Alena Dillon started writing her first book at 10 years old.
“I knew I wanted to be a writer even then, if my acting career didn’t take off — which it didn’t, because I have a terrible fear of public speaking,” said Dillon, who teaches creative writing at St. Joseph’s College.
Now, the award-winning author has published her third book, a memoir titled “My Body is a Big Fat Temple,” in which she shares her journey with pregnancy and early parenthood.
It’s already received praise from stand-up comedian and actress Amy Schumer.
“Alena Dillion is one of my favorite writers, and to read her journey through pregnancy is a great joy and heartbreak,” said Schumer, who’s working with “The Good Wife” writer and producer Corinne Brinkerhoff on developing Dillon’s first book, “Mercy House,” into a CBS All Access television series.
Sharing Her Story
“When I was considering whether I wanted children, I gathered as many books about the journey as I could, but there wasn’t a lot of narrative on the subject,” Dillon, 35, said. “There was plenty of instructional nonfiction about the anatomy or parenting strategies, but not a lot of pure mother stories, and I was hungry to hear how other women felt and what they encountered along the way.”
Inspired by the old adage that says to write what you’d want to read, Dillon moved forward with her own story, encouraged to offer other women a transparent account on a subject that tends to be glamorized by society.
“I hope other women will find comfort in reading experiences they recognize, but that we aren’t encouraged to discuss openly: just how trying pregnancy and childbirth are, the pressures of motherhood, where expectations fall short, etc.,” said Dillon, who lives in Boston with her husband and son.
“I think we are encouraged to hold up this romantic ideal of what it should all feel like, and we stow away anything that doesn’t match, feeling alone and ashamed in that discrepancy” she continued. “There’s empowerment in speaking honestly, and being truthful to your experience. I would love other women to feel relief that somebody named their suffering, and walk away with permission to be more forthcoming themselves.”
A 10-Year Journey to Getting Published
“After a decade of writing and submitting and countless almost-quits, my current agent swept up ‘Mercy House’ in May 2018, and we were fielding calls from Hollywood by June,” said Dillon, who earned a bachelor’s in English from the University of Connecticut and an MFA from Fairfield University. “It’s just a lesson in keeping at what you love and finding the right people to love it too.”
Her advice for aspiring authors? Form a writers group.
“Find other writer-friends and create a writers group where you can swap work and exchange feedback,” said Dillon, who has taught in St. Joseph’s English department for six years. “It doesn’t mean you need to take all advice, but other perspectives are so valuable.”
Dillon, who was born in Queens and raised in Fairfield, Connecticut, attributes her passion for books to a myriad of aspects from her childhood.
“I think I always found comfort and enjoyment in stories, whether it was listening to my Irish family members regale us with some tale, watching television, disappearing into a book, or constructing my own fictional world,” she said.
A Look at Dillon’s Other Books
“Mercy House,” which was published in Feb. 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers, follows renegade S. Evelyn and her fellow nuns who run a shelter for abused women. When the shelter is investigated for its methods by a man who shares a dark history with S. Evelyn, she’s forced to face her past while protecting what she loves. The story was inspired by Dillon’s work at St. Joseph’s College, where she encountered women religious face-to-face for the first time.
“I was inspired by the general hustle of women committed to a mission of service,” said Dillon, who began working for the College in 2011 as an academic adviser at SJC Long Island. “It was such a supportive and devoted atmosphere.”
Her second book, “The Happiest Girl in the World,” was published in April 2021 by HarperCollins Publishers and explores the world of an elite gymnast who, along with her family, does what she believes she has to in order to reach her goal of competing in the Olympics.
“The Olympics kind of took on a new ‘Hunger Games’ sheen,” Dillon said after the criminal trials of Larry Nassar, a sports physician who treated America’s Olympic women gymnasts and was convicted of sexual abuse. “It got me thinking about all the other ways they had sacrificed their childhoods.”
Her forthcoming novel features a World War II Woman Air Force Service Pilot and her daughter.
“It’s a dual timeline between WW2 and contemporary day, and is about bequeathing guilt and regret to the next generation, and ultimately how the two women reconcile,” Dillon said.