Like many businesses in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, Kicks Books, founded by drummer Miriam Linna with The Cramps and later The A-Bones, was forced to close for six months when its warehouse was flooded by Hurricane Sandy. In addition to losing her entire book inventory, Linna lost many personal items along with back issues of Kicks magazine and LPs, CDs, 45s, picture sleeves, and CD booklets for Norton Records, both of which she cofounded with her husband Billy Miller. As she wrote in a blog post last fall, “all waterlogged, and most of it, if you will excuse the expression, dead in the water.”
One year later Kicks Books is back. Its printer, LINCO Printing Co., replaced many of the books that were destroyed, at cost. And the press just released a collection of early poems, Gone Man Squared, by British beat poet Royston Ellis, the “Paperback Writer” immortalized by the Beatles. Next month it will publish a collection of early work by Charles Plymell, Benzedrine Highway. He roomed with Allen Ginsburg and Neal Cassady in the early 1960s and printed the first Zap Comix in 1969. In addition sci fi writer and Kicks Books author Harlan Ellison made his first appearance in three years in Los Angeles to let people know that the press is back.
Since its launch four years ago, Kicks Books has stayed relatively small, publishing only two or three titles a year. It grew out of Linna’s “obsession” with pulp fiction. When she worked at the Strand in New York City in the 1970s, Linna began developing one of the largest private collection of vintage paperbacks anywhere. But it wasn’t until R&B musician Andre Williams called her from rehab three decades later that she made the switch from book collector to publisher. To get out, he had to do something creative. “I’m all tapped out of songs, and I don’t want to write a memoir,” he told her. She suggested fiction and promised him that if he wrote something, she would publish it. The pair worked via fax on what went on to become the press’s first book, published in 2009, Sweets and Other Stories. Even then, Linna knew exactly what she wanted a Kicks Books to be and chose a 7-1/4 X 4-1/4 trim size, so the books, with pulp-inspired covers, would peek out of the reader’s back pocket. She called them Hip Pocket Paperbacks.
Despite its unlikely beginnings, Kicks Books has continued to grow, albeit slowly, with two or three books a year. “A lot of people have approached me,” says Linna. “I just don’t have the funding or the interest [to publish theme]. These [Ellison, Plymell, Williams, Nick Tosches, Kim Fowley, and Sun Ra] are people I really care about.” And she shows that care not only by splitting the profits with her authors but adding something unique to each book she publishes, a pulp perfume. There’s Sin Time for Ellison’s collections of early writings, some of which were written pseudonymously, Getting in the Wind, and Sex Gang for his collection Pulling A Train. She was inspired in part, she says, by her collection of African-American toiletries from the 1930s and 1940s. She also points to the perfume Rock n’Roll, which was developed in 1958 as a tribute to Salvador Dali’s 1957 painting, Rock and Roll.
To date, Kick Books has only published smaller format paperbacks, but that changed this week when it released its first Kindle e-books. And in Spring 2014, Linna will bring out her first “large format” Kicks title, which she is reserving for nonfiction, biography in particular with a lot of illustrations. It will be her own full-length work on Bobby Fuller, an expansion of her Kicks magazine article, I Fought the Law. Fuller’s brother, Randy Fuller, will perform songs from the Bobby Fuller Four to launch the book in Los Angeles, El Paso, and New York. Miller will also use the larger format for Miller’s upcoming history on the Detroit label Fortune Records.
In another change, Linna is looking at moving beyond selling books direct on the Kicks Books Web site or through Amazon and selling books to the book trade. But one thing that hasn’t changed in spite of the losses from the storm is her commitment to staying small. “I really like the idea of small companies on a shoe string budget that make a go of it and do great stuff,” she says. “The whole idea is to get writing that hasn’t been out or hasn’t been out in a long time.”