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June 21, 2022

The Memoir as Detective Story with Lilly Dancyger

The Memoir as Detective Story with Lilly Dancyger

It can be difficult for writers to learn to put our stories front and center. That was originally the case with today’s guest, Lilly Dancyger. She originally set out to memorialize her father, Joe Schactman, through a book that would feature artwork and stories she’d collected from friends.

It can be difficult for writers to learn to put our stories front and center. That was originally the case with today’s guest, Lilly Dancyger. She originally set out to memorialize her father, Joe Schactman, through a book that would feature artwork and stories she’d collected from friends.

Schactman was a highly original artist and sculptor who was part of the same 1980s East Village art scene that included David Wojnarowicz and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was a loving father but also struggled with addiction; he died when Dancyger was only 12.

“I kept saying the book I was writing was an artist monograph, but every day the words stared back at me, so clearly, defiantly, a memoir,” she writes an essay entitled “Not a Memoir.” Through a long process spanning several years, however, she decided to foreground her own story, alongside that of her father.

One big shift was learning to think of her memoir as more of a detective novel, where her 10+ year search to find out more about her father led to think of each interview or event as a “clue” that furthered the plot, and added “stakes” to the story.

Lilly Dancyger is the author of the memoir, Negative Space, as well as the editor of the anthology Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger. She lives and works in NYC.



Negative Space (memoir) Bookshop | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Memoir as Detective Novel (essay)

Writing & Publishing Addiction Narratives Workshop (with Erin Khar)

Not a Memoir (essay)

Melissa Febos: Abandon Me (Excerpt)




This episode was edited by Paul Zakrzewski and produced by Magpie Audio Productions. Theme music  is "The Stone Mansion" by BlueDot Productions.



[Lilly – Sample Quote]: And I really thought I had dug deep and put myself in there. You know, I had started calling it a memoir. I had put a bunch of my own perspectives in there. I really thought I had done it, you know? And then she was like, "Where are you here?" I was like, "Ugg." Like, "Why, how," you know?

Host Intro (Paul): Welcome to "The Book I Had to Write." This is the podcast where I talk to authors about their most compelling stories, and why these journeys matter to anyone who wants to publish. I'm Paul Zakrzewski. I'm a writer and a book coach.

We're just finishing up the last couple of episodes of season one. And I've been thinking about how difficult it can be for many writers, myself included, to put our stories front and center. That was the case with today's guest, Lilly Dancyger. She's written about the challenge she had accepting that her story really had to be a memoir.

First, a little background. Lilly's father, Joe Schactman, was a talented and very original artist and sculptor. He was part of the East Village art scene in New York during the 1980s. It's the same scene that produced people like Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. By all accounts, Joe was a caring father, but he also wrestled with his own demons, one of which was a heroin addiction. He died when Lilly was only 12.

When she set out to write the book that would become Negative Space, her intention was just to collect Joe's art and describe his life, but every new piece of information she uncovered, just complicated things.

It forced her to confront her grief and anger over his addiction and early death. Quote, "I kept saying the book I was writing was an artist monograph, but every day, the word stared back at me, so clearly, defiantly, a memoir."

In today's show, we talk about that difficult journey to fully inhabiting your story. And we talk about how treating your book as a detective story can really set things in action. In addition to Negative Space, Lilly Dancyger is also the editor of the anthology, Burn it Down: Women Writing About Anger, and she lives and works in New York City.

[music fade]

Paul: Welcome, Lilly. And thanks so much for doing this interview.

Lilly: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Paul: So, for folks who may not be familiar with your book, how do you find yourself describing it?

Lilly: I tend to say that it's an art book/memoir, a little bit of a hybrid beast where I tell my father's life story through his artwork. And then also the story of the 10 years that I spent interviewing everybody who knew him, people who are part of the East Village art scene in the '80s, and my mom, and friends, and all of that, to try to kind of get to know him years after his death when I was 12 years old.

Paul: So, your dad is this really fascinating, interesting artist. And you include some of his artwork in the memoir. Can you talk a bit about the sort of art that he did, the sculptures, the prints? I saw, in your book, that one person described it as being disturbing.

Lilly: Yeah. Yeah. So, he was very prolific, and he worked in a lot of different mediums. He made a lot of woodcuts and prints, which I included a lot of, partly because they translated best to black and white. So, most of them are black and white already. And also a lot of sculpture, some carved wood, and a lot of found materials. And he worked, kind of, within different genres of images, which provided, kind of, a timeline and backbone for the book. So, there were deer, and there were a lot of deer with human hands. For antlers, this kind of, like, morphing, half-man, half-deer creature.

There are a lot of birds, rabbits, and then a lot of women, like, female figures, and a lot of those were based on my mother. So, I used those images to kind of tell the story of their relationship. And some of them are beautiful and romantic, and a lot of them are kind of dark and a little creepy. There's a series called the "Bad Barbies," which I grew up with and loved as a kid, and I still have a bunch of them in my apartment. There are a lot of found materials. There's some cast LED, some knife blades, some animal bones, a couple of bird wings, ball bearings, and sewing machine parts, and broken glass, and all kinds of stuff that he found along with human hair. And they don't have heads or arms. They're just, like, torsos with pointy legs and then ponytails. So, they're a little bit creepy, but I find them very beautiful.

Paul: This is a podcast, so people won't see it, but I'm assuming that that piece behind you is one of his.

Lilly: Yeah. There's a big owl drawing right behind me. I, kind of, hung it there, so it'll look like it's on my shoulder during Zoom calls.

Paul: I also feel like a big part of your book has to do with place, and, specifically, the East Village, the East Village of your dad's time, and also the East Village of your own early 20s. For folks who might not be familiar with that part of New York, I'm wondering if you could describe a bit some of the places that you talk about in your book. I'm thinking about some of the punk clubs like ABC No Rio and the artist galleries. What did these places look like? What attracted you to them?

Lilly: Yeah. You know, my parents and I moved back and forth across the country a lot, and we came home to New York right before I started high school. It was two years after my father had died, and I was, like, finally back home, and just running around the East Village and all these places, you know? Yeah. ABC No Rio was a big one, Yaffa Cafe, Tompkins Square Park, C-Squat, the East River, all these places just felt so raw and visceral and immediate and free.

And, like, they were just dirty and full of artists, and you could go and hang out in these places and not have to spend any money. So, I could go as, like, a broke 14-year-old, and just hang out with weirdos from all walks of life, you know? And there were other teenagers, and there were adults, who were kind of on the fringes of society in various ways, musicians and artists, and just neighborhood people, who were amused by the fact that there was this little band of us, 14-year-old girls running around.

Paul: How aware do you think you were at that time in your life that you were trying to connect to your dad through visiting his old stomping grounds? Was that operating for you at the time?

Lilly: Kind of, you know, I mean, yeah. My dad spent a lot of time in the East Village in the '80s and early '90s. And then I was back there. This was, like, the early 2000s when I was there as a teenager. And I definitely was aware of the fact that it was home, you know, and that I had this, like, familial stake in it. It felt like I was where I belonged, which was part of why I just flung myself into it so completely, you know? And was so immersed in this world that I, like, didn't have time to go to high school and dropped out pretty quickly. And just spent all my time in these places, mostly, Tompkins Square Park.

But I think it was also less about it being where my father had been and more about it just being what was familiar. And it felt like my childhood. You know, and these DIY spaces that I was in as a kid with my parents. And it just felt, like, correct, as opposed to...you know, I had been in the suburbs in California previous to that, which just felt very incorrect, and, like, isolated, and weird, and creepy. And I hated it and I couldn't connect with anybody there, and I didn't know what I was supposed to do with myself. You know, even when I tried to make friends with the kind of dropouts and weirdos, it was like, "What, so we just stand in this 7-Eleven parking lot, that's it ?" That was not enough for me.

Paul: It was a very formative part of some people's teenage years!

Lilly: [laughs] Yeah. Yeah.

Paul: And you were in Carmel, California, right?

Lilly: We were in Carmel when I was in fourth and fifth grade, but right before we came back to New York, we were in Marina, which is, like, in... It's in that same Monterey County, but it's, like, less coastal-beautiful than Carmel and more just, like, kind of bleak suburban.

Paul: One of the other aspects of the memoir is that your father also struggled with an addiction, with heroin addiction. And I saw that you teach a workshop in writing about addiction, and it's something I'm really interested in. Since you work with writers around this topic, what is it you think that people don't understand about addiction and addicts? What, in your view, kind of goes missing?

Lilly: Well, I think the biggest thing, and this is a workshop that I co-teach with Erin Khar, who wrote a memoir about her own addiction. And so, it's really interesting working with her because we can kind of come at it from both perspectives, right, writing about a loved one, writing about yourself. And I think in both cases, there's this tendency to flatten. You know, and you write about somebody struggling with addiction and they become an addict. And that's who they are, that's their narrative function, that's their whole identity, and the humanity and everything else that they are kind of disappears, which was something that I worked really hard to not let happen in writing about my father.

And both of my parents struggled with addiction, but my mom eventually got and stayed clean. But for both of them, and, especially my father, since he wasn't here to tell his part of the story, you know, I really wanted to make it not a story about my father, the heroin addict, right? It was a story about my father, and a man, and an artist. And also, he struggled with addiction, which is not to minimize it, right? I didn't wanna gloss over it and pretend that it wasn't a big deal or a big part of the story. It, unfortunately, was a very big part of my family's story, but it wasn't all there is.

Paul: You say at one point in the memoir, where you're meeting one of your dad's friends, that it's not the thing that you wanted to bring up right away about your dad.

Lilly: Yeah. Yeah. And I was very intentional doing that in the story as well. You know, I wanted to establish him as a character, and establish our relationship, and his humor, and his creativity, and all of these other things. And then dive into this dark part. Because I felt like if I started with that, then people would fill in all the gaps in their mind, and you know, they'd think they know the whole story. When you tell somebody that somebody struggles with addiction.

Paul: There are cultural narratives or cliches that people fall into.

Lilly: Yeah. And they assume...you know, I got a lot of assumptions that, like, he couldn't have been a good father, right? Yeah. He messed up in some pretty significant ways, but he was also a great father in a lot of ways. And I wanted that to be visible.

Paul: You also write pretty powerfully, not just about the grief that you felt, but also the anger underneath that.

Lilly: Yeah.

Paul: And you have an anthology actually about women's anger and the power of women's anger called, Burn It Down. When you coach, or work with writers, what's your approach? What is it that you talk to women about in terms of accessing that anger?

Lilly: Yeah. I mean, I think a big thing that I talk about upfront, that I think, you know, it's sometimes the first time people are hearing it, but just to say that you are allowed to feel anger, right? That anger is not on its own anymore taboo or dangerous than any other emotion, right? It's not any more shameful. It just is sometimes you feel sad, sometimes you feel happy, sometimes you feel angry.

And that with women, especially, if you get angry, there will be a hundred people jumping to tell, "You're being irrational. You're being overly emotional. You should just calm down," etc., etc., all these ways that women are socially conditioned to be people-pleasers, and peacekeepers, and accommodating, and all of this stuff.

So, I start out by just talking for a little bit, or, like, just naming these things, right? And pointing out all of the reasons that it's socially inconvenient for women to get angry. And that's all the more reason that we should. And also that, you know, for all those accusations of irrationality and all of that, anger is actually a supremely rational reaction to a lot of situations. And just acknowledging that, and saying like, "Yeah. This is not me just being unhinged, or a crazy woman, or whatever." This is like, "I'm angry because I've been wronged, and that's completely reasonable."

I can kind of see a light bulb going on a lot of times talking about that. You know, and then we do some writing exercises, and I kind of push them to locate the physical location of anger because a lot of times you feel it in your body before you're able to really articulate it. So, I like to start there.

Paul: So, I know this book took several years for you to write. And I'm wondering if you could walk me through that process. Like, what changed for you over all those different drafts?

Lilly: Yeah. It took a long time. When I initially conceived of it, I intended to write an artist monograph about my father. Like, a very straightforward art book with images on every page, and his story kind of woven in to contextualize the art. And my motivation, really, was just to archive, and preserve, and share his artwork. And I wrote, you know, a full draft of that. And I did the layout myself and the design and everything. And then I was like, "Okay. I did it. I wrote a book." I thought it was done. And everybody who I showed it to...and this was actually originally my undergraduate thesis. That's how long ago I started writing it.

Paul: That's amazing. Yeah.

Lilly: Yeah. And so, I showed it to, you know, my thesis advisor and another professor, who was a mentor of mine, and they both were like, "Okay. Like, this is cool, but why?" You know, basically gently asking, "Who cares about this artist that nobody's ever heard of from 20 years ago? Why are you telling this story?" You know, and they were like, "You researching your own father is the thing that's interesting about this. That's the thing that is gonna make people invested and wanna pay attention."

So, they pushed me to put more of myself in it. And that was the beginning of a many year-long process where I kept adding a little bit more of myself and then thinking it was done, and then getting that same feedback again, and adding a little more and a little more and a little more until finally, I was, like, eight years into the process. And I was like, "Okay. I must be done now."

I went to the Tin House Workshop, and I did manuscript, like, consultation, mentorship with Melissa Febos, who is an author I really admire and respect. And she read the whole thing, and she told me the same thing. And something about hearing it from her, and just the way that she articulated it.

Paul: Did she want more of you in it?

Lilly: Yeah. Yeah. And I really thought I had, like, dug deep and put myself in there. You know, I had started calling it a memoir. I had put, you know, a bunch of my own perspectives in there. I really thought I had done it, you know? And then she was like, "Where are you here?" I was like, "Ugg." Like, "Why, how?" You know?

But she was the one who finally suggested, or pointed out to me that I had been trying to just sneak in little bits of my own story around my father's story, but that it was still really his story. And she was the one who was like, "You need just a whole separate storyline that's, like, just you, not just pegged to what you're talking about in his life, but, like, just tell us some of your own story." I finally was like, "Okay, fine."

So, I deleted, like, one-third of what I had, and I wrote, like, 30,000 new words. And that's all the material about me as a teenager going to ABC No Rio, and dropping out of high school, and going to college as a high school dropout, and ending up in journalism school and hating it, and bartending, and getting married. And, you know, basically, everything that's in there. And that's me outside of, you know, just the interviews and talking to people about my father. That came last.

But then once I wrote all that and put it in there, it all kind of clicked into place in a way where I was like, "Oh, yeah, duh, this is whole thing is about me kind of mirroring him, and following his footsteps in some ways, and fighting hard against those footsteps in other ways, and how being his daughter has shaped my life basically." But it took me, yeah, like, 11 years to get there.

Paul: I love that story. It's so helpful to hear both as someone who coaches other writers, and also as a writer myself, it mirrors so much of my own journey. It's also something I see other writers struggling with, often people come, and they say, "I wanna write a book about this parent, or that person." And the question always is, "Well, where are you?" And I think there's a psychological shift that has to happen.

Lilly: Absolutely. Especially, you know, I studied journalism in school, and I set out to write an art book, not a memoir. You know, so it was, like, I kind of got dragged sideways into writing a memoir. And that was, like, not what I intended to do, and it was not comfortable for me to take that center stage, but it became clear that that was what the project was demanding. So, I eventually had to do it.

And, yeah, you know, I work as a developmental editor. I work with a lot of writers. And surprisingly, since this is what my book is, I get a lot of writers who are, you know, writing family stories, or investigative memoir, or whatever. So, I find myself getting that same advice back to people a lot. You know, I'm like, "I know this is not what you wanna hear. I've been there, but you gotta take the plunge." Yeah.

Paul: You need to take up space.

Lilly: Yeah.

Paul: The other thing I wanna ask you about has to do with the voice or narrative stance of your memoir. It's something I really liked. Before reading your book, I had been reading a series of fragment memoirs, books like Abigail Thomas's, Safekeeping, and Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. And these books depend on a lot of white space and on the reader bringing her own interpretation to these spaces. I feel like the voice in your book is much more of an essayer's voice, a voice of reflection that is constantly analyzing along with describing events. Is that a voice that you developed right away, or is it something you backed into over success of drafts?

Lilly: Yeah. Interesting question. I'm not really sure. I mean, I've definitely completely transformed as a writer over the process of writing this book. You know, I feel like I was, perpetually, like, chasing what the book needed, and then developing the skills to do that.

Paul: That's, like, the best.

Lilly: Yeah. Yeah. It was great. And looking back on it, I'm like, "Oh, that's so cool. It taught me how to be a writer." At the time, I was just like, "Damn it. I thought it was done. I just wanna finish this thing." But I think I had to push myself and kind of be pushed to do a lot of that direct articulation, you know, and spelling out the connection.

Within my father's story, you know, like, between his artwork and his life. And then also between my story and his, I think I initially tended toward more of a, just like, "I'm gonna set these two things next to each other, and that's gonna be enough, you know, and the reader can draw those connections." But I got a lot of feedback of, you know, wanting more insight, more reflection, more emotion.

I just was like, "What do you mean, do you want me to spell out the emotion? Like, there's a scene about me at seven years old going to a methadone clinic with my mother. Like, I need to tell you that that's fucked up?" You know, but you do, and you have to kind of, I think, contextualize and articulate the impact and the importance of a key scene like that. Otherwise, it's just voyeuristic.

[music break]

Lilly (reading): There is a photograph of my father laughing on the last day I saw him alive. It's in a two-part frame with a picture of me also laughing, taken in the same moment. His hand is over his mouth, covered in nicks, cuts, and calluses from working with wood and concrete at his construction job and in his art studio. Our faces are both red from laughing until we were gasping for air. I look at these photos and try to hear his sound. Sometimes, I can remember his laugh. And sometimes, when I try, there's just silence.

I can't remember what was so funny either, but I remember how totally enraptured and entertained I was by him. And how proud to know that he felt the same about me. It was Easter Sunday, 2000. I was 11, almost 12. I hadn't seen my father in half a year, and we were living on opposite sides of the country. My mother had brought me to San Francisco to spend the weekend with him.

[music fades]

Paul: I read the essay that you wrote about selling your book early on and feeling like you had gotten a bad deal. You sold your book in 2016, and then you decided that the contract wasn't a good idea. Why wasn't that a good fit for you?

Lilly: You know, in the same way that I had to learn what I was doing as a writer, in the process of writing the book, I also had to learn the industry. You know, I'm a working-class kid from... You know, I didn't have parents in academia, or anywhere near publishing, or anything like that that could, kind of, explain to me how to make a deal for your creative work. And so, you know, especially after so many years of submitting and rejection, I kept thinking I was done and submitting the book, and then it would get rejected. And I would realize I'd have to revise it, and then I would do it all over again.

And so, by that time, that was, like, the fourth or fifth round of these submissions. And I was submitting to small presses because I had, kind of, understood that the agent route was not really gonna work because I was not writing about an artist that anybody knew about.

You know, so, like, the art book publishers were not interested. And then the kind of mainstream memoir publishers were like, "This is an art book. What are we supposed to do with this?" So, it was, kind of, in this in-between space that's hard to sell in, like, commercial markets.

And so, I started querying small presses, but I had no idea at the time how much variation there is in, kind of, the size and quality of small presses, where some are legit and amazing and independent and working outside the parameters of commercial publishing, but, like, in a, really mainstream publishing, I guess, it's still commercial. But, you know, the big four in ways that allow them to be nimble and creative and take risks. And some are just, like, one guy in a garage, you know, which if your goal for the book is just to publish the book and have it printed as a physical object, that's fine.

But by this point, I had been working for so long, and I had bigger ambitions by then. You know, I wanted this to be my debut in a way that would be the beginning of a longer career. I had other books I wanted to write. I wanted it to find readers other than people who already knew my father. I knew I needed some support in terms of, like, marketing, and distribution, and all of those things that a publisher is supposed to do for you, or at least help with.

And anyway, that's kind of a long-winded way of saying that this small press that I found, which was the first acceptance I got, which, of course, is so exciting that I kind of rationalized their various caveats. But after the initial thrill wore off, I realized, "Okay. They're not gonna help with marketing and publicity at all. They don't do distribution, which is, you know, the getting the books actually into the bookstore, which the marketing and publicity," I was like, "I can swing it."

You know, I live in New York City. I had made some industry connections by then. I was a freelancer, but distribution, it was like, "That's out of my wheelhouse. I don't know how to do that." And so, that's when I started getting worried. And then it turned out, they also were not even gonna actually edit the book. They just were putting what I had sent into layout. And so, then I was like, "Okay. Well, then, what are you doing exactly anywhere?" And so, I canceled the deal, which was one of the scariest leaps I've ever taken in my life was pulling out of that deal, but it ended up being for the best. I got a much better deal with a much better small publisher, I guess five years later.

Paul: And they did a beautiful job. The book looks really nice. It feels great in your hand. What's been the result of seeing your book out in the world?

Lilly: I mean, it, kind of, was my entrance, you know? I finally got to present this thing that I had been working on for so long. And I finally got to bring it out into the world, and, kind of, establish myself as part of this world, as an author, you know?

It's difficult when your life's work is a word document that just lives on your computer, and nobody has ever seen it. And I'm so sympathetic. I know there are so many writers who are in that gauntlet right now. You know, working on a book for years and years and years, and it's not out yet, so they feel like they don't have anything to show for all their hard work. And just have to keep saying, "I'm still working on it. I really am." And it's hard to keep going with that, you know? But then to finally get to show it and say, "See, I really was writing a book all that time."

Paul: Yeah. I'm not a layabout.

Lilly: Yeah. It's a huge relief. Just, you know, it feels like validation. And it led to a bunch of more work. It led to an adjunct teaching gig at Columbia, which has been so, so fun. And it led to a book deal at a big four for my next book, which I'm working on now. And I actually got an advance, so I can do a little bit less other work while writing the book. And, yeah, you know, it also has personally absorbed so much of my energy and emotion and attention for so long.

You know, and it was such a fraught first project, in a lot of ways, because it was not just my first book. It was also this book of my father's art, you know? And so, I felt him kind of looking over my shoulder, waiting for me to be done the whole time I was working on it. You know, and like, "Are you gonna finish this? Are you gonna get it out there? You know, what is this? Are you doing it or not?" And so being able to finally do that for him as well as for myself was a huge relief.

Paul: This is a weird question, but it occurred to me as you were answering, do you feel like in some way that putting this story in between two covers, did it help shift something in your relationship with your dad?

Lilly: I think it definitely did. I mean, just the process itself, you know, spending 10 years talking to people who knew him, and reading his letters, and really deeply studying his artwork. You know, I've lived with this stuff my whole life. It just is always there, right? But looking at it so closely, and trying to read it for meaning, and contextualizing it with all these versions of him that I didn't get to see as a kid, I definitely, I think, achieved one of the major goals of the book, which was to get to know him better. And, yeah, it feels, in a way, like, you know, completing the year of mourning, right? In a lot of religions, but, yeah, you know, in Jewish religion, there's, like, a very specific kind of process.

Paul: Eleven months.

Lilly: Yeah. Yeah. And you do this thing, and then you have done it, right? You've done your duty of mourning, and then you can go about and live your life. And it doesn't mean that you don't still miss the person. It doesn't mean you don't carry grief, but you've completed the act of mourning. And so, it feels very much like that even though it took 11 years, not 11 months.

Paul: And then you mentioned a moment ago that you've sold an essay collection. I understand it's a blend of memoir and cultural reflection. How is that going?

Lilly: It's going great. You know, everybody always says, "The second book is harder," but that has not been my experience so far. I mean, knock on wood, you know, I'm, like, halfway done, who knows, a wrench could be thrown in, but it's going so smoothly comparatively, partly because I set out knowing what the book was gonna be, and I'm not, you know, chasing this dim light up a foggy mountain. Like, not knowing where I'm going, or what I'm chasing, or what's next, or how far I have to go, or any of that. It's just, I have 10 essays to write. I'm writing them one at a time. I'm revising them. I'm making progress and seeing the word count go up. It's like...

Paul: And then you're also teaching classes. We've talked about a couple of them already in the interview. A different one really caught my eye. It's called, "Writing as a Detective Story [sic]," can you tell me a bit about that? How is writing a memoir like a detective story?

Lilly: Yeah. So, the whole philosophy behind that class came really from having to answer this question in my own story, the who cares, the fact that the story itself was not enough. And that when I first just recorded my father's story, it was interesting to me because he was my father, but it was kind of flat. Like, there were no, you know, they call emotional stakes, why do readers care, why are they gonna keep turning the page. And I eventually realized that it was my questioning, right, my search.

The thing that was gonna pull readers through was me, all the reasons that I had to keep going and keep asking questions, and the specific questions that I felt like I needed to answer, the things I was really trying to figure out about my father, and why, what that would mean for my life? That became, kind of, the backbone of the story. And I, kind of, started to think of it as being like a detective, right? There are clues, and there are twists, and there are moments where you think you've solved it, but then it all falls apart because something's not what you thought it was.

And, you know, it's a very classic story structure. We're all familiar with that, right, from, like, "Sherlock Holmes" to "Law & Order," it's everywhere. And as I started getting editing clients who are, kind of, doing a similar kind of work where they're uncovering a family story, or even, you know, investigating something in their own lives, I found myself asking that same question again, right, of like, why, why do you need to know this? Why do you need to tell this story? What's pulling you through the story? What are you trying to figure out? Because just laying the facts out is not exciting, right?

If that's, like, saying that, "So-and-so killed so-and-so." It's like, "Okay. So what," right? But see, you've sucked all the mystery out of it, but take me on a journey. So, I developed this workshop where the premise is basically, I call it the internal arc, right, the questioning and searching and shifting perspective as an alternative, or at least a complement to external plot. You know, and with the premise being that sometimes the questions that you're asking are more interesting than just the events of the story that you're telling.

Paul: I love that. That's great. It's often said that memoir is not about what happened to you, but it's about what you make of it.

Lilly: Exactly. Yeah. So, this is kind of just, like, a subset of that, right? And, yeah, the investigation and how to make an investigation feel exciting and juicy for the length of a book.

Paul: So, if people wanna find out more about you and your workshops, where should they go?

Lilly: My website, it's lillydancyger.com. I assume the spelling of that will be somewhere written.

Paul: Yeah. It will indeed.

Lilly: Yeah. That's where, you know, you can find stuff about "Negative Space," and also my anthology, "Burn it Down," and my independent workshops, and my editing services as well. It's all there.

Paul: Well, Lilly, I wanna thank you so much for your time today. I've really enjoyed talking with you. I loved your book, and the conversation has been really illuminating.

Lilly: Thank you.


[Host Outro – Paul] You've been listening to "The Book I Had To Write." I'm Paul Zakrzewski. My guest today was memoirist and writer, Lilly Dancyger. If you enjoyed the show, then I hope you'll subscribe in Apple Podcasts. I'm always grateful for reviews and for sharing the show with friends. To get a transcript of this and every episode delivered to your inbox, sign up at thebookihadtowrite.com/subscribe.

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