Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I began writing seriously–‘seriously’ being an operative word for consistently and with the intent to publish–near the end of undergrad at U of Maryland, where I studied Finance before switching to psychology, with a focus on addictions. It was kind of an artistic transition, from my obsession with lead blues guitar to my obsession with prose, specifically fiction at first. It also helped me smoke less pot because you can’t draft good prose whilst stoned. I lived in Seattle for two years after that, before matriculating into the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, where I studied fiction.
I’ve written one book and am in the planning stages for a second. Currently, I live in Harlem with my partner, also a writer and a co-founder of Dead Rabbits Books, an indie press we started together along with Jonathan Kay, an old childhood friend of mine who recently quit his job as a development manager at Amazon to venture out on his own.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
My novel, titled Emerald City, is set for release with Dead Rabbits on September 15th, 2019. It will be available for pre-order and order-on-demand on Amazon or at deadrabbitsbooks.com.
Though my book lives completely in the world of fiction, much of my life’s peripherals contributed to its influence. Like one of my novel’s three protagonists, Benison Behrenreich, my parents are both Deaf, and my father owns a sign language interpreting company. However, unlike me, Benison’s father is executing a fraud scheme via running minutes–i.e. faking real relay calls–through Video Relay Services for the Deaf, which the FCC remunerates by the minute. Like Julia, my great-granddad had mob ties; unlike me, Julia’s family is still escaping those ties, whereas my family’s ended with my great-granddad and distant relatives. And like Peter, I’ve also struggled with addiction and alcohol abuse, and I’ve sold drugs to support my own habits; unlike me, however, Peter’s alcoholism deteriorates to the point of no return, and he’s a major drug runner via the Canadian border, whereas I was only a local figure trying to support myself.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Incredibly unusual: I don’t flinch in the face of a project. I got this trait from overestimating my ability when I first began to write, but it’s turned out to be a huge boon as the habit of diving right into a project is natural to me. On the other hand, it’s taken years to hone my patience and forward-planning; as you might imagine I struggle with issues of impulsivity and have written about such. (I recently submitted a story to Writing Class Radio about my impulsivity.)
I also only write after an alteration of consciousness. This used to mean drugs, but now that I’m working toward sobriety and harm reduction, I’ve had to find other ways to do this. Sometimes it’s a cup of coffee (despite that this too is a drug), other times it’s a four-mile run in Riverside Park along the Hudson.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
Infinite Jest–David Foster Wallace
Cloud Atlas–David Mitchell
The Flamethrowers–Rachel Kushner
Autobiography of Red–Anne Carson
Giovanni’s Room–James Baldwin
Sapiens et al–Yuval Noah Harari
Jonathan Franzen–The Corrections
The Power Broker; Robert Moses and the Fall of New York–Robert A. Caro
I’ve also been influenced by film and television. Namely those which portray organized crime, addiction, family sagas, psychopathy, corporate fraud/political graft, and much more; films and TV such as Goodfellas, The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Requiem for a Dream, Succession, and much more.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently in the liminal stages of outlining a hybrid nonfiction project whose working title is Manufacturing Happiness. The book will combine elements of memoir, empirical research, and philosophy in order to portray my struggles with mental health, addiction, and general existential issues subsumed by the human condition.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
This is difficult to answer because the best way to promote your book is to try it all. Our press website–deadrabbitsbooks.com–includes a blog, newsletter subscription, and has a page dedicated to spotlighting writers called Warren Stories, which invites emerging writers to write about their process and experience with literary craft.
I also write my own newsletter, run my own website, and am active on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Scratch that: my partner, Katie Rainey, a brilliant writer and equally talented marketer, helped me set all this up. Most writers hate this part of the program, but it’s a necessary evil since business promotion is done online and publishing is, for better or worse, a business.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Make sure you’re having FUN. Yes, if you want to be a successful, published writer, you will at some point have to push yourself past that point. But if you’re not enjoying much any part of the process–e.g. by writing what you think you should write rather than what you’re really burning to write–then you’re setting yourself up to fail.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
To try and write after any alteration of consciousness, which my former professor at Sarah Lawrence said during class one day and which resonated with me greatly.
What are you reading now?
The Power Broker. It’s immensely dense but entirely worth it.
What’s next for you as a writer?
My book tour. Katie has done an incredible job aggregating publicity events and readings for me. It’s going to be a lot to manage but I’m excited for it. In addition to New York, we’ll be doing events in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and Illinois.
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
Three or four books that are very long and that I haven’t read yet. (To be honest the question imbues too much panic for me to answer this question deliberately!)
Author Websites and Profiles
Brian Birnbaum Website