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While other students are heading to Cancun or home for some much needed relaxation, one Penn English major will be traveling on an all-expenses paid trip to work on her novel in a seaside cottage.

College senior Maya Afilalo has won the Clearman Cottage Writer's Residency, with which she will be spending an expenses-paid week to work on her thesis at the guest cottage of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and 1976 College graduate Buzz Bissinger and his wife Lisa Smith in Washington State. Here she will have uninterrupted writing time and space with a view of an idyllic bay. The Daily Pennsylvanian asked her a few questions about her novel and nontraditional spring break plans:

Daily Pennsylvanian: What are you writing about?

Maya Afilalo: For my creative thesis, I am writing the first part of a novel. I am really interested in stories about families, so mine is about this brother and sister. It starts with their mom passing away and is about the dynamic of the family and how it develops. The dad is dealing with alcoholism, and the brother starts taking care of the sisters.

DP: What got you interested in writing about families?

MA: I think I just found that to be the most compelling thing to read about or to watch a show about for myself. I think a lot of TV is about family in one way or another. And I guess part of what I am trying to write about is not just the blood ties that they have but sort of those de facto familial relationships that the characters create with people they know.

DP: When did you start writing?

MA: I was actually originally a psych major, and by the end of my sophomore year I had taken six psych classes and needed seven more to finish the major, but I was like, I don’t really want to do any of these classes. So I took Irish literature with Jed Esty — and it made me want to be an English major.

DP: What works have inspired your writing?

MA: I was really inspired by the book "The Brothers K" by David James Duncan. What I really admire is the theme of baseball. You can just tell that the author knows so much about baseball. I’m not super into baseball, but I was still drawn in and engaged with all the parts of baseball. And something that I am trying to do in my own story — I have been trying to weave and reference recent history of women’s soccer.

DP: What got you into soccer?

MA: The summer before my senior year of high school was the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and I think what appealed to me was the players start to feel like real people. Watching 90-second Youtube bios was when I got my idea for my story.

DP: Are you happy or sad to be graduating?

MA: It doesn’t feel good to be clinging onto something that is going to be ending soon, so I am just trying to appreciate the time that’s left and look forward to life after college.

DP: If you could bring one person with you to a desert island, who would it be?

MA: My roommates. I can live with them in a high rise box. I can live with them anywhere.

DP: What is one thing that people don’t know about you that you wish they knew about you?

MA: Well, I feel like this is my party trick, but I feel like I don’t get enough chances to do it. It’s that I can take my socks off with my toes and get them in a ball, like you know when you’re younger and you bunt pair your socks and roll them into a ball? I can do that, except with my feet.

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