Maritza Rico Interviews Margaret Dilloway
Margaret Dilloway has had a growing passion for writing ever since her grade-school days. She is a mother, a San Diegan, and among many other things, an award-winning novelist. Dilloway is a Japanese-American womens lit novelist and the author of two books, “How to Be an American Housewife” and “The Care of Handling of Roses with Thorns.”
I formulated a couple of questions to get the “ins and outs” of Dilloway’s creative process, her childhood, and the genesis of her career as a novelist. I also asked her about what she plans to bring to San Diego Writer’s, Ink as far as knowledge and advice for developing writers.
Maritza Rico: First off, could you tell us a little about your personal life as a novelist? How did you get started? What was your motivation?
Margaret Dilloway: It was an evolution. I’ve been writing books ever since I could write. In grade school, I was pretty much a selective mute–I was shy and extremely anxious and never spoke up, even to stand up for myself. So I was bullied quite a bit early on. But I was a good and funny writer. My older brother, who ignored me otherwise, loved my little books. I wrote a series called Mr. Flaggs when I was in third grade, about a professional tap-dancer who lived in a tree and was in love with a woman named Maurice (my folks told me that was a man’s name but I didn’t believe it). My teacher would read my work to the class while she sent me on errands, so as not to embarrass me, and that’s sort of what earned the respect of others. I was always the girl who was a good writer. I won a National Council of Teachers of English award in high school, and I got into the California Summer School for the Arts at CalArts to study creative writing.
In college I majored in art, but after college, every job I had and everything I did led back to writing. I started doing some acting and that led to writing two plays which got into festivals. I set up classified ads for a newspaper, which led to writing features for them. At a Bluetooth company, I was an admin assistant but got bored, so I sold and wrote a technical book called Bluetooth for Dummies.
Every type of writing helped me with novel writing. Technical writing taught me precision and organization and how to write a full-length manuscript. Plays and acting taught me about characters and dialogue and how to improvise– to never say no to yourself. Newspaper writing taught me how to research, hook your reader, and be on deadline.
My first novel, my “practice novel” that never sold, started with a monologue. I’d intended to write a screenplay, but my character’s voice grew into a lot of interior monologue, and that’s how it turned into a novel.
MR: Your novels, “How to Be an American Housewife” and “The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns” have earned a lot of praise. What do you think worked well when writing these novels? What was the inspiration behind them?
MD: I started with character and plot. These strong voices popped into my head, and I gave them stuff to do, or they told me what to do. Then I just wrote about all the things that trouble me, questions I kept asking myself. What do you do when your dreams die? How do you handle a fatal health condition? What is the nature of forgiveness? How does our past, even our parents’ past, affect our identity? How do you learn to be happy with what you are given?
For “Housewife,” I wanted to sort of write about the relationship I had with my Japanese mom, who was born in 1932. She died when I was only 20, so it’s a largely made-up relationship in my book. I had a difficult relationship with her. The plot’s fiction, but she told me some details about her childhood that I added.
“The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns” was born of my interest in roses and how they’re created, which led me to finding out that a lot of scientists and engineers breed roses for fun, which then led to my methodical main character, Gal. Gal was inspired by my sister-in-law, who had renal failure and had had three kidney transplants, but really she’s a conglomeration of me, my sister-in-law, and a few other people I know. They are really novels about family relationships. My mother-in-law tells me it’s good that I married into the family because they give me plenty of material.
MR: You are very experienced in the field of Women’s Fiction. What lessons have you learned when writing your books that you could share with the students at Writer’s, Ink?
MD: I wrote a couple books and got told they fit into the Women’s Fiction category. The Women’s Fiction genre has some general characteristics I didn’t know about before, which I’ll discuss. I’ll also talk about different types of plots; how to create empathetic characters who are more grey than black and white; how to create a “hook”; and many more topics. Finally, I’ll share what I learned about publishing after the book sold and came out.
MR: What do you think is the best quality that women writers possess?
MR: What specific writing techniques will our writers learn from attending your workshop?
MD: Outlining, with plot and character development; how to write good dialogue; and how to edit your work.
Margaret Dilloway will be teaching a one day workshop at The Inspirations Gallery, on Writing Women’s Fiction. To secure a spot, click here and sign up.