Kevin Sampsell Interview

You work a day job at the biggest bookstore in the US, you read and review books in your spare time, you also write. Don't you get sick of books?

Not too often actually. I mean, I don't like every book I read. But I taught a writing class a while ago and I made a point to tell the students that if they were really serious about being a writer they should surround themselves with books and writers and anything that promotes the use of language or words.

Sometimes I think I'm making up for lost time because I never read when I was growing up. I just sat in my room mostly and listened to music. I was really really into music. I wanted to be a DJ, and I was one for a while. It wasn't until I was about 23 that I really started reading a lot. And one of the reasons I started reading was because an ex-girlfriend had made fun of me for not ever reading books. I only read Melody Maker and other music magazines.

How has Future Tense changed from the beginning?

I was in Spokane, Washington at the time (1990) and it was just an excuse to put out my own little chapbooks. I was pretty naive about the whole thing but I started to get poems in magazines and people would send me their books. I really saw the range of quality in the small presses. After a couple of years, I started to get sick of poetry and I was reading fiction anyhow. I started putting out more fiction-oriented stuff. I began focusing mostly on other writers because when I moved to Portland there were lots of great writers around. I really get a charge out of promoting other peoples' work.

Also, I think the quality has gotten stronger each year and the cover designs, stuff like that--and our web site, are really unique. I pattern the look of the books after a lot of books done by bigger publishing companies, except maybe a little sexier. Just because we're small doesn't mean we can't be fancy. Overall, I don't think there'll be much poetry published on Future Tense anymore. I just really like fiction and it reaches more people too. The only poetry I'll publish anymore is the really unique, dynamic stuff, like Frank D'Andrea, Verlena Orr, Carl Miller Daniels. I'm looking for someone to change my mind about that though.

Weren't you supposed to have a book of stories published in 2000? And what
else have you been working on?

I had a book of stories called Stuck that was supposed to be published by Incommunicado. They did lots of cool stuff for the several years they were around but the main guy got sucked into the dot-com thing and everything stopped. Myself and about ten other writers were left on their waiting list. The books never came out. It was too bad too, because they had some great ideas. I'm probably going to send those stories to another press but I'm really trying to finish up this novel I've been working on. The past couple of years I've mostly been writing book reviews and trying to survive with the help of that extra (freelancing) money. I am going to have a little memoirish thing come out at some point soon. It's going to have art by Melody Owen and footnotes by Mike Daily, one of my favorite writers who just moved to Portland.

Who are some of the more interesting people or authors you've met from doing your job at Powell's?

I'm always pretty interested to meet the authors, and since I organize the readings and host some of them, I meet alot. Of course, it's always really fun when I get to meet my favorite writers, like A.M Homes, Kevin Canty, Dave Eggers, Susan Orlean, Sam Lipsyte. I had beers with Nick Hornby. His reading a couple of years ago was one of the funniest ones I've ever seen. I met Peter Sotos and was surprised at how nice he was. George Saunders is a sweetheart, as is Neal Pollack. My friend Liz and I took Neal and his wife to a strip club after his reading. That was memorable. Jonathan Ames is maybe the funniest person I've ever hung out with.

Who are your favorite writers?

It's a big list--I like southern stuff like Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, Harry Crews, Lewis Nordan, Flannery O'Connor, and Padgett Powell. I like dark stuff like Dennis Cooper, Mary Gaitskil, and JT Leroy. Older stuff
like Terry Southern, William Burroughs, even Vonnegut. Mostly, I like stuff with a sense of humor and experimentation--I love the McSweeney's stuff, and Ben Marcus. Also David Sedaris, Michelle Tea, Gary Lutz. But Mark Leyner is still my hero--his last book, The Tetherballs of Bougainville, is the funniest thing ever.

Do you still write music reviews too?

I do sneak them in every once in a while. Not as much as I used to. I think I may be getting a little out of touch. Most of what I listen to came out nine or ten years ago. My favorite bands these days though are Hefner, Solex, The New Pornographers, Guided by Voices. The best band in Portland right now is The Standard, and I listen to them a lot. I really want to write something about them soon.

Who's your favorite team?

I was into basketball and football a lot when I was a kid and then I lost interest for a while. Probably because both of my teams, the 76ers and the Cardinals were having crappy seasons. I've gotten back into it the last few years. Maybe it has something to do with becoming a dad. The 76ers had an awesome year last year and I think they'll get close to the championship again this year. As for the Cardinals, well, they've been a constant source of pain. But I have a hard time switching to anyone else for some reason. My loyalty is strange that way. I think when I was a kid I liked their helmet or something. Isn't that the way people choose their teams? I was in Arizona recently and actually went to see them play at Sun Devil Stadium. It was a blast. Secretly though, I like watching the Rams. Sometimes I live vicariously through the Rams.