Let's all give a warm welcome to the lovely Ashley Pérez, who is here with us today to talk about herself, her writing, and, of course, her new book What Can't Wait!
What is your favorite word and why?
This is a toss-up between “yes” and “hope.” Both are important to my worldview, which is very much about gratitude as well as living in the now while working for tomorrow. But I guess “hope” wins out because it’s my middle name and helped me get a full scholarship to college. The scholarship coordinator loved that my email address was “highhope84,” and I think she went to bat for me even though there were other students whose résumés were more impressive.
We all have our weaknesses. What is your addiction/obsession/guilty-pleasure?
Ashley’s Obsession = baking. Seriously, when I was in high school in college, I baked almost every night and then gave the cookies away. (The result was the unfortunate nickname, “Cookie Girl.”)
This is a problem because I am constantly striving to make food choices that will ensure that I’ll be around for many years, and cookies are not exactly a longevity-inducing food. Also, I don’t want my son to be obsessed with sweets like I am. So I try to keep it in check.
How does your everyday environment influence who you are?
I try to surround myself with things that remind me of who I want to be. For example, I have a personal mission statement (Be patient. Be peaceful. Be persistent.) up over my desk. [Read my blog post on my mission statement here: http://www.ashleyperez.com/blog/item/48-personal-mission-statement-be-peaceful-be-patient-be-persistent]
Also, weather has a big impact on me. I love the long summer days in Indiana because I feel like I can get so much done and have tons of energy. Winter is a long slog where I keep myself going with lots of tea and dreams of sitting out under the tree in our backyard with our little boy, Liam Miguel.
What is the strangest thing you have ever done? (Please keep this appropriate!)
This takes us back to question one. I got a tattoo with the word “Yes.” This is on my hip so that I can slap it as needed to remind myself to live in the present and be grateful for every single minute of this one life I’ve got.
If you had a t-shirt that could say anything (as in printed on it, sorry, no talking clothes here!), what would it say?
“Buy What Can’t Wait.” And—because this is all make-believe anyway—the t-shirt would also have super powers of influence so that, like the pied piper, I would lead hordes of people to my local bookstore to fulfill their mission. (Cue evil laughter here.)
the guest blog:
Audience is key to my writing. In fact, I got started writing YA because there was an audience that I cared about—my high school students in Houston. I wanted to see more books that would matter to them on the shelves. (I wrote about diversity on the shelves in a guest post for Diversity in YA here: http://www.diversityinya.com/2011/03/ashley-perez-on-what-cant-wait/)
My students told me about the book they wanted to read; I tried to write it.
But the power of audience goes deeper than just motivating me to begin or even determining the world my characters move in. Ages ago one of my favorite professors, John Trimble, told me to imagine a sympathetic reader, a reader who’d really care about my ideas, and to write for him or her. That advice has paid off big time, and I continue to cling to it. I’ve modified it for myself, though, and I often imagine my job as giving a teen reader a reason to care and to want to read.
As I was writing (and rewriting and rewriting) What Can’t Wait, I did so with specific human beings in mind. Often, these were the students who were hardest to hook into reading. I’d ask myself, “What would make Jonathan Guevara turn the page here? What would get Anthony Michel to stick with me? What would Diana Alvarez think of this scene? How would that last line hit her?”
Imagining the responses of real readers helps me to make decisions. This is a blessing because I am a supremely indecisive person. It also helps me to shut up the critical voices in my head. When my internal editor says things like, “Nobody’s going to want to read this,” I answer back, “Yeah-huh! Alejandra Quijada sooo wants to read it.”
I wrote my second novel, The Knife and the Butterfly (out in 2012), for a group of summer school students who were captivated by a series of articles about a deadly gang fight in Houston. My current project is still top-secret, but I will say that I think about it as the historical novel my Houston students would want to read.
A final word about my audience: I write for teens because of the teens that changed my life—my students. I respect them, so I figure my best writing ought to be for them. I wish for every writer to find an audience as awesome as mine.
P.S. I write with my Houston students in mind, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the only readers who matter to me! I love all my readers—far and near, young and old, Latino or otherwise. It just helps me to visualize a concrete audience. Because I can’t please everybody, I focus on what “my” kids would connect to. So far it seems that What Can’t Wait is finding new audiences for itself.
Thanks so much Ashley for taking the time to grace us with your presence! I, for one, certainly enjoyed having you here at The Book Muncher.
And don't forget to visit Ashley online at: http://www.ashleyperez.com/.