Creating the Character “I”

by Loren Rhoads

“Witty, touching, beautifully written, and haunting — in every sense of the word — This Morbid Life is an absolute must-read for anyone looking for an unusually bright and revealing journey into the darkest of corners.  Highly recommended!”

— M.Christian, author of Welcome To Weirdsville

One of the things that has interested me for years was how to create a persona around the “I” in a personal essay. Who is “I” and why would you want to read stories about them?

When I started to write the pieces that would become my book This Morbid Life, I simply wrote essays about things that I had done or experiences that happened to me. I didn’t think of myself as a character, especially not in the way that a character in a novel might be described: hair color, eye color, manner of dress. Everything around me was vivid and bright in the essays, but I was a shadow that moved through the events.

Because I live so much of my life in my head, I spent a lot of time pursuing my thoughts in the essays. I wanted to lay bare my doubts and questions, hoping that by examining them, I could make sense of them.

Slowly, as the essays accrued, the persona of “I” began to appear. It was kind of like one of those drawings where you fill the paper with colors, paint black over everything, then scratch away lines so that the colors below show through. Over the course of This Morbid Life, “I” was revealed.

“I” kept finding myself in the presence of death. My dad had a catastrophic heart attack. My best friend tested positive for HIV at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Two years later, his husband died of AIDS at their home. My curiosity led me to tour a mortuary college and a crematorium, to attend a Samhain ritual with Fakir Musafar, to explore cadavers in an anatomy lab and in museums around the world.

Along the way, I discovered that beneath the shadows, “I” am brightly colored. “I” am not death-obsessed but in love with life and beguiled by its brevity and beauty. “I” celebrate myself and love in all its flavors.

This life may be morbid, but that makes it all the more precious.


Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. Her 15th book is This Morbid Life, a memoir comprised of 45 death-positive essays.

What others have called an obsession with death is really a desperate romance with life. Guided by curiosity, compassion, and a truly strange sense of humor, this particular morbid life is detailed through a death-positive collection of 45 confessional essays. Along the way, author Loren Rhoads takes prom pictures in a cemetery, spends a couple of days in a cadaver lab, eats bugs, survives the AIDS epidemic, chases ghosts, and publishes a little magazine called Morbid Curiosity.

Originally written for zines from Cyber-Psychos AOD to Zine World and online magazines from Gothic.Net to Scoutie Girl, these emotionally charged essays showcase the morbid curiosity and dark humor that transformed Rhoads into a leading voice of the curious and creepy.

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