Happy Publication Day to Erase and Rewind by Meghan Bell! We’re thrilled to be able to share this book with you, at last, which so many Book*hug readers have anticipated. Erase and Rewind was edited for the press by Meg Storey and beautifully designed by Ingrid Paulson.
Told from the perspective of various female protagonists, the stories in Erase and Rewind probe the complexities of living as a woman in a skewed society; they pick at rape culture, sexism in the workplace, uneven romantic and platonic relationships, and the impact of trauma under late-stage capitalism. Bell’s debut collection is a high-wire balance of levity and gravity, finding the extraordinary in common experiences. Lindsay Wong, author of The Woo-Woo, calls Erase and Rewind “[u]tterly bold, darkly funny, candid and bizarrely tender.”
We talked to Bell about countless things: her writing practice (current and former), trauma, her pandemic-friendly hobbies, and her complex relationship with the musical Hamilton. Erase and Rewind is available to order from our online shop or from your local independent bookstore.
B*H: What are you currently writing?
MB: I’ve never been a writer who writes every day, week, or even month, and have always worked in creative bursts when inspiration strikes. The coronavirus hit the world while I was in the middle of recovering in therapy from childhood traumas and several major life transitions (including a break-up with my partner of four years, who I was trapped living with until the end of June 2020 even though I broke up with him in February), and I stopped writing for a long time because this was enough to tip me over into a nervous breakdown (I had to go to the emergency room in late March with a stress-induced migraine and cyclical vomiting). I’m kind of easing back into things by working on some poetry, and I have plans for an essay collection and more fiction ideas brewing, but I had a rough few years and I’m prioritizing my family (I got married in November and am pregnant with our first child), my friendships, and my health right now.
B*H: What book—or books—would you recommend to a new friend?
MB: I’ve been encouraging a lot of people to read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst and David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs. But if we’re talking Canadian literary writing, in the last year I’ve told people I just met to read books by Chelene Knight, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Amber Dawn, and Jillian Christmas, and I’ve been talking about Lindsay Wong’s The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family non-stop since I read it two years ago. And two shorter reads I think everyone would benefit from (especially with everything going on in the world) are Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human and Kai Cheng Thom’s I Hope We Choose Love.
B*H: Why do you write?
MB: Usually to process trauma. I wrote a lot as a kid, but my immediate family was not supportive and they often said things that led me to believe I wasn’t talented and in some cases really discouraged my pursuit of the arts (for example, my brother likes to tell me I “wasted [my] intelligence” with this career, and my mother once lied to me to keep me from continuing a theatre class I adored as a teenager). I can still be very reluctant to share work, or even to write it down before I’ve gone over it in my mind a million times first. But sometimes stuff just needs to come out, and when it does, it pours.
B*H: Where do you write?
MB: I like writing in public spaces, like coffee shops or quieter pubs where I can get away with hanging out for eight hours while only ordering one meal. But it’s COVID times now, so I’m learning how to write at home again.
B*H: What does and doesn’t help you write?
MB: Nothing really… or nothing healthy, at least (I mean, one could argue that “alcohol” helps me write but I stopped drinking after a period of healing with magic mushrooms—they absolutely destroyed my ability and desire to do so, and, of course, now I can’t because I’m pregnant). I don’t see any point in forcing myself to write, because when I do it’s usually not very good, and I have re-traumatized myself before by trying to write about certain experiences before I had finished processing them. I usually write when an idea hits me and starts spilling out, and then the process can be very quick. Most of the first drafts of stories in Erase and Rewind were written in under three days, and one (“Pieces”) was written in four hours in the middle of the night while I was drunk on Crown Royal and grieving the break-up it’s based on. It’s similar for my essays; I usually spend months researching, but the actual writing only takes a few days, then a few more for edits. Most of the poems I’ve published were written in a couple of hours—but I can’t write poetry on command. I have to wait until I’m ready. Sometimes a shower or exercising or something in the news will trigger me to write, but usually, I have no idea when I will feel the spark. And when it’s not there, it’s not there.
B*H: What do you write with?
MB: I usually write fiction on my laptop, essays on my desktop, and poetry on my phone.
B*H: What makes you happy?
MB: Spending time with my husband, hanging out with friends, going for long walks on the seawall, playing sports like hockey and dodgeball with friends (sadly not an option right now!), massages (suddenly an option to get regularly since I was added to my husband’s benefits!), dancing in my living room to music from the 1960s and 1970s, and watching musicals. I think I might have Jesus Christ Superstar and Hamilton close to memorized by now (Hamilton is endlessly interesting because it’s so dense, but also because it’s obvious to me that Alexander Hamilton was a narcissistic sociopath but I’m not clear on whether other people are picking up on this, because of things like the US government deciding to keep him on the ten-dollar bill after the play came out—in the second song he sings about punching a university bursar and says, “God, I wish there was a war / Then we could prove that we’re worth more than anyone bargained for,” he later blatantly marries a woman who is in love with him for her money (he sings that he doesn’t care which Schuyler sister he marries in “A Winter’s Ball”) and then neglects and cheats on her, he sings about publishing hit pieces on other politicians anonymously (“I’ll use the press / I’ll write under a pseudonym / You’ll see what I can do to him”), his financial policies favoured wealthy businessmen like his father-in-law, and he’s obsessed with his name being remembered after his death. How are people watching this and thinking this man deserves to be on their currency?! Not that the play doesn’t flatter him—critics have pointed out that the man wasn’t nearly as anti-slavery as the character. But I digress). As well, since COVID started, I’ve taken up acrylic painting, crocheting, and the ukulele, which bring a lot of joy. The next project is learning how to knit.
B*H: Do you drink tea, coffee, neither, or both?
MB: I used to be pretty dependent on coffee but stopped drinking it this year because it can make my anxiety disorder worse, and I guess I’ve finally hit the age where I’d rather be a little tired and less focused/productive but more mentally healthy. I occasionally drink green tea or herbal teas.
B*H: Do you have a preference for fiction, nonfiction, or poetry in your reading or writing?
MB: My preference is to mix it up. When it comes to writing, I usually let the story or message drive which medium I tell it in (I have also written plays and written and directed short films in the past, and I dabble in cartooning). For reading, poetry when I’m feeling sad, fiction for escape and fun, and non-fiction out of pathological curiosity and a desire to understand the world better.
B*H: Describe your favourite article of clothing.
MB: I have this comfy oversized neon pink tank top that I wear pretty much all the time when I’m at home. I even mentioned it in a poem once.
B*H: Tell us a very short story, or write a very short poem.
MB: Here’s a poem I wrote when I was fifteen, that now feels foreboding:
I’m walking away now along roads logic has undone
I’m walking away now, to find a path to the sun
Many will get lost along this winding, twisting way
And I doubt I’ll find it tomorrow, let alone today
Please release my hand, stop trying to lead me to the sun
If I can’t find it on my own, then perhaps there isn’t one
And I’m not a child just stumbling through this world you own
The longer you try to hold me, the more I’ll feel alone
So spare me your opinions now, for I can find my own
Meghan Bell is a writer and visual artist based in Vancouver. Her work has appeared in The Walrus, The Tyee, The New Quarterly, Prairie Fire, Grain, Rattle, CV2, and The Minola Review, among others. She joined the editorial board of Room magazine in 2011, and was the magazine’s publisher from 2015–2019. During this time, she co-founded the Growing Room Literary Festival and acted as the lead editor and project manager of the magazine’s fortieth anthology, Making Room: Forty Years of Room Magazine (Caitlin Press, 2017). Erase and Rewind is her debut story collection. You can find her online at meghanbell.com.