Conversation: Kevin Sampsell

After hitting up practically every big city in America (and the rest of the world for that matter), it only made sense for the Akashic Noir series to make it’s way out to the Pacific Northwest, and give Portland, Or. an opportunity to examine the seedy side of the “City of Roses”. It would seem for a project like this, there was only one man for the job of editor, Kevin Sampsell.

So you finished editing Portland Noir, and now it’s out, whats next on your agenda?
I was working on this anthology at the same time as my memoir, which was bought by Harper Perennial last year. So I’ve done a bunch of editing on that recently and it’s pretty much set to go now. It’s called “A Common Pornography” and it comes out in January. As far as Future Tense [Sampsell’s publishing company] stuff goes, I’m currently working with Claudia Smith on a chapbook of her flash fiction. That’s called “Put Your Head in My Lap” and it’s going to be a bittersweet and beautiful book when it comes out, probably in September.

I didn’t realize there were so many books in the Noir series, did you read any of those prior to taking on this project?
I read some bits of San Francisco and Las Vegas and Brooklyn but not much. I actually don’t read a lot of crime fiction. But I was glad that I did this project. It was a departure for me as an editor and reader and it has turned out to be really rewarding. The response, especially here in Portland of course, has been kind of shocking. It’s been a bestseller here.

How long have you lived in Portland? I think I read you are from somewhere else out West?
I’ve been here since 1992. I grew up in Kennewick, Washington and also lived in Spokane and Seattle, not to mention a year in Arkansas. My memoir has a lot to do with growing up in Kennewick.

What drew you to Portland?
It’s weird to say that a bookstore drew you to live somewhere, but Powell’s was a really big factor. I didn’t realize I’d start to work there a few years later. Plus I wanted to live in the northwest again–this was after Arkansas–but I didn’t want to go back to the places I’d already lived. I really liked the feel of Portland and you quickly find out how great of a place it is. People are really supportive of your creativity here and there are many inspiring people and things here. This is my home now. I don’t think I’ll ever leave.

In the forward, you mention Portland as a place where maybe “New Yorkers come to feel important”, didn’t you know we do enough of that in our own home? We don’t need Portland.
There does seem to be a lot of New Yorkers here though. We get compared to Austin, Texas or San Francisco a lot but there’s also something kind of New Yorkish going on here too. There’s a woman who works at Powell’s with me and she’s from Brooklyn and she has an almost obnoxious accent that gives it away. It’s funny to hear her talk to customers sometimes. “Wot pot of New Yok you from? Bruklan?! Me too!”

I really liked Bill Cameron’s story, “Coffee, Black”, and coffee seems to play a huge part in Pacific Northwest culture, do you have any particular coffee haunts you are partial to in Portland?
That Bill Cameron story is based on real incidents–people vandalizing a new Starbucks! It’s a great story.
I live just a few feet from a decent new place called Seven Virtues. Sometimes my girlfriend and 14-year old son go down there to write on their laptops. I don’t have a laptop so I just go and read while they work. My son has probably written more than I have this year. He’s really caught the writing bug of late. I think he’s writing some kind of horror novel. Hahaha.
Some of my other favorite cafes are the Half & Half, which is just down the street from Powell’s, and the Bipartisan Cafe on SE Stark, which has awesome pie.

Do you watch a lot of film noir movies? Do you have any in particular that you like?
I have watched a few. I really liked Double Indemnity. I cheated a little and watched some documentaries about film noir before the book came out. That was fun. I found out that there was a noir made here in the 50s called Portland Expose. I watched that one and it was pretty good. It doesn’t count as film noir really, but I really like watching those true crime shows on TV. I’m a sucker for those and a good true crime book. Also, my favorite show was The Shield. That has a lot of noir elements in it but more complex and intense.

What is the best film adaptation of a Raymond Chandler book?
Farewell, My Lovely was turned into the movie, Murder, My Sweet. That’s a fun one. I haven’t seen enough to be a definitive judge. My girlfriend and I are going to watch Strangers on a Train soon. That’s one of her favorite movies ever. It was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.