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Text by Karen Orton

Light Boxes

Dazed speaks with Shane Jones about his debut novel Light Boxes, his surprise at Spike Jonze’s interest in his book and why he hates February

Shane Jones’s darkly imaginative debut novel was first released last year by a small independent publisher in a print run of 500, it seemed destined to only fall into the hands of a few. But thanks to the literary underground, the novel has quickly garnered a cult following. Soon after it came out, Spike Jonze secured the film rights and now Hamish Hamilton are releasing it in the UK this week. A richly layered fable, Light Boxes is about a town of balloonists being held captive by the month of February. Winter has lasted hundreds of days, flight has been banned, and the town’s children are disappearing. The townspeople declare war and fights back ingeniously – melting the snow, pretending it’s summer and strapping light boxes to their heads. Dazed Digital caught up with author and poet Shane Jones to talk about his debut novel and his affiliation to a new post-McSweeney’s literary generation of fearless and ambitious young American writers.

Dazed Digital: The storyline in Light Boxes is unconventional, to say the least. Where did the idea come from?
Shane Jones: I was working in a bookstore and I found a book about a really interesting guy named Thaddeus Lowe. He’s a character in my book, but he was also a historical figure in the Civil War who did balloon surveillance. I’d also been writing visual poetry with a lot of winter imagery about February in particular. It’s just such a long, miserable month in upstate New York, and the idea to personify February seemed almost natural to me. February is also a month that you tend to be really depressed in, and I had to explore why that is.

DD: The reviews your book has received have been quite polarized, people either love it or hate it. Why do you think this is?
Shane Jones: Well, people are either going to be interested when I tell them the book is about a war against the month of February, or they’re going to look at me like I’m completely crazy. I think it can come across as a very short, strange book and I think that maybe people are put off by the appearance of the book and they think it’s precious. I’ve heard the book called experimental, which I don’t completely agree with. I guess with the term experimental I think really cerebral, which takes away from the heart of the book and the compassion, and I don’t want people to think that.

DD: Who are your influences?
Shane Jones: Well Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is a big influence and Richard Brautigan is a really big influence. I’ve been influenced by everything I’ve read. I’m reading Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and Martin Amis right now.

DD: How do you feel about being associated with a scene of new young American writers, like Tao Lin and Blake Butler?
Shane Jones: Well I like those people, Blake is a really good friend and I like a lot of people associated with the HTMLGIANT website. And then Tao Lin - I think his blog is incredible. I think it’s OK to be part of a scene. I’m sure there are negative connotations, but these are writers I really respect and look up to, and I always want to read their stuff. So I like the idea that there’s a crop of young writers that are working hard, and they’re all doing radically different things.

DD: When you were writing the book, did you ever imagine it would be a film?
Shane Jones: No, no I never did. I didn’t imagine that anybody would publish it, so I definitely never thought it would even be possible that it might be a film.

DD: How did you feel when you found out Spike Jonze was interested in Light Boxes?
Shane Jones: It didn’t seem that real that Spike Jonze would be interested in it. But I was surprised and really excited and a little bit scared at the same time. Also it was the catalyst for Penguin to look at the book. Yeah, so it was very strange and exciting.

Light Boxes is released in the UK on Hamish Hamilton on June 3 2010

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