A Review of My Sister Dilly by Maureen Lang
Sisters Hannah and Dilly have a complex relationship. Hannah is the older sister who feels she has failed her sister, Dilly. The book opens with Hannah picking up Dilly from prison. Dilly has served time for a crime most of society would call horrendous, many would have great difficulty in forgiving her. But Hannah has, she feels what happened is her fault for not being there for her sister.
Lang sets the story in Central Illinois, her setting and descriptions are captured with perfection.
Hannah leaves LA and comes back to Illinois to help her sister. Hannah struggles with what she has left behind including a man she wants to love.
She has to adjust once again to living in a small town where everyone knows your business. It even takes driving for an hour to get more than the basics to make the healthy meals she has learned to love in LA.
My Sister Dilly is a heart-capturing read. Dilly and Hannah became real and dear to me and even now knowing these are just characters made up by Lang I find myself wondering how they are today.
Well done Maureen Lang for a book well written and memorable.
This is such a surprising topic. Where did the idea come from?
One day I was talking to my sister-in-law whose son attends a school for special needs children. She told me about a woman who worked there who had recently gone through a terrible ordeal, beginning with the night she tried to take her own life and that of her severely handicapped daughter—and failed on both counts, thank God. Despite the fact that they both survived, the intent was there and she went to prison. What could allow a person to commit such a terrible act? My sister-in-law knew this woman to be kind and considerate, and so concerned for her daughter’s welfare that she took a part-time job at the school just to be near her daughter to watch over her safety. She must have been terribly desperate to do what she did.
I knew the story had enough drama to be recorded in a book, but I didn’t want My Sister Dilly to be an exploration of such desperation and lead to something so bleak. I chose to start the story long after the event takes place, in fact just when Dilly, the woman who tried what this woman did, is just being released from prison for child endangerment. What she wants most of all is to be reunited with her special needs child, but of course that’s not easily accomplished given her history.
I also wanted to lighten up such dark subject matter by incorporating a romance, which is where the sister component comes in. Hannah is the narrator for most of the story, and she’s given up the only man she could ever love to return home to take care of Dilly. Of course, throughout the book both sisters grow in ways neither expect.
I know you live in Central Illinois. I live in Southern Illinois and often drive through CI to visit my son in Chicago. There isn’t much there. What do you do for fun in the winter?
Actually Central Illinois is where my husband grew up, and we visit there often to be with family still living there. I actually live in the Chicago area, so you’ll have to let me know when you’re up here!
But I do know a little about how busy everyone is in Central Illinois, year round. People tend to be more community-oriented, so there are a lot of social gatherings with family or church members. Vacations tend to be in those cold months rather than during the time of year during planting, maintaining crops or harvest time. One of my brothers-in-law raises hogs, just as the family does in My Sister Dilly, so that’s a year round commitment that keeps them busy all the time. Just try planning a family gathering on any given weekend and you’re bound to have other engagements to compete with!
Describe your writing room.
I absolutely love where I write! My husband worked very hard to make it everything I hoped it would be. When we moved into this house over ten years ago, the study had a lot of potential. Twelve-foot ceilings, tall windows, double door entryway. But it was plain, with only a single set of old bookshelves completely overwhelmed by all the books our family has collected.
So we designed the room for a whole wall of built-in shelving, both for books and things I need to store like mailing envelopes and postcards I have printed, as well as for family things like games and paper records we need to keep.
So one wall is completely shelving, top to bottom, and it’s beautiful! My husband also added French doors, new flooring and a lovely shade of dark green to the walls. The room turned out to be everything I hoped. (Thanks, honey!)
I did try to find a desk I liked, something new and beautiful to match the wonderful shelving, but I’m such a stickler I couldn’t bear to part with my plain old desk that’s exactly the right height and size. So here I am, in my old chair at my old desk. Happily surrounded by all of my books!
You have a very intense pig farm scene in My Sister Dilly, what experience do you have with pig farming?
As I mentioned above, my husband’s brother raises hogs. What an experience! Actually it made research very easy. A few years ago they were devastated when some of the slats broke that hold the pigs above the manure pit below. They lost several pigs. I think most people know farming is actually a pretty dangerous profession, from the equipment to the sheer level of manual labor. But when I learned the fumes from the manure pit could kill someone (or not, depending on how it’s maintained and the fluctuating level of various chemicals associated with decay and fecal matter) I knew I wanted to include their really terrible (but dramatic!) experience into this book.
I had plenty of first-hand help advising me on the details to have the scene as authentic as possible!
Best writing advise you’ve ever followed?
Someone told me a very long time ago that persistence is as important to success as talent, and I’ve found that to be so true. I tell that to people all the time now. Keep at it!
What makes you happy?
I think the key to happiness is learning how God wired you. The passions He gives us usually coincide with the gifts He also gives. My passion for writing makes it easier to keep at it because I want to write all the time and obviously the more we do anything, the better we become. That enthusiasm makes it easier to want to improve. It seems pretty clear to me He’s wired me to write, and I’m happiest when I’m doing that.
Thanks for letting me stop in for a visit. This was fun!
Thanks for letting us peak into the writing of your story and your writing room! It sounds amazing!