Push your shoulders and hands under the surface of the water.
Who: Kevin Sampsell, Future Tense
Where: Portland, Oregon What: Independent press
Can you tell us a bit about how your press got started?
Future Tense was initially just an excuse to foist my own undisciplined poetry on people when I was living in Spokane, Washington in 1990 and going to open mic readings where I was the obvious oddball out. I remember thinking that everyone else was like grandparent age and I was barely drinking age and just trying to copycat Karen Finley and Steven Jess Bernstein. A couple of years later, I moved to Portland to listen to grunge and twee pop music and started meeting other people I wanted to publish. I spent most of the mid-90s getting progressively better at being a young dad and running the press. Two decades later and I think it's still super fun and exciting. I'm proud of where we are now.
How did the name come about?
I still have some old hand-written poetry zine things boxed up somewhere that say "Underground Press" on the back. Ha! I think I came up with Future Tense just because it sounded cool. And I like the double meaning of it. I also run an eBook exclusive imprint with Matthew Simmons and we call that Instant Future--and it's called that because eBooks are quick and we're living in the future.
What types of publications do you put out?
I mostly put out books by up and coming writers who deserve much bigger audiences, and their work usually involves something personal, crucial, and strange. It's often packaged as memoir, fiction, lyric essay, poetics, funny business, unapologetic sensuality, queer disturbances, or a blend of all that. We got paperback books, limited edition hard-covers, ebooks, chapbooks, and homemade collages on mailing envelopes.
Can you tell us a bit about the space where you run your whole operation from? Is it an office space, a kitchen-table/bedroom operation or just from inside a smart-phone or a laptop?
Future Tense has never had a real office space. This is a bedroom operation. I live, breathe, and sleep around all this. The closet full of books is my 2nd life, my Fort Knox. On my desk is a stack of books by my friends who won't stop publishing books. The site of them makes me insane. There are also collages all over the walls and my windows are cool stained glass. There are also shoes. I love shoes.
Can you tell us a little bit about the city in which you are based and what influence, if any, it has on your press?
Portland, Oregon is my love bunny. Sometimes it's damp and cranky. Sometimes it's warm and fuzzy. I love it and have deep devotion for it. It is quickly getting more expensive to live in though and people should stop moving here. It's still much nicer than Seattle. Bianca Flores is the other editor and she lives in New York. I'm not sure what her place looks like but it probably lacks a nice chair because she sold me hers right before she moved away from Portland last year.
Do you see any commonality with the world of independent record labels and independent presses? I suppose we’re thinking about how the two things share an independent spirit, small run fanzines/photocopied magazines, merchandising etc?
Totally! I've always said that Future Tense was modeled after the great indie labels of my pimple-faced days: K Records, Sub Pop, Amphetamine Reptile, Teen Beat, Simple Machines, Merge. I love the attitude that the music scene tosses around at their fans. I think small presses should do some of that. Let's get spunky with our books! My current favorite record label, as far as how they present themselves, is Drag City. I love their email newsletters, even if I don't know much about the bands they often talk about. They can put out any ol' Will Oldham record and talk about it like it's a god damn holy grail. A really killer book is like a killer album. It freaking kills!
These days every writer can get connected to their own social-media channels and promote and publish their own work, what do you see as the best role for the independent publisher now? Or do you think not that much has changed?
So many self-published writers are doing a good job at getting their work noticed, but I feel like it's only the genre-specific ones that take off: sci-fi, kids' fantasy, romance, bigfoot porn. If you're writing weird little flash fictions like Meredith Alling or dark midwestern coming-of-age like Troy James Weaver, it's not quite the same. The literary-minded small press audience is not really those golfers and stock brokers who buy bestsellers at Walmart. I think the thing about independent publishing is that it's still a community, or a scene, or whatever you want to call it. It's a support system and it can feel like a family. It can be a place where writers have freedom AND help finding a readership.
Finally, please tell us a bit about a few of the next things that are due to come out?
We had some technical hiccups with our Instant Future eBook series, but we're getting it worked out and should have new releases from Lily Hoang and Tara Atkinson out in the world very soon. Our next paperback release is a novella by Tatiana Ryckman called I Don't Think of You (Until I Do). It's a beautiful story about a long-distance relationship and all the heart-crushing longing that happens along with it. It comes out in August, 2017.