Author of the new young adult release, The Knife and the Butterfly, has stopped by the blog today to answer a few personal questions about writing, her latest book, being a fellow Houstonian, & other bits of randomness from me! Please welcome Ashley Hope Perez to GReads!
What is your background in writing? Is this something you’ve always wanted to pursue?
I’ve always been a writer. Not in that I-wrote-a-novel-when-I-was-three way that you hear some authors talk about (and I’m sure is true for them), but in the sense that I always paid attention to words and weighed their power. I had people along the way tell me that I was a “good writer.” That started meaning something to me when I was in an excellent college and was surrounded by good writers.
I wonder if—without my students to call on me to write YA—I ever would have written or published a novel. Whereas I would have choked and before the vast indistinctness of an adult audience, I felt incredibly freed by the concreteness of my audience. Because I was never just writing for “teens”; I was writing for my kids. I could see them in my classroom. Bonus: the words felt more relevant that way, not just a personal indulgence.
So a love of language led me to a degree in English (and quite a bit of creative writing along the way), which led me to teaching, which led me to professional writing.
Where did you get the inspiration for the story The Knife & the Butterfly?
Two main sources: the news and my never-satiated curiosity.
The Houston Chronicle ran a series back in 2006 about a deadly gang fight in the Montrose area. The fight scene from the first chapter was inspired by the details of the real event, although many of the similarities in the stories end there.
When I read the Chronicle articles, I discovered that the girl and the boy involved in the actual event had troubled relationships with school. The inspiration for Lexi was going to summer school at the time of the fight because she had flunked several classes. She was also one of those students who transferred in and out of schools often and thus never got very connected to her teachers. The boy who inspired Azael was a straight-up dropout.
Which brings me to the second inspiration… my nosiness. As curious as I always was about my students’ lives, I also wondered a lot about the students who (a) disappeared suddenly and often without explanation, untraceable by phone number and otherwise unplaceable, and (b) the students who dropped out too soon to get inspired by my senior English class. One of the things that hooked me into the story of The Knife and the Butterfly was my desire to get inside and understand these two kids on the fringe—how they slipped out of the system as well as what happened after.
How has becoming a published author changed your life professionally?
Well… it means that there’s a lot more that I have to worry about besides my “art.”I didn’t consider that, actually, until about 6 months before What Can’t Wait came out. I’d just had a baby, and my editor kind of had to give me the “come to Jesus” talk about publicity, an online presence, and the like. I love blogging and find it to be a pleasant change of pace from other projects. I usually keep it going by having lots of seeds of posts that I grow when I have a half-hour block of time. And then there’s twitter, which I am learning to use—and limit. But it is so addictive!
School visits are another facet of life as a published YA author. I love doing them, but I’m a perfectionist, so I always spend too much time tailoring a presentation to the exact group I’m working with. Also, I am now part of a network of YA writers, and I work hard to know their books and to talk them up.
I have another almost completely separate professional life in academia as a PhD student in comparative literature. Sometimes I feel that I’m a closet novelist working on a PhD, and sometimes I feel like a closet PhD candidate in a kidlit world.
If you were able to go back & give your teenage self advice, what would you tell her?
To worry a little less about being nice and a little more about being real. Speaking of, I’ll be posting a letter on DearTeenMe.com on February 27—get more juice about my teen self than you could ever want!
What do you miss most about our wonderful city of Houston, TX?
First, my students (who are all grown and don’t need me anyway); second, the food! My list of favorite Houston restaurants is about a mile long, so I’ll limit myself to the Heights area: Cavatore’s (which shows up in What Can’t Wait), Onion Creek (I wrote a lot of What Can’t Wait there), and Spanish Flowers. Plus the 10-pound chocolate cake at 10th Street Cafe. (For the record: it really will make you gain ten pounds if you eat it every week.) All this food talk has reminded me of my other love in Houston, which I developed to compensate for all the food: Memorial Park. My husband took me on run-walk dates, and I later ran many a lap around Memorial training for the 2007 Houston marathon with one of my best friends (yes, we finished the marathon).
What kinds of stories are you planning (or hoping) to write next?
I’ve actually been working on novel #3 for a little over a year now. It’s set in 1930s East Texas, and it involves an interracial romance, an explosion, a tree, twins, and a body of water. That’s all I can say without messing with some pretty hardcore writer superstitions I have. But I hope that it will be so awesome nobody will think of touching it with a label as boring-sounding as “historical fiction.”
Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Ginger!
My pleasure! It's always interesting to interview authors who are from the same hometown as you are. I love being able to connect with a book on that level, as well.
The Knife and the Butterfly is now available in bookstores, and online. Grab your copy today!
The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Perez
Published: Feb. 1, 2012 by Carolrhoda Books
Azael Arevalo wishes he could remember how the fight ended. He knows his MS13 boys faced off with some punks from Crazy Crew. He can picture the bats, the bricks, the chains. A knife. But he can’t remember anything between that moment and when he woke behind bars. Azael knows jails, and something isn’t right about this lockup. No phone call. No lawyer. No news about his brother or his homies. The only thing they make him do is watch some white girl in some cell. Watch her and try to remember.
Lexi Allen would love to forget the fight, would love for it to disappear back into the Xanax fog it came from. And her mother and her lawyer hope she chooses not to remember too much about the brawl—at least when it’s time to testify. Lexi knows that there’s more at stake in her trial than her life alone, though. Azael needs the truth. The knife cut, but somehow it also connected.
Visit Ashley’s blog, follow her on twitter @ashleyhopeperez, or find her on facebook.
Follow the book tour schedule to discover more about Ashley & her book: http://www.ashleyperez.com/blo