Shedding Light on Shane Jones

Shane Jones’s first novel, Light Boxes, was released on the small press Publishing Genius in 2009. The story of a small town facing down perpetual February, the book sold only a few hundred copies. According to the author, it was “destined to just fade away,” until Spike Jonze optioned the film option. Interest from the director sparked interest from Penguin, who re-released Light Boxes this month with a new cover, and a great deal more publicity. We spoke to Jones about moving into the big league.

LAURA VAN DEN BERG: What’s the official story behind Light Boxes?

SHANE JONES: The book came out in February 2009 by Publishing Genius Press, which as some people reading this mayy know, is a one-man wrecking crew known as Adam Robinson. The book was printed in a very limited run, was reviewed in a half-dozen places, and sold a few hundred copies. There was a small core of people who really liked the book, but really, that was it… Then Spike Jonze purchased the film option—not the rights. There seems to be some confusion about that. The option means they were exploring the idea of making it into a film; the rights would have meant they were definitely making the film. This is the first time I’ve had the chance to “officially” say it, but the movie is not happening. The option is not being renewed, and from what I know, Spike Jonze doesn’t have any plans on making Light Boxes, the film, any time soon. But returning to your original question, the Spike Jonze thing created a lot of interest.

VAN DEN BERG: Where did the artwork for the Penguin cover come from?

JONES:  Penguin picked about six possible cover artists and asked for my opinion. At first, the guy who ended up doing the cover, Ken Garduno, was at the bottom for me. I needed some convincing. I think I just ended up trusting Paul Buckley at Penguin, and I’m glad I did. The first idea was Ken would illustrate the final scene in the book, but the sketches didn’t work. Ken felt really strongly about the Solution—these bird masked characters in the book and decided to sketch it out.

VAN DEN BERG:  How has the coverage you’ve gotten thus far differed (or not differed) from the coverage you received when Light Boxes came out in 2009?

JONES:  When the book first came out, the people reading it, and even reviewing it/blogging about it, were my friends or people I knew of. There was a cushion or support system. That’s a nice thing about Indie lit–people want to support books they like. When you’re just some dude working with a tiny press, it’s hard for someone to want to cut you down. Now, it’s a bit different. The context has changed. The book is open to a wider audience and reviewers who have no idea who I am, or come to the book having heard that it was first published by a small press. So far, most of the coverage has been positive.

VAN DEN BERG: From your website, it looks like you’re embarking on a fairly hefty book tour. Are you looking forward to that?

JONES:  Yeah, I’ve never been to Seattle, Portland, or LA. I’m not crazy about reading to a group, but I do like hanging out with people beforehand and after the reading. I’m really grateful that someone is willing to shell out money to send me to a few places. As far as connecting with readers, I think there’s potential there, but I’ll be lucky if ten people show up to my readings. I just did one here in Albany, where I live, and it was all family and a few friends. Not one single person that was just a random reader. It’s humbling. It was like reading at a family birthday party.

VAN DEN BERG:  If you were compiling the New Yorker‘s 20 Under 40 list, who would you have added?

JONES: Now, that’s a really hard question. I think The New Yorker‘s list was really interesting and had a bunch of writers on it that I liked. Overall, it’s a pretty solid list. But like all lists or rankings or who-is-better-than-whom, it’s silly. I wonder if anything good will come from The New Yorker‘s list. I just hope it’s not completely pointless and one of those writers will produce an unbelievable book. I would have added about a hundred more people because I can’t predict the future. What if that girl Tea becomes addicted to pills or something? That would be interesting–if she just becomes a crazed pill popper–showing up at these New York parties, smashing glasses, telling everyone she was on the New Yorker‘s 20 Under 40 List. I hope that doesn’t happen.