The Barrelhouse editorial squadron is thrilled to announce our newest team member! Lilly Dancyger will bring her sharp editorial eye to Barrelhouse Books, where she’ll serve as Assistant Books Editor. In that role, she’ll be doing a bit of everything: helping to choose our next nonfiction book project, working with the author on the editorial side of things, and just generally helping our books editor, Mike Ingram, bring a new manuscript into the world.
Here, she answers a few of Mike’s questions about her other jobs, why she wanted to work with us, and what she’s looking for in submissions.
1. First off, tell me about all the work you're doing that isn't Barrelhouse-related.
I’m wearing so many hats right now, it’s a little ridiculous. I’m the Memoir Editor at Narratively (that’s short memoir, aka personal essays), and a Contributing Editor at Catapult (where I also edit essays). I run the Memoir Monday reading series at Powerhouse Arena, and I teach writing classes at Catapult.
I’m the editor of Burn It Down, an anthology of essays on women’s anger, which is forthcoming from Seal Press in fall 2019, and I’m finishing up revisions on a memoir about my father’s art, heroin addiction, and death, which I’m hoping to go out on submission with very soon (so writers who are submitting to Barrelhouse and anxiously refreshing your inboxes, know that I’ll be in the same boat with you!).
I’m also a freelance writer, and I’ve been doing culture coverage for Rolling Stone. And I’ve been doing freelance developmental editing for memoir manuscripts lately, which I really love and want to do more of.
2. We met at the recent Barrelhouse Conversations & Connections conference in Pittsburgh, where I attended your (really great!) session on writing interesting personal essays. After the session, I basically cajoled you into coming onboard with Barrelhouse Books. What made you say yes? What is it that interests you in working for a small press?
It’s funny that you say that, because I totally felt like I cajoled you into bringing me on board! I’ve been working mostly with personal essays in online publishing for the last five years, and while I love that work and it’s definitely something I’m going to keep doing, I’ve also found myself wanting to work on more long-term projects, where I can keep the public conversation about them going for longer than the two or three days that an essay usually has before the internet moves on. With books, there are so many more opportunities to keep people talking, and after you pour so much work and love into something, you want people to pay attention to it for more than five minutes!
Also, the more developmental editing I’ve done on a freelance basis, the more I’ve realized how much I love helping other writers shape their books—it’s one of those things that’s so much easier to see clearly in other people’s work as opposed to your own, so I just want to do that as much as I can. And this seemed like a really cool opportunity to work on books I love, and to help bring them into the world and get people reading them and talking about them.
(Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the essay session I did at Conversations and Connections has evolved into this “2-Hour Personal Essay Idea Generator” class at Catapult, and there are seats still available for January.)
3. We'll be collaborating on choosing the next nonfiction book project Barrelhouse takes on. So what are you looking for? What kind of work excites you?
I really love memoir where the reader gets to see the writer doing the work—whether that’s the work of finding the facts, like in The Night of the Gun or Alligator Candy, or the work of finding the emotional core of the story or some truth about themselves, like in The Chronology of Water or The Other Side. An exciting narrative is great, but that’s not enough to make me fall in love with a book. I want a story to pull me through, sure, but I also want the mess—I want to see the writer wrestling with big impossible questions that don’t have answers, and facing scary truths about themselves on the page, working it out as they go. I don’t want just the pretty polished finished product. I want the parts, the guts, the contradictions and impossibilities, the work.
4. Are there any types of projects you're definitely NOT interested in publishing?
Yeah, I guess the second half of my last answer is that I don’t really get excited by memoir where the only thing going for it is that some crazy shit happens. Even if you’ve lived the most interesting life ever, just listing events is not gonna do it for me if it’s missing that internal work of peeling back the layers of meaning that you’ve built up around those events.
I also have a very low tolerance for stories that I feel like I’ve seen a million times by now. In my time at Narratively I’ve read approximately 20,000 essay submissions (I just did the math), so you can imagine how many times I’ve seen what I call the “first step” story about how traveling changed your perspective, or about how emotionally trying it was to struggle with fertility, or how you fought off an addiction and are stronger for it. And by “first step” story, I mean the obvious version of that story. The surface level version, that anyone who’s read enough memoir could probably recite by heart. Those topics are still fine to write about, but you have to get beyond the obvious version of the story that anyone who’s had a similar experience could write, and get at them in an interesting way. So, no “first step” stories please.
5. If you could change one thing about the literary publishing world, what would it be?
Just one??? There are a lot of things I would change but a big one is that I wish that the value literary publishing brings to society was reflected in the money that circulates in this industry. Most of us do this work as a labor of love, either making no money or not enough to live on, and that’s definitely romanticized, but I don’t think it’s romantic, I think it sucks. And it’s not the fault of individuals exploiting each other, for the most part, it’s that in general the arts aren’t seen as essential like medicine and real estate and whatever other industries bring in tons of money. But they are! The arts are essential, and the people who create art should be paid accordingly. But that money has to come from somewhere, and I don’t know where.
6. Finally, Barrelhouse is contractually obligated to ask you this: What's your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?
Dirty Dancing, OBVIOUSLY.