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Author Interview: Mae Respicio

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month!

How are you all celebrating? As part of my celebration, I'm sharing my chat with author Mae Respicio. Her middle grade novel The House That Lou Built (Wendy Lamb Books, 2018) is about Lou Bulosan-Nelson and her dream to build a tiny house (only 100 square feet!) all on her own and on land that she inherited from her father. This Filipino American coming-of-age story is the recipient of the Asian Pacific American Library Association (APALA) 2019 Honor Award in Children’s Literature. Keep reading to discover more about Mae and the book!

Congratulations, Mae! What inspired you to write The House That Lou Built?

There were many things that inspired this book such as my love of building, my desire to write a strong girl at the center of a coming-of-age adventure, and wanting to write a book set in the Bay Area! Although above any of these things what kept me inspired throughout the (sometimes grueling!) writing process, was wanting to write a book that focused on a large, loving Filipino American family. As a kid I was a huge bookworm but middle grade books about Filipino American families didn’t exist—even now they're still rare. I wrote The House That Lou Built largely as a love letter to my culture.

It is SO COOL that you're into building just like Lou! Can you please share a bit more about your experience in building?

I've always been very inspired by building, architecture and design, and I have been through the process of fixing up a house before. My family's first home was a fixer upper in Los Angeles. My husband and I were young and broke at the time, so we ended up taking on most of the renovations ourselves. I took free home improvement classes at our local Home Depot learning how to grout and do other DIY projects, that sort of thing, which was fun and also a huge learning process. Those experiences gave lot of spark to my development of Lou's character and in the tiny house idea.

What was your research and creative process when writing The House That Lou Built?

This is an #ownvoices book for sure, and I drew a lot from memories of my childhood and also just by watching my kids grow up as Filipino American. So a lot of details are familiar to me, like Lou dancing in a Filipino folk dance troupe or living with her lola and coming from a big, lively family. Even the settings are familiar to me since I live in the Bay Area—I really wanted to capture the essence of what places like San Francisco or the redwoods are like. As far as the tiny house element I’ve done a few of my own construction projects, including working on a couple of fixer upper homes with my husband. I’ve never lived in a tiny house though or have built one so I did research that aspect, which was a lot of fun. I spent time talking to people who’ve built them and visited a tiny house in person. The passion within that community is inspiring.

My writing process is that I write every single day and I set regular deadlines for myself, in addition to whatever deadlines I'm given by my editors. It took me a long time to figure this out, but my best advice if you're an aspiring writer is to still treat it like a jobthat means setting a regular writing schedule so that you're on your way to "building a writing practice." It's all about creating a habit of writing, even on the days that you're tired or uninspired (which happens for us all!). I've learned that the only way to get words down—and to keep improving your craft—is by having actual "butt in the chair" time. The good part is that the more you do this the more ingrained it becomes. I talk a little more about that here on Episode 66 of the MomWritesPodcast.

As a writer, what are your 10 essentials?

Oooh… hard/good one! Okay, l’ll try:

1. Paper (instead of the screen)
2. My favorite writing pen (Uni-Ball Air Micro—black for writing, red for revising)
3. Water
4. My longtime "writing date" partner
5. Writer friends who don’t want to talk writing and would rather get together for drinks and appetizers
6. Any café with no wifi
7. A good sense of what’s at stake in my story (and what my main character most desires)
8. Iced coffee
9. Chocolate
10. My trusty Neo2 Alphasmart Word Processor (seriously, look it up if you don’t know what this is—your writing will thank you!)

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on my next book, slated to come out in 2020! It’s another heartwarming coming-of-age middle grade novel about a twelve-year-old girl named Kaia. Kaia's obsessed with special effects make-up and uses her unique passion to help her family navigate through a sudden change in their lives.

Bonus: What kind of house are you? :-D

I’d like to think I’m a bahay kubo—the Filipino version of a tiny house!

Thank you so much, Mae! Dear readers, please make sure to grab The House That Lou Built when it's out in paperback in June!


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