I often hear about really cool publishing projects, and one of the recent ones is the launch of Dead Rabbits, a new press that started as a reading series and now aims to provide a creative community and support for authors. Read on for an interview with Dead Rabbits’ Editor-in-Chief, Katie (M.K.) Rainey.
S.R.: What is the Dead Rabbits Reading Series, and how did it begin?
K.R.: The Dead Rabbits Reading Series originally started as a monthly reading series in New York City for both emerging and established writers alike. Hosted by myself and author, Devin Kelly, we founded the series in 2014 as a way of providing a place for the literary scene to exist and thrive in Upper Manhattan, so as to imbue balance to a reading series scene dominated by Brooklyn. Dead Rabbits started in September of 2014, when Devin sent me and my roommate at the time (another writer in our community) a text saying that he wanted to start a reading series for writers in our neighborhood. Within a week, we’d booked a venue, made our social media handles, spread the word throughout our networks, and cobbled together a reading with writer friends we knew.
Since then, we’ve hosted over 300 writers and artists at our monthly series. Because of the success of Dead Rabbits NYC, we’ve connected with other writers interested in creating their own communities in their cities. This August, we’ll launch our first satellite series, Dead Rabbits L.A., and in November we’ll be hosting the inaugural Dead Rabbits Artist Salon in Little Rock, Arkansas. Additionally, we’re working on satellite series in Seattle, Baltimore, and Philly. Dead Rabbits was founded on community and we’ve been faithful to that mission in parallel to our new endeavors.
As for the name, well, the OR – i.e. Original Rabbit (Devin) – chose the name five years ago, shortly after conceiving of the reading series. For him, the name arose from two sources: the eponymous gang made famous by Leo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York; and a traumatic childhood experience in which he found in his backyard a warren-full of deceased baby rabbits. I told him about my own traumatic childhood experience involving baby rabbits and a rooster. Thus our fate was sealed. It’s weird and dark, but so can be existence, and what else is literature but an aesthetic surveillance of existence?
S.R.: How did you decide to turn it into Dead Rabbits Books?
K.R.: The press feels as if it were both an utterly spontaneous or stochastic event and the outcome of an inexorable determinism. My Co-Founder and Dead Rabbits Executive Editor, Brian Birnbaum, and I had toyed with the idea of starting a press for years (or, failing that, a late-night establishment for carousers to rent small rooms in which they could play with dogs to soothe their bibulous souls). Prior to the press’ launch, Brian spent five years writing and rewriting his now forthcoming novel, Emerald City. Three years ago, he had an agent from the Writers House jump on board with him. Though they worked on revisions together for several months, their partnership ended abruptly when said agent left the business altogether, and welched on his promise to pass Brian along to other representation. Rather than hunt for a new agent at the time, Brian decided to finish the novel’s revisions, which made the book better than it ever had been. Paradoxically, however, upon completing the revisions and despite the novel’s vast improvements, he struggled to find representation.
One day, he threatened the cosmos (meaning me and several of his closest friends) with self-publishing the novel. Well, the cosmos answered in the form of our third partner, Dead Rabbits Operations Director, Jon Kay. Jon countered Brian’s threats with the idea to start a press, and their first order of business was bringing me on. Once I came on, we began putting together a business plan and realized that there was no better name for the press than Dead Rabbits, as we had already spent years building up a strong literary community under that name.
All of this felt like a very natural progression to us. We’d spent years building and uplifting the literary community. This press feels like an organic extension of that work, and we’re so excited to provide this platform to our readers and writers.
S.R.: What has the process been like in establishing a new literary press?
K.R.: In a nutshell: hectic. Mainly because all of us have full-time jobs, so the press is essentially another one. But while there may be extra work on our plates, no part of it has felt like a burden. We generally love this work, and even find the tedious partslike cutting hours of audio for the podcast, editing and revising manuscripts, sending a billion emails a day—are enjoyable, if only for their falling under the purview of achieving our dream of a successful literary press. Inevitably, it all comes back to our mission to build community. Every new submission we receive, every connection we make, feels gratifying because we’re working for our literary community and helping to provide a platform to writers whose work we believe in.
Of course, there’s so much we’ve had to learn along the way, which can feel overwhelming at times. But that’s why we’re starting this press with Emerald City, by Brian Birnbaum. We wanted to start with one of our own books so that any challenges we face can be turned to our advantage via learning experiences, which will prevent us from repeating those mistakes with future titles. So it’s been joyful and hard and exciting and tedious and worth every second of it. That’s what it’s been like.
S.R.: What do you hope to accomplish as a literary press?
K.R.: Upon launching the press, we thought a lot about this question. We spent significant hours synthesizing our mission and values to ensure we were all on the same page regarding the most important driving force behind any endeavor: its purpose and intent. We think our mission cogently outlines our aims: publishing books that matter in ways that matter. We’ve got a whole write-up on our website speaking to what that means, which you can read here. Essentially, for us, it means publishing books that encompass quality, risk-taking, and play. We think those values make for some of the best literature out there—for us, literary fiction, nonfiction, and outlying works that transcend genre or subtype—and those are the books we want to publish. Intelligent, courageous, and at times experimental art is what we strive for.
Publishing books that matter is one thing; the work itself can be gauged, more or less, directly through the reading of the text. But to publish books that matter in ways that matter is a far more amorphous endeavor. Though there are certainly some tangible inputs—e.g. the resources thrown behind a book—many of the ways that matter remain undocumented. We think that publishing should be more collaborative, transparent, and community-driven, keeping the writer at the center of it all. We don’t mean to frivolously select books and throw them out into the world. We care about the relationships we have with our authors and helping them to make successful, sustainable careers in which they can make meaningful art.
Another such way lies within our submissions and consideration process. We here at Dead Rabbits pride ourselves on reciprocating the efforts of those in the writing community; we assume each submission has been labored over, and therefore that each submission deserves commensurate time and energy in their readings and replies. And we take this time and energy a step further than other presses. In addition to carefully considering every submission, we also aim to keep communication lines open, regardless of whether we plan to publish an author’s work. Whether suggesting revisions, talking about process, or just building relationships, Dead Rabbits transcends the label of publisher in order to corral more aspiring authors into our warren of writers.
S.R.: Can you give some details about your first book, Emerald City?
K.R.: I can tell you that I don’t know a more dedicated writer than Brian Birnbaum and that this book was written (and revised and rewritten and revised and on and on) with (perhaps pathologically) extreme care and thought. This book is a fantastic example of the kind of literature we want to put forth in the world: literature that is smart and cerebral, playful and funny, written with language that just soars, and whose story keeps the reader engaged and challenged. Here’s a synopsis to give you an idea of what it’s all about:
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.
S.R.: What’s next for Dead Rabbits?
K.R.: So many things! For starters, we’ve got our next three books on deck and are open for submissions for manuscripts right now. The next book, due out in Spring 2020, will be Anthropica By David Hollander. The moment we decided to start a press, my first order of business was a phone call to David, begging him to give me his book. David was my and Brian’s thesis advisor at Sarah Lawrence College years ago, and has since become one of our closest friends. I read Anthropica years ago in grad school and have been anxiously awaiting its publication. However, Anthropica is a novel like many we love, such as Sergio De La Pava’s A Naked Singularity, that the mainstream literary field refused to give a chance. That’s exactly why I wanted this book and we’re so excited to bring it into the world next year.
In addition to our next books, we’ve got the communities I mentioned previously as well as our steadily growing podcast. We’re also collaborating with some other indie presses on events, consultancies, and other artistic endeavors. So there’s a lot in the works for us. And as I feel compelled to mention in every interview, if you’re interested in getting involved, we’d love to hear from you.