Shane Jones is the author of four novels, one novella, one collection of poetry and fables, one poetry/illustration hybrid, and numerous chapbooks. With each release, Jones crafts maps to new worlds. Altered realities and surrealist dystopias. After discovering his work for the first time earlier this year (first with The Failure Six and then Light Boxes), I made an effort to read his entire bibliography. Note: get your hands on A Cake Appeared and I Will Unfold You with My Hairy Hands.
Most recently, Jones’ ambitious office novel Vincent and Alice and Alice (VAAAA) was released through Tyrant Books in July. The novel embodies the numbness of the workplace routine while also dancing with surrealism, heartbreak, helplessness, and humor.
I spoke with Jones about his newest novel, his past work, his stressful creation process, realism vs. fantasy, and, yes, the diaries of Britney Spears.
Let's start with an icebreaker. If you could read any authors unreleased/unpublished work (living or dead), who would it be and why?
The diaries of Britney Spears. Can you imagine the darkness?
Earlier this year on Twitter, you said "Before writing VAAAA I wrote a different novel (rejected by 30 publishers) then a short story collection (rejected by 30 publishers) then I wrote VAAAA (rejected by 30 publishers before finding a publisher)." As these books were being scrapped and before VAAAA was eventually picked up, did you feel yourself fighting harder and with more persistence for VAAAA's publication? Did it feel different than the others when you started sending it around?
I can't help it that all these editors are getting it wrong.
Most of the interviews on my site are with poets and short story writers, so I'm curious about the scrapped short story collection. Did it include your myth story from xo Orpheus? Will these stories be scrapped for good? Do you see yourself returning to short form in the future?
My new agent has it but I doubt it will go anywhere. I've re-read those stories and cringe. The myth story wasn't in there. I'd write a short story again, sure.
In your interview with Brad Listi, you said you hadn't work on anything outside of VAAAA for years, and in a 2014 interview with The Rumpus, following Crystal Eaters, you said, "I wrote Crystal Easters as a final novel. I don't have the desire right now. I'm empty." This is obviously a repeat mentality, but does each book feel like your final book? Is there a sweeping exhaustion once pub. date occurs?
With Crystal Eaters I wasn't only mentally exhausted but physically wrecked. I was editing constantly and only eating fruits and vegetables and at one point I weighed something like 145 pounds, and I'm 6'2. People thought I had an eating disorder and people at work talked to me about being mortally sick. With VAAAA it was more stress, to the point I was having chest pains and anxiety attacks so I had to join a gym and start lifting weights just so I wouldn't jump out of a window. I love the process.
With that being said, are you currently working on anything right now?
I have a novel I wrote before VAAAA that I would like to publish. It's half childhood fantasy and then half adult memoir with a center section of photos.
I've read everything from I Will Unfold You with My Hairy Hands up until your newest novel, and as time progresses, I feel like your work has been more shrouded in reality. Perhaps less surrealist and less fabulist concepts, while still being distant from reality. Do you see this progression continuing? Added realism with added age?
Sometimes I feel like realism is fantasy now. I really don't know. I really don't know where any of this is going.
With the release (and while writing) of VAAAA, did you approach your workplace routine with a different headspace? Did it alter reality for you?
I was just constantly thinking and working on it. I do remember working for endless hours and then driving home in the dark and crying in my car, wanting it to be so perfect and feeling like I was risking everything, just pushing harder and harder, just pouring everything I had into the book, wanting it to be this great book that would somehow save me. Now I'm just sitting around in J Crew shirts and wearing Under Armour at the gym.
Outside of your own work, who/what have you been reading recently? I'm also a music nut, so what album/song/artist has received the most plays from you this summer?
I've been reading the Bible and listening to Swans.
If you can, provide a photo of your workspace (or describe with words). What are some essentials (music, tea, midnight wine, cigarette, etc.) while you create?
For this ongoing author interview series, I'm asking for everyone to present a writing prompt. It can be as abstract or as concrete as you choose.
Attend a family function and at some point close your eyes for two minutes and listen, note any reactions to what you're doing, what they are saying.
In closing, do you have any advice for writers trying to grow and/or make that leap into publication? Or rather, what's something you would have liked to have known when you first started taking your writing seriously?
Sacrifice everything. Don't become obsessed with job status and money and family structures. Isolate yourself as much as possible while also being kind and loving to those you come in contact with. Trust in the mystery of God.