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July 31st, 2012 / 1:10 pm
Author Spotlight

McDonald’s, Target, Dicks: an interview with Shane Jones

Everything’s coming up Shane Jones. His new book, Daniel Fights a Hurricane, releases today from Penguin (check out Ellen Frances’s sweet trailer here), which means Shane is back in full swing on the internet. Awesome—it’s good to read his mind like this, enjoy his wit and ingenuity. Here is an homage to Faulkner at Tin House. At The Millions, an essay about why he writes. PLUS, Albany crowned him the best writer in all the city, so you know, he’s got that going for him, which is nice. I just got my new copy of NYLON, and they’ve reviewed the book; Jess Sauer calls it “a modern fable, and despite its apocalyptic overtones, Daniel’s delusions are more beautiful than grim.”

The most striking feature of the novel for me is how palpable the levels of reality are. Shane juggles all these layers of occurrence and perception in an unsettling way, but what makes him so good at it is 1) how funny he is, and 2) how effectively he times the switches, brings in the actuality, gives hints about what’s what. The book is like a snowflake: no two readings will ever be alike.

How do you like being Best Writer in Albany?

The local arts paper here does that every year – a best of thing. I think local businesses really try and get like “Best Place for Dinner” because it translates into people eating at their place. But Best Writer? Meh. I don’t know if anyone really cares. I joked to a friend of mine that I was going on a “best of” tour in Albany but he didn’t think it was too funny. It’s tough being the best.

So, what’s Daniel’s problem?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. He fits into the world and he also doesn’t fit into the world. My biggest fear is that people will read his character as just “some insane guy” and won’t see any of the beauty, sadness, depth, of his character and world. Daniel’s biggest problem will probably be certain readers.

So—Daniel Fights a Hurricane—weird book, huh? I think once again you’ve created something that does things with story that people don’t expect. How do you describe it to smart people who maybe don’t read a lot?

I’ve said before how hard it is to describe my own book. Do you have this problem? You’re really handsome, so people probably just buy your book immediately. I have a fantasy where I just scream into someone’s face “JUST READ THE FUCKING BOOK!” and they’re like, “Oh wow, yeah, I’ll go and read it right now.” I guess it is a weird book? It mixes reality and imagination and overlaps them and weaves them together and stuff like that. It’s like mixing a bunch of colors of paint in one can and seeing what’s going to happen.

It doesn’t seem weird to you? I think you could trace out the plot kind of easily. I’ll give you my two sentence pitch and you can just give me a letter grade. So. Okay. “Daniel is an engineer for a major pipeline project that pushes him to the edge of his sanity. His whole life — his career, his relationship with his loving wife, his sensitivity — are threatened by the multi-layered reality he’s unable to ignore in Shane Jones’s fascinating new novel, Daniel Fights a Hurricane.” How’d I do?

Yeah, it’s weird, I guess. It has a line about bears throwing acorns like grenades at rabbits. That’s different. I just think I’d rather have the book not get labeled “weird” because I don’t necessarily like everything that is weird. My mom dressed in my clothing would be weird, but I wouldn’t really want to look at it. Actually, maybe I would. I like fun and surprising. That sounds better to me. B+

Or maybe it’s not the pipeline but the divorce that unhinges him?

I don’t think there’s any one explanation. He seems pretty much unhinged from the start, but it gets worse and deeper as the book goes. It’s a combination of things, I think, for Daniel. It’s the layers of reality pressing down on him that further develop his world. Which is a big part of what the book is about: what’s worse: reality or fantasy? What does more harm?

I don’t think this is a surreal book so much as it’s a book with many layers of reality, some of which aren’t real, but in that way they call into question the layer that is real.

Everything inside every book is reality.

What about McDonald’s? Is there a system for who eats McDonald’s?

No, there’s no system. My therapist eats McDonald’s and I took my own experience with her and placed it in the book. There’s some other pop culture stuff that shows the absurdity of “reality.” It might work. Things like McDonald’s are just so prevalent in our daily life that it seemed silly not to say it. Some people, the fascists of pure literature, probably won’t like that.

Good point — it’s interesting that McDonald’s doesn’t show up more often. There are so many wild, funny, original details like that in this novel. Do you ever create these elements out of a need to actualize something that should exist, but doesn’t? (It seems like Daniel certainly does.)

McDonald’s, Target, Dicks Sporting Goods, they all make an appearance. I think there’s a very natural aversion not to mention these things in a book because the two are so opposed. But then again, guys like DeLillo and Wallace wrote a lot about pop culture and places like McDonald’s. I just mention them and let them hang there. They are the extreme opposite of Daniel’s world and the details inside his world. But which is more absurd and dangerous? I think I create certain elements in order to surprise myself and have fun and hopefully make something that is kind of pretty. It seems natural to do this. We’re all trying to create worlds we want to live in. The guy who lives across the street from me drives a red convertible Toyota Celica like it’s a Porsche.

Who are the fascists of pure literature? What’s their favorite book?

I already regret typing that. I don’t know. Mitt Romney?

What would Daniel say about the BP oil spill?

He’d say: GARRALAGAGAGAGGH.

Can you compare February (the malevolent force in Light Boxes) to Daniel’s conception of the Hurricane?

I think Daniel’s conception of the Hurricane is much more intimate and personal. In Light Boxes it’s this whole town that bands together. But Daniel is alone. Also, Daniel gives into his creation. When he moves into the forest to live he knows what he’s doing. It’s not necessarily a sad act, just a conscious one. Daniel makes the decision to live inside his world. In Light Boxes, the town has to change the world to get back to a better place. Daniel actively drowns in his.

Nicely done.

I’m the best.

How do you come up with names for your characters? Iamso is bizarre, the Two Second Dreamer’s name describes what he is, but everyone else — Daniel, Karen, Helena — they have such common names.

The first few pages I wrote of the book Iamso was just called Bobby and I was going to be the main character. I had some loose ideas on what the book was going to be. I was going to title the book I AM SO MAGICAL REALISM. Then I combined the first three words to come up with IAMSO and then things just started changing and shifting. The other characters are just names I pull off pieces of paper at my day job. Amazing!

OMG I totally LOL’d at I Am So Magical Realism. That’s going to be the title of this interview. You know what’s weird? This year I’ve read Sheila Heti’s new novel, Leigh Stein’s The Fallback Plan, Adam Wilson’s Flatscreen and the Ben Lerner book — all new books about intelligent, young, creative people who are in crisis about how to use their creativity. And I also read Amelia Gray’s Threats and Jac Jemc’s My Only Wife and now yours, all books about men who mysteriously lose their wives. WTF?

For a while I was going to keep that title, but thought it was just too…I don’t know. It was just too much of something.That Sheila Heti novel is so lovable, isn’t it? There’s been a bunch of novels by female writers lately that are just bonkers. That’s all I’ve been reading lately is female writers. As far as the missing wife thing, that seems to happen in a lot of novels. I think maybe it’s an easy “go-to” to create tension. I read a Goodreads review of Daniel where this guy mentions the same thing you did. He said it was “bullshit” and gave the book 1 star.

I think your book kind of combines both of those threads. The tortured first-world soul and the loss of a wife. Can I say it also includes a little Joe Versus the Volcano? Do people reference that to you all the time?

No, you’re the first. I’ve never seen that movie. But it’s Tom Hanks, right? Several people who read the book early on have made movie references. Two that have come up often are The Fisher King and Take Shelter. Both of which I haven’t seen yet. Thanks for the third, Adam.

You bet. The ending of your book is so beautiful. Is it a spoiler for me to say Daniel comes back to himself, back to his wife?

Um, I don’t think so. The ending is a bit of a mystery to me. I’m looking forward to what people think because there’s different ways to read what happens. I’m glad you think it’s so beautiful. That makes me very happy.

Your wife is about to have a baby. Anxious?

I’m a little anxious, sure. I’m also incredibly excited. We’re just trying to get settled and mentally prepared. Then I imagine come baby time it’s going to be total chaos. Hopefully my wife won’t disappear. LOL!

Will you read your child this book? Please?

Yes, I will. Even if he cries through every page, he will hear the words his father has created.

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