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July 1, 2008

Book Notes - Kevin Sampsell ("Creamy Bullets")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Books are recommended to me in many ways these days. Friends who know my reading tastes used to make the best recommendations, but now that I am corresponding with authors for this Book Notes series, that has changed. I usually ask participating authors to recommend their fellow writers, and have discovered many great books through writers whose work I admire.

When Jami Attenberg submitted her Book Notes essay for The Kept Man, she recommended Kevin Sampsell for this series. I had actually just read Sampsell's story "I Rested Between Them" in Yeti #5, but didn't know he had a book coming out. Creamy Bullets is innovative and bizarre, but always rewarding, and is one of the finest short story collections I have read this year. Thanks, Jami.

Kevin Sampsell is also the publisher of Future Tense Books and works at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.

The Portland Mercury wrote of the book:

"Creamy Bullets, the new collection of short stories by Future Tense publisher and occasional Mercury contributor Kevin Sampsell, pairs bizarre eroticism with Raymond Carver minimalism; flights of fancy are described in terse, matter-of-fact tones, and the grim sobriety of the real world is undermined by the unreliable perceptions of its inhabitants."

In his own words, here is Kevin Sampsell's Book Notes essay for his short fiction collection, Creamy Bullets:

Before I really thought I’d become any sort of writer, I had my highest hopes set on being a radio station DJ. When I was a kid I even had two plastic Kmart record players and I practiced a radio show in my bedroom. I’d go from “Fly Like an Eagle” to “Play That Funky Music” without missing a beat.
Whether it’s music that I was listening to while writing the stories in Creamy Bullets or just passing mentions of bands within the fiction, here’s the musical roadmap.

Cop Shoot Cop: The last story I wrote for the book was “She Whispers, Nudges, Mumbles Something.” There is mention of a band called Republican Bathhouse playing at a club. I describe them as having “two bass players, two keyboard players, clothes that were terrible in all the right ways.” Even though I barely remember Cop Shoot Cop, I do remember that they were interesting because they had two bass players. This was around the time when I was listening to a lot of that abrasive Amphetamine Reptile type music. I also was going out to see a lot of bands back then too--something I don’t do as much anymore--so when I write about younger people hanging out at live music clubs, I’m probably just being nostalgic for the 90s. Besides Cop Shoot Cop, I imagine that Republican Bathhouse would also open up for bands like Caribou, Girls Against Boys, and GodheadSilo.

Guided by Voices: I like bands that write really short songs that stay interesting. GBV is a prime example of this. It makes me feel validated when I write flash fiction. Some people still haven’t come around to flash fiction. Just like some folks haven’t come around to GBV, or other bands that write great quickies (like Jason Anderson/Wolf Colonel, Pavement, early Spoon). I hope that opening my book with the 237-word “Girl With Shaky Hands” is like GBV starting Alien Lanes with the one and a half minute “Salty Salute.”

Judas Priest: In “Big Cheese,” the story takes place at a restaurant where the cook listens to Judas Priest and describes them as “The Beatles of this generation…The Beatles in leather, dude.” I hope that doesn’t seem cliché to have the kitchen help listening to headbanger music, but I defy you to show me a cook that doesn’t like a healthy dose of buttrock from time to time.

Public Enemy: Man, I used to love Public Enemy. And yeah, I loved Flavor Flav too. Cold Lampin’ is a freestyle classic (“You’re eatin’ dirt cuz ya like getting dirt from the graveyard/ya put gravy on it!”). In my story “Jailbreaker,” there’s a prisoner who calls himself Derelikt who breaks off a freestyle about Hostess Fruit Pies and prison sex. Because the story is a comedy, (and because I was watching Flavor of Love on VH1) I was envisioning Flavor Flav the whole time.

Weird Al Yankovic: There’s no mention of Weird Al in the story “Monogamy,” but it’s still one of the more obviously weird stories in this bunch. Inspired the great Larry Brown experiment, “Julie: A Memory,” this is basically a cut-up kind of piece about a crazy young woman I got involved with in 1997 (which will always be remembered as a year of extreme turbulence in my life). She was a woman who had no pretense and no class but a lot of sexual energy and tons of screwy and endlessly fascinating philosophies. Alternating between sentences about moving this woman into her first apartment and others about her terrible sexual habits and history, “Monogamy” is a pretty tough story to endure. Oh yeah—Weird Al? He was this girl’s favorite musician.

Patty Loveless: “I Rest Between Them” is a story about a couple that has to deal with Internet porn in their relationship. There’s a mention of Patty Loveless. It’s at a part of the story where the couple are happy and it sort of feels like an ignorant sort of bliss. I used to work at an AM country music radio station in the early 90s and I learned to like a few of the songs I played. One of my favorites was a Patty Loveless song called Timber I’m Falling in Love. It always made me happy and I would turn it up loud.

Wilco: The story, “Songs For Water Buffalos” is the most music-heavy piece in Creamy Bullets. I love making up and naming fictional bands and this story, about a group of record store employees who plan a benefit to raise money for a water buffalo, was possibly the most enjoyable piece to write for the book. Three bands play at the benefit show. Hand Over Fist was named after an early Magdalen Powers chapbook and their music is described as “grinding emocore.” The second band, American Heritage, is like a small town ripoff of Wilco. They’re described as “Bruce Springsteen meets Radiohead” with CD cover art that mimics an American Heritage Dictionary. The final band of the night is an 8-piece group called The Vikings. They act as the emotional release of the story. The lead singer gives an impassioned speech before their noise-jazz-skronk pulverizes the crowd. I imagined a sort of Melvins meets The Boredoms kind of experience. The narrator feels like he’s having his head shaved as he listens to the “swoop and blur” of the band’s epic tracks. Plus, they’re dressed in Nordic war attire. Damn—I wish they were a real band.

Sonic Youth: “Swimsuit Issue” was named after the SY song of the same name and was written specifically for an anthology of SY-inspired fiction called The Empty Page (Serpent’s Tail). It includes a character who tries to serenade an ex-girlfriend over the phone. Anger and resentment follow.

Ricky Martin: Back when I worked at the country music station, I was also an occasional DJ for the FM Top 40 station. The story “Krystal” was inspired by some of the weird things I discovered while doing the late-night shifts. Like the fact that radio DJs have groupies and they usually lie about their looks and age. I mention Ricky Martin early on to help set the mood and timeframe of the story. The station I worked at displayed a poster of Ricky Martin in the control room. Also mentioned in this story: Elton John, paintball, and hallucinogenic drugs. And though they’re not mentioned and they’re not from the same early 90s era, I feel indebted to the music video of Aphex Twin on this story. In fact, Aphex Twin might just be a subliminal influence on the whole book.

Kevin Sampsell and Creamy Bullets links:

the author's indie press
buy a signed copy at Powell's

Hobart review
Portland Mercury review
slouch review
Washington University bookstore review

Believer articles by the author
Bookslut interview with the author
Hobart interview with the author
identity theory profile of the author
litpark interview with the author
Portland Mercury articles by the author
Powell's Books blog posts by the author
SlushPile interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)