10 Questions: Fat Thumb Publishing
FAT THUMB PUBLISHING is an upstart publishing company focused on creating media that is influenced by their skateboarding roots. ‘Creative destruction,’ as Kevin Sullivan describes, is an ethos that skaters everywhere should maintain in whatever endeavor they find themselves. Fat Thumb is trying to breathe life into that mentality through their efforts.
“Better If Your Don’t Come Back” is the first title from their young operation. Author Joseph DeMough tells a story of two skaters who have to transition from skating all day to dealing with some serious life issues – kids, jobs, and not having enough time in the day. Through the author’s realistic voice, you get the sense that in some way the tale mirrors aspects of DeMough’s own life, however, the characters themselves have been abstracted to the point where any skater can easily identify with what unfolds in the pages. Reading through the novel, it’s this abstraction that had so many of the situations in the book feel like it had happened, one way or another, in our own life; and this feeling of familiarity makes the book definitely worth a read if you’ve ever ridden a skateboard. DeMough has been able to solidify and give voice to an ethos that most skaters have identified, but few have tried articulating.
Kevin Sullivan and Joseph DeMough graciously sat down with us to talk about “better if you don’t come back,” Fat Thumb Publishing, creative destruction, and more. Check out the interview below, and head over to amazon to get your copy of “better if you don’t come back.”
Tell us a little bit about Fat Thumb Publishing, what are you guys setting out to accomplish or express?
Kevin Sullivan – We are an upstart publishing company. We are focused on putting out media (books, music, video, maybe games some day) that we believe in. “better if you don’t come back” is a novel by Joseph DeMough and it’s our first release.
We don’t want to sit on our asses and wait for Viacom or Disney to put out products that we like, and then get pissed when they don’t. The means of production have been democratized. It is cheaper than ever to create a book or distribute an album. But on the production side, it does require knowledge, initiative and a little bit of money. We want to support artists by creating a channel to their audience. And for readers and fans, we want to be a trusted source of products that kick ass. We want people to trust that we aren’t going to get behind things that suck just so we can have something to sell.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves? (Where you’re from, how you grew up, etc.)
KS — There are four of us who started Fat Thumb Publishing. We all grew up with skateboarding and skate culture in some way. Our roots, the things that inspired us like the early skate videos like World Industries and H-Street, Thrasher, skatezines, hardcore shows, demo tapes, all our culture has always been very organic and DIY. So, it was very natural for us to start something like this.
Joseph DeMough – Mostly LA and Jersey. We share similar backgrounds. Part of what I wanted to explore in the book is the environment that I grew up in. I’ve been skating, on-and-off, for probably 20 years… Skateboarding is one of the few things that people do so intensely, for such long periods of time, with no thought of reward of any kind. It is endlessly creative, and I am fascinated by the things in people’s lives out side of skateboarding, the family dramas and social pressures, that make skateboarding such a unique release for them.
We can’t really think of many other novels that are written about skateboarding, what made you guys think that this is something that needed to be put out in the open?
KS — That’s exactly why we thought it was important to put “better if you don’t come back” out into the world. We feel like it is important to put it out in open because it is a book with something serious to say, that is written with the vocabulary and geography of skateboarding as a backdrop, and with a deep understanding why that culture is compelling, that isn’t condescending at all to skaters and doesn’t address the audience as juvenile. It is a very adult book in many ways.
All the books and movies that we have seen where the plot involves skateboarding, it seems like they are using skateboarding as a hook to trick skate-kids into buying the book or watching the movie. “better if you don’t come back” seems like the opposite of this… it is a great book that we think anyone who likes great characters and stories will love, but it happens to be deep in the world of skateboarding.
JD — I watched the first season of “Friday Night Lights” on Netflix last week. I’ve always fucking hated football, but I am starting to think I may have been more close-minded than I like to admit. It is a complex game, and full of drama. I don’t want to push the analogy too far, but…. Skateboarding is a rich and complex activity. It is an activity that I love, and I couldn’t imagine the lives of the characters in “better if you don’t come back” without skateboarding being a big part of it. So far, the response has been great from skaters. If anything, I worry a little bit that people who don’t skate might stay away from the book because the characters skate. But there is nothing to be done. The guys in the book have to skate.
Tell us what it’s been like starting up Fat Thumb Publishing and writing “better if you don’t come back.”
KS — Starting Fat Thumb is a pain in the ass!!! Just kidding… There has been a good deal of hard work. We are in the early stages here, and we have a ton more that we want to accomplish, but it feels great to connect with the skate community and all the feedback from readers so far has been super positive and supportive. We look forward to keeping in touch with everyone who relates to what we do.
JD – The idea for the book sort of unfolded all at once. What I am really interested in is creating something that is genuine. Getting the book out there, it was a natural choice for me to work with Kevin and the Fat Thumb guys because I also don’t believe that a story like this needs a large media company to reach its audience — Maybe that’s naive.
“Better if you don’t come back” seems to be communicating a few different messages, and something that everyone will notice is the straight-to-the-point and realistic voice that the characters have in the story. What would you say you want your readers to understand after they read your book?
JD – I take it as a big complement that you point out the realism in the dialogue of the characters. It was very important for me to do my best to present the characters in an honest way –particularly in light of Kevin’s comment before – that much of the media seems to pander to skaters as a “market segment” rather than as humans with thoughtful reasons for being in love with the act of jumping around on these useless wooden toys.
With regard to what I want readers to understand… That’s a great question for you to ask, but a terrible one for an author to answer…
I will say that writing the book helped me understand more about the forces that shaped my own life –expectations of others, drugs, sex and violence, and most of all, my own sense of what my fate or destiny should be. Maybe readers will be similarly reflective when they read the book. I think that would be a small success.
A lot of the thematics in JD’s work draw quite literally from skateboarding, what is the special connection that you feel you guys have to skating? How do you think it has influenced you in your life within and outside of writing?
KS – At Fat Thumb Publishing, all four of us grew up skating, some more than others, but definitely being attached to skating in some very real way. As I mentioned, skate culture has always been very DIY, with skate shops putting on contests and sponsoring kids, and becoming real companies. As far as skateboarding goes, we believe it is up to every individual to make sure we don’t loose that. That attitude influenced us in a huge way. I don’t think there is any activity that is more entrepreneurial than skateboarding –even now, with the consolidation, and Nike and the Maloofs and the fucking ‘Life of Ryan’, all these things that everyone complains about—There isn’t any thing out there that is as big as skateboarding, and still as entrepreneurial, and as welcoming and inclusive. It is up to skaters to maintain the ethos of creative destruction.
JD – I agree.
Aside from “better if you you don’t come back” what else is in the works for you guys?
KS – We have a music project that we are excited about. Look for that in coming months. We are also focused on finding and developing new content and relationships. I’m pretty accessible so hit me at fatthumbpublishing [at] gmail or on facebook or twitter @fatthumbpub if you dig what we are doing. Reading JD’s book will give you a good idea of the type of things we are looking to support.
JD – Why would you need anything more than “better if you don’t come back”?
Who are your biggest influences? Skaters and Non-skaters alike.
JD – For skaters, Mullen, Darrell Stanton, Jason Dill, Ray Barbee, Matt Hensley, Daewon Song. Those are the guys I want to be when I roll out on a sunny day.
For writers, I was obsessed with Don Delillo for a while. Also, Nathaniel West’s “Miss Lonelyhearts”. Growing up, Ralph Waldo Emerson was someone I read a lot, the whole American Transcendentalist thing was really empowering.
Have you watched any of the recent Mullen interviews? …he spoke at TED and at the Smithsonian Institute. He discussed how in skateboarding, progression is a kind of dialogue that skateboarders have and a way of giving back to the community and to skating in general. He invented the kickflip, and then he sees someone kickflip down a flight of steps and that inspires someone else to push further, and down the line… For me, writing books and literature is like that too. It builds on itself and writing a book is a way of giving back to that community that has kept me sane all these years.
KS – For skating, Muska was huge for me. I’ve always thought Danny Way is fucking rad, but I can’t say I ever thought about skating like him. Definitely, you can learn how to push yourself from a guy like that. In business and life, I’m inspired by everyone who makes something for themselves… the guys like Stacy Peralta, Steve Rocco and Mullen and Koston and Berra… however these companies end up, they helped create an industry. Fuck, any kid who prints a shitty zine on his home computer and hands it out at a skatepark, or has a blog and keeps it up consistently is fucking awesome.
What else do you guys like to do in your free-time besides skating and writing?
JD – “Fallout 3” and “New Vegas” stole two months of my life not too long ago.
KS – Have you seen that 2 Chainz video for the “Birthday Song”? My home life is pretty much like that.
Any words of advice you can impart on the masses?
KS – People always say, “Don’t let anyone tell you your dreams are impossible.” I think you should let everyone tell you what you are trying is impossible, and then work to prove them wrong.
JD – Fuck Stephen Hawking.