On March 15, award-winning local author David Fulmer will publish his seventh novel, The Fall, but it won't bear the imprint of a hulking New York publishing house like Houghton Mifflin. Instead, the book will be branded with the name Five Stones Press. Five Stones Press is a publishing venture Fulmer started in 2008 with two partners, Tara Coyt and Anna Foote, which functions more like a public corporation than an indie press. Fulmer and company raised the money for the book by selling shares of it – 100 of them, at $125 a pop. The author celebrates his new book and publishing model at a launch party March 12 at Decatur's Eagle Eye Book Shop.
What was the motivation and philosophy behind your new publishing venture, Five Stones Press?
I got caught by a perfect storm. My contract with Harcourt ended after six books, just as they merged with Houghton Mifflin and the publishing industry as a whole went into a nose-dive. I was put out on the street, along with a number of other authors. I was determined to keep my career going and wanted to have more control as I moved forward. I wanted to be involved in a leaner, more agile, and more accessible publishing venture. It's clear that the New York publishing world is going through a sea change and I decided that I want to be ahead of the curve. As to the "five stones," that came from a Malcolm Gladwell article in the New Yorker entitled – really – "How David Beats Goliath."
You're adamant that what you're doing with Five Stones Press is not self-publishing. What's the difference for you?
Self-published to me – and to most of the publishing world – means that the author pays to print and market the book. I haven't spent a dime of my own money in the venture. The flagship book is mine and I'm bringing a resume of six novels that have scored great reviews and nominations and awards. It was because I refused to self-publish that we went in search of another option. The one we developed depends totally on outside investment. I want this to work as a business, rather than an exercise in vanity or desperation, which is what characterizes most self-published fiction.
Your latest novel, The Fall, is a bit of a departure, taking place within the last decade and written in first person. Tell us about the story and how you found yourself drifting from the more historic, music-driven novels for which you're known.
This one's not a historical, that's true. But it is music-driven, in that the spark that sets the plot into motion is a song that carries a lot of memories for the main character. The original idea came to me when I heard about the sale of the rights to "The Times They Are A-Changin'" so it could be used in an advertising campaign. For an accounting firm. I was appalled by that and by the general abuse of music as a cheap marketing ploy. The main thread, however, was the end of a friendship that I experienced. I never quite understood why it had happened and I felt the loss. I took it to the next step: What would happen if a friendship fell apart and there was no way to ever get it back? Because one of the people was gone? So that's the basis of the story. The main character learns of the death of his one-time best friend and goes back to his hometown to pay his respects. When he gets there, he runs smack into a puzzle. It's complicated by the history he has with the late friend's sister.
I can tell you that some reviewers and readers are unhappy with me for writing outside the genre I'm known for. They seem to think I've betrayed them in some way. But now I'll be going back to historicals. I have one in the works – and it's set in Atlanta.
Grammy Award-winning designer Susan Archie designed The Fall's cover and did the typeset as well. How did you and Archie meet? And how does her aesthetic fit with your work?
Susan and I did not know each other until we were brought together to work on a Blind Willie McTell boxed set. It turned out to be a disaster and came undone when a huge amount of money that had been invested in the project went missing. That's another story. She and I have stayed in touch since that time. I saw the work she did on boxed sets and book covers and figured she'd have the right evocative touch. That's what authors are after, especially those who deal with the past, whether it's history or – as in this case – memory.
In terms of a literary scene and supporting/nurturing local authors, what are some of the most significant challenges Atlanta faces?
In the 1920s, Atlanta was a major recording center. The city could have ended up as a Nashville or a Memphis or New Orleans. But it got away. It's been the same with movies and books. The embrace never was strong enough. I think the city has been too transient and too focused on hard business to care enough about the arts. That atmosphere still remains, from what I've seen. There's terrific talent in this city: music, film and drama, visual arts and writing. The question is how do you keep those people? If my daughter wasn't here, I might be in New York or L.A. or some other market. Still, I see signs of hope. The independent bookstores work hard to make things happen. The Decatur Book Festival is one of the best events in the country. The Atlanta Writers Club's membership keeps growing. Somewhere in there is a tipping point where it will all coagulate. But I don't know if we'll ever get there.
In your mind, what will determine whether or not Five Stones Press is a success?
We have a break-even sales figure. Anything beyond that will count toward success. But I don't really know the answer in a broader sense. This is a unique model. Every day is a new lesson. My best guess is that it will be a true success when it's up and running and I can go back where I belong, which is spending my time writing the books.