Authors Will Taylor and Mae Respicio had fairly different childhoods.
Taylor grew up reading any and all fantasy books in the Seattle area, with his extended family thousands of miles away.
Respicio was raised in California’s Central Valley, with members of her extended Filipino-American family right next door, spending recess writing plays for her friends to perform.
But they share one common memory from their childhoods: The love of constructing small shelters, all their own.
Now, decades later, both have published their first middle-grade novels, and wove that theme into the fabric of their stories, recognizing just how universal the need to build forts and hidden hideaways can be for children.
For Taylor, who wrote Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort (find a previous review here), the theme appears by way of the two 11-year-old best friends constructing their own magical forts that have the power to link up to other forts across the world.
The Seattle resident says the idea came to him in 2013 while he was working at a coffee-roasting company and had just finished reading a series of sci-fi novels where people’s homes have rooms on multiple planets. He says he remembers thinking about the kind of fun kids could have in that world, then immediately pictured a small pillow fort he’d constructed in the summer before fifth grade.
“I pictured going in, pulling aside a pillow and crawling through to someone else’s,” Taylor says. “It was like a real light coming down from the sky, kind of like, this is what you’re about to do.”
Respicio, who wrote The House That Lou Built, says she also remembers creating all different types of forts as a child, and has vivid memories of getting to build a shelter among California’s redwoods during sixth-grade camp.
“I was a kid who was always trying to make my own space and trying to figure out what was mine amidst a big family and lots of things happening,” she says.
But it was the work she did with her husband to fix up their first house, then research she conducted on tiny homes, that helped her write this book. It features a 12-year-old girl, who with the help of her friends works to build a tiny home on the land left to her by her deceased father.
While Taylor and Respicio have yet to meet in person, after being included on the same email with a few other debut authors in 2017, they’ve been social media friends and devoted fans of each other’s work ever since.
They also both quickly recognized the common themes in their writing, and just how connected each of their stories are to their own childhoods and life experiences.
“I really do think that it’s hard to separate yourself from your art,” says Respicio. “Every lens we’ve had since we were in childhood, every experience comes through in what we’re writing, whether we want it to or not.”