Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Interview: Ashley Hope Perez author of What Can't Wait

Ashley Hope Perez is the author of 2011 debut novel What Can't Wait. It the story of a girl who is about to graduate high school and is trying to decide what is best for her future - continuing down the path that her family expects her to or finding out what she wants for herself.
 A few weeks ago, I read and reviewed What Can't Wait here at Actin' Up with books. If you missed it, you can find it here.

I wanted to know more about Ashley and her motivation for writing (and reading) and she was kind enough to agree to an interview. I had a ton of questions.

Welcome Ashley!

About your book:
   * What was your inspiration for What Can't Wait?
My students in Houston! I tried to write the book they wanted to read but couldn’t find. They shared stories with me that shaped the world I created for Marisa. They were also the very first to read drafts of the novel and give me their comments. For all these reasons, the book is dedicated to my students.

   * One of my favorite things about What Can't Wait is the family dynamic and how it affects the decisions that Marisa makes. In a lot of recent young adult literature, family takes a backseat to the story (at least in the books I've read) Why was it important for you to write a story where the family is also a main character?
This is a fantastic question. The “easy” answer is that for Marisa, family is such a big part of her life—and its challenges—that it simply must be part of the story. Also, I had some hard experiences in my family life (illnesses and more private disasters) while I was in high school, and I remember feeling that there was no way I could talk about them with anyone. I think there’s some of that for Marisa—a feeling that her home life is different from everyone else’s. 

   *  Marisa's sister definitely has her own story to tell. Have you considered writing a book about her?
I haven’t, but I do know a lot more about Ceci than what ended up in the book. I do a lot of character discovery exercises before I start “really” writing, and I have pages on Ceci. So that’s definitely a starting point! I think, though, I’d be more likely to write a sequel that follows Marisa into life after high school.

   * I think that What Can't Wait is a book that for teens as well as adults (their parents). As you were writing, was this something that you considered or hoped to achieve?
I consider myself a writer for teens first and foremost, but I think What Can’t Wait would be an amazing starting place for many important conversations between teens and their parents. I would love to see the novel in a mom-daughter book club, for example. 

On writing:
   * Have you always been a writer? Did you keep a journal or write stories or poetry when you were younger?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I’ve always loved writing. If anything, I’ve become a little more peaceful about the process. In high school, I would stay up all night for several days in advance of turning in a paper or story. I used to worry that every piece of writing was going to be my last, that somehow I would never be able to pull it off again. 

   * What is your favorite writing environment?
I like a quiet place, a good notebook, a good pen, and my laptop. Because I often grab my writing time wherever I can get it, I try not to be too picky about other things. Mainly I try to position myself so that interruptions are at a minimum. I turn off my phone when I can and disable the Internet on my computer.

   * Do you save everything that you have written? Or do you delete/trash anything that you consider unusable? (I ask this because sometimes I think my writing is so horrendous that I don't want any evidence that it even existed and I trash it.)
I almost never throw anything away. On the one hand, I never want to lose something I might be able to use. On the other, crappy first efforts are reassuring in that—when they turn into something readable—they’re proof that we don’t have to get things right the first time. I know what you mean, though, about the sudden shame that rereading an early draft or failed effort can bring. I nearly got a stomachache when I reread the first pages of what is now What Can’t Wait.

Random questions about books:
   * I read in another interview that you hope that What Can't Wait is a "gateway" book for readers to discover what books they like to read. What was your "gateway" book?
I think it was Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. This is no longer a favorite book for me, but at the time, I was amazed and entranced. I think it was the first book I read as a writer, and I copied out sentences from it to see what it would feel like to have written them.

   * Do you have any comfort reads? - a go-to book that you read because it will make you feel better or is filled with characters that you loved or want to revisit?
Oh, of course! One is kind of obscure: William Goyen’s The House of Breath, which is a lyrical novel that was the first to make me feel that my birthplace (East Texas) might be a source of beauty in literature. I also love The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which is a heartbreaking novel that spirals around a disaster. My favorite non-fiction book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is by Annie Dillard. One passage from “The Present” actually inspired my one and only tattoo... you can read more about it on my blog here:

   * Searching for new books to read is a small part of my love for books. What are some determining factors when you are selecting new books to read?
I love to read the New York Times Book Review, although I’m on a temporary diet from buying new books until I finish my PhD exams in May. When I am choosing books, I read the first page as well as a random passage. I also love swapping recommendations with friends and online on goodreads and facebook. 

Some of my favorite YA authors are Matt de la Peña, Jenny Downham, Sherman ALexie, and Markus Zusak (I love The Book Thief). I’m looking forward to reading fellow Carolrhoda Lab author Blythe Woolston’s The Freak Observer and Julia Karr’s XVI.

   * As an English major, I would think it would be safe to assume you read a lot of books for school (and for pleasure). But is there one book or author that you wish you would have read and can't believe that you haven't yet? (Mine is Jane Austen)
I can completely relate! I actually had a very untraditional mix of classes for my English degree, and so it wasn’t until graduate school that I read some of the great books of the English tradition like Tristam Shandy, Clarissa, Great Expectations, and Wuthering Heights. I actually read Joyce’s Ulysses for the first time just two weeks ago. 

I can’t believe it took me so long to read Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, which I thought was wonderfully witty. 

My trick for getting to classic works I’ve been putting off is to listen to them on audio book. Give it a try with Austen! I bet her dialogue is fantastic to listen to.

   * Can you tell me about your latest novel or any works in-progress?
Well, my second novel is currently under revision, but it will be out in 2012, also with Carolrhoda Lab. The Knife and the Butterfly follows two teens through the aftermath of a deadly gang fight in a Houston park. There’s Lexi, a troubled girl from a working class background who hangs with a street gang for protection. And there’s Azael, a romantic drifter essentially orphaned by his mom’s death and his father’s deportation to El Salvador. The truth of what happens eventually draws them together in a surprising yet powerful way.

I have an idea for a third novel and have been doing some research for it, but I’m very superstitious about discussing ideas when I haven’t started writing yet, so that will have to wait! 

Thanks so much for the interview, Joli. It was a blast to talk shop with you! Readers who’d like to read more of my thoughts on reading, writing, and living can check out my blog:

 What Can't Wait is the debut novel of Ashley Hope Perez and has a publication date of March 1, 2011 (but Ashley says it's available now!).

Carolrhoda Lab
Barnes and Noble


  1. This is a great interview! I especially like her line: "On the other, crappy first efforts are reassuring in that—when they turn into something readable—they’re proof that we don’t have to get things right the first time."

    Yay for crappy first drafts! =)

    Thanks for sharing the interview. I look forward to reading What Can't Wait!

    Quitting My Day Job

  2. Big thanks to Joli for her AMAZING questions. Loved 'em. To Erin: glad you liked the interview! BTW, since you've quit your day job and are working at writing full-time, I thought I'd share what my favorite writing workshop leader Karen Joy Fowler said when asked, "What do you think makes a writer successful?" She said something along these lines: what matters most is (1) actually showing up to do the work and (2) finishing pieces. She said she felt there were better writers in her critique group who never published because they couldn't make themselves work a project through to the end.

    For me, that first draft, however crappy, is the key that opens the door into the labyrinth of finishing. It doesn't mean you'll get to the end quickly, but it's a way in.

  3. I'm reading What Can't Wait now and had to learn more about the Ashley because she is a remarkable debut author.

    Mary L.


Thanks for stopping by my blog and taking the time to comment!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Imagination Designs