Tell me about the strange circumstances surrounding Houdini's death.

Houdini is to this day the only person in recorded medical history who has had put on his death certificate that he suffered a ruptured appendix as a result of blunt-force trauma. Every doctor that I've spoken to said that's not possible because that's just not how the appendix works.

Realistically, Houdini died of being a Type A male who was too stubborn to go to the doctor until after his appendix ruptured, and because he lived in an era before penicillin was discovered. That's probably what killed him.

On the other hand, were the spiritualists regularly threatening his life? Yes. Was he imperiling a [by today's standards] multimillion-dollar business? Absolutely, he was.

I've taken opportunities like that and expanded them into a more satisfying story.

Do you think a belief in magic is based on the desire for immortality?

Yes. If we actually lived our lives with the knowledge in the front of our minds that we're going to die, we'd be absolutely crippled.

Things like religion and magic let us put our mortality on the back burner. If someone conducting a seance can talk to our dead Aunt Sally, maybe in some form she isn't really dead.

Therefore, maybe we won't really die, either. We'll just cross over to the Great Beyond.

I hear that you're a prankster of some note, and somehow that seems to be of a piece with your weightier preoccupations. Tell me about your favorite practical joke.

A friend and I have been involved in a decadelong practical joke war. My friend created a Myspace page and put up posters with my picture and my phone number advertising a "seminar" that I was giving on how to make love like a unicorn. The posters went up all over town.

Some folks thought it was real. I was getting phone calls from people who wanted to know all about it. I think the posters stayed up for about a week.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

If you go

Author Steven Galloway reads at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road. Free. Information: 410-377-2966 or theivybookshop.com.

About the book: "The Confabulist" was released April 29 by Random House of Canada. $29.95. 320 pages.