What do your parents think about what you do?
This is an odd query, really, since I’m a 33-year-old adult. As a grown-up human who pays her own bills and folds her own laundry and cooks her own meals, I think it would be strange to sit around mulling over what my parents may or may not think about what I do. I get that parental approval is something we’re biologically programmed to chase (often to no avail), but it’s definitely not a current focus of mine, and it hasn’t been for some time.
Is your boyfriend the most understanding dude on the planet?
Yes! He’s an impossibly supportive, progressive mother fucker. And he’s pretty cool, too.
Do you ever get nervous about going undercover?
Yes! In fact, I use the level of anxiety I feel about a given project as a measure of how compelling the story is likely to turn out. Luckily, I’m really well versed in the art of pitching/committing to something I’m excited about and then not thinking about it again until I absolutely must.
Where do you get your ideas?
All sorts of places, but usually they surface in the shower, or while I’m running on the treadmill. I like to think I keep my ear to the proverbial streets, yo. Maintaining relationships with interesting people is also a critical aspect of the idea generation process. That’s right, people like YOU are the key. So if there’s a gem of an idea percolating on the back of your brain, contact me!
What’s the most difficult part about going undercover?
Going undercover often requires adopting a completely different persona, which is challenging unless you’re an actor by trade. Playing a role believably requires careful forethought, a healthy dose of moxie, and practice. But you can never prepare enough for these things, so you’re destined to make a few mistakes when you’re in the thick of it. The toughest part is thinking on your feet to fix any number of unpredictable situations.
Do you feel bad about deceiving people while researching a story?
The short answer is: No. It’s never my intention to hurt anyone, or to get anyone in trouble. I almost always use pseudonyms to protect characters’ real identities. One exception is the plastic surgery feature, in which I name the doctors. Some might consider it unethical to reveal what a doctor says without knowing they’re being recorded. I would argue that a medical professional should be able to stand behind every single thing they say to a prospective patient during a scheduled consultation. The law agrees with me.
Have you ever gotten death threats?
Yes. I received a series of threatening text messages after publishing a story in New York magazine about dealing prescription drugs through Craigslist. I promptly consulted the police, who assured me that 99 percent of death threats are phony. The best approach, they said, would be to ignore them. So I refrained from responding altogether, but the looming thought of being in the 1 percent in this case freaked me the fuck out. I didn’t sleep well until the messages stopped arriving in my inbox. Death threats are highly unpleasant. I don’t recommend them.
If you could be a bagel, what kind of bagel would you be?
For example, when I posed as a young dissatisfied newlywed to infiltrate Ashley Madison, a website that facilitates affairs, I had to think long and hard about what life would have been like if I’d married the wrong man in my 20s and felt trapped in a sexless relationship as a result. I talked to myself about this alternate existence for days before I accepted any dates with married men I met through the site. During my first in-person encounter, a guy asked me where my wedding ring was. Such a simple question! But I’d neglected to think about the whole ring thing in advance, so I was paralyzed into silence for an awkward minute before I figured out how to answer.