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From selling bulldozers to books

Newnan businessman’s love of literature inspires new career path as book publisher

In “American Judas,” Maggie and Seth Ginsberg live in a dystopian America where Christianity is the only permissible religion. When Seth is caught practicing his Jewish faith by a co-worker, he’s outed to the authorities and makes a run for the Mexican border, while Maggie is rustled off to a savior camp. Atlanta author Mickey Dubrow’s novel is an incendiary, satiric commentary on the current political climate of intolerance.

With the aid of a literary agent, Dubrow spent four years trying to find a publisher for the novel without luck until he met Steve McCondichie, 57, a former bulldozer salesman in Newnan who, along with his wife Donna, launched SFK Press in 2017. The goal of the traditional publishing company, whose acronym stands for Southern Fried Karma, is to publish books that reflect the diversity of the South and to encourage discourse.

“Our stories are going to be a little bit disruptive, but they’re also going to entertain,” McCondichie said.

Published on Oct. 23, “American Judas” is “as provocative as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ and just as important to read,” said Atlanta author Anthony Grooms. It’s in good company with SFK’s nine other titles. The catalog includes Cathy Adams’ “A Body’s Just as Dead,” about a working-class family in Alabama for whom the American dream becomes increasingly difficult to attain, and George Weinstein’s “The Five Destinies of Carlos Moreno,” about a Mexican immigrant trying to make a better life for himself in Houston during the Great Depression.

Author Mickey Dubrow (right) talks about his book, “American Judas,” at a literary event in Fernandina Beach, Fla., while SFK Press co-founder Steve McCondichie looks on. CONTRIBUTED (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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McCondichie is “trying to give a voice to the new Southern writer,” said Dubrow, “and to really be inclusive, to show stories about the South that others aren’t showing at this time, to give a new generation of Southern writers the chance to tell their stories.”

How McCondichie became a book publisher is a story in itself.

He grew up in Sandy Springs wanting to be a writer and got an English degree from Florida State. But he was always expected to join the family business, so upon graduation, he became a bulldozer salesman, brokering deals throughout the U.S. and in 24 countries. He married, started a family, put down roots in Newnan and eventually left the family business to work for another construction equipment company in 2000. The desire to be a writer never left him, though.

“There had been times when I’d sit at my desk at my old job surfing the net for low residency writing programs,” he said. “It was my Caribbean island dream.”

After his mother died in 2006, his father, who suffered from dementia, “never became himself again,” McCondichie said, so he left his job to look after his father and manage his commercial real estate business. Along the way, McCondichie started writing. When his father died in 2013, McCondichie decided it was time to do what he wanted to do. He got into the low residency MFA program in creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte, N.C., and he wrote a novel. In the process of trying to get it published, he saw how difficult it was to break into the industry. Its focus on the bottom line was limiting the kinds of voices that were being heard. And he saw an opportunity.

“I decided to start my own publishing company, and then Dylann Roof goes into a church in Charleston, S.C., and murders nine people,” McCondichie said. “He became the face of the South, and I became committed to change that. The South is a much more diverse place than that.”

He launched SFK in 2017 with a novel writing contest and the publication of his MFA thesis, a novel called “Lying for a Living.” Described on the company website as an “irreverent mid-life coming-of-age story,” it’s about a man trying to pull himself out of a life of deceit to help his struggling family.

“I had to learn the publishing business, and I was too old to get an internship,” he said, so he used his novel as the company’s guinea pig.

Now he has a strategy and a staff in place, including author Pinckney Benedict, a faculty member at Queens University, who serves as development director. “We’re scaling the business up,” said McCondichie.

“American Judas” by Mickey Dubrow (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

SFK has 10 books under contract for 2019, including McCondichie’s second novel, “The Parlor Girl’s Guide,” and plans are in the works to launch a nonfiction imprint in 2020.

McCondichie has also started a pop-up bookstore in downtown Newnan called Southern Fried Books that sells SFK titles and other books of Southern interest, as well as a film production company that he hopes will turn his authors’ books into movies, and a weekly online zine called The New Southern Fugitives that publishes stories, essays and poems by emerging writers.

But despite the mission to present diverse voices, all of the SFK authors so far are white, a situation McCondichie describes as one of his biggest challenges.

“We identified that as an area of concern when finalizing our 2019 schedule,” he said. “Our zine has done a good job of publishing submissions from diverse authors, which we believe will ultimately lead to publishing books from diverse authors.”

He said he’s also contacted creative writing programs at black universities and colleges seeking writers, and is “moving writers of color to the front of the line” in its call for submissions.

“Some of these efforts have paid off, and in spring 2020, we’re publishing ‘Intersections,’ Yong Takahashi’s collection of short stories,” said McCondichie. “Additionally, we’re holding open the rest of the 2020 schedule until we find those diverse voices.”

McCondichie likes to describe SFK as “a mission with a business, and that mission is to tell a million tales of y’all means all.” His faith is so great in the quality of SFK books, he’s instituted a policy that gives customers a free book if they purchase a title they don’t like.

“If you wouldn’t recommend one of our books with a four- or five-star rating to a friend, then the next story is on us,” McCondichie said. “I believe that much in the stories we’re telling.”

He paused, then added, “That gives us focus. We better make sure that book is good.”

Conducted by a research institute in France, the study lasted about 4.5 years and looked at the diets of about 69,000 French adults. Those who ate the most organic foods were 25% less likely to develop cancer.

OTHER SFK PRESS BOOKS

“A Curious Matter of Men with Wings.” A jon boat ride through the barrier islands of South Carolina turns tragic when the youngest of three siblings falls in the water and appears to drown. When two men with wings swoop down from the sky and carry away their little sister’s body, the two surviving brothers are prompted to search for her and discover the mystery of the centuries-old tale of the Flying Men. By F. Rutledge Hammes.

“Amidst This Fading Light.” The 2017 SFK novel contest winner is based on true events involving a family tragedy that occurred in the author’s hometown of Germantown, N.C., during the Great Depression in 1929. By Rebecca Davis.

“The Banshee of Machrae.” Emmy Fane holds the fate of her injured boyfriend in her hands and weighs her options. Through the help of a mythical banshee, Emmy is shown how each of her options would play out. By Sonja Condit.

SOUTHERN FRIED BOOKS

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, starting Nov. 14. Expanded weekend hours Nov. 23-Dec. 23. 29 Jackson St., Newnan. 770-683-1239, storiesyalllove.com.

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