7 Reasons to Stop Reading This Now

windy_sydney: http://www.flickr.com/photos/windysydney/3367641925

No, don’t go hitting the unsubscribe buttons on your RSS readers. By “this” I mean my blog–and only for today. The seven reasons? Guest posts and reviews around the blogosphere that you don’t want to miss, all part of my The Knife and the Butterfly blog tour. So stop reading me here and go find me there!

2/03/12 –Interview (including… how Azael changed, life in Paris, Liam’s animals, and the current situation in Tucson) – ·The Happy Nappy Bookseller 

This is my favorite interview ever. Doret asks the best questions and gets me thinking about things in new ways–and talking politics.

2/04/12 – Capturing Reluctant Readers – Shelf Consumed

Finally! Leigh Ann of Shelf Consumed gives me a chance to do something with my boundless gratitude to librarians. I get to talk to them here.

2/06/12 – Interview (including… mini-Ash, advice to my teen self, and jonesing for Houston)G Reads!

Fun interview with a book blogger living in Houston. Find out all my secret food crushes.

2/07/12 – ·Influences and Inspirations (student notes, teaching trauma, and more)The Book Smugglers··**Giveaway**

See a page from my writer’s notebook on a VERY bad teaching day and learn about the stuff students left behind.

2/08/12 – Behind the Cover Art for TK&TB·-·Sarah Laurence’s Blog

Want to know how a book gets its cover? Check out this post for the inside scoop on TK&TB‘s cover art.

2/08/12 – Review of The Knife and the Butterfly·The Book Smugglers

Possibly my favorite review yet… Ana finds words for what I’m trying to do in the novel that I hadn’t yet found myself. 

2/09/12 – Interview (including… my magical notebook, research in my garage, and ugly baby/book comparisons -·The Book Muncher

Good times with spray paint and my defense of why a writer shouldn’t talk about a WIP too much.

So… there you have them: 7 reasons to click away from here today. But don’t stay away too long–I want to see you back!

I’ll be “traveling” the blogosphere with The Knife and the Butterfly blog tour until the end of February, then it’s back to regular programming.

Making Stereotypes Undo Themselves

Today I’m thrilled to be posting over at Actin’ Up With Books on making stereotypes undo themselves. Go check it out… or be damned to stereotype ignorance forever! Here’s the first bit of my post:

Let’s get one fact about The Knife and the Butterfly out of the way. My protagonist, Azael, is Hispanic. He’s also a gang member. And he’s been in jail.

I know what you’re thinking. How can somebody with the last name “Pérez” be ready to go along with a damaging stereotype like this?

Read the rest here. And watch for Joli’s review of The Knife and the Butterfly tomorrow.

TK&TB release day: gratitude and a new super power

Mad love to the Lerner designers who set me up with this lovely blog tour banner!

It’s official: The Knife and the Butterfly is OUT IN THE WORLD. Ask for it in your local bookstore, request it from your library, or order it online. If you read it and love it, consider these (mostly serious) suggestions for helping to get the word out about a book you love.

Today I’m trying out my divisibility suit, which allows me to be in three places at once. So I’m at YA Outside the Lines talking about the things Azael carries, I’m here at I Read Banned Books explaining how TK&TB was inspired by·the students I never got to teach, but I’m also right here at home, serving up the acknowledgments page of The Knife and the Butterfly in light of its release:

Much gratitude to the following professional rock stars: my agent, Steven Chudney; my editor, Andrew Karre; and Lindsay Matvick, Elizabeth Dingmann, and all the others at Lerner who work behind the scenes to make great books happen. I’m also grateful to the Blythe Woolston for blazing trails and sharing her wisdom.

A special thank you to the turn-around scholars of my freshman English summer school class at Davis High in Houston. I started finding Azael’s voice while we were writing together back in 2007, and you told me that you wanted to hear more of it. I’m glad you put me on the right track.

To my writing group, thanks for reading the manuscript (twice). To Alisa, thank you for the friendship that makes writing seem possible all over again every time we talk.

To my families from Kilgore, El Paso, Houston, Denver, and beyond, thank you for believing in my writing. Special thanks to my parents, who can find redemption anywhere and who support me in everything, and to my brother, Justin, who never, never leaves me in the lurch.

And most of all, thank you to my boys for all the days and nights you shared me with my writing. Arnulfo, thank you for reading and for listening. I still can’t believe my luck. Liam, thank you for your jokes, your laughter, and your besos. You two are the best part of my every day.

Thanks, everybody!

Azael’s Secrets & an excerpt from TK&TB

Welcome to Day 2 of the The Knife and the Butterfly blog tour! Today I’m over at Reading in Color, hosted by Ari. (Watch out, y’all, this gal is going places, starting with college next fall. She was the first to mention What Can’t Wait online, and I’ll never forget the jolt that gave me. Someone is talking about wanting to read my book!) I share the first chapter and a few reassuring words about stereotypes and their fate in the pages of The Knife and the Butterfly. For example…

In the first chapter, I wanted to throw down the gauntlet—no easing the reader into Azael’s world. But don’t worry: it’s not all gangs and violence. And in fact, if I let Azael’s bravado come on full force here—he definitely thinks he is one macho badass—it’s precisely so that the reader can see that stereotype undo itself in the rest of the novel.

Read the rest of the post here.

Ranting Like a Pro at FYA: Why TK&TB Doesn’t·Need a Glossary

Today is Day 1 of my blog tour for The Knife and the Butterfly. Yay! I’m over at Forever Young Adult with an excerpt, a quiz, and the snarky scoop on why The Knife and the Butterfly doesn’t need a glossary. Check out Erin of FYA’s gorgeous (and funny) review of The Knife and the Butterfly and comment for a chance to win your very own hardbound copy.

My favorite part from Erin’s introduction to the FYA post: 

I reviewed The Knife and the Butterfly on Friday (and if you haven’t read my review and commented, therefore entering yourself in a drawing to receive a free copy of the book, you are dumb. Go do that!), and I had to struggle not to turn the entire review into just a .gif of Lisa Frank unicorns bearing champ cans with Handel’s Messiah playing in the background and Paula Deen popping up to say, “JUST READ IT, Y’ALL!” because THAT IS HOW MUCH I LOVED THIS BOOK.

You know, I’m a sucker for affirmation. Here’s a bit from MY part of the post:

Whatever your level of Spanish, you really don’t need a glossary to read The Knife and the Butterfly. All you need is a big appetite for a story that will take you into dark places and show you a good dose of light, too.

Read the whole thing here.

Making the shy speak: Quiet characters


What IS she thinking?

I have a problem: one of the main characters of my new novel-in-progress is shy, quiet, tongue-tied. She’s also passionate, secretly sensual, and fiercely dedicated to what she cares about. But how do I get her to speak? What does it mean for narration when a character is quiet? Do I write in the third person? Or would that be like saying that, because she’s shy, Naomi can’t speak for herself?

You’d think I’d know what to do with Naomi since I am, myself, rather shy. It’s something that few people realize because I tend to project a bubbly personality–probably an overcompensation. Teaching, too, has helped me to be able to turn “on” even when I’d rather go hide behind a filing cabinet. But as this website all about shyness (and famous people who were shy) says, “Shyness is not who we are, but something we feel while we do the things we do.”

Okay, so Naomi doesn’t = shyness. But I believe she is–unlike me–the kind of shy person that other people recognize as shy. For the boy who’ll fall in love with her, that shyness is part of her mystique.

But what does the inner voice of a shy person sound like? If, for example, Naomi has trouble finding the words she needs to speak, does she nevertheless feel very strongly–inside–what she wants to say? How can I capture this contrast?

For my own confessions about overcoming shyness in the classroom, check out this post.

WHAT CAN’T WAIT made the ALA BFYA list!

Woohoo! Here’s What Can’t Wait on ALA’s 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list! The company at this party is just… stunning. 

WARNING: Blythe Woolston’s CATCH AND RELEASE will hook you

Author's website

… and not let you go until you see Polly and Odd down the road. I’ll tell you what I mean in a second. But first, a look at the book coming to the world. Editor Andrew Karre blogged a while back about how hard it was to write jacket copy for Catch and Release:

This is not an easy novel. As a parent and a mild hypochondriac, the text itself was a little terrifying to read. But as an editor and the one who writes the first draft of the flap copy, summarizing this book was enormously challenging. A first draft of flap began this way:

“Survival is a funny thing. Take Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—MRSA to its friends. Humans hurl antibiotics by gallon at Staphylococcus. But a few survive—the strong ones. And they move their stories on down the road.”

A third of the way into the flap copy, and the only character I’ve introduced is lethal bacteria strain with an unpronounceable name.

Lucky for readers everywhere, Andrew came up with something brilliant that showcases a gorgeous strength of this book: voice (more on that in a sec). Here’s the book description:

I should have died quick. But I didn’t. I’m a miracle of modern medicine, only the medicine doesn’t get much credit, I notice. People say I’m lucky, or I’m blessed, and then they turn away.

I’m not the only miracle. There’s Odd too.

Polly Furnas had The Plan for the future. Get married to Bridger Morgan, for one. College, career, babies. Etc. All the important choices were made.

It was all happily-ever-after as a diamond-ring commercial.

But The Plan did not include a lethal drug-resistant infection. It did not include “some more reconstruction and scar revision in the future.” And it certainly did not include Odd Estes, a trip to Portland in an ancient Cadillac to “tear Bridger a new one,” fly fishing, marshmallows, Crisco, or a loaded gun.

But plans change. Stories get revised and new choices must be made.

Polly and Odd have choices: Survival or not. Catch or release.

Those italicized parts? That’s Polly’s voice. Polly after. Polly who no longer has The Plan. She is raw, cynical, and stalled in a place that’s scary and looks very different with only one eye.

And because she’s been robbed of The Plan, she has also been freed from The Plan. Freed to think thoughts that would have been off limits to the Polly who was nice because she had to be, not because she wanted to be. Who had the boyfriend she thought she wanted to marry, but never thought too hard about.

For me, those thoughts were just delicious–pitch-perfect but also provocative. I love a character who teaches me something. And not just Big Thoughts. Crazy facts, which I believe are Blythe Woolston’s secret specialty.

But there’s more credit to spread around; it’s the trip with Odd (who is) that lets Polly discover the difference between being robbed and being freed. Odd needs tending, and the kind of tending that he needs opens up that place in Polly that can let her move her story down the road.

In case you were wondering, there’s not a romance that opens up between the two; it’s a book about the push and pull of unexpected friendship (and what happens when you put two very different people in a car for an extended period of time). BUT, for those of us who think about what might be down the road… Polly does think of him as her “beautiful Odd.” I think there are some more road trips in their future.

Gorgeous storytelling and incredible voice. Catch and Release is not to be missed. Order it now here, or ask for it anywhere after the official release date on Feb 1.

A poem you are required to love


One of the amazing things about poetry–and why it’s good for us fiction writers, too–is how it can be about language. (Some people I know would say that all poetry ever should be “about” is, in fact, language.) As in, the point of a poem is to get you thinking about the precision of words–but also the bleeding boundaries between them. Usually this is by the stress put on each word via the poem’s structure, but sometimes even chatty, narrative poems can dig into language.

I got to see Aracelis Girmay read this poem a few years ago at the Indiana University Writers Conference. She’s an incredibly dynamic reader, and I wish I could give you a piece of that memory. You have to imagine a lot of quizzical expressions for the first half of the poem and an accelerating exuberance in the last bit.

Also: you are required to love the poem. Otherwise, I don’t want to hear from you.

For Estefani Lora, Third Grade, Who Made Me A Card

by Aracelis Girmay

for Estefani Lora, PS 132, Washington Heights


Elephant on an orange line, underneath a yellow


meaning sun.

6 green, vertical lines, with color all from

the top

meaning flowers.


The first time I peel back the 5 squares of

Scotch tape,

unfold the crooked-crease fold of art class


I am in my living room.

It is June.

Inside of the card, there is one long word,

& then

Estefani’s name:


Estefani Lora




Loisfoeribari: The scientific, Latinate way

of saying hibiscus.


Loisfoeribari: A direction, as in: Are you


North? South? East? West? Loisfoeribari?


I try, over & over, to read the word out


Loisfoeribari. LoISFOeribari.

LoiSFOEribari. LoisFOERibARI.


What is this word?

I imagine using it in sentences like,

“Man, I have to go back to the house,

I forgot my Loisfoeribari.”


“There’s nothing better than rain, hot


open windows with music, & a tall glass

of Loisfoeribari.”


“How are we getting to Pittsburgh?

Should we drive or take the Loisfoeribari?”


I have lived 4 minutes with this word not


what it means.


It is the end of the year. I consider writing

my student,

Estefani Lora, a letter that goes:

To The BRILLIANT Estefani Lora!

Hola, querida, I hope that you are well.


just opened the card that

you made me, and it is beautiful.


really love the way you filled the sky with

birds. I believe that

you are chula,

chulita, and super fly! Yes, the card

is beautiful.

I only have one question

for you. What does the word




I try the word again.





I try the word in Spanish.




& then, slowly,

Lo is fo e ri bari

Lo is fo eribari


love is for everybody

love is for every every body love

love love everybody love

everybody love love

is love everybody

everybody is love

love love for love

for everybody

for love is everybody

love is forevery

love is forevery body

love love love for body

love body body is love

love is body every body is love

is every love

for every love is love

for love everybody love love

love love for everybody


Aracelis Girmay is a poet and writing teacher living in New York City, This poem is from TEETH, Curbstone Press (www.curbstone.org). 

Ilsa Bick’s DROWNING INSTINCT: Killer plot, serious stuff

Carolrhoda Lab

Drowning Instinct by Ilsa Bick takes hold of you and doesn’t let you go until the very last page. I’m proof: I read it in two sittings. Even knowing that Liam would be up at 7:00, I stayed up till 3:00 in the morning to finish it. Here’s the description, courtesy of NetGalley.com:

There are stories where the girl gets her prince, and they live happily ever after. (This is not one of those stories.)

Jenna Lord’s first sixteen years were not exactly a fairytale. Her father is a controlling psycho and her mother is a drunk. She used to count on her older brother—until he shipped off to Iraq. And then, of course, there was the time she almost died in a fire.

There are stories where the monster gets the girl, and we all shed tears for his innocent victim. (This is not one of those stories either.)

Mitch Anderson is many things: A dedicated teacher and coach. A caring husband. A man with a certain…magnetism.

And there are stories where it’s hard to be sure who’s a prince and who’s a monster, who is a victim and who should live happily ever after. (These are the most interesting stories of all.)

Drowning Instinct is a novel of pain, deception, desperation, and love against the odds—and the rules.

Where to begin?{snippet blogbreak} As an author, I stand in awe of the number of plot threads Bick weaves masterfully together here. As a reader, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. And the writing–it’s good. Really good. This book works on so many different levels. It’s hard to know how to talk about it without spoiling things. So let me tell you about a few things I loved:

The conceit: Jenna Lord is telling her story aloud into a hand-held recorder given to her by a police detective who has asked her for the truth about what happened. She’s in a hospital emergency room. There’s been an accident; she doesn’t know if she’s in trouble or if she’s the victim. And by the time she finishes the story–when we have all the pieces–we still don’t know, exactly. But in a good way.

The nuances: As you can tell from the description, there’s a teacher-student involvement in this novel. As a former high-school teacher, usually I steer way, way clear from these stories because they just piss me off. And at first, I wanted to shout at Mitch Anderson, “Never, ever, EVER have a student over to your house alone. Do NOT let her shower in your bathroom. Do NOT cook her breakfast.” But gradually we come to see him in his shortcomings and his needs, to understand his motivations, however flawed. Also Bick deals with cutting, grief, sexual abuse, and lots of other serious stuff with subtlty and wisdom. 

The voice: Jenna Lord reminds me of the girl from Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. Maybe it’s the similarity of the conceit, the simultaneous closeness to the listener (Jenna addresses the detective directly from time to time) and distance from events since they’re being narrated after the fact). But at any rate, Jenna is smart, self-aware, and astute. The language of the book is just right for her.

The suspense: There was so much of it. Seriously. I had a list of questions about a mile long and it felt urgent to find out how everything could come together. Bick parcels out some of the secrets partway through, but there are always more brewing…

This book is one you don’t want to miss. The official release date for Drowning Instinct is February 1, 2012.

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All materials © 2023 Ashley Hope Pérez. Author website by Websy Daisy.