Between the Lines: Local Author Wins National Honor

| April 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

Margaret Dilloway is a San Diego writer.

“The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns,” jumped out at me from the rack of new and featured books at the Mission Hills Library branch a few weeks ago. Not only is it a terrific title, but the author, Margaret Dilloway, is a San Diego writer whom I heard read at a San Diego Writing Women event. And in January it was selected by the Reference and User Services Division of the American Library Association as the Best Women’s Fiction on its 2013 Reading List.

I checked the book out and found myself glued to it from beginning to end. Dilloway’s protagonist, Galilee “Gal” Garner, is a biology teacher who breeds rare roses and has chronic kidney disease for which she must undergo dialysis every other day while awaiting a suitable organ for a much-needed transplant. As if that isn’t enough to deal with, a troubled and troublesome teenage niece lands on her doorstep like an abandoned kitten. I wondered if the novel wasn’t taking on too many themes, but I was pleasantly surprised at the skill with which Margaret weaves the strands together into a compelling story.

Gal is energetic and demands much of herself, so one of my first questions to Margaret when I interviewed her was about the reality of someone in such fragile health being so active. It turns out that Gal was modeled on Margaret’s sister-in-law, who was a go-getter herself, a chemist and an active community volunteer while undergoing dialysis and multiple kidney transplants. The fascinating rose breeding detail came from extensive research and the helpful expertise of a California breeder.

This is Margaret’s second novel. The first, “How to Be an American Housewife,” was a partly autobiographical story about a Japanese woman who marries an American GI, like Margaret’s own parents. The novel is told in two voices, those of the woman and her American-born daughter. Now Margaret has completed her third novel, about Samurai women in the 12th century, inspired as well by family history—the discovery that her mother’s family is descended from a Samurai line. The research was daunting, she said, as much of the literature hasn’t been translated into English.

Margaret Dilloway grew up in San Diego, is married and the mother of three children. Her husband, “a finance guy” whom she calls “Cadillac” in her blog, reads her manuscripts; she says he’s “uncannily good at finding problems.” Her web site includes 20 random things about herself, including the fact that she wrote a novel in the eighth grade, was an art major who never made art, and has an aversion to handling meat (which I share). Also that she doesn’t finish books she doesn’t like, although she tactfully declined to tell me the last book she put down unfinished. She did say that she recently completed Alice Munro’s latest story collection, “Dear Life,” and is currently reading (and will finish) the newest by Barbara Kingsolver.

The wealth of local writing talent never ceases to amaze me. Over the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many San Diego authors and to write about a number of them here. And I’m starting to get the impression that I’ve barely scratched the surface, so stay tuned!

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