INTERVIEW: Rachel Bell, Author of ‘Loving The Ocean Won’t Keep It From Killing You’
We had the opportunity to sit down and discuss Rachel Bell’s new book with none other than the author herself. When I say sit down and discuss, both of us sat on the other end of a laptop, with Skype, and vaped. Rachel talks about her art, important writers, and what it means to be a writer in the 21st century. Her new book, Loving The Ocean Won’t Keep It From Killing You is available for preorder from Pioneers Press new imprint, Hello America.
Loving The Ocean Won’t Keep It From Killing You. Parts of it deal with sex and adolescence, do you think one’s sexual experience is a major influence on themselves as they grow up?
Absolutely, especially because most people are taught that sex is so off-limits. I think the way you encounter sex at a young age can frame how you view it for the rest of your life, for better or for worse.
So Marina’s future love experience is foreshadowed by her early sex life?
No, but her future sex experience is informed by her early ‘sex life’… If you can call it that. Most of it is non-consensual or coerced in her childhood/adolescence.
So, was it important, to you, in that case, to reflect things like online dating and the grooming that occurs, but not enough people are talking about?
Yeah it was. I don’t think a lot of literature, at least that i’ve read, touches on the way that the internet can affect how young women experience love and sex. I remember I tried to catfish someone in 5th grade before I even knew what that was or why what I was doing was wrong. It’d be cool to help young women (not 5th graders but adolescents) look out for themselves and modify their behaviour online to be safer.
I’d put you in a group of writers who are doing that. Does that, though, have repercussions in the fact that people see you for talking about sex, and thus are sexualised?
Mmm, maybe. I think I’m sexualised just because I’m a woman, like I could never post selfies and still be sexualised. That’s not something I focus on avoiding too much because I’m more interested in creating work and if some creepy dude buys my book because he wants to sleep with me I still get the royalties so he’s the sucker in that situation.
And your last book was pretty autobiographical, too, do you think people will seek to draw similarities between, Loving The Ocean Won’t Keep It From Killing You and yourself?
I’m sure they will. People like to personalize work in that way it seems, which is fine with me but also, i have an imagination and I use it a great deal.
So, you manage to differentiate between creating art and the people’s interpretation for it?
Yes, exactly. I want people to interpret my work in whatever way feels closest to home for them. I aim to affect people emotionally.
Thing I got from reading it so far, is the spectrum of emotion, loneliness, sex and relationships and how they all affect each other, and equally don’t sometimes, like a Venn Diagram
Yeah, I wanted it to be a widely encompassing piece. There are so many factors that affect how a person grows and I wanted to illustrate a lot of them in the book.
Did you view it in comparison to your previous book, or was it its own stand-alone piece moving forward?
Definitely it’s own piece. My last book was so much poetry and short stories, this is the longest piece of fiction I’ve ever written.
Now you’re spearheading a new imprint from Adam Gnade, what was the origin of that?
I honestly don’t know too much about it besides that he’s really excited about it and I trust him, so I know it will be great.
Did you sit down to write this as a novella and be published, or was it something that naturally grew?
I wrote 7000 words in one sitting and decided to make it the bones of my novella I had promised to Adam.
At this point do you consider and tell people you’re a writer?
Yeah, it’s my only job. Sometimes I get part time jobs to save a bunch of money up for big things but mostly this is what I do.
When you say that most people don’t write about the importance of young female sexuality, who are the people that you consider do it well?
The first person that comes to mind is Isabel Allende, she just writes well about the young female experience. Also the awakening by Kate Chopin.
Your writing features a lot about the internet too. When you make things like macros and tweets, do you consider it art, or not?
Yes, absolutely! and I’m passionate about that. I’ll do readings where I just read my twitter out loud and macros really shaped my creative process and helped me learn to be a better artist.
I really enjoy your macros. Particularly the ones you do where it’s you doing something normal and then the oversexualised tweets you receive. It does send a message.
— rachel bell (@racheltacobell) October 10, 2015
Does it feel strange having a big online following?
I enjoy it. In Atlanta this year someone approached me and said ‘are you Rachel Bell from Facebook?’ which was very endearing and funny.
Do you have positive interactions mainly?
Mostly, but sometimes they’re really bad and weird, it just comes with the territory. I don’t respond to everyone like I used to.
Do people you know ever have a fear of being included in your work? This is in response to the picture of the dog and dude who texted at 3 am.
Oh, that was just a general thing not referencing anyone in particular but men sometimes will say ‘are you gonna write about this?’ or ‘don’t write about this’. I definitely respect people’s wishes in that regard.
So the Junot Diaz approach of “baby, I did this for the book” isn’t cool?
I like to say do it for the book but only jokingly as a justification for bad or risky decisions but I would never use someone’s name without their consent or something like that.
So your writing has a lot of sincerity and emotion to it, how do you achieve this?
That’s just how I live my life and it’s reflected in my writing. I’m not ruled by my emotions as much as I used to be which is a huge blessing but i do feel very intensely and it informs the way I live as well as the way that I write.
What would Rachel Bell of this book say to the Rachel of the previous book
‘Hell yeah’. I’m really proud of both pieces honestly.
As you should be! And you do a lot of writing for websites on important issues that not many people talk about as they should, that must be pretty rewarding.
I could do more of that honestly and I’ve been trying to. My piece about a trans porn star actually just went up on Broadly. I want to use my platform to help other people be better.
Do you purposely try and focus on big topics that need attention rather than list stuff?
Yes, totally. I want to put out content that affects people as much as I post silly selfies and dumb jokes.
So what are the Top 5 Things That Make Rachel Bell Happy recently?
1 – Mango smoothies, been having one every day.
2 – Instagram has been really nice recently.
3 – I love driving in my car, nothing calms me down like that does.
4 – My friend Austin and I have been video chatting a lot and that’s really fun.
5 – I just read Ajebota by Precious Okoyomon and it made my life better.
What’s 1 thing you would like to spend more focus on?
Paid work. I want to do more college readings because that’s the demographic I hope to reach with my work and it pays me to travel.
Is there anything you get asked a lot in interviews that you’re sick of answering?
I hate when people ask me about Alt Lit, like what it means or if I identify with it. It’s a stupid term for a movement that alternately encouraged a lot of creative output and also hurt many people.
I felt like a lot of The Ocean… was reflective. “Christian had been a good husband while he lasted. Wait no. Not that good.” Did you find this hard to convey, or are you naturally reflective?
I’m sentimental as fuck. I think about the past a lot… Incredibly nostalgic person over here.
Lots of people don’t write children and adolescents well, you do. Is this down to good writing, nostalgia, personal memories or some wonderful myriad of it all?
I hope all three. I have a really good memory and I actually tried to write a book in 10th grade that helped a lot in writing this. I re-read it and got into the mind-set of my teenage self to help write Marina.
Where did the whole Rachel ______ Bell come from? I feel like that kind of took a life of it’s own on.
You mean like patty cake? I used to write as Rachel Pattycake but I went more formal with it. It was fun though, I enjoy being Pattycake and a lot of people still call me that. It’s cute when someone yells ‘Pat Cake!’ when they see me.
If you had to have a new middle nickname what would it be?
I like my real middle name – Carolyn.
What do you feel like you’ll be doing after this novella comes out?
Hopefully once school starts I’ll book a lot of readings, but for now I want to just stay in one place for a while. I’m planning a big book release party which will be a lot of fun – gonna read my whole book out loud.
Do you move in literary circles?
Sort of but because I’m not an academic I sometimes feel like I’m not a part of the literary scene in real life as much as I could be. Just lots of people who maybe don’t take me as seriously because I don’t have a college degree. That’s why I love using the internet for writing.
What advice would you give for someone who wants to attain the level of success you have?
Social media is really important, connecting with people on there has been really helpful to me. I wouldn’t be selling books like I do without Facebook and twitter and the work I put in there. if people don’t respect that social media can be work then ignore them when they tell you to get off of your phone. Just use it wisely.
What’s the difference between using it wisely and not?
I just don’t waste my time on it. I try to post things that I love but that also will effect people positively.
Do you think you’ll continue to use the internet in art and it’ll evolve, like Tinder, snapchat etc.
I don’t think I’ll ever not use the internet, I love it too much. But I’m interested to see how it will change and grow with time and how that change will alter my practice.