Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Win a Free Copy of Maureen Lang's My Sister Dilly!
October is going to be a great month at Writer's Journey as I get caught up on my book reviews and interviews and contests.
We're starting out with a great read by Maureen Lang that is just out from Tyndale. Many of you are familiar with Maureen's historical novels, but this time you are in for a treat. "Dilly" is a contemporary novel that is all about relationships. Hannah Williams comes back from California to the small farm town in central Illinois where she grew up. She thinks she's coming to help her sister who has paid the price of a bad decision. A decision Dilly made because Hannah wasn't there to help her. She's driven to do this although she loves life in California and loves the man she left behind there.
I don't want to tell you more because you need to read it for yourself. The story begins in a slow, easy pace, much like life is in Downstate Illinois, which is what Chicagoans (where I live) call any place in Illinois that isn't near Chicago :-). But the action picks up quickly and before you know it you are turning the pages as fast as you can read!
Maureen is kind enough to offer a pristine copy of My Sister Dilly to the winner of a contest I'm running. Next Monday, on my birthday, October 6th, I will throw all the names of those who leave a comment to this post on the randomizer and see whose name comes out in first place.
Below is an interview with Maureen about the writing of My Sister Dilly. Enjoy and be sure to leave a comment to win your own free copy of this excellent book!
1. My Sister Dilly is a departure from the historical genre you usually write in. What prompted you to write the story?
I vividly recall the exact moment this story took shape. I was talking to my sister-in-law, who, like me, has a child with a disability. We often talk about how things are, and she told me of another mom to a disabled child who was serving time in prison. Even as my sister-in-law was telling me the story, I remember praying, “Oh, no, this story is too hard, Lord. I cannot possibly write it. Why are You nudging me to do this?”
But it just wouldn’t go away, even though I didn’t feel equipped. The circumstances seemed too serious, even though from the get-go I started telling myself that if I could insert some kind of romance I might be able to make it through the storyline.
So I started corresponding with my sister-in-law’s friend, who was so helpful to me even as she’s still serving time. Her input was invaluable, and the story really started to take shape.
Another thing that made this particular story more difficult was the setting. It had to be a small, rural town, similar to where my husband grew up. I knew it would be a delicate balance to create a character who wouldn’t like small town living, but I didn’t want to offend so many people I love who live in small towns!
2. Not only is this not an historical, but you also write the story in first person point of view. How did that come about? Did you find it easier to write in this format or harder than third person?
The first person POV was a definite surprise to me, since I tend to prefer 3rd person both for my own reading and for my writing. But when I sat down to experiment with this storyline, it just naturally came out from the first person POV of the older sister.
It wasn’t long before the story idea was contracted with Tyndale, and as I seriously proceeded with the book, the first person POV still seemed like it was the best fit—for the book, not necessarily for me. I sent a sample to my editor and asked her what she thought. Should I change it to 3rd person? I was almost hoping she’d say yes, change it, because that’s the format I’m more familiar with. But to my surprise she wrote back almost immediately and said to keep it in first. It was working.
So it stayed that way, and I’m really happy with it. It was one of those things that really served the story best, as if it couldn’t have been told any other way.
Later, it was my editor who suggested a few chapters in Dilly’s POV, also in first person. And I loved it! I wish I could say those chapters were my idea. ☺
3. Do you think you’ll write another first-person novel in the future?
I never say never, so who knows! 3rd person continues to be more in my comfort zone, but now that I know I CAN write in first, it’s not so scary. It would have to serve the story best, though.
4. Right after I read “Dilly” I went on a road trip through Central Illinois and kept thinking about your story as I drove along and looked at the farms dotting the landscape. How did you come to situate the story in that locale?
I really thought the small town setting served the story best because small towns are known for a closer-knit community. If people can isolate even amidst a tighter community, then maybe this isolation really is a factor more unique to families with disabled kids.
5. A funny thing I noticed that really reminded me of your story was the rows of yellow directional arrows on a side road warning drivers of the road narrowing. You describe a similar thing in your book that warned drivers of a turn the road. Is this something indicative to that part of Illinois or is it coincidental that I came upon a similar thing where I was?
I tend to think it’s not that much of a coincidence. If you’ve flown over rural areas, you might have noticed how absolutely square the acreage usually is. Roads tend to follow that pattern, so unless there is a natural reason (like a lake, hills, woods, etc) for a curve, here in flat farm country it really is divided into even squares. So changes in what the road is expected to be, from narrowing to curving, tend to be high lighted for safety reasons.
6. How important is it to have these kind of little details in a story to personalize the setting?
Oh my goodness, I love details! Whether I’m reading or writing, that’s the element that makes a book really come alive. The trick is not to get too detailed and bore the reader, or go off track from the story. If the details really reflect the story, they deepen the texture and can make the characters absolutely breathe.
7. How did you conceive the characters, i.e. the two sisters and Mac, the Los Angeles boyfriend of the older sister?
When I heard about the woman who inspired the story, I knew I didn’t want the serious challenges of her life to be the main POV character. I didn’t want to take my readers (or myself) to that dark place where she did what she did to land herself in jail to begin with. I knew I needed to start the story after the worst was behind her, at that point of hopeful healing, but I was also concerned about the sympathy factor. So the older sister, also flawed, was born. She was a step away from the really blackest part of the story. She seemed safer to me, both for my own comfort and for my readers who want an escape.
And Mac…well, I have to admit my husband plays a part in the inspiration behind all of my heroes. As I mentioned, he grew up in a small town, but after college he lived out in California for a few years before returning to the Midwest. So his experience played a part in the formation of my characters.
8. Did the storyline change by the time you finished the story or was it in place from the start? I guess this is another way to ask if you are a seat-of-the-pants writer or a plotter :-).
I’m definitely a seat-of-the-pants writer. I knew from the beginning that there would be a faction of the story representing the public’s abhorrence over the type of crime Dilly committed. But I didn’t know about her needing to help out another woman who committed the same crime until coming to that dreaded middle—knowing the end was too far away and something had to keep those pages turning. It worked out well, I thought!
9. What can readers look forward to next from Maureen Lang?
I’m going back to my safe historicals, at least for the time being. Although if my characters could come alive and you could interview them, I doubt they’d say there was anything “safe” about the circumstances I’ve put them in! The setting is rural again, but this time in Northern France, during the First World War. That setting continues to intrigue me, mainly because it’s on the cusp of modern living and yet (especially in rural areas) still so historical. And the backdrop of that war in particular, where the fighting was for reasons no one really understood, makes for great conflict on any scale.
I don’t have a final title for this book, in my mind it’s just Book One of a three book series, and it’ll be released from Tyndale in September of 2009.
I’ve actually been blogging about the process, from the sale through a research trip to Belgium and Northern France, and the topic will continue on through the editing process, cover design and marketing. You can check that out at: http://maureenlang.blogspot.com/
Thanks so much for having me, Pam! This was fun.
And it was having you here, Maureen.
Okay, folks, before you click out of here, be sure to leave a comment to win your own free copy of My Sister Dilly sent directly to you from the author, Maureen Lang, herself. I'll be she'll even sign it for you :-).