FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New Publisher Dead Rabbits premieres Emerald City
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA – With his gritty look at the modern crime syndicate, Brian Birnbaum delves into corporate fraud, drug gangs, and the Deaf community in his literary fiction title, Emerald City (Dead Rabbits, September 15, 2019). Drawing inspiration from his experience as a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) and the Video Relay Service fraud that ran rampant throughout the early 2000s, Birnbaum dissects the impact of crime, addiction, and psychological trauma through interconnecting storylines.
Set in Seattle, Emerald City follows Benison Behrenreich, the hearing son of deaf royalty. His father, CEO of a multimillion-dollar deaf access agency, has bribed Myriadal College officials for Benison’s spot on their powerhouse basketball team, where he struggles to prove himself and compensate for his father’s sins.
Julia Paolantonio has recently lost her father to a drug relapse. Her mother ships her off to live with her estranged granddad, Johnny Raciti, during the summer before her freshman year at Myriadal. Johnny offers her a deal: bring him Peter Fosch — tormented college dropout and the best drug runner west of the Cascades — and he’ll give Julia’s freshly widowed mother a board seat on his mobbed-up securities firm.
When Benison’s father is arrested for defrauding government subsidies for the deaf, the Behrenreichs are left vulnerable to his company’s ruthless backers — namely Johnny Raciti — forcing Julia and Peter to navigate the minefield left in the aftermath.
Brian worked on Emerald City for six years, querying countless agents, eager to get his book out into the world. After earning a high-powered agent at Writers House — only to watch that agent slip from the industry altogether — Birnbaum teamed up with Katie Rainey and Jonathan Lee Kay to found a press based in cultivating a creative and supportive community: Dead Rabbits. Starting out as a successful reading series, Birnbaum, Rainey, and Kay continue the spirit of innovation and acceptance built within the reading series to the publishing industry where they strive to support authors and their works.
Brian Birnbaum received his MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College in 2015. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, The Smart Set, Potluck Magazine, LUMINA, 3AM Magazine, The Collagist, Anti-Heroin Chic, and more. His debut novel, Emerald City, is forthcoming in 2019 with Dead Rabbits, whose NYC reading series is spinning off into a literary press funded by a former Amazon dev manager. He also hosts the Dead Rabbits Podcast. Brian is an only Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), and works in development for his father’s deaf access company. Visit him at https://www.briansbirnbaum.com/.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Brian Birnbaum | September 15, 2019| Dead Rabbits
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-950122-00-4 | Price: $18.99
Praise for Emerald City and Brian Birnbaum
“Some writers excel at plot, always two steps ahead of a reader dying to know what happens next. Others spin mind-jolting sentences that please us whatever their context. Still others create psychologically complex, plausibly damaged characters. Brian Birnbaum does all of this and more; Emerald City is so good a debut that it actually seems unfair.” — David Holland
“Birnbaum is as inventive with language as he is smart with story. He will put you into a world that kind of scares you, a world you don’t fully trust not to hurt you, and you’ll kind of like it.” — David Olimpio, author of This Is Not a Confession and Editor-in-Chief of Atticus Review
“Though this nimble and virtuosic novel tracks everything from the long shadow of addiction to the unique pressures of college athletics, Emerald City is, at its heart, an intensely moving story about family. Birnbaum’s electric, acutely funny storytelling pulls the wool over your eyes and allows the novel’s poignance to sneak up on you, and I finished it beguiled by his trick and thrilled at its execution.” — Gabe Habash, author of Stephen Florida
“In Emerald City, Brian Birnbaum expertly creates a kinetic but pained world. The result is an addictive blend of compelling discovery and desultory recognition. Above all, it’s the authenticity of the work that most controls. Birnbaum has a true gift for creating individuated characters and people like Julia jump off the page as not just magnetic emblems but as perfect repositories for the empathic magic of fiction. Then there’s the prose. It’s subtly sly and inventive throughout but also perfectly pitched to particular story and structural demands — expansive enough to encompass the universal but also honed enough to beautify the granular. This is preternatural assurance. A moving and intelligent work that resonates beyond the final page.” — Sergio De La Pava, author of A Naked Singularity and Lost Empress
In an interview, Brian Birnbaum can discuss:
* Growing up as an only child of Jewish, Deaf parents
* The six year long process of writing Emerald City and what inspired the Dead Rabbits’ team to strike out on their own
* The impact physical injuries have on psychological trauma
* His background in addictions, psychology and psychoanalysis and how those educations and experiences have influenced his writing
* His resilience in failure and advice for those who may find themselves in that position
An Interview with Brian Birnbaum
How has your experience as a CODA shaped your life?
I didn’t really acknowledge this until I began psychoanalysis, roughly four years ago. Until then I’d always minimized its impact. Now, I understand that it plays a central role in my perception of communication. For one, having Deaf parents allowed, at a very young age, me to understand how different people can be, and how important it is to make room for these differences – in effect, instilling empathy. On the other hand, my frustration with alternating between American Sign Language and English, which is by far my stronger dialect, instilled a sense of futility that I’m still dealing with to this day, yet which has enriched my experience in ways tantamount to anyone born of a bilingual family.
How has it shaped your writing career?
First and foremost, being a CODA introduced me to struggle. Whether juggling linguistics or witnessing the difficulties my parents endure, I was exposed early and often to what it means to suffer and cope with that suffering. Literature is an art steeped in drama, drama can’t exist without conflict, and conflict imposes choice, which I’ve always struggled to reconcile – even when confronted with a diner menu. The choice of whether to sign or speak, whether to attempt to communicate my struggles to those close to me – et al, these choices of how to confront struggle dominate my drive to write.
What initially drew you to writing? After the dead ends that you faced in querying Emerald City, what kept you going?
It was my passion, and I thought I was good at it. I didn’t realize how bad I was until I discovered a semblance of decency in my writing. Erstwhile, books like Cloud Atlas, A Naked Singularity, and The Flamethrowers revealed to me the limitlessness of this craft, and nothing draws me more than that which knows no bounds.
It’s impossible to say exactly what kept me going because there were so many times that I committed to quitting – only to relapse on perseverance. It’s a paradox: finding an agent kept me going until that agent left the industry and welched on his promise to pass me along to another agent; completing the revisions I’d discussed with said agent kept me going until a hundred queries with an improved novel paradoxically failed to deliver me another agent; and now, of course, Dead Rabbits has kept me going, which is far more sustainable because of its promise to publish my novel, along with a hitherto unforeseen opportunity to publish other deserving novels that paradoxically can’t find a home.
Has your background in psychology played a role in your writing?
The better question might be, how hasn’t it played a role in my writing? We are our psychology, and understanding psychology is the espousal of empathy and self-awareness, without which it would be impossible to write anything aside from an instruction manual. I owe a great deal to my time in psychoanalysis, despite its flaws, and to my innate drive to inexorably dig deeper into myself, paired with the humility to understand that we will only know so little.
How has the failure and physical trauma of your sports career in highschool and college impacted your writing?
This harkens back to my early exposure to struggle and suffering. Injuries might’ve marked the beginning of the end of my sports career, but its psychological sequela – the anxiety that metastasized into a complicated web of performance pathologies – marked the end of the end. This experience also marked the transition from my pensive yet contented childhood to what would become my depressive and anxiogenic adulthood. There’s never a day when I don’t regret what happened to my relationship with sports, and yet there’s never a day that I don’t have gratitude for where it’s brought me. And being that existential paradoxes are one of the pillars of literature, I’d say that physical trauma and its psychological sequelae were absolutely crucial to the formative years of my writing.
What is Video Relay Service fraud? How did it influence your perspective or your novel?
Video Relay Service (VRS) is a videoconferencing interpretation service for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. Deaf/HH folks videophone a VRS interpreter, who then dials the number that the D/HH individual is trying to reach. Each minute of every call is remunerated by the Federal Communications Commission.
Back in the early aughts, VRS companies would ‘run minutes’ – i.e. hire Deaf individuals to make calls through their VRS service. Such calls were speciously unnecessary, made only to accumulate income for the VRS agencies.
I’ve always been as interested in organized crime as I am immersed in Deaf culture. Since stories need plots, I saw in the unlikely link between these two phenomena of which I’m deeply familiar a novel (so to speak) synthesis.
Emerald City touches on so many issues, from high collar crime, to drug addiction, to sexual abuse, that are prevelant in our culture. What are you hoping readers take away from the story?
For the sake of answering the question, I’ll defer my Death of the Author take on this. My epigraph, pulled from William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, is essentially a referendum on American culture’s lack of deep, critical thought, particularly our pervasive inability to understand that belief in something shouldn’t come at the cost of belief in other things. Religion is a good example: the idea that only one God exists turns the world’s numerous monotheisms into pure folly, for how can we know whose God is real? In reality, God is a metaphor for many things, behaves in many different ways across many different lives, and the vehement rejection of one God over another’s has caused countless, senseless wars.
This idea can be suffused across much any subject. The take-home message is akin to Fitzgerald’s definition of genius: the ability to hold two contradicting truths in one’s head. The world lacks this ability because we don’t teach this ability – we don’t teach dialectics, we don’t teach critical thinking, instead, we teach people ‘facts’ and ‘figures’ rather than how to think. There’s the old adage about giving a man a fish for dinner or teaching him to fish – that applies here.
Other than that, I just hope people come away fulfilled. That they enjoy the story and feel nourished by the language, ideas, and experience.
What can we look out for next, from you and Dead Rabbits?
In a few words, our next books. After Emerald City, we’re printing David Hollander’s long-awaited follow-up to his debut novel. I’ve had the pleasure of reading and editing Anthropica, and it’s safe to say that it’s a masterpiece-in-the-making. He’s one of the most talented prose-writers I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and his forthcoming novel will not disappoint.
After that we’ve got DR co-founder Katie Rainey’s novel, Sunny, which I’ve also had the pleasure of editing. Though in earlier stages than David’s, it’s already evident how great this book is going to be. As we hope for all our titles, Sunny captures an era (early aughts) and a region (Little Rock, AR) in a way never seen before, and her prose is just as fresh. With an unrelenting parataxis akin to Cormac McCarthy, yet infused with the ethereal style of John Hawkes, Katie reframes entirely what it means to write a Southern novel.
Last but not least, we’re working on a collection of essays by the wunderkind Annie Krabbenschmidt. Her collection will cover her experience with coming to discover her sexuality, and all the tragicomedy that proceeds. I met Annie at a Dead Rabbits reading – a fairytale story as it pertains to our vision of building a community – and after she read, I was impelled to invite her onto the podcast, which was a subterfuge toward convincing her to write a book for us.