Today I’m excited to be interviewing Ocean Capewell, author of The Most Beautiful Rot which my friend Ingrid and I reviewed here recently. Ocean, tell us a little about yourself – where do you live and what do you like to do when you’re not working?
Hi! I am also excited to be interviewed. I’m a 32 year old queer white lady. I’m from the NYC suburbs but I’ve lived in a lot of other places and I currently live in Oakland, CA which I really love. I work with mentally ill homeless people in San Francisco, which is really intense and takes up the vast majority of my mindspace these days. But when I can escape from that mindspace, I like riding my bike, reading tarot cards, reading in general, drawing, and sewing patches on my trashpicked patchwork quilt.
A few questions about your novel and the writing process:
Did the idea for The Most Beautiful Rot come at you in a rush, or form itself slowly?
When I started writing TMBR, I had no clue that i was actually writing a book. It started itself off as a 4-paged story, written solely for the purpose of irritating my girlfriend at the time. (It’s the scene where they find something untoward in the compost pile, if you’re curious–my gf had a huge, out of control compost pile that she never turned.) It didn’t actually irritate my girlfriend–she loved it–and I had such a blast writing it that I kept going. When I hit page 36 or so, I realized that I was writing a book. I didn’t plan the whole thing, I just wrote and wrote and let the story unfold.
People often asusme that TMBR is my autobiography, which isn’t true. I definitely lived in that world, but I haven’t had most of the experiences that the characters have had. There were some characters I needed to do background research on, like Xandria, who is an incest survivor and a drug user. Since I’m not either one of those things, I had to check out a lot of books on them from my library, which honestly felt a little awkward. It was scary writing about people who’ve had experiences that I haven’t. I was worried it would come off like a really bad YA novel where teenagers are like, “Gee willikers, mom, get off my case! I’m going to the library and you’ll be dad-blasted if you’ll stop me!” You know, not talking the way real people talk. I hope I did ok, and if I didn’t, I’m very open to feedback.
Did you have an imagined audience in mind when writing your novel, and relatedly, are there any particular groups of people who you would like to read it?
I wrote this book mostly because my younger self needed to read it. I wrote it for queers and weirdos that live in that world. Some people say that my book can be a little alienating because it’s so steeped in that subculture, but you know what? Mainstream fiction alienates me every day. And I still read it. As for groups of people who I would want to read it, I didn’t have any in mind. I just wrote it because I needed to get it out of me.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
Well, I spent about two years writing a memoir that is not going to ever see the light of day, unfortunately, unless I rework about 80% of it. But there are some essays in there that I like too much to kill, so I’m releasing a new zine with some of those essays in there. I’m excited about it. It’s going to be the longest zine I’ve ever done and I think the best.
Also, for the last ten years or so I’ve been planning on writing a queer construction-worker romance. My family is three generations of NYC construction workers, and that world is very hilarious and interesting. I did it for one summer and was fascinated. There weren’t that many dykes there, but the ones that were were so tough, hot , and awesome. I would really like to write a book about this strange world, and I should really get on it before I forget every single detail!
How do you fit in writing around other commitments and pressures in your life?
Unfortunately, I don’t really fit it in. Either I ignore my paid job or I ignore my writing. I’ve spent much of my last sixteen years of paid labor fairly alienated from it, working blah jobs that I didn’t care about but that gave me enough money to stay alive and plenty of time to write. Right now, I have a well-paid, meaningful job that just consumes every last bit of me, and I’ve not gotten a damn thing done writing-wise for over a year. I’m going back to part-time hours there soon and I hope that will help.
Do you have a photo of your writing space? If not, please describe it for us.
I don’t, sadly! I wrote most of TMBR while I was living in Pittsburgh, and that desk was taken to the curb when I moved. It took me about four years to write TMBR. The first two years I wrote on a computer that my girlfriend-at-the-time had found in the garbage and fixed up for me. When that computer gave up on life, my brother gave me his old computer that he didn’t want anymore. I still have that computer, seven years later, and it’s still working fine, because I only use it for writing and storing music and photos. I try to avoid having the internet at my home. At first, it was done mostly because I couldn’t afford it–and now it’s because I just get too sucked in to the internet. My creativity suffers greatly when I have unfettered internet access. I could send you a picture of my desk, but my actual desk is always a mess. I’m a very disorganized and chaotic person.
You self-published The Most Beautiful Rot. What were some of the best things about that, and what have you found most challenging?
Best things? Definitely the freedom, not having to wait a year or so between acceptance and publication. Doing all the work myself wasn’t necessarily bad, I learned a lot. I actually had a really good time doing the layout, and I think it looks pretty good for someone who didn’t really know what they were doing. The worst part about self-publishing has been the obscurity. I’m really bad at publicizing myself or selling my book. I feel like I’ve written a book that a decent amount of people will like but I don’t know how to get it to them. I get nervous talking about my own work and I know I’m missing opportunities and I just don’t know what to do about it.
And some questions about your own reading:
Who are some of your favourite authors?
All-time faves: Sherman Alexie, Marge Piercy, Cindy Crabb, Judy Grahn, Dorothy Allison, Diane DiMassa, Aaron Cometbus, Sarah Schulman, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, David Levithan, Cheryl Strayed.
How much do you get to read, and where do you like to do it?
My reading ebbs and flows. I can always get a little reading done on BART, and usually for a few hours after work too. I like reading in bed, at home, the best.
Do you like to own your books, or are you happy to use libraries?
I’ve spent a lot of my life broke and moving around a lot, so owning books is not always the best idea for me (although I still buy/find way too many books). I love the library! and always have. My mom is a librarian so I got started young.
What are your thoughts on TV/movie adaptations of books and do you have any favourites?
Hmm. I liked “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” although it was very different from the book, I still thought it was a good movie. Same for “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”. I can’t think of any other movies I’ve seen that are adapted from books, sorry!
Finally, please recommend a book to What Hannah Read’s readers!
I recently read “A Cup of Water Under My Bed” by Daisy Hernandez and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a lyrical, poignant memoir of a girl growing up in 1970’s/80’s New Jersey, the firstborn daughter of immigrant parents, who kind of falls into this literary/queer world and it’s about the struggles between the two. An excellent book, very worth checking out.
Want to buy a copy of The Most Beautiful Rot by Ocean Capewell? You can do so here!
(Copyright note: All photographs courtesy of Ocean Capewell – thank you!)