Sapling: What should people know who may not be familiar with Future Tense?
Kevin Sampsell: I only work with writers who are making magic, one way or another. If you haven’t heard of a writer before their book comes out, it gets me extra excited to give you that first taste. Our books have layers and nooks and crannies. There are hidden treasures and deep secrets in our stories. We are not afraid.
Sapling: How did your name come about?
KS: I made it up so long ago and I just liked the double meaning of the word tense. I don’t know–I always wonder if it’s maybe a little bit cheesy, but you kind of forget those things after a while and the name becomes you, instead of merely words with a specific meaning.
Sapling: What do you pay close attention to when reading submissions? Any deal breakers?
KS: I like writers who are inspired by things like art and poetry and music and emotions. Give me some back story. Tell me about yourself and what you’re trying to do. I don’t really enjoy reading submissions or query letters that are too tidy or polished. I prefer a little messy over mastered, to be honest. Also–like most editors, I can tell when someone hasn’t really read anything we’ve published. For example, why do people still send me pitches for their science-fiction trilogies?
Sapling: Where do you imagine Future Tense to be headed over the next couple years? What’s on the horizon?
KS: I’m playing the long game here. And I think knowing that I’ll be doing this for thirty or forty more years frees me from planning too much. I don’t really like too much pre-planning. I would die of impatience if I knew what books I was publishing two years from now. I want to publish books that match up with what I’m reading and fascinated with. For a stretch of time, it was personal essays. Lately, it’s short stories. For the past two years, I’ve been heavily into collage art. Maybe I’ll start publishing some art books.
Sapling: As an editor, what is the hardest part of your job? The best part?
KS: For me, the main issue nowadays is just having time to put as much heart and soul into getting the word out about our books. I want to sell a lot of books because I believe that we’re doing something special and it can be a bummer when a book doesn’t find the bigger audience it deserves. But having help from interns and other helpers is great. Our newest publicity person, Bianca Flores, is a bundle of wonderful, positive energy. Having authors who know how to connect with other writers and readers is really important. I’ve worked with some authors in the past who are too solitary and they’re too shy or feel weird about self-promotion. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it helps tremendously when an author is just as eager and excited to get their book into people’s hands.
One of the best parts is getting to that point where we’re laying out the book and Bryan Coffelt (Future Tense’s designer) is coming up with cover ideas. We work with the authors to make sure they’re proud of how the book looks. It’s kind of like when you’re pregnant and you see the ultrasound photos of your baby as it grows. Putting out a book is pretty close to giving birth actually. It’s a journey of discovery and strangeness and emotional ups and downs and beauty. And when the book is out there, it’s so fun to see and read people’s reactions.
Sapling: If you were stranded on a desert island for a week with only three books, what books would you want to have with you?
KS: If they were Future Tense books, they’d probably be: I Remember by Shane Allison, I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac by Jamie Iredell, and The Folly of Loving Life by Monica Drake, which is our newest book. But if it had to be other books, I’d say: Stories In the Worst Way by Gary Lutz, Time Out of Mind: The Diaries of Leonard Michaels, and probably something I haven’t read all of yet, like Lydia Davis’s Collected Stories.
Sapling: Just for fun (because we like fun and the number three), if Future Tense was a person, what three things would it be thinking about obsessively?
KS: They would think of things to make them laugh, things they could do to set themselves apart from the boring buzz of normal life, and they’d probably spend a lot of time wondering about the secret lives of everyone else on the bus.
Kevin Sampsell started Future Tense Books in 1990 as a lo-fi self-publishing chapbook project. In the years since, Sampsell has published a wide variety of new voices and influential writers (such as Zoe Trope, Chelsea Martin, May-Lan Tan, Myriam Gurba, Wendy C. Ortiz, Chelsea Hodson, Troy James Weaver, Szilvia Molnar, and many others). His own writing has been published in many anthologies, journals, and magazines. He is the author, most recently, of the novel, This Is Between Us (Tin House). He lives in Portland, Oregon and also works as a small press buyer and events coordinator at Powell’s Books. He also makes collage art. More info: www.kevinsampsell.com