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[Table] IAmA: I am Michael Malice, professional ghostwriter, Harvey Pekar subject and author of the new Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il - AMA!

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Date: 2014-01-30
Link to submission (Has self-text)
Questions Answers
Will you ever go back to North Korea? Is the North Korean government aware of your book and keeps a close eye on you? Would you still be able to go there? I would go back in a heartbeat but can't for two reasons. One, I am on their radar screen (hopefully not literally yet). Two, you only get your visa the day prior, in Beijing. I wouldn't want to spend all that money on a trip to Beijing, only to be told #SorryBoutIt.
Edit: changed the wording. I don't know about a close eye, but they're very web-savvy, surprisingly so. They liked the book cover on Instagram!
Thanks for doing this AMA Michael! I'm a big fan of your work. Three questions for you: Well, when a writer can pay his rent and write what he wants, that to me is as successful as you can get. I'm already thinking of my next project, but I think I've had enough with dictators for a lifetime.
What was it like working with Brett Michaels from Poison? I was obsessed with Poison as a kid, and saw them live when I was eight years old. Bret Michaels is a party guy...what that means in practice is he genuinely wants everyone around him to always be having a good time. Never seen anything like it, it is very admirable.
Nice! That's good to hear about Brett. So, when will you be announcing your next project? No idea, I've got to see this baby out the door first ;-)
Was there any possible chance to hook up with a local woman? What would happen if she got prego? Would you be able to bring her with you? North Korea is the most homogenous and racist country on earth. Many refugees flee to China for food and sometimes they return. They are forced to have abortions if they are pregnant. No "children of betrayers" allowed.
Are you allowed to buy anything or take anything home with you? If so, what was your favorite souvenir? Great question. The DPRK has the honor of being the first (maybe only) communist country to default on their loans. They are desperate for hard currency and have popup souvenir stands wherever you go. My favorite souvenir are candy wrappers. Here's why.
One day during my trip there they told us we were going to a school to see the kids. Before we went to the school we went to a store to buy candy for the children. As we left the store our guide told us we were going to all put the candy in one big pile and hand it to the teacher. We weren’t allowed to give it to the kids ourselves.
Well, if someone says “bed”, that person doesn’t also need to say “a piece of furniture for the purposes of sleeping”. The two are roughly conceptually identical. In that vein, being from a Soviet background, for me “the candy is going to the teacher” was identical to hearing “the candy is going to the teacher, who will then return it to the store, so the government has both our money and the candy.” Not only did I have zero doubt this would happen, I didn’t even have to pause to think about it.
I took some of the chocolate coins that I bought from the packaging and slipped it into my pocket. When we got to the school, I pulled one of my tourmates aside and handed her my camera. “When I give the kid the candy, take a picture.” “We’re not allowed to give them candy!” she said. “When I give the kid the candy, take a picture.”
The children rushed us as we got to the school, each of them grabbing one of us by the hand. I took the chocolate out of my pocket and slid it into my student’s palm. He looked at the chocolate and then looked up at me. I put my finger to my lips. He got the message; they learn very young how important it is to bite your tongue in north Korea. As they say there: “If you err only one time in your speech, you kill three generations of your family.” The kid shoved the chocolate into his pocket as fast as he could, acting completely nonchalant.
Here's the pic
Love your writing! Since biographies are a linear timeline of events, do you still get writer's block even though the pieces are already laid out for you? And if so, how do you work around it? In what ways is writer's block different between biographies vs. novels? Hey Walt! I love For Orchestra. It's not that simple. Yes, it's linear--but not every event makes the cut, and not every event is important or as important. So a lot of it, the pacing especially, is a function of experience. I don't ever get writers' block, because I can put something in parentheses, like , and then move on to the next scene.
You are starting an entirely new genre with this book (the unauthorized autobiography). That is awesome. Where in the where did this idea come to you? And why Kim Jong Il? Did you consider any other subjects? Thank you, I appreciate the compliment. My friend Justin Esch gave me the idea. You might know Justin, the brilliant mind behind ]Baconnaise, Bacon Salt and Bacon Coffins](Link to Kim Jong Il was a great idea because I can't think of anyone else as well-known but poorly understood. I don't know how I could follow this one up, maybe Barbra Streisand. She's pretty awful.
Harvey Pekar’s “Ego & Hurbis - The Michael Malice Story” describes you as “exceptional, unusual, and contradictory. Pleasant one minute, really nasty the next.” Do you acknowledge any correlation between your personality and Dear Leader? Hahahahah Well the difference between me and the Dear Leader, for one, is you can call me a jerk and walk away with zero repercussions.
I wouldn't say zero Zero physical, maybe? I'm only 5'6". Although he was short than that...
Is that true? I've heard you're vindictive. Who said that??? I'll kill them.
Did you learn anything about North Korea or Kim Jong II that was so incredible you wanted to put it in the book but couldn't because there was no way to verify the information? Well since it's from his point of view, verification wasn't a concern. The more crazy stuff they stick to the past, they're aware of foreign media and react accordingly.
So if he told you that he had an army of dragons ready to conquer the western world you would have just gone with it and put it in the book? I think I wanna be a celebrity ghost writer now. Oh if I'm writing with a crazy person--which i never have, thank god--then I would absolutely leave all their craziness in. It makes for a better book for the dear reader, don't you think?
During your time with Ghost Kim Jong Il in North Korea, were you ever concerned about your well being or have we all been brainwashed by the white man to think only pure evil about North Korea? (Hi there!) Virtually any tourist going there is completely safe. I wrote an article about my trip here
I actually have Kim Jong Il point out that only wicked imperialists can consider brain"washing" to be a bad thing.
During writing the book, was there any inspiration drawn specifically from your interactions with Kim the tour guide? If not, have you thought about her since then? I hope she is doing well. SOMEONE GOT A PIC] ([Link to!!!)
Also, do you have any way of showing us that crazy double sided painting? Please tell me it's in the book! I of course think about Kim constantly, it's great to have a personal connection to those there.
I want a framed copy of that the size of my wall. That is simply amazing. If I could afford it, that would be a tattoo for my back. If I could taste it, I would eat that painting everyday till I died. When I was there, I said they should just sell t-shirts with that. They would solve their money woes in one day.
What one thing most pleasantly surprised you about NK? How normal the people are. They aren't broken. There is happiness there.
But that's hardly representative of all NK, not even of Pyongyang, right? I met a refugee, you'd be surprised. They don't buy into the nonsense as much as people think. They try very hard, like all humans, to live as normal a life as possible. They tell jokes, they gossip, they flirt. But it's all under a dark cloud.
I hear you are required to give up all your electronic devices when you enter North Korea. What was it like to be completely cut off from outside events for that period of time? Great questions. Not all electronics, just cell phones. It is the only place on earth where you are cut off from the outside world. it is indescribable. It's just like being on another planet.
How do you feel about getting a better AMA time slot over Lars Ulrich? Napster's Revenge.
Do South Koreans even want a liberated DPRK? If Korea was somehow integrated, wouldn't it devastate the thriving SK economy and create a tremendous welfare burden on them? It is very very sad to hear the southern perspective. It is increasingly one of disinterest. Picture the south of the US after the Civil War. Yes, the slaves were free--but life for them and their kids was extremely difficult for decades.
How was your experience with creating a Kickstarter campaign? Would you do it again? It is nervewracking as hell, I assure you. But I would do it again in a second. Here are several things that a Kickstarter gives you 1) Artistic freedom 2) proof of concept 3) public demonstration that you can complete a project, this is a big one people often forget/don't realize 4) anxiety beyond belief.
North Korea is Best Korea - y/y? Korea is one! There is one nation riven in two by the US imperialists, which is why they always write north Korea and south Korea but never North and South Korea.
What inspired you to become a writer? Especially in becomming a ghostwriter. Great question! Writing appealed to me strongly as a profession because you don't have to work with an entire office and it rewards discipline. Ghostwriting is great because celebrity book deals are the most reliable. Plus, working with accomplished people so closely is very inspiring and exciting.
Sounds interesting. Would you have any tips for people considering becoming writers? The biggest tip I would have is to be prepared for people ignoring you. it is very very hard when agents or editors don't respond for weeks or months. Worst part of the job by far.
What is your writing discipline? How do you stay motivated and on target? How do you set your deadlines? What when you miss the deadline? I have never missed one (except for this book, which was a third longer than expected). I am a sprinter, not a marathon writer. Meaning, I can write 3 pages in one sitting--but only one or two sittings a day. At that rate, it's easy to make decent progress. Never edit as you write, edit in one batch later
If "Dear Reader" ever made it into the hands of North Koreans, do you think this book’s sentiments would be lost on them, or do you think they would view it as praise-worthy? I think it's almost impossible for them to regard foreign material as praiseworthy. And any irreverence vis a vis the leaders is quite literally heretical there.
How do you get inside information (that isn't already public) on someone like Kim Jong Il when his inner circle was so tight and "regular" people never had any personal dealings with him? Many of his inner circle defected, in fact the man who ghostwrote the Juche philosophy defected! And as you can see with Kim Jong Un's uncle, they left with good reason. So the inside info is out there. Even his son wrote a "book" (actually a collection of email exchanges with a japanese reporter)
I see that your Kim Jong Il book is self-published through CreateSpace. Did you investigate other publishing platforms? Why did you end up choosing them? I did CreateSpace because they are integrated with Amazon and because (I believe) Tim Ferriss used them for his last book. Since the goal was to get it available on Amazon, and their rates are fair, it seemed like a no brainer.
Interesting. This question may relate: Do you ever expect North Koreans to live under less authoritarian rule over the next 100 years? If so, how might this happen? Hemingway: "How did you go bankrupt?" "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly."
When ghostwriting does the partner have final say or can you sneak in weird and funny details? Great question. There's a myth that the ghostwriter does whatever they want. They don't. Every word of every book goes through the other person. It's THEIR story. And sometimes they want to sneak in weird and funny details themselves!
Are you interested in foreign literature? If yes, who's your favourite foreign writer? My favorite writer is E. Nesbit, she's British. But that hardly counts as foreign. I actually haven't read that much foreign literature, I'm a Warholian so my tastes tend to be terribly American and terrible-American. I also own #cred.
Zombie Kim Jong Il is standing behind you making you type that isn't he? THIS IS MICHEAL MALICE SPEAKING. ALL IS FINE AND THERE ARE NO ZOMBIES.
What is your opinion on bitcoin and it's future? I have a signed hardcover of the book limited to 666 copies since Kim Jong Il represented constituency no. 666 (no sure if trolling). It's $50 but ~$45 if paying in btc.
I am very pro-btc. Here's a story about DPRK and inflation. Close to the end of his life, Kim Jong Il gave everyone in the country an enormous raise, something like 1000% (one thousand). When inflation hit 1000% shortly thereafter, he had the finance minister (can double-check exact title) shot for undermining the economy.
Are you, or related to, Anne Frank? Never heard of her.
It's my understanding that most if not all of the information you obtained on Jong Il was through propaganda you acquired while in NK, yes? What do you plan to do with the books/pamphlets, etc now that it's been compiled into one complete source (Dear Reader)? I mixed in all the Western stuff to, so that i could paint a complete picture. All the books are gathering dust on my shelf and I intend to keep them.
If someone killed Kim Jon Unand any children he had, what would happen? In the short term, it would get very very ugly. Probably Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Jong Il's sister, would throw her weight behind someone. Also Kim Jong Il's uncle is probably still alive, he's Kim Il Sung's brother. The thing is, so much of the mythology is based on the "Mt. Paektu bloodline" that it's tricky to see how they'd work around it. Maybe Kim Jong Chol, Kim Jong Un's older brother, might be a figurehead and hand over the crown.
That is what I was wondering. If you have a "divine" bloodline, would the people be prepared to accept a whole new load of lies? I am led to believe the majority of the country believe everything about Kim Jong Il and his "miracles". Is that right? Not even remotely. If you think a leader is great, why waste time on propaganda? The refugees despise Kim Jong Il. Everyone in the country regards him as the far inferior version of his father, Kim Il Sung, who defeated both the Jap devils and the US imperialists.
How much money can a ghostwriter earn? (range?) Is there a lot of travel involved with your work? Travel completely depends on the client. As for pay, think of it this way: how much does a meal cost? You have McDonald's, and you have Per Se.
What was the closest you've been to dying? Staring down Matt Hughes.
How do you prepare for the writing? How do you alternate reading and writing? How do you plan the writing? How clear was your idea of the book before you started the first chapter? My idea of the book was very very unclear. I thought of it as a joke, to be honest, and it's become a pop history of the entire country. I prepared by reading dozens of books. I saved books that were about specific events for when I came to said events in the narrative.
It's so easy to take things for granted as 'muricans. Are those slippers you are wearing?? Yes we have to wear slippers because of our filthy imperialist natures.
Gun to your head: Which of your Ghostwritees would you accept a handjob from? Can we please focus on Rampart?
When do us kickstarter supporters get our books? I start shipping tomorrow. Still haven't gotten the hardcovers yet but will ship immediately.
Which celebrity have you ghostwritten for that was the shittiest at telling their own story? LOL you're looking at it backwards. There's a restaurant in Toronto called the Black Hoof that only uses offal. the food is incredible. a good chef doesn't care about his ingredients.
Offal is delicious!!! That place gave me life.
How would Kim Jong Un react if he read 'Dear Reader'? I think he'd like it increasingly less as he read on.
Should I give him a copy next week? Does he have bitcoin?
On my agenda to ask. I'll report back. And he was never seen again.
Do you seek out controversial people to write about or do the ghostwriting projects come to you? I hadn't thought of the people I work with as controversial until you asked me this, but DL Hughley and Matt Hughes clearly are. I'll write with anyone who isn't evil, I can do obnoxious just fine.
What is the next big project on your horizon? Not sure yet, this was a huge one that's for sure.
Michael I was a huge fan of Pekar's book about you. I would like to ask you about working with him. Did you feel any connection to him as a fellow Jewish writer? Were you a fan of his work? How did you feel about your portrayal? What was Pekar like and did you guys stay in touch after that book? Thanks very much, Harvey and I remained friends until the end. Despite being a dark clouds kind of guy, he really was always a bright spot for me in my life and for all of his friends. Our project started because of the ethnic connection, he wanted to contrast his generation's emigration with mine. Then he discovered what a "piece of work" I was and it took on a life of its own.
Looking at North Korea from the perspective of Chinese TV, North Korea seems to have at least some progress, with Chinese people doing business there. Is what I just said true or is the NK gov't hiding everything even to their "friends"? China is north Korea's closest ally, and they are increasingly sick of carrying water for them. The DPRK gets a good deal of money from Chinese tourism, since the RMB is so much stronger the north Korean won. I wouldn't say there's progress, I think losing electricity is the opposite of that.
Has your political or economic philosophy changed since Ego and Hubris was written? If so, how? Yes, I am a full anarchist and have nothing but contempt for the Republican party.
If you could choose any celebrity to work with, who would it be? David Bowie, i don't even know who would come close.
Do you know who would come close? Angie Bowie?
Hey Michael. I hear you collect plants. What's the rarest plant you have, and what's the most surprising thing you can share about the hobby? The problem with rare plants is that they've started cloning them, I used to be like one of 3 people to have Echeveria cv. Raindrops and now they're $5. No one even knew what Beiselia was, and now you can buy them. Feelsbadman.
Do you write for yourself/fun? Any hobbies (please don't say stamp collecting) you have when not working? Writing is never fun, though it is rewarding. My main hobby is a wonderfully/embarrassingly thorough succulent collection.
Wow. Well I guess I don't need to ask, "What's your most successful pick up line?" Actually my most successful pick up line was "Do you need help reading that?" It was a New Year's Day party, everyone was hung over. This girl was staring blankly at a bottle label.
Hi, Michael, here's a funny question, are you ticklish? If so where and are your feet ticklish? :) Feet and armpits, the usual. Ribs too but that often hurts. I'm much more of a tickler than a ticklee.
Would you rather fight one hundred duck sized horses or one horse sized duck? Easily the former, the bites/kicks of what are effectively chihuahuas would be manageable but one blow from a huge bill could take me out pretty easily.
If there was one thing you'd like everyone on the world hear and consider, what would it be? That's quite a broad question, can you be more specific?
What do you think about readers checking your books out from libraries? LOL that's kidnapping.
I looked for more inscrutable jewish jokes like the ones mentioned in the pekar book but couldn't find any -- can you tell more or point to more? is there any similar such humor in NK? LOL actually they love that humor there because of being steeped in Soviet culture.
They have inscrutable joke books in NK? No, but like in Russia word of mouth is enormously powerful. Every Russian knows to never put it in writing!
What do you think about the movie The Beastmaster? C+
What's your favorite song by the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble? Song of Blood Transfusion.
Thanks for ruining that image for me, and here I thought him and Mr. Malice (Awesome name btw) were just sitting around in some NK office all day smoking pot, drinking coffee and sharing stories. Once again Reddit has crushed my dreams. Kim Jong Il: Crushing dreams, even from beyond the grave.
The amount of people that treated her with the respect that you did, can probably be counted on one hand. I'm sure she will never forget you as well you should not her. Okay I'm done bothering you! TO SCHOOL zoom That could have been me very easily, and she's one of the fortunate ones.
Really liked you in your TV series during the 90s Link to I was sooo naive then.
Link to Stop doxing me.
True or False: Kim Jong Il is now assassinating people based on techniques he learned while watching "American Horror Story: Coven" God that show was terrible. There was no payoff!!! And who cared who the new Supreme was? And Stevie Nicks' lip syncing was horrible.
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