RRM: So does being such productive individual stress you out or what?
KS: It’s funny because sometimes it feels like I could be doing more. But even when I have free time I’m usually reading. About the only real time wasting thing I do is watch basketball or football on TV. Plus I’m a father of an eight-year old and I can spend hours watching Spongebob Squarepants. But you know, I really love all the stuff I do so I don’t stress out much. I’m actually really patient. I know in the book world things can take a long time to come to fruition.
RRM: What book, of your own, is dearest to you?
KS: I’ve never been asked that. I like them for different reasons, but mostly I like the newest, A Common Pornography, because it turned out so nice and it’s about my life and it was the book that sorta brought my girlfriend and I together. But I also think my best stuff is yet to come.
RRM: I appreciate the little distinctions that go into Future Tense publications (suggesting quality over profit) such as the black matte paper in Please Don’t Kill the Freshmen–what’s your favorite edition you’ve produced?
KS: The Freshman book (by Zoe Trope) was such a great and wild ride with her being so young and people just going crazy over it. It made me feel really good to do something for such a young and talented writer. I’m like a proud uncle with that book. I like so many other books I’ve done though. I mean, that’s a requirement–that I have to love love love the book. That Karl Koweski book was also great, the two chapbooks of stories by Ritah Parrish, who is my ex-wife, are also great. She always had a good following in Portland but I was surprised her work wasn’t more read elsewhere. I published a novel by Kurt Eisenlohr in 2000 that was amazing. That was the longest book I’ve published and it went out of print quickly. I wish someone would reprint it.
RRM: Do you feel the phenomenal success of Future Tense has overshadowed your obvious talent as a writer (and the purpose of founding Future Tense)? What would you prefer to be viewed as, a writer or a publisher?
KS: That initial reason for making little books–to get my work out to readers and friends–has been accomplished to a certain extent. I’d rather have another press publish my own works now if possible. I’ve been lazy with that though and I haven’t really approached anyone. I’m patient though, remember?
As far as publishing other people’s stuff–I really love doing it. I get a charge out of it. To do a whole package of stuff by a Koweski, or Brandon Freels, or Mike Topp–that’s really exciting to me. Helping people get their work out there is just as important to me as my own work. I’ve been called a literary midwife.
RRM: Would you consider, assuming the growing popularity of Future Tense, becoming a larger press, i.e. corporation? Why or why not?
KS: I’ve always kept FT a small thing because I’ve seen too many people invest too much energy and money into something that didn’t quite work out–and then their resources are all used up. That’s one of the reasons I like doing chapbooks. I can make ’em in batches of 50s or whatever. I have a full-time job at a bookstore and I don’t make much money. I have to be somewhat modest. I want to outlive some of the major presses. Look at some of the smaller presses that have turned into jobs for the publishers. I met Johnny Temple from Akashic Books once and we talked for a long time about this. He’s in a big indie-rock band but his job is really Akashic. The stuff he publishes is great and it wins awards and gets good reviews, but that doesn’t always result in big sales. He said I was smart to do Future Tense the way I do. But shit, I’d love to be able to put out as many books as he does, y’know? Like six to ten titles a year instead of three.
RRM: What programs and office supplies catch your fancy?
KS: Oh, God. I don’t really know much about computer stuff. Most of the covers and book layouts are done by friends of mine. I wish I could afford and learn how to do all that stuff–photoshop, web site crap. I’m sure if my brain has enough room to retain that stuff. Seriously.Office supplies? You know I can’t live without my long stapler. My girlfriend wants to buy a paper shredder. I like picking out cardstock for covers at the paper store.
RRM: Your writing ranges from nonfiction to “experimental fiction”–what’s more fun for you?
KS: I like both equally I think. I go back and forth depending on the mood or what I’m reading. I think it’s important to read. Some people think it influences their writing too much, but I think it inspires me more than influences.
RRM: You make wide use of memoir (memories) technique, obvious and subtle- would an autobiography ever be something you’d like to work with?
KS: A Common Pornography is sort of an autobiography. I haven’t heard that word in a while. It’s called memoir now, isn’t it? The guy who wrote the footnotes for ACP, Mike Daily, jokes around sometimes about how he’s my official biographer. He’s got a vast collection of what he calls Sampsellabilia.
RRM: What tunes you dig? What do you listen to when you write?
KS: I’ve been rocking out to Thee Headcoats lately in my car, and The Wedding Present. I’m one of those geezers who has a cassette player in my car.
But at home I listen to CDs. I’m listening to Built to Spill right now. I think there’s a George Jones CD on the changer after that, and then Mates of State, Rainer Maria, Hefner, Yo La Tengo. There are some really awesome Portland bands too–Reclinerland, The Standard, The Thermals. I should say that when I first started Future Tense I was very influenced by the K Records thing in Olympia. I was in love with Beat Happening. I liked how Sub Pop hyped their records. That was an influence too. I’ve gone through a few phases with music. When I was in high school I used to really truthfully love R&B; and hip hop too. I know all the old school rappers. Then I worked at a country music radio station so I know about a lot of country too.
RRM: If you could only describe where you’d like to be as a writer by comparing your work to that of another writer (not to suggest imitation)- who do you want to be?
KS: I’ve mostly written stories and I’ve got one novel done that needs a little clean-up. I’d like to get over that hump where I can feel comfortable writing novel after novel, but I’m a sucker for short stories. It fits my attention span better sometimes. As far as other writers go? It’s hard for me to think of someone else who has the same kind of strange mish-mash of styles that I do. I don’t say that to hype myself as the most original voice around, I just don’t know. Maybe Terry Southern. I wish I could someday put out a book that is as funny and inventive as a Mark Leyner book. Have you ever heard of Gary Lutz? I wouldn’t mind being him for a couple of days.
RRM: You like cereal? What kind?
KS: Oh, let’s see. When I’m trying to act all healthy, I like anything with Nut or Banana or Crunch in the name. And I put bananas in it. Frosted Mini Wheats. Cinnamon Toast Crunch is yummy. Lucky Charms when I want something sugary. I love all the crazy new marshmallows. And I know it’s not really a cereal but I sometimes buy Pop Tarts. Does that make me a bad person?
About the author:
Ryan Robert Mullen is the author of Naughty, Sweet Boy (Word Riot Press) and a columnist at Get Underground. He maintains a website at ryanrobertmullen.net.