Hello, World! Meet Kevin Sampsell. He is the founder and publisher for Future Tense Books, as well as writer of the recently released memoir "A Common Pornography", (which you should run out and read the moment you are done checking out his interview). He has also published two collections of short stories entitled "Creamy Bullets"and "Beautiful Blemish", and runs a blog. How he found the time to be interviewed by little ole me is still a mystery to me, but I thank him endlessly for doing so!
Without further ado....
When did you first start writing? Can you remember what your first story was about?
Well, my first stabs at creative writing were song lyrics when I was in elementary and middle school. Then I heard Henry Rollins doing weird spoken word stuff when I was in high school and I thought that was funny so I started writing stuff like that. I don't think I started writing stories or personal essays until I was about 24 or 25. I think my first story was about a guy who hangs out at the library and draws pictures of toasters while vandalizing phone books. I guess that must have been back in the days when they had phonebooks at libraries. I remember my brief time living in Fort Smith, Arkansas, thumbing through phonebooks from other cities at the library. But that story was NOT autobiographical!
Tell me how your publishing comany - Future Tense Books - came to be. What does a day in the life of a publisher look life?
I started Future Tense in 1990, basically to publish my own crappy little chapbooks of poetry. A couple of years later, I started publishing other people and getting more serious about it. Well, at least as serious as one can be while stapling books in my kitchen. A day in the life? Reading as much as I can and bossing my intern around. And of course, stapling.
Of all your published books, which was the hardest for you to write? Which are you most proud of?
Definitely A Common Pornography for both. It was the only book I've written that has brought me to tears. So my secret hope is that readers also shed tears when they read it. I mean it's only fair, right? As far as fiction goes, I'd say that Creamy Bullets is a good example of what I do there and it's my longest book too.
The book I'm most proud of being a part of as a publisher was Please Don't Kill the Freshman by Zoe Trope. The author was still in high school when I published that chapbook and then she got a big book deal before she even graduated. That was a pretty crazy thing to be a part of. That book turned out to be a hugely influential young adult
when HarperCollins republished it in 2003.
"A Common Pornography" covers some embarrassing, sensitive moments from your life. What were you thinking as you were writing it (both originally, and this time around)? Were you worried how your family and the public would respond to it? Is there any one particular memory that your readers feel most drawn to?
I think you just get to a certain age (late 30s and 40s for me) where you don't care anymore. Hahaha. If I had to write about really embarrassing stuff from the past few years it might be harder, especially if other friends or family were involved. But either way, if you're going to tell stories from your life, you have to dig into those deep uncomfortable moments. And you can't worry about what certain specific people think. You'd get stuck or you'd hold back all the time if you worried about your dear old aunt or sweet little nephew. You can't please everyone all at once.
The parts that readers are responding to is really interesting for me. Everyone has a different thing they latch onto. Some people respond to the family stuff, some relate to the nostalgic childhood stuff, and of course some people just want to talk about the porn stuff. But no matter what part they want to talk about, I think it's the honesty at the root of it all that people appreciate.
Are you currently writing a new book? What is the next book we can
expect to see from your publishing company - Future Tense Books?
I'm going to try a novel next, I hope. And I do think I'll do another memoir thing but probably not for another ten or twenty years. In the meantime, I hope to publish some more short stories and essays here and there.
As far as Future Tense goes, I'm about to release a cool little book of poetry collaborations by Zachary Schomburg and Emily Kendal Frey. And then later this year, there's a flash fiction chapbook by Prathna Lor and a weird, funny novella by Jamie Iredell.
Who was your role model growing up, and why? Who do you admire today?
Growing up, I'm not sure. I didn't have a really strong role model in my actual life. I was a big basketball fan though and I loved Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks. That whole 1983 championship team. That's probably kind of sad, I know. When I got a little older, I found other people who inspired me though. Calvin Johnson, the singer of Beat Happening and record label guy behind K Records was a big influence. He was how I learned about DIY. Of course, there are writers and publishers who I look up to as well--Dave Eggers and McSweeney's were really big deals to me when I first discovered them about ten years ago. Other writers who multi-task: Michelle Tea, Davy Rothbart, Jonathan Ames, Dan Clowes, Steve Almond, Chelsea Martin, Miriam Toews, and my fiance, Frayn Masters (who writes, does sketch comedy, directs, and produces a storytelling show in Portland).
If your house were on fire, and you could only rescue 5 books from your bookshelves, which 5 would you save and why?
My signed copy of Stories in the Worst Way by Gary Lutz (my favorite book ever), Facing the Music by Larry Brown, Cruddy by Lynda Barry, Home Land by Sam Lipsyte, and my signed copy of Barry Hannah's Ray (He wrote: To Kevin, Sabres Up!).
What were the last 3 books you've read? What books are sitting in
your To Be Read pile?
I read Jamie Iredell's spectacular book, Prose. Poems. A Novel. And also: The Ticking Is the Bomb by Nick Flynn and Justin Taylor's great story collection, Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever. The books I'm reading now, or soon are: Willy Vlautin's Lean On Pete (he's someone I will read anything by, forever. He's that good.), The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm, and the controversial Reality Hunger by David Shields.
What is your take on eBooks and eReaders, both as an author and a reader?
I don't really think ebooks are going to take over, at least not for regular books. Maybe for some magazines and newspapers. I read some stuff online and on devices but I prefer to hold books.
What authors/books/websites would you recommend to our readers
Authors: Lipsyte, Toews, and Lutz. But also specific books like I Remember by Joe Brainard, Letters to Wendy's by Joe Wenderoth, Stop- Time by Frank Conroy, and all the great funny writers like Terry Southern, Mark Leyner, and Harry Crews. Also, Wells Tower, Diane Williams, William Gay, Lewis Nordan.
Websites: The Rumpus, HTMLGIANT, Powells.com, Elimae, Hobart, Bookslut, Identity Theory. And of course, futuretensebooks.com
A huge thank you again to Kevin for agreeing to be interviewed, and for allowing us to get to know him better, as a writer and publisher!! Be sure to check out his blog, and his books.