TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!
Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?
Negative Space is the story of my father’s life, art, heroin
addiction, and death—as well as the story of the decade I spent piecing
together the truth of who he was by interviewing people who knew him, reading
his notebooks and letters, and studying his artwork. There are images of his
artwork throughout, and I think of it as a hybrid art book/memoir, with an
investigative journalism bent.
What boundaries did you break in the writing of this
memoir? Where does that sort of courage come from?
Negative Space breaks genre boundaries by bringing art and
journalism into memoir—and it breaks the fourth wall by including the story of
how the book came to be in the book itself. I don’t think writing about the
writing of a book in the book always works, but it felt necessary here, to show
how my relationship to the artwork and to the process of interviewing people
who knew my father changed over time. At first I thought I could maintain the
cool distance of a reporter, but the story inevitably swept me away and
required me to engage with my own grief and anger.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s
road to publication.
There were a lot of lows! I racked up more than 50
rejections over seven years of querying, and when I finally got a book deal, I
ended up canceling it. Then I had another brutal round of rejections (during
which I also acquired and then fired an agent) before Negative Space was
finally selected by Carmen Maria Machado as a winner of SFWP’s 2019 Literary
Awards. I wrote about this saga in detail for Electric
Literature if anyone wants the whole story.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
I don’t think I have one! I don’t really believe in maxims,
and I think most of the truisms out there about writing end up being limiting.
There are so many prescriptions out there about how to be a writer and how to
write the “right” way. Most of the process of finding my own voice and routine as
a writer has been about unlearning all of the external rules and advice, and
getting in touch with what comes naturally to me, and what works for my way of
thinking, and working, and expressing myself. I’ve never been a “write every
day” writer, for example, and for years I beat myself up over that. I thought I
was failing somehow because I didn’t write the way I was “supposed to,” but
when I finally stopped trying to force myself into a routine that just didn’t
work with my life, I found a much more productive schedule that works for me
and allows me to enjoy writing rather than feeling like I’m doing it wrong. (I
work in sporadic, intense bursts.)
My favorite writing advice is “write until something
surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
I was surprised to discover how much anger was hiding
underneath my grief over my father’s death. Confronting that and letting it
complicate the story was a big shift for me personally, and for the direction
of the story. I think going through that process is what prepared me to edit my
anthology, Burn It Down,
in which so many other writers engaged with anger that was hiding under other
emotions, or other emotions that were hiding under anger.
How did you find the title of your book?
Titles are so hard! For a long time, the working title of
this book was Hunter/Hunted, after a series of deer sculptures and prints that
my father made. The concept behind that series ended up being really central to
the book, and I came to think of the book as almost a continuation of or
response to that series, so I wanted to use the title. But eventually I
realized that it only made sense after reading the book, and people I polled
seemed confused by it without the context. So I started thinking about artistic
principles that were important to both my father’s work and my book, instead,
and Negative Space just fit since I was writing around the absence of my
father. There’s also a story in the book about how he explained the concept of
negative space to me when I was a kid and he was teaching me how to draw that
also encapsulates so much of what I was trying to do with the book, but I won’t
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any
food/s associated with your book?
Not that I can think of… (the only food I mention in the
book is from specific restaurants my family used to go to, as opposed to stuff
we made at home!). But if pressed, I guess maybe matzoh ball soup with lots of
READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://www.lillydancyger.com/
ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://bookshop.org/a/1925/9781951631031
READ AN EXCERPT FROM THIS BOOK, “Making Art Out of Dead