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Author Archive: "Kevin Sampsell"

Powell’s Q&A: Kevin Sampsell

Describe your latest book/project/work.
A Common Pornography is an odd little thing. It started out as a book of funny or odd memories from my childhood into adulthood and then it turned kind of dark after my dad died and I found out all these weird stories about him. The book is made up of very short chapters, which I think gives it a unique feel.

One thing that surprises me is how so many different kinds of people have related to my stories or have similar stories that they recall when reading my book. After people read it, they come up to me and say, "I remember a time when we did that too." In that way, it's been a really rewarding experience for me to put these stories out there.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I'm a little bit of a freak when it comes to doughnuts. I get excited when I discover doughnut shops anywhere, especially when I'm travelling. So I'd have to say one of my favorite jobs ever was working at the Spudnut Shop in Richland, Washington, when I was 19. I had to get up at four in the morning and we made our doughnuts from potato flour. They were awesome. Somehow I didn't get fat. You can read about some of these experiences in my book. It's a pretty sexy time period for me (hahaha) so I even had to change some names!

Kevin Sampsell Interviews Sumanth Prabhaker of Madras Press

There are small presses popping up all the time but there are only a rare few that make such a distinct and focused entry into the game as Madras Press, run by Sumanth Prabhaker. Their first four books have just been released and they are beautiful and compact little gems. Besides the high production values, what caught my eyes were that two of the books were from two of my favorite writers, Aimee Bender (the hauntingly sweet fable, The Third Elevator) and Trinie Dalton (the wild and funny novelette Sweet Tomb). Rounding out the Madras invasion is Rebecca Lee's dinner party drama Bobcat and Prabhaker's own long tale, A Mere Pittance. Another interesting fact about the press is that each book's author gets to pick a charity that their book's profits go to.

I interviewed Prabhaker recently about his impressive and ambitious publishing venture.

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What are some of the presses you admire most and who has inspired Madras Press?

The books we've thought the most about, more than One Story and more than any of the chapbook presses we've learned about, is the old Penguin 60s series. Those are the hand-sized paperback reprints of classic short stories that Penguin released as part of their 60th birthday party, probably fifteen years ago. Every time I go into a used bookstore, they're the first thing I look for. And it's a funny series to think about, because they're actually kind of ugly, with that Penguin orange all over them, and the type size is uncomfortably small, and the paper stock isn't so great. This may be overly optimistic, but my feeling is that those qualities are not unlike those you might find in academic journals, and reveal a commitment to the stories that's unusual for books that Borders and Barnes & Noble probably tried to market as gift items. And that's part of what makes them so captivating to me. Among our definition of success is the idea of our books occupying the same shelves as those.

Coincidentally, I've also been thinking a lot about some of Penguin's current series — Great Ideas, Great Loves, and there's an adventure one, too. Every one of those books is an absolute marvel to see and hold and read, and it's a little baffling to realize that they come from a huge, old company. I don't know of very many other books that display such an acute understanding of their own personal design and manufacturing.

Small Press Conversation: Mykle Hansen and Andersen Prunty

When I took over the small press section at Powell's about eight years ago, I was immediately won over by a colorful little paperback book by local writer Mykle Hansen. Eyeheart Everything was the kind of book that had a strong word-of-mouth following due to its over-the-top humor and biting sarcasm.

Mykle spent the next few years doing the usual Portland things: making zines, getting and losing jobs, breeding, playing weird music, and writing for the local alt-weekly. And then last year he reemerged with a new book, the ridiculous black comedy Help! a Bear Is Eating Me! — which he also podcasted in its entirety. He toured around, doing readings at places where he dressed up in a bear costume and mauled potential readers. Recently, a book containing three of his novellas, mysteriously titled Rampaging Fuckers of Everything on the Crazy Shitting Planet of the Vomit Atmosphere, came out ...

Small Press Conversation: Zach Dodson and Amelia Gray

This installment of the Small Press Conversation features an up and coming fiction writer and her daring young publisher (who is also an up-and-comer in the fiction world). Zach Dodson (aka Zach Plague) started featherproof, a small publishing company, with Jonathan Messinger a couple of years ago in Chicago. Recently, they published AM/PM, a sweetly funny and unpredictable collection of flash fiction by Austin, Texas writer Amelia Gray. The creator of the music and reading series, 5 Things, Gray is also the author of the prize-winning collection Museum of the Weird, which comes out in fall of 2010. Besides being a renowned designer, Dodson is the author of the extravagant and strange novel Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring.

Zach Dodson: Amelia, I know you really well, we just spent two weeks in a van together (for the Dollar Store Reading Tour). I know everything about ...

Primitive Mentor

Dean Young looks like a normal guy, but on the inside you'll not find a trace of conformity anywhere. You can barely go three lines without your brain trying to rewire itself. The latest book in Young's influential career (his ninth!), Primitive Mentor is funny and surreal and sometimes even heart-stopping.

Necessary Stranger

Foust's poems are built with quiet and contemplative building blocks that are nearly see-through enough to reveal the barest intentions behind their words. He uses repeated phrasing not for dramatic effect but instead to slow things down into a microscopic beauty that is both odd and expansive. This book is a simple but mysterious island.

Big World

Miller is in complete control of the scenes she creates. Full of character details that are illuminating, familiar, and often distressing, Miller's sharp and assured stories remind me of that people-next-door quality that Raymond Carver perfected in his body of work. Her small and quiet world does indeed become a Big World in our imaginations.

Maximum Gaga

Glenum returns with another grotesque and fantastical orgy of poems. This time they seem to be connected like a weird Richard Foreman play translated into redneck, red-light Dadaisms. Her words blur and hiss like a radio not quite tuned right, but you can't turn it off because they're saying things you've never heard or imagined before. These poems make even your weirdest dreams seem boring.

A Loose Kind of Noir

I have to make a confession. Before Johnny Temple asked me to edit the Portland Noir book for Akashic, my knowledge of the genre was pretty minimal . I've read some true crime books (Ann Rule books, serial killer compendiums, stuff like that) and a couple of mysteries (Daniel Woodrell's Tomato Red because he was southern, that Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time book*) but not nearly enough to be some kind of authority. My reading habits are firmly planted in literary fiction. I'm not sure why, I've just never been grabbed by the mystery genre, and I have to admit, I have even felt a snobbishness against it (also — some of this stuff is what you'd call "books my mom would read").

In all fairness, I haven't really tried hard, even though people have told me to try out some of the marquee names: Connelly, Pelecanos, Hammett, Leonard, Jim Thompson (oh, wait! I ...


Minnis, a former Portlander (she used to read at the Café Lena open mic!), has been known to communicate through angsty verbiage and sullen silences (illustrated by her love of ellipses). Poemland, her third book, displays a fresh new confidence in her ability to express her thoughts and feelings without all the pauses and blunt stops. So many lines spark and shine like fireworks here, making Poemland a warm and generous entertainment.

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