Margaret Dilloway then and now

Military spouse turned published author

By Valerie Peralta on April 2, 2015

Chances are you've heard enough quotes about hard work and persistence that if you followed half of them you could have achieved most of your life's dreams by now. But who does that, right? Every once in awhile, though, you meet someone who proves all those motivational sayings aren't just cliché.

Margaret Dilloway is such a person.

In 1998, if you called the offices of Swarner Communications - home to The Fort Lewis Ranger and Northwest Airlifter - the soft, quiet voice you heard belonged to Dilloway. She had moved to South Puget Sound to marry her fiancé, Keith, who was a forward observer in the 2nd Ranger Battalion. After living in the area for a year, Dilloway was hired as a receptionist through a temp agency.

Today, she is a published author with her third novel, Sisters of Heart & Snow (G.P. Putnam's Sons), hitting bookstores April 7.

The Scripps College alumna and former Army spouse recently told me over the phone from her home in San Diego, California, how her writing career developed.

Why did you take the receptionist position?

MARGARET DILLOWAY: "I saw it as an opportunity to write.

"One day we got a fax to have somebody fly on a C140 to take pictures. I took it to Ron (Swarner) and asked, ‘Hey, can I do this?' He said, ‘Yeah, you can do it as a freelancer.' I guess there were some people in sales who wanted to be reporters and they were like, ‘Why does she get to do it?' I was the only one who asked."

In February of 1999, the company hired her as a full-time writer.

DILLOWAY: "Part of my job (as a receptionist) was dealing with bulk newspaper mailings. It was really messy, so I was glad not to have to do that anymore."

Dilloway remembers writing an article about the wife of a green beret who was a singer and had cut an album. Another story she wrote was about giving birth at Madigan Army Medical Center, where her first child, Elyse, was born.

After her husband finished his Army enlistment in 1999, they moved to southern California, and Dilloway worked for a Bluetooth software company where she got a contract to write Bluetooth for Dummies. The book was canceled, though, due to the bad market. In 2001, her son, Ethan, was born.

What did you do next?

DILLOWAY: "From then on I took care of my kids and did freelance writing for those websites that you get paid $20 an article. I figured if I worked hard I could pump out a bunch of articles a day."

It seems like you see potential to write in each job, that nothing is too small of an opportunity.

DILLOWAY: "I think that I am pretty good about sticking to my work, persistent I guess. I think that's why I got published - because I never gave up. There were plenty of times I felt like this is not going to go anywhere. But I listened to people who were good at what they did, and I incorporated it."

Who did you listen to?

DILLOWAY: "Jane Cavolina, an independent editor. She mentored me and helped me when she didn't have to. And my husband always supported my writing and said it would pay off one day."

Dilloway started writing her first novel - How to Be an American Housewife - when she was pregnant with her third child, and it came out when Kaiya was in kindergarten. Her second novel, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, came out in 2012. And now her third novel, Sisters of Heart and Snow - along with an eBook bonus, The Tale of the Warrior Geisha - is coming out.

How did you come up with the concept for Sisters of Heart and Snow?

DILLOWAY: "My father told me one day that my mother came from a samurai family. This got me to wondering if there were any female samurai.

"Sisters of Heart & Snow is a dual novel. I had a lot of historical material left, so I wrote The Tale of a Warrior Geisha. I wanted to have one huge book, but it was way too big."

What impact has your experience as a military spouse had on your writing?

DILLOWAY: "I always have some military character in my books.

"I found my experience very difficult at the time. Keith was gone a lot. And I came out of an all-women liberal arts college, so it was a different culture to get used to. But it made me see things from a different perspective that I never would have seen if I hadn't been a military wife."

What would you say to the aspiring writer, the military spouse?

DILLOWAY: "I tell people one of the most important things is to live an interesting life. As a military spouse you have all kinds of opportunities to travel and meet interesting people. Soak it all in. Read - a lot - and write every day. Don't give up!"