Shane Jones‘s novel Light Boxes is a strange and haunting work, alternating surreal descriptions of a winter-bound society with starkly tangible descriptions of that society’s daily life, and encompassing a storyline at once epic and deeply intimate. Its tone, bringing together metafictional elements with folk-tale lyricism, at times recalls Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman and the recent work of Steve Erickson. The book itself is physically memorable, from its windswept cover design to its use of multiple fonts and text sizes within. And given Jones’s online presence — besides his own website, he’s also a contributor to HTML Giant — he appears to be a writer making the most of what both print and online have to offer.
[Previous interviews in this series can be found here.]
Something I noticed about Light Boxes as well as a few other independently published novels I’ve read recently (Zach Plague‘s boring boring boring boring boring boring boring comes to mind) is the use of multiple fonts and different sizes of text. At what point in the writing of Light Boxes did you know that you wanted to incorporate this element?
The use of multiple fonts was more the publisher‘s choice when it came to layout. Some of it was originally part of the book. For example, there are parts in the dialog, especially Bianca, where she whispers and the font is smaller. I wanted to do that because it made me smile, it was a sweet touch for that to happen. I think when that happens you learn more about the character. I don’t want people to think I’m just trying to be clever or innovative, stylish, etc. All the font choices are for a reason and have an emotional tie to the character.
Do you think that there’s a greater sense now of the book as object — and thus, writers are moving to do things with the medium print that can’t necessarily be replicated digitally?
I think it’s important that a book is aesthetically pleasing and almost borders on being an art object. People are drawn to good design. They want to hold, buy, put on their bookshelf a good looking book. It just makes sense. I went to AWP in Chicago this year and saw some of the most beautifully designed books I have ever seen. It provokes a reaction in people. I want that! As far as replicating the book form (I think that’s what you’re asking) digitally, I just don’t think it really translates. You can do stuff digitally you can’t do in a book, but the physical object of a book in your hands is a unique and moving experience.
Nick Antosca recently mentioned on his blog that you had taken part in a discussion of using the internet to promote your work. Now that Light Boxes is out in the world, do you have a sense of the effect of your site on its reception?
I didn’t take part of the discussion. It was a panel at some university (I wasn’t there) maybe Georgetown? [George Mason University; for more, see here and here - ed.] The topic of using the internet to publish and promote your work to get a book and future books published (I think the panel called it starting a career) was brought up. Myself, Nick, and Blake Butler were used as an example of this and people were to go home and google our names. Having Light Boxes out in the world has produced a little more attention to my blog and online writing, but I don’t think that much.
On your blog, you’ve recently pointed out the influence of mythology and folk tales on Light Boxes — and much of the novel, for me, draws on the primal concept of the importance of naming. How did you determine the balance between this and the more tangible/realistic elements of the novel?
I don’t think I ever determined the balance. What I mean is that I never really planned it out in the structure of the novel. I wanted almost all the book to be about the town, the myth, the fable, the magical element of it. The more realistic elements kind of produce this effect of poking and maybe bursting some of the imagination of the myth. The two are very twisted together though. I just tried to keep it interesting at all times and I think adding the more tangible/realistic elements when they do appear was necessary. It adds another layer to the story. It’s another little maze. It also makes the book kind of turn upside down and create a sense of vertigo. Or at least I hope it does all that.
Given the roles of February and the girl who smells of honey and smoke in the act of creation, there’s a sense of ambiguity about the creative process. Is there an intentional parallel between the act of creating the novel and the acts of creation that take place within the novel, or am I reading too much into things?
It’s not an intentional parallel, but I can see what you mean. Ambiguity plays a big part of the book and I think because of that people are going to have many different reactions/interpretations. I’m comfortable with ambiguity. Recently, someone who had started reading the book wrote to me asking all these questions about what was going on, who is February, why is the town void of flight, etc. They were lost and frustrated. I like the lost feeling in books. I like ambiguity. I liked these questions. Thank you.