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Powell’s Q&A: Kevin Sampsell

Describe your latest book.
This Is Between Us is a novel about the many dimensions and moods that a love affair can take on. It's told in about 200 short scenes, each detailing the highs and lows of how the emotions and passions of this man and woman honestly shape their lives together, warts and all.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
Working here at Powell's is definitely the most interesting. When I introduce authors at events, I feel like an ambassador to literature, or sometimes when I recommend some of my favorite books (Home Land by Sam Lipsyte, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower, Daddy's by Lindsay Hunter, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews) to people, I feel like some kind of a life coach. When you think about it, it's an odd job being able to pick out what goes into someone's brain.When you think about it, it's an odd job being able to pick out what goes into someone's brain. Plus, since Powell's is such a famous destination, we get all sorts of celebrities shopping in here too, so almost every day holds some kind of surprise.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
In 2007, I won a bookseller contest and got a free trip to the Oxford Conference for the Book. Some of my favorite writers are from — or have lived in — Oxford, Mississippi, so I was especially excited about going. I was accompanied by Craig Popelars from Algonquin Books and a couple of other booksellers from other independent stores. Larry Brown was the focus of the festival that year, about three years after he had suddenly passed away and left a huge hole in the literary landscape of that region. I was a big fan of his books, so it felt unbelievable for me to be there, and to also meet his longtime editor, Shannon Ravenel, and his wife and two sons. We even went fishing on Larry's pond, near the writing shack he built before his death. I got to see his grave and I cried while watching a documentary about him the next day. In my three days there, I was also able to see Holly Hunter speak on a film panel, meet the mayor of Oxford (who also runs the great Square Books), and go to Faulkner's house.

What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
I think it's more cute than a pet peeve, but my wife often says "pretty muchly" even though she knows I'll poke fun at her whenever she does. Sometimes I may say something odd too, but I just blame it on growing up in Eastern Washington.

Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
This is a close race to call, but I think for me it might actually be The Shield, which has been overshadowed by many other shows in the recent past. Michael Chiklis, C. C. H. Pounder, and Walton Goggins were so gut-wrenching and fantastic in their roles. That show would just leave me breathless so often, and I think the way it ended was as good as any show ending since — even Breaking Bad and Friday Night Lights (two other shows I adore). Growing up, I would have said The Night Stalker because I was so freaked out by scary stuff.

How do you relax?
I like to turn on all the overhead lights, put on some music (maybe something kind of mellow like Rocky Votolato or Richard Buckner, or something upbeat like The Drums or Mates of State), put my legs up on the couch, and read with a whiskey and coke. Or watch a basketball or football game on TV. Sometimes I go outside and shoot baskets on the hoop in our driveway. When it's nice outside, I'm partial to lawn chairs.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration.
I love movies, and some of my favorite filmmakers are David Gordon Green, Atom Egoyan, and David Lynch because I appreciate the slow, strange ways they burrow into their characters and their situations. I also appreciate directors who are kind of abrasive sometimes, like Gaspar Noé and Harmony Korine.

Who do you follow on Twitter and why?
I think Blake Butler is one of the funniest guys on Twitter. He brings it to another level. His thoughts are perverse and surprisingly layered for such a small format. I also really like following poets because they're masters of short utterances and funny phrasing, or maybe they're just plain crazy. People like Mike Young, Sommer Browning, Carleen Tibbetts, and Sampson Starkweather. I often LOL at all of them folks.

Five great books about the real nitty-gritty of love:
These books may make you a little uncomfortable and seem almost too personal, but love isn't always neat and tidy.

Coeur de Lion by Ariana Reines
Into the Great Wide Open by Kevin Canty
Monogamy Songs by Gregory Sherl
Wedlocked by Jay Ponteri
Breakup by Catherine Texier

÷ ÷ ÷

Kevin Sampsell is the author of the new novel This Is Between Us, the memoir A Common Pornography, and the short story collection Creamy Bullets, and he edited the anthology Portland Noir. Sampsell is the publisher of the micropress Future Tense Books, which he started in 1990. He has worked at Powell's Books as an events coordinator and as head of the small press section for 15 years. His essays have appeared recently in Salon, The Faster Times, Jewcy, and The Good Men Project. His fiction has been published in McSweeney's, Nerve, Hobart, and several anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and son.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. This Is Between Us Signed Edition
    Used Trade Paper $10.95
  2. A Common Pornography: A Memoir
    Used Trade Paper $5.50
  3. Creamy Bullets Used Trade Paper $6.95
  4. Portland Noir (Akashic Noir)
    Used Trade Paper $10.50
  5. Coeur de Lion New Trade Paper $15.95
  6. Into the Great Wide Open New Trade Paper $16.25
  7. Monogamy Songs New Trade Paper $12.00
  8. Wedlocked: A Memoir Used Trade Paper $9.95
  9. Breakup: The End of a Love Story New Trade Paper $15.00
  10. A Complicated Kindness
    New Hardcover $21.50
  11. Daddy's New Trade Paper $14.95
  12. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  13. Home Land Used Trade Paper $6.95

Kevin Sampsell is the author of This Is Between Us

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