The ReviewerBill Kieffer‘s website.
INTRODUCING BRETT BROOKS OF PANDAHEAD PUBLISHING
I first became aware of Pandahead Publishing about a year or two ago because they publish Pussy Katnip stories. Pussy Katnip is a public domain character that was created in the 1940's and appeared as a back-up in Green Mask Comics. She is, as the name implies, a cartoon cat and she's is a badass. As regular readers of this column may recall, I am a furry fan with my own anthropomorphic corral of characters, namely Brooklyn Blackie, who stars in my newly released collection of Furry Noir stories (Cold Blood: Fatal Fables from Jaffa Books). So, it quite pleases me to have a chance to "meet" with the man behind the resurrection of Kitty Katnip and pick his mind!
Smashwords.com includes this bit of description of the publisher/writer: "Once told that if he were a villain, he’d be called Sarcastro, Brett Brooks is a sharp-witted, dry-humored, and generous-natured writer based in metro Atlanta, Georgia. His work is intelligent and often humorous, focusing on heroic characters, empowered women, and the occasional talking animal. He is not above defying the conventions of genre just to make sure a good story is told." Having read that, I am sorry that I haven't had a chance to meet him in person, yet.
BRETT BROOKS On His Book Shelf
My absolute favorite book in my collection is a first-printing hardcover edition of Brave New World. It's one of my absolute favorite novels, and I was given the book as a birthday gift some 20+ years ago. (I'd show you a picture, but it's safely packed away right now.) I can't actually display all of my books. I have thousands of books, and only the space to display a few hundred. So, some get to spend a lot of time in their climate controlled storage space.
Brett Brooks on Pandahead Publishing and Pulp/Pulpish Fiction
Please describe Pandahead Publishing briefly and what genre(s) you serve.
That’s actually a trickier question than you realize. It would be easy to say pulp, as I feel that all of our novels have a pulp edge to them, but that really doesn’t fit the bill. One thing I hate, though, is putting someone’s work in a box. I much prefer when someone reaches outside the box. As a publisher, that is actually odd, I know, because it’s much easier to sell something familiar than something unique.
That’s why books, movies, comics, and everything else follow patterns. It is easy to sell something that someone already knows. You can say “it’s like Game of Thrones” or “it’s a twist on Harry Potter” and folks get it that quick. We get to look at people and tell them that “it’s about a dragon who was born pink in a land of red dragons” or “it’s filled with zombies, but it’s not about zombies at all.” So, we don’t fit the mold. Hence our tagline: Challenging the Conventional.
PLUS, on top of the fiction, we also publish games. So it’s definitely not a one-note company.
How did you come to found Pandahead? What titles and writers did you start with?
We began publishing in 2002. For over 15 years I had worked in the role-playing game world—either directly or indirectly—and I wanted to finally put out something that was ours. So, my wife—Allyson Brooks—and I formed a company and we put out a cattle call.
We got a lot of answers. A LOT. Like I already stated, we didn’t want something that I felt was trite—something that was already out on the market. That’s when Brendan LaSalle gave me a call. He told me he had a product to show me, but he had to show it in person. He couldn’t tell me over the phone. That threw up so many red flags. My basic belief was that if you can’t describe it, you don’t understand it.
I was so wrong. Brendan came to us with the role-playing game Xcrawl. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand it, he was just a consummate showman and knew how to present it better than sell it. That got us started.
How has the company changed over time? Was it because of lessons learned? Did changes within the publishing world force you to adapt as well?
Our company went through the same thing that almost every gaming company that started up in the early 200’s went through: the industry died. It was almost overnight, but the role-playing game industry had a huge collapse, and it damn near took us with it. We were lucky in that Xcrawl and our second game, Meddling Kids, had both been successful, so we were able to weather it—sort of.
We changed from a publishing company to a design company, and did our best to work through things, but we could never shake the publishing bug. So, in 2010 we went back and started publishing fiction. And now we’re even back to publishing games again.
Tales of Yourself
I would tell the young me to get off his ass and start working. And I mean working on the things that you want to do. Working towards being yourself. I didn’t get that until much later in life. You don’t get things. You work for things. You might be told you have talent or that you are going places or any other kindness, but until you decide that you need to put yourself out there and actually do something, nothing is going to happen. It’s cliche, but true.
What did you read before you even thought of publishing? How did becoming a publisher change your reading habits?
Everything. I read fiction and non-fiction. Classics and comics. Sci-fi and history. It didn’t matter. If there was a good hook, I would read it. I love reading still to this day, and I believe that one of the best ways to grow is to read outside your favorite genre.
Today…I don’t read anywhere near as much as I want. I’m working 12+ hours a day, and still trying to keep my friendships and marriage alive, so reading happens when I can make it happen. I want to read more than I do.
What do your friends and family think of your publishing endeavors? Are they supportive? Have they tried to hold an intervention? Or do you find yourself reminding them of your true calling?
I lost most of my family in the past few years. My mother, father, and brother have all passed, so in many ways I’m on my own. I do have my wife, who has been a rock in my life and is my partner in my publishing ventures, and one brother who has become much closer since we both lost so many folks.
Where I’ve found support is in the form of other writers and folks in the book world. There is a true senses of community. It’s a small industry, and, in general, we all support each other and want everyone to succeed.
What character from fiction are you most like? Which character from fiction would you most like to be? What fictional character would you most like to meet?
Most like: Charlie Brown. And one of these days I’m gonna kick that damned football!
Most want to be: Captain America. I grew up and learned most of my morals from comic books (which are a HIGHLY underrated form of fiction, by the way) and I wanted to be, and still want to be, like Captain America. He’s not perfect, but he always tries to be the best he can.
Most want to meet: I have no idea. I am drawing a complete blank at the moment. One of those cool ones. Yeah, I’ll leave it at that. One of the cool ones.
On Community Interaction: Readers/Fans
What is the typical fan of Pandahead like? Do you even have a typical fan? Are your readers attracted to different authors (or imprints) differently? Or do your readers tend to be attracted to the whole she-bang?
I don’t think we have a typical fan. There are folks who think of us as furry publishers, and then there are others who raise an eyebrow at that statement. Some folks think of us as game publishers and have no idea that we publish fiction—and the exact opposite.
If you were to ask me to describe a typical fan—and you did, actually—I would say it’s someone who is willing to take a chance. Someone looking for something a bit off the beaten path.
Fill in the blank: Readers who like _________ are going to read your books?
Readers who like stories are going to LIKE our books. Stories and characters are the heart of our books, not genres. Give them a try. I think you’ll like them.
I am biased.
What conventions or conferences do you attend where you meet fans? Do you tend to appear on panels, or do you prefer to revert to a fan yourself?
I love doing panels. After one of the first panels I did, some 25 years ago, I was told that I was too opinionated. I still am, probably, but that’s not going to change. If you put me up on a stage I’m going to give you my opinion.
And you’ll get that chance. My wife and I do over a dozen shows a year. This year we are doing eighteen shows—plus maybe a couple more. It’s where we meet up with fans and make new ones.
On Community Interaction: Writers
Tell me about some of your favorite authors that you have worked with.
Pandahead is about to release a new anthology entitled A Hand of Gold and other stories. I had the privilege of working with some amazing talent. Each and every one of them was amazing. Joshua Robertson. Terry Maggert. Jeremy Hicks. J. Fitzpatrick Mauldin. Rob Howell. Allyson Brooks. (Yes, my wife.) Each of them produced such strong stories.
The anthology is based on the Pussy Katnip character that I have written two novels around already, with a third one on the way, but I wanted different perspectives on the character. And these folks did not disappoint. I strongly recommend it. Again, I am biased.
In addition to being a publisher, do you offer any literary services for creators outside of your publishing company?
We do! We are also a full-service graphic design company, and can help put together logos, cover design, book layout, and everything that needs to be done from a design perspective.
Even ebooks have to have covers. How much say do your creators have in selecting a cover artist? How much say in the layout and design?
We are always willing to listen to what the author has in their head, but the final design lies with us.
Do you have one perfect font for your books or do you work with the writer to find the best font for each book?
For interior, I prefer serif fonts.
For a cover: Every book is different. If you are doing a series, you want the font to look the same from book to book, but you have to let the style of the book and the style of the font match up. It’s a book-by-book process.
Do you have a regular release schedule or is each release customized for each book?
Nothing regular. It’s all based on the product and when it is ready. I’d love to have a regular schedule, and our gaming product is much more structured, but the fiction side of things tends to happen as it happens.
Have you and yours won any awards or titles? What was that like?
Twenty-seven nominations. Zero awards. And I have to tell you, it is genuinely an honor to be nominated. The first time it happened I was beside myself. We put out a book that people didn’t just think was okay, but truly liked. I didn’t know how to respond. It was wonderful.
That said, it would be nice to win one for a change.
On Community Interaction: Local Real World Stuff
Do you, as a publisher, reach out to locals through bookstores, craft fairs, or the local chamber of commerce? Do you maybe sell your books at farm markets and the like?
I do contact local book stores. There are lots of indie book shops out there, and most of them want to support the local authors and publishers as much as they want to be supported. It’s a two-way street. If I can do something to help them out it helps both of us. Small community, remember?
Do you work with any local writers or know any? Does the area find its way into their work?
I know a lot of local authors. Building that community is important. Truthfully, I should be more involved with it than I am, but I always try to put myself out there.
Business vs Passion, Publisher vs Creator
Do you publish your own work? If so, do you handle the work differently from idea to distribution?
Sure. I’m a writer, too. And I treat my work exactly like I treat any other work. It’s a process, no matter what you are doing. If anything, I treat my own work worse than others. I suppose we could get into a self-esteem argument here, but I still try to handle everything the same way.
If you feel your connection to or appreciation for Pulp or the games, how do you reconnect or revitalize that loving feeling?
I’m going to sound egotistical here, but I never lose it. There is something about the creative process that is addictive. You want to see more. You want to produce more. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve never had a problem finding the passion for writing or publishing.
That Damn Slush Pile
Anthologies? Love them or hate them?
Love them! Go up a few questions! We’ve got one coming out on May 24th. (Available at Amazon.com, Pandahead.com, and select stores! Shameless plug!)
To me the advantage of an anthology—at least a good one—is that you are getting samples of so many different takes on the same thing. You can discover some wonderful talent that way.
How do you read a full book submission? Almost every book is going to need some work. How much interaction and work are you willing to give on a new book? And how do you make that determination?
I don’t. We read the first three chapters. That’s how long you have to get our attention. If you do, reading the rest of the book is easy.
And if you do catch our eye, we always read through a book clean once. No pens, no comments, no editing. Just reading. If the whole thing works then we move to the editing process.
How do you dole out rejection letters? Do you ever say “maybe with revisions”?
No form letters. Everything is truthful. Not in a cruel way, but in an honest way. And yes, sometimes it’s a “revise this, and maybe.”
Current and Future Plans
What was 2017 like for you and Pandahead? What were some of the highlights for you and Pandahead?
Odd story. We took 2017 off for personal reasons. Nothing came out from us in 2017, but it did allow us to focus and plan for 2018 and beyond. And we do have plans….
What are the plans for the immediate future? What books will be rolling off the presses shortly?
A Hand of Gold and other stories! The new Pussy Katnip anthology releases on May 24th! …or have I mentioned that already?
We also released the first issue of Primal Tales, our supplement-series for the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game in April. There will two more “issues” of it this year. One in July and one in October.
There are two other books planned for this year, but we’re giving no details on them yet.
Do you have any long range plans in the works?
Besides our plan to take over the world? Sure.
Oh, you want details….
We want to put out more books. Expand our production schedule to release more product. We also want to increase our services to other companies and self-publishers. There are a lot of people out there who are looking for help, but don’t know where to go. We want to give them that place.
Visit the author’s website
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Bill Kieffer‘s website.