Oh hey! The blog tour has pulled into my station! Choooochooooooo!!!!
Thanks to my sister from a different mister Anya Yurchyshyn tapping me in. Have you not read her incredible essay that will soon be a book?! She’s such a good writer that I punch myself in the head every time I think of her, which is often, which accounts (partially) for my “condition.”
So here’s how I’ve been spending my days. Not pictured: eight dollar manicures, Chipotle, midmorning naps, mid afternoon naps, weeping in the fetal position, hysterical laughter at inappropriate moments.
Next week you’ll here from my brother from another mother, Michael Seidenberg, and Raina Lipsitz, who is my cousin from another coven (ack! help!).
michael seidenberg began his adult life as a children’s puppeteer touring the hudson river valley pulling strings. when the fuel crisis made having a traveling puppet show cost prohibitive he settled into a theater in brooklyn and also started selling books. the lure of book selling stole his heart and he then opened brazenhead bookshop peddles books to this day. he writes a column called ‘unsolicited advice for the end of time’ it can found at brazenheadbooks.com.
Raina Lipsitz writes about feminism, politics, books, and pop culture. She is a regular contributor to Al Jazeera America and a staff writer at Catalyst, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business. Her work has appeared in the online edition of The Atlantic, as well as in Kirkus Reviews, McSweeney’s, Nerve, Ploughshares, Salon, xoJane, and the Yale Review of Books.
1) ON what am I currently working?
I’ve been working on a nonfiction book on the subject of death fraud for Simon & Schuster entitled Playing Dead: the Art and Folly of Pseudocide for a few years now. People always ask me how I came to this topic, and the short answer is that I profiled “privacy consultant” Frank Ahearn for The Believer, and we talked at length about the advantages and disadvantages of how and whence to disappear—who’s looking for you? What’s your motive? What is your digital footprint like out in the world? Financials? He discouraged me from thinking that pseudocide is a viable option if you truly want to disappear, but my fascination could not be dampened!
So I started googling around, and found a bunch of other really captivating stories about people who have faked their deaths themselves, to death hoax conspiracy theories, and the logistics of how you would do it. A lot surprised me, especially the high frequency with which it still happens, or at least how often people—almost always men– get caught doing it. It’s so arcane and cartoonish. One of my favorite stories is about a couple who staged a fiery car crash but first put cow parts in the car, so, you know, investigators would find a carcass. I love the blend of morbidity and whimsy.
The question started out as “Can you fake your death in the 21st century?” but I realized pretty quickly that it’s hard to prove a negative. People who have faked their death successfully are simply thought to be dead. So the question changed to: faking death– what’s up with that? In order to get specific I’ve taken the phemonenon comprehensively. Each chapter profiles a person related to pseudocide—Ahearn, who helps people disappear, is the first chapter, and the second chapter is on elite missing persons expert Steve Rambam who consults on death fraud cases for insurance companies. He charges a hefty per diem to get on a plane to go to far flung places and interview the doctor who forged the death certificate, and sometimes even find the culprit alive and teaching scuba lessons. He’s also the star of his own forthcoming show celled Nowhere to Hide. I looked at a group of people who call themselves The Believers and contend that Michael Jackson faked his death, and I hung out in the north of England with John Darwin, who infamously staged a kayaking accident in 2002 and then turned himself in at a London police station six years later, having spent the interim between in his very own home and traveling the world on an authentic UK passport he scored when he was “dead.” It’s been so fun, and I’m constantly floored by how people have opened up and let me into their lives. There have been a bunch of moments, like driving around Manila in a Mercedes with guys named Snooky and Bong to pick up my own death certificate, where I’ve been like, “I am living my dreamz!”
2) How does your work differ from others’ works in the same genre?
Oh man. At this point I seek only to emulate people I admire in this genre. I suppose this book could be classified as one of those nonfiction jaunts that takes you inside a world with me as your Virgil. THEM by Jon Ronson is a good example, and Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. This is one woman’s journey through death fraud! David Rakoff is my absolute hero/baby daddy. His essays collections are everything, so if I could simply the poor man’s David Rakoff, I would die happy.
3) Why do you write what you do?
The way I found Ahearn in the first place is because, like many, I have some bananas student loan debt. Feeling especially burdened one day, I was bitching about Sallie Mae to a friend, and outlining a plan to simply slip through the cracks and defect to a sun bleached country with a rickety government and no extradition policy and just go full Margaritaville for the rest of my days, and he offhandedly said, “Why not just fake your death then?” And weirdly, I knew this was going to be my topic. And that student loan debt has become such a revealing metric when I tell people how I got to the subject—people who are saddled with debt (we are many) are all like, “Girl, I feel you, fake your death!” and people who aren’t think I wanted to write about it so I could get a big money advance to pay Sallie Mae and get the feds off my back. If only!
4) How does your writing process work?
Basically, I shit out a first draft in a marathon session then spend infinity making it comprehensible. To write a 10,000-word chapter I have to write 30,000 words. It’s totally inefficient, and wish I could figure out some way to be one of those disciplined and deliberate writers who work from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m. everyday and can’t go on to the next sentence until they like the one preceding it, but I take a scorched earth approach. Residencies are my jam, and I’ve written most of this book away from NYC. In my own apartment, I get totally distracted, because anything is better than sitting down and confronting my own stupidity. I settle in at my desk and the next thing I know I’m giving the dog a bath and making chili. I have to put myself in writing jail. I mean, writing a book is hard an all, but it seriously has been a dream. I don’t know if anyone will ever let me write another after this, so I’m relishing the experience.