does that blurred line come naturally?
This is a tough one, because so many novels that I see published today are very "real world"-centered and they are hyped by their publisher in this fashion and they fucking suck. They are so boring. My natural mode is to flip the real world, or twist it, or put it under some kind of strange lights and just see what happens. I just naturally blur the line and don't think about it. Yes, I'm amazing. All the writers, filmmakers, and artists I love do this. I think the pressure to attend to the real world does affect some authors because that's what sells. It's safe. Your Mom is going to read your book and that's scary. But I guess every novelist does attend to the real world in his work, it's just his or her perspective. But, man, let's make it glow.
One thing I've always liked about your writing is that you are clearly brimming with ideas, and somehow you find a way to knit them together. It seems very playful and almost childlike, but without the trap of actually seeming childish. I wonder if there are certain things you remember reading as a kid that are still heavy in you now?
I think I was just a kid who made stuff up all the time. I talked to myself a lot. I recently had a short piece of fiction go up called Tock Ocki that is totally based on me. I would talk to this imaginary person or thing while I sat on the toilet. Really weird. I wonder if my parents ever heard me and worried. As far as kids’ books, I don't remember many. Outside Over There is a one that is big and was read to me all the time and is seriously fucked up. My wife, Melanie, is due with our first baby in September and we've been buying kids’ books. There's this one called Goodnight Moon where the first half of the book states everything that is inside this room. Then the next half is saying goodnight to all the things. Towards the end of the book there's one page that is just blank, all white space, and it says in black font, "Goodnight nobody." It's amazing.
Does your sleep have something to do with how you write?
As far as sleep, I go through bits where I can't sleep, but for the most part I'm a real heavy sleeper. I think getting too much sleep can actually mess you up more than too little sleep. It kind of puts you into a weird half sleep funk for the day, and if you add coffee, things get weird. Most of Daniel was probably written on too much sleep.
Do you think the time spent in the brain-space necessary to write has affected your real life greatly? Alternatively, do you think you ever use writing fiction as a way to respond in abstract ways to shit that happens to you (good or bad)?
You'd probably have to ask the people closest to me if they are affected by my constant day dreaming, but my feeling is yeah, it affects my life somewhat. There are times when someone is talking to me and I just start thinking about how to get this neon colored horse inside a small black portal, or something, and I come off as detached and rude. I can't always shut it off, but that doesn't mean I can't do the dishes, take out the garbage, eat a meal without acting like a computer suddenly going on standby. And yeah, I think even the craziest shit writers come up with are a reflection, or an abstract interpretation, of stuff that happens to them in real life. I think Burroughs is a good example there. For the most part, my life is pretty boring. I'm attached to this computer for a good portion of the day. But stuff creeps in. It's always creeping in and morphing into new things, and I'm just trying to roll with it and let it happen naturally.
Dreams are really important in Daniel, in that they actually have function in the story, particularly through the character of “The Two-Second Dreamer.” I always hated that idea that dreams are boring. I think who is fucking who is boring, but no one ever seems to have a problem with that.
The writing rule not to write about dreams is so fucking stupid. Don't you think? I guess it's based from the old "write what you know" quote, but what fiction writer knows anything that is interesting? Most writers are boring and selfish and I'm talking about myself here. If I wrote what I knew it would be a book about bacon and facebook. I wish more writers came out with books that have that weird kind of dream logic thing going on that I love so much. Jesse Ball immediately comes to mind as someone who uses dreams in really interesting ways. I guess what I really love is just that weird "dreamy" feeling in books. It's the way they move in odd little ways, not even necessarily "Bob dreamed last night about a dog with a mouth shaped like his wife's vagina." Certain books and authors (Brautigan, Jane Bowles, Walser, Burroughs, there's too many...) just kind of float and dodge in and out of dream and reality and it's just magical to me. I can't explain it. But when I read it, I know it.
Do you think you'll keep writing for the rest of your life?
I hope so. My initial response was, "No" because the "rest of my life" seems like such a long time and I think things can change. Stuff happens. People get old and become different people because their environments change. Something like finding writing time can shrink away from you, I think. But I like to write, and I'm willing to fight for writing time. I just imagined barricading myself in a room, age 55, fighting off washing the dishes, going shopping, cleaning the cat litter box. We'll see.