Award-winning author Mae Respicio has an exciting year ahead as she prepares for the fall release of her third novel, How to Win a Slime War, about Alex Manalo, a young entrepreneur who works at his family's Filipino market in Sacramento while trying to concoct the best slime in town. Her previous books include the heartfelt Any Day with You and The House That Lou Built, which was an NPR Best Book of the Year and received the Asian/Pacific American Library Association Honor Award in Children's Literature. (We highly recommend both!)
As with any author, establishing the ideal space and a daily schedule to put words to the page are essential but can be challenging, especially when you have two kids' online school schedules and homework to juggle while meeting book deadlines. Respicio spoke with Hunker from her San Rafael home, a 1955 Eichler, to share how she manages her many personal and professional responsibilities and the important role her prized writing nook plays in doing that gracefully.
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Hunker: Where is that space, or spot, in your home that is uniquely your own … where you feel you're most you? And what do you do there?
Mae Respicio: The design of the house is very open, so the only challenge is that in the pandemic it is such an open house, I could literally stand in a couple spots and see almost into every room — it's just not private. When you've got two kids and two grown-ups working and schooling from home, it's been impossible, at least for me. I'm the type of person who needs quiet in order to get through my work.
The room that means the most to me right now is this nook that I carved out for my writing space in February. This inexpensive desk I found online and I rigged up some cheapo storage boxes from Target that were like five dollars each and made my own standing desk.
Hunker: Why does this particular space have meaning for you?
MW: I feel like this has just been such a different sort of year, obviously. Before the pandemic, I had a real schedule. My kids would go to school and then I had my time throughout the day broken down into my freelance projects and my novel writing. So that was perfect, and it was very regimented. But it's been a free-for-all this year because my kids have needed so much guidance and help with the remote aspect of things that I've been either getting up really early or staying up really late to get through my work.
Finally, that's shifting but that's been the biggest challenge and part of why I created this little nook. I love it because it's right next to this window. It's got a lot of natural light throughout the day. It's literally just a corner, and it's the only place in the house that has no kid- or spouse-related stuff. It's completely mine and as small of a nook as it is, I will take it. To be able to find a space to come to and think and just be in my head for a little bit is really valuable right now.
Hunker: What are three things in your home that hold the most value to you? (Excluding people or creatures, because of course!)
MR: When I'm in my space, I appreciate having things that inspire me, and those are mainly things that are connected to certain memories or feelings or people. Writing can be hard so if I'm staring at a blank page, if I look up, I can see something that gives me joy or inspiration. I've got framed stories that my kids have written. One is the very first story that my son ever wrote: "One day there was a butt that survived." I like having my kids' words around since this is the space where I try to create words. There's a note from my editor from the first book that we worked on. And then there's a landscape my husband painted for me a long time ago when we first started dating. I'm very sentimental when it comes to things.
Hunker: What do you like to surround yourself with in this space? And why is it important?
MR: My writing nook is in what used to be our TV room, but we took out the TV and there's a communal table so now it's more of our "where we make stuff and read" room. These are all of our books, which we actually organized during the pandemic. They used to be all over the house, and it's felt really good to put our family's favorite books together. This room is also attached to the kitchen, and that's great too because if I need writing snacks, I just go get snacks.
My boys are always in and out, but creating this nook has been good because it set up boundaries. While I'm not in an office where the door is closed, they know that if Mom is standing at her desk and she's got her noise-cancelling headphones on, that means don't bother Mom unless somebody is bleeding or dying.
Hunker: What is something you like to do in that space that might surprise people?
MR: Honestly there is not, because I feel like I'm very intentional with that space. If I'm there, then I know I'm there to write, and it helps me hit my deadlines. I really need to stick to that because if I'm doing other things in my space, suddenly my mind is all over the place.
When I come to my writing space, usually really early in the morning, it's quiet. Sometimes it's still dark outside. I have my coffee and then I know that this is what I'm here to do. I'm here to write.
Hunker: Finish this sentence, "Home is where …"
MR: ...where I feel like I can be truly myself.