Tag Archives: This Is Between Us

Good Old Fashioned Letters (Or: I Thought Reading Was Boring)

This past weekend, I was part of a panel discussion on zines at the downtown Portland library, which was super fun and informative (Fun facts: Nicole Georges’s first zines were about ska music and Chloe Eudaly’s idea for Reading Frenzy started outside of a Nation of Ulysses show she couldn’t afford to get into).

During the Q&A, people asked us about the future of zines, what our favorites were, and if podcasts were “the new zines.” But one of the questions that got a lot of us talking was about postal mail. As in, do people still just write personal letters any more? Of course, the answer is yes, though not as much as pre-Internet days. It made me think of The Rumpus Letters In The Mail, the awesome subscription idea brainstormed by Stephen Elliot three years ago. If you sign up you’ll get actual POSTAL mail from a different author every two weeks. I highly recommend it. You can even sign up for letters for your kids.

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Anyway, last year I wrote a letter for subscribers and it was really fun and I thought I’d share it here. I even got a bunch of letters back (including one from a death row inmate).

So pretend you’re opening an envelope and pulling out this folded missive. Here’s the letter I wrote (I added some pics for this Internet version). Enjoy!

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Rumpus Letter in the Mail (January 2014) 

Dear Reader,

I did not turn out the way I expected to. I mean, I probably grew up thinking I wanted to be a football player or a radio DJ or a cheesy pop star like Donnie Osmond. I don’t remember reading when I was a kid. I don’t remember being read to at all. I don’t remember learning how to read or write. But I do remember drawing fake football cards of my favorite players, complete with factoids about each one. I would steal football cards at the store and try to copy them.

But I was not an artist.

I think I wanted to be a reader. I wanted to absorb, if it were as easy as absorbing. But reading is not. I joined a book club thing out of the back of a magazine. I ordered fantasy books because I liked the covers—the strange creatures and mysterious landscapes. The bronze bodies rippled and set in heroic poses. This club was like those record clubs where you could order ten albums for a penny if you bought five more at regular price the next three years. I did that club too—I listened to the cassettes or eight-tracks or albums and I memorized every bad song. The books I set around the house, unopened. Maybe I showed them to friends, or possibly my older brothers read them. I’m not sure. I thought reading was boring. I’m embarrassed to say that now. I thought reading was fucking boring.

I remember seventh grade being the worst. What year was that? I guess that would be like 1980-81. Was that a good year for anyone? The thrill of the 1980 USA hockey team’s Cinderella story had worn off and people all around me seemed confused about the disco vs punk debate. I was probably listening to Fleetwood Mac or The Bay City Rollers. A Reagan-esque malaise had set in, though at first I kind of liked the president’s stern cowboy demeanor, his hostage-freeing power. My skin and hair seemed to be spouting grease and sweat and general grossness the whole year. Maybe I was afraid to take a shower.

7thgrade

I remember not wanting to shower after gym class even though we were supposed to. I didn’t want anyone looking at me or my penis, which I had become very intimate with around that time. I would sometimes get quick looks at other boys’ penises. Ugly snails, all of us. There was one fat kid who appeared to not have a penis. I felt mortified for him. No one would talk to him. I felt like I should be his friend, but I was afraid. (for some reason, whenever I write about this time period I have a feeling of déjà vu, like I’m about to remember something traumatic or important. I can’t put my finger on what it could be.)

It was the summer after that school year when I suddenly went through my one and only teen reading phase. I’m not sure what started it, but I read Brian’s Song in one day. I was in my parents’ bed for some reason and (spoiler alert!) I cried when Brian Piccolo died at the end.

brians_song_book

After that, I read a couple of horror books that titillated me in some strange way. One of those books was called The Funhouse or something like that—it was set at a carnival. I recall a scene where a guy feels up a girl, maybe in a haunted house. I wonder if that was the first time I’d been “turned on” by words.

But despite reading books that inspired tears as well as boners (sorry, but teen slang probably works best right there), I didn’t really keep on with the reading bug. It wasn’t until a girlfriend of mine made fun of me (when I was twenty-one) for not reading books that I started reading—probably two months after breaking up with her. Still unsure if I felt like that was revenge or something. Like I’d see her out somewhere and say, “Hey, I’ve read ten books so far this summer. How many have you read?”

When I did start reading books (and therefore writing more seriously) I entered a sort of Phase Two of my life.

I taught myself a lot through books. I learned that we all build ourselves through them. I learned that they make me want to write. I never understood people who say they don’t read other books while they’re working on their own. I call bullshit on that. If you’re a writer who becomes so easily influenced by other writers’ books and worry about “starting to write like them” than you must not have found your own voice yet. You must not be confident in yourself.

I’m sorry. I don’t want to turn mean here. But it is kind of a cop-out. You must never stop reading.

So, I’d like to end this letter by asking YOU what book was the first to make you cry and what book first sent warm sexy waves through your blood.

Right now, as I write this, it is nearly Halloween (2013). In Portland, where I write and read and work (at Powell’s Books as luck would have it) it has become the gray season. This may last a few months. I’ll spend the season listening to music, watching football, doing some readings for my book (obligatory plug: This Is Between Us, Tin House Books), editing the next book on my press (another plug: Excavation: A Memoir by Wendy C. Ortiz, summer 2014, Future Tense Books), hanging out with my wife and going to her shows (she produces an awesome storytelling show called Back Fence PDX), reading, and eating a lot of fine food (In Portland, the foodie scene is as big as the book scene).

I didn’t become a football player or a pop star. I was a DJ for a while but that’s another story. What I became was a reader and a writer and that’s something that will last, something entirely satisfying. I’ve made my life what it is and it’s pretty great. I hope you’re as happy as I am. Thanks for reading.

Kevin

In the Thick of It!

My book has been out for almost a month now. It’s kind of a whirlwind right now. But a fun whirlwind. Or maybe a blizzard. Like a Dairy Queen blizzard. Yeah–that’s it. I’m in the thick of a sweet blended ice cream treat with chunks of peanut butter cups and Oreo cookies.

I’m currently in NY for a few days. I had a great reading at BookCourt last night. Here are a few pics from this tour so far.

With Zoe Ruiz, editor of The Rumpus and doughnut expert. Also, translator of French restaurant names.

With Zoe Ruiz, editor of The Rumpus and doughnut expert. Also, translator of French restaurant names.

Post-reading get-together after Skylight Books event. With amazing trio (from left): Melissa Chadburn, Wendy C. Ortiz, and Ariel Maccarone.

Post-reading get-together after Skylight Books event. With amazing trio (from left): Melissa Chadburn, Wendy C. Ortiz, and Ariel Maccarone.

Myriam Gurba and I went to the Church of Scientology in L.A. but they weren't interested in us doing a reading there.

Myriam Gurba and I went to the Church of Scientology in L.A. but they weren’t interested in us doing a reading there.

This is from my reading at Vacation in San Francisco. Maybe my best reading of the tour I think. I must have gained super powers from my Dan Clowes shirt.

This is from my reading at Vacation in San Francisco. Maybe my best reading of the tour I think. I must have gained super powers from my Dan Clowes shirt.

Janey Smith's kitten, named "Cat" which I think is short for Catastrophic Feline Monster.

Janey Smith’s kitten, named “Cat” which I think is short for Catastrophic Feline Monster.

 

While in Seattle, I got to see a bunch of friends including Matthew Simmons who instigated this group photo of TIBU lips action and some University Bookstore employees.

While in Seattle, I got to see a bunch of friends including Matthew Simmons who instigated this group photo of TIBU lips action and some University Bookstore employees.

Off to Baltimore tomorrow and back in NY at Word on Friday. Check my events page to see the details. Bye for now!

This and This and This Is Between Us

Psssst. My new book snuck* into stores a few days ago and peoples be talking about it! Here are some of the fun places to read up about it…

*A cool interview with Los Angeles arts blog, Yay! LA. This was a phone interview and I spoke with Daniel for about an hour while doing while walking around the SE Hawthorne neighborhoods of Portland. I felt self-conscious whenever people walked by and I was saying something like, “I want all 234 pages to feel like they’re stuck to your skin.”

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*A really thoughtful review on Bustle. I like how the reviewer focuses on the aspect of loneliness and imperfection in the book.

*HTMLGIANT’s 25 Points takes on TIBU, written by the fantastic Nicolle Elizabeth, who says the book is “upsetting” once and “comforting” twice. So I think “comforting” wins!!

My mom and me at Powell's this past week.

My mom and me at Powell’s this past week.

*I talked about sex writing and sexy words with the sexy PDXX Collective. (“I used to have a friend who had sex with a lot of her friends because she said it made her feel less guarded with them, closer and intimate. In a weird hippie-ish free love kind of way, I can see where she’s coming from. Sex is an ice-breaker in real life and in books.”)

*A really cool review of the book that breaks it down by each of the five year sections. The reviewer says “You will feel grateful for the brutal honesty and lovely secrets that you were allowed to know.”

*The Portland Mercury ran some excerpts (with a very nice intro) of the book. The illustrations are super cool and kind of hot (they move!!).

My name is on the cover, with naked butts!!

My name is on the cover, with naked butts!!

One of the other exciting things for me is seeing people taking photos with the book covers. Every day there seems to be a new one on Facebook or Instagram. I love seeing those lips on other people!

And I sure hope to see everyone next Friday for the Portland reading of the book, at Powell’s at 7:30pm (after-party at Bunk Bar on SE Water Avenue!).

Dena Rash Guzman and the TIBU lips

Dena Rash Guzman and the TIBU lips

Holly from Tin House and the TIBU lips, out in nature!

Holly from Tin House and the TIBU lips, out in nature!

*when I say “snuck” I mean that the official release date is 11/12/13, a very numerically pleasing date. I’m probably still going to celebrate that day, maybe with a trip to Fire On the Mountain for some drinks and a barbecue chicken sandwich.

The Sweltry Recap of NY/BEA

I’m back from hot and sweaty New York! This past weekend I was there to attend Book Expo of America and to meet various booksellers and talk up my upcoming novel, This Is Between Us.
I had a great time. Here are some pics…

My New York City welcome.

My New York City welcome.

I realized that the subways in NY are much longer and apparently deadlier than the ones in Portland.

I realized that the subways in NY are much longer and apparently deadlier than the ones in Portland.

I saw a lot of friends at BEA. One of the first people I saw was Johnny Temple of Akashic. While we were chatting, a woman walked up and said to me, “Hey! I copy edited your book.” I was really glad to meet Anne Horowitz, because she dominated that manuscript.
Soon after that, I ran into various folks like David & Arielle (The Book Doctors), a bunch of Powell’s peeps, Michael Miller of Bookforum, Meg, Rob, and the Tin House gang, and then Rhonda Hughes of Hawthorne.

Rhonda and Poe!

Rhonda Hughes and Poe Ballantine, sharing their peanut M&Ms with me!

I also saw the always sweet McSweeney’s booth.

Isaac and Sam from McSweeney's with Michelle Tea (who was finishing up her book signing for Mermaid in Chelsea Creek).

Isaac and Sam from McSweeney’s with Michelle Tea (who was finishing up her book signing for Mermaid in Chelsea Creek). Check out that Ikea floor!

I did a book signing at the Tin House booth on Saturday. By that time, they only had about 30 books left, so they went quick.

Hiding behind my sign. Photo by Beth Lisick.

Hiding behind my sign. Photo by Beth Lisick.

These cool little notes were given away too. I can’t believe Tin House had about 500 of these suckers (with an excerpt and ordering info) folded up for me. They must really love me.

I still have a few of these left if you want one. :)

I still have a few of these left if you want one. :)

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Susie is trying to get my attention while I fixate on the decadent dessert. Pic by Beth.

After my signing, I met up with Beth Lisick and we hunted down Susie Bright at The Out NYC Hotel. Even though she wasn’t actually staying there, it seemed as if she knew the whole staff already and treated us to drinks, food, and treats. What did we talk about? Mostly parenting… and Mad Men. Hahaha

Besides the conference, I walked around Time Square and Central Park with my new pal Ariel Maccarone, went to see Gary Lutz, John Haskell, and others at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn, spent a whole afternoon at Mellow Pages Library, took a cab with Joseph Riippi, met superhunk Sean H. Doyle, met Penina Roth of the Franklin Park Reading Series, hung out at Soda Bar and had some of their pierogies, ate some Ample Hills “ooey gooey” ice cream, walked around Tompkins Square Park, and did my own reading with some friends for Polly Bresnick’s reading series, Writers Reading to Writers.

Lots of painters making art at Tompkins Square Park on Sunday morning.

Lots of painters making art at Tompkins Square Park on Sunday morning.

I also got some amazing French toast at Angelina Cafe with my friend Marc, who I stayed with on the lower east side. While he was at work one morning, I downloaded some of his awesome music collection (The Drums, some classic old Go-Betweens, Yo La Tengo). Apparently, the Pop Fest NYC was also happening this weekend, so we were both getting back to his place late and he’d tell me about all the cool bands he was seeing. I wish I could have seen The Bats! Thanks for the couch, Marc!

And thanks to everyone else. I’ll probably be returning this winter when the book is out (on 11/12/13).

A Few Steps Closer

Friends! An update on the novel. It’s coming out in November! I finished the copy edits recently (about 14 hours of work–made me realize I still have a few things to learn) and my editor (Hi, Masie!) and I have been receiving some ultra-sweet blurbs from beautiful folks like Jillian Lauren, Patrick deWitt, Davy Rothbart, Lidia Yuknavitch, Amelia Gray, and Jess Walter.

You can see info about it on Goodreads already.

Go add it to your “to-read” list.

Next up, Tin House will print up some review copies and give them to some folks at Book Expo (May 29th-June 2nd) in New York. I will also be there! In fact, I’ll be doing a reading on June 1st while I’m there. More details to come on that. My friend Polly Bresnick is setting up something killer.

Here’s what the review copies will look like…

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What have I been reading lately?

The amazing new Nick Flynn memoir, The Reenactments, the strange short stories of I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro, the new Future Tense Scout Book series ;) and The Stud Book by Monica Drake.

What I can’t wait to read next:

TAMPA by Alissa Nutting and Big Ray by Michael Kimball.

And what I’m watching:

I thought The Place Beyond the Pines was ambitious and awesome.

The addictive and delicious TV show, Nashville.

I will be at the retrospective of my friend Vanessa Renwick’s films. (I talked about her recently on this blog for Oregon Movies, A to Z).

And I missed it the first time around, but I hope to see Brian Lindstrom’s powerful documentary, Alien Boy, asap!

Scarlett and Gunnar = <3

Nashville’s Scarlett and Gunnar = <3

Moving Into The Tin House

After two years of hard work, dizzy confusion, doubt, sadness, and eventual triumph, I recently finished work on a novel titled This Is Between Us. That was the first (and hardest) part.

The second part is selling the darn thing. And I’m happy to announce that it is now SOLD! At some point in late 2013 or early 2014, the book will be published by the magnificent Tin House Books.

I’m extremely thrilled to be working with the awesome staff there, some of whom I have known for a while–their main office is here in Portland and I’ve had the pleasure to blurb two of their books from this past year (The Listeners by Leni Zumas and Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith).

This last week, I had a lunch meeting with one of their newest editors, Masie Cochran, and I feel like she will be a great editor to work with on this book. I said yes to their offer on Wednesday.

For those who haven’t read excerpts of the book, or heard me talk about (or read from it), I’ll give you the general description:

Spanning five years of one relationship’s ups and downs—the insecurities and passions, the sadness and joy, the hopes and disappointments, This Is Between Us is an intimate collection of personal moments between a man and a woman, both divorced, both with a child, and both trying to create a good life together in Portland, Oregon.

Full of sweet moments, emotional time bombs, blunt sexuality, and laugh-out-loud scenes, Kevin Sampsell navigates this novel’s couple (“you” and “I”) through their first kisses and secret dates to breakups, reunions, and everywhere in between.

Thanks to everyone who has helped me with this book, either as a friend or reader. I can hardly wait to polish it up into a beautiful Tin House paperback and smell the fresh scent of its paper and ink.

Heart,

Kevin

It’s List Time Again

It’s that time of year when a bunch of year-end lists start popping up everywhere and I’m glad to say that A Common Pornography has landed on a couple of them.

Every year–especially now in the 21st century–there are so many books published, so I feel fortunate and grateful to people who liked my book enough to still remember it and talk about it months later. Jonathan Messinger at Time Out Chicago calls it one of the “best unexpected books” of 2010. The Book Lady’s Blog says it’s one of the best memoirs of 2010, and Jason Diamond lists it in his Top 10 over at Vol. One Brooklyn.

I even talked about some of my faves of the year at Big Other.

I want to thank everyone for such a great year. 2010 was maybe the best year of my life so far. 2011 should be pretty great too. I’m hoping to finish up the novel I’m working on, This Is Between Us. I’m publishing some killer books by Jamie Iredell, Myriam Gurba, and Shane Allison. And I’m starting out the year by getting married (January 15th) to my long-time love and best friend, B. Frayn Masters.


I’ll make sure to share more photos with you in the weeks ahead!