On Sex (part 2): teens are (sexual) people, too

By kyz: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyz/2893897527

What I’m about to say is going to make some people uncomfortable, so I might as well get it over with: teenagers are sexual beings.

Now, I’m not saying that teenagers are ready to have sex or should have sex. But they think about sex. They have bodies that matter, thoughts that they must process, experiences in themselves that cannot be denied. 

Teenagers have sex. Teenagers have friends who have sex. Teenagers think about sex. Teenagers are sexual beings.

In my second novel, The Knife and the Butterfly, the two most prominent characters are sexually active. In one scene, Azael masturbates. He also has some pretty troubling thoughts about women in general, although he does evolve and we come to see that a lot of this is bravado. Lexi uses sex to cover her insecurities but doesn’t enjoy it. They are a lot like many teens. They are a lot like many people. Oh yeah, teens are people. 

My first novel, What Can’t Wait, doesn’t trivialize sex, but it also doesn’t pretend that sex isn’t there. Even for characters like Marisa and Alan who never actually “go all the way,” sex is powerfully present. Marisa is almost raped and has to deal–not only with the feelings of violation–but with the anxiety that her reaction (“I feel violated”) doesn’t match up to the situation (“he didn’t actually rape me”). In recognition of sexual assault awareness month, I’d like to point out that a person needn’t be “fully” raped to have been assaulted and to have lots to work through in order to heal.

To me, writing about sex is just like writing about any other part of life. To omit it would be to do violence to the real experiences of real people.

Here’s a video that reminds why sex (and respectful and safe sex) matters for all of us:



Help a book you love: (mostly) serious book promotion ideas


Photo by twilsie

This post is for all my loved ones who’ve asked, “What can I do to help spread the word about What Can’t Wait?” So from here on out, I will assume that (a) you’ve read What Can’t Wait (yay!), and (b) you are so excited about it that you want to know other things you can do to help promote it and get it into the hands of readers.

Here are a few ideas you can put into action for free:

(1) Ask your public library to purchase the book. Many libraries have patron-directed purchasing, which means that they will generally buy an item that a user requests if they don’t already have it. Here’s an example of a library purchase request form.

(2) Request the book from your library. Your library has the book. Yay! Now, even though you own it, request it! Some libraries have a hold system and have a formula for purchasing additional copies of the book. For example, if a book has eight holds, they will purchase a second copy.

(3) Ask about the book at the bookstores in your area (or whenever you visit other cities). You can do this by calling or—even better—by talking to a real, live employee. If the store doesn’t have the book, you can tell them that it’s worth checking out. You might mention the reviews in Kirkus, Booklist, or VOYA (read ’em all in one place on my publisher’s page here).

(4) Link to the author’s amazing (ahem) website or blog from twitter, facebook, or your own website.

(5) Review the book on amazon.com, goodreads.com, shelfari.com, or other sites for readers.

(6) Know teachers? Tell them about the book.*

(7) Know teens? Tell them about the book.*

(8) Have a grandma? Tell her about the book.*

*The extra-motivated and financially endowed can substitute “buy” for “tell them about.”

Your dedicated author friend is sure to appreciate the help.

Heywood Banks and “Yeah, toast!”


By D’Arcy Norman

For Arnulfo’s birthday, we went to see Heywood Banks at a comedy club. He was quite funny in a goofy, self-deprecating way. The show was completely clean (I didn’t realize I’d bought tickets to a “family friendly” show), which amazed me since we’ve been to many comedy club acts that were hilarious but also full of sexual humor and lots of profanity.

The whole time we were there, a girl–probably ten years old–kept turning to her dad after each joke and asking him, “why is everybody laughing?” This reminded me how much humor has to do with audience… like the fact that Banks wasn’t cussing didn’t necessarily mean that his humor would hit the right nerve with younger kids.

This is something that I can observe but have no aspirations to “tailor” humor for any audience, short of the ridiculous faces and noises I make to entertain Liam. In fact, when it comes to my writing (and real life, come to think of it), I pretty much never try to be funny. Humor is effort-ful for me which somehow undoes its possibility of being effective with a listener. Being funny: right up there with being able to sing. Hey, a gal can’t have it all.

But Heywood Banks is funny AND he sings. Click below for his signature “Yeah, TOAST!” routine. By the way, after our show, these five teenagers pulled pieces of actual toasted bread out of their bags to have a photo opp with Banks. That’s fame!


On Sex (part 1): “This House I Cannot Leave”

Hayley Bouchard: http://www.flickr.com/photos/questa/193855314

It turns out that April is both poetry appreciation month and sexual assault awareness month. This conjunction made me think of a Barbara Kingsolver poem that maps reflections about sexual assault onto a description of the aftermath of a burglary. Forget my preliminaries… just read the poem:


This House I Cannot Leave

By Barbara Kingsolver


My friend describes the burglar:

how he touched her clothes, passed through rooms

leaving himself there,

                                             staining the space

between walls, a thing she can see.


She doesn’t care what he took, only

that he has driven her out, she can’t

stay in this house

she loved, scraped the colors of four families

from the walls and painted with her own

and planted things.

She is leaving fruit trees behind.


She will sell, get out, maybe

another neighborhood.


                                                  People say

Get over it. The market isn’t good. They advise

that she think about cash to mortgage

and the fruit trees


but the trees have stopped growing for her.


I offer no advice.

I tell her I know, she will leave. I am thinking

Of the man who broke and entered




         Of the years it took to be home again

in this house I cannot leave.


Just want to say two things. (1) Sexual assault happens (and has happened) to many, many more people than we realize: mothers, sisters, lovers, brothers, friends, children. (2) Healing also happens. Slowly, as Kingsolver indicates in those last lines. Because the healing has to happen at the scene of the crime: in our violated selves.

Ashley’s on Figment.com (guest post)

Hey, check out my guest post for the stellar writing exchange website, figment.com. Once you get turned onto this site, you might not be able to get away. I have a serious crush on it.

First draft? Tayari says to eat the marshmallows first

Photo by Nettsu: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nettsu/4614485705

If you haven’t been over to Tayari Jones’s blog, you’re missing out. I haven’t gotten to read her novels yet, although they’re on my read-after-PhD-exams list. But it seems like just about every time I stop by her blog, I come across a piece of writing advice that crystalizes something key about the process.

For example, she has a great post on giving yourself permission to begin writing wherever you feel the action is, skipping right to the good parts without feeling like you have to start at the beginning (either chronologically or in terms of what you think will go at the opening of the work). Here’s some of what she says:

[My student] gave me the idea that he wanted to get to the “good” parts—when the story heated up, but he had to get himself there, and this was the problem. I advised him to just write the parts he wanted to write. The metaphor was that his life was like a box of Lucky Charms cereal. He was being a good boy and eating everything in his bowl, writing down everything that happened. But to capture the full emotional intensity of his experience on the page, he needed to just pluck out the marshmallows, and leave the flakes behind.

By this I meant that he should write only the good parts, the irresistible moments—the marshmallows. Once he is done with those, we will organize it into a shapely draft.

Smart lady! Read the whole post here. One thing Tayari doesn’t mention is that if we insist on plodding through from beginning to end instead of honoring our instincts about where the real excitement is, we often end up generating a lot of flat material that’s going to get cut in the revision process anyway.

So go eat some marshmallows!

Tax Day: Laugh It Off


So today is tax day. You’re stressed out because you’re still trying to get them done and H&R Block’s online tax friend keeps crashing on you. Or you’ve sent them in–along with all that money you didn’t know you owed the IRS. Even if you got money back, the stress of others is contagious, so you need to laugh. And possibly feel that someone has it worse. Like the guy who has to put a sign on his door to keep the neighbor’s dog poop away. That sucks.

How to Suck at Facebook (by Oatmeal.com) — I laughed out loud (literally) repeatedly. Warning: you may recognize yourself or someone you love here.

Misery Bear’s Day Off — the BBC brings you a precious teddy bear whose life (always) sucks. He makes a really cute sound before puking after too much Jack Daniels.

The Book of Biff on “milk straight from the container” — As a nursing mom, you’d better believe I picture someone other than a dairy cow inside this barn–I think this dude totally just accosted a lady breastfeeding her little farmboy baby in there. 🙂

If you’re still feeling cranky, at least you didn’t just wash your husband’s iTouch with the sheets like I did. How’s that for a thank you for his hard work filing the taxes?

KidLit 4 Japan auction: books for a good cause

While we go about our business, life is still very broken for many in Japan. The Kidlit4Japan auction is the product of many authors teaming up to offer signed books and services for auction to raise money (UNICEF receives all proceeds).* Tomorrow is the last day for the remaining items in the auction, so you should swing by the site and see what awesome goodies are available. You get cool stuff, Japan gets aid $$. Good deal.

FYI, signed copies of What Can’t Wait at auction #116.

*Mad kudos to Greg R. Fishbone and other rockstars behind Kid Lit 4 Japan.

Of diapers, doors, and more: trying to live kindly

moonjazz: http://www.flickr.com/photos/moonjazz/1154370504/

too bad we’re not more like this little lamb: soft, sweet, and no harm to anyone.

I do certain things hoping that they will make the world a little better, or at least… less bad. But I also worry a lot. For example: if it takes a lot of water for me to wash a peanut butter jar before recycling it, does that counteract the benefit of recycling? If I give money to someone on the street, what if they’re using it to buy drugs?

To borrow the title of a lovely blog about these kinds of questions, I often find myself in a state of conscientious confusion. I’m trying not to get so confused that my conscience is disabled, but also not to forget how complicated important issues can be. Here are a couple of little things that I try to do and hope make a difference:

(1) Using cloth diapers as much as possible. Way easier than I expected, and gentle on Liam’s tender tush, the environment, and our wallets.

(2) Holding doors for people. I’m amazed at how often people on the campus where I teach and study let heavy doors nearly close on the next person. I try to hold doors when someone’s behind me (male or female).

(3) Saying thank you. I used to have a bad habit of apologizing excessively. I’ve tried to reprogram myself to express gratitude instead–whenever remotely possible. This habit does double duty: it lets other people feel good about what they’ve done and it puts me in a grateful, positive frame of mind.

(4) Recycling. Even if it’s inefficient or even ineffective because our systems aren’t up to snuff, I want Liam to grow up thinking about what we waste, what we reuse, and what we recycle.

(5) Noticing people and smiling. I move through a lot of crowded spaces–school halls, grocery stores, libraries–and it’s easy to think of people as obstacles to where I want to be. Instead, I try to really see them, smile at them, and remember that they’re in the middle of their own busy day, too. This little mental game makes me a lot more patient–and it makes me feel connected and positive about the people around me.

Reading as resistance

By David Goehring: http://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/5229442684/

Reading and the world: there is a connection.

Lots of times we think of reading as a passive activity, something that’s more or the less the opposite of doing. “Oh, she doesn’t do anything; she just sits around reading.” But can reading itself be an act of resistance? 

I’ve been thinking about writing as a form of resistance for a long time.  As an author, I think about what stories need telling, what events need remembering, what histories need to be recovered (or invented) to undo the silences of the past. I wrote about this theme in my top-secret third novel here

But what about reading? With my students in my Caribbean Women’s Lit class, we work to understand how writers like Edwidge Danticat, Rosario Ferré, Michelle Cliff, Jamaica Kincaid, and more are using their words as weapons against oppressive situations they’d like to change. Is recognizing a writer’s resistance itself an act of resistance? And what if we’re reading something with a less obvious mission? Or even a text that seems to uphold the status quo?

Let’s get specific: can reading Twilight be an act of resistance? Or is it “just” entertainment?

Here’s where things get tricky–and interesting. Because it all depends on what we do as we read. If we sit back and take a book as a ride with the writer as the driver (Stephanie Meyers in this case), we’re just consumers ooohing over Edward when Meyers wants us to. I think almost all of us slip into this mode from time to time, and there’s nothing *wrong* with going along for a ride every once and a while.

We are our best selves, though, when we engage with the texts we are reading, when we ask questions, consider alternatives, play out possibilities in our minds, ponder motives. I like to think of the text as a kind of starting place for an endless variety of possible journeys rather than as an amusement park ride where everybody is locked into the same track for the exact same trip.

When we engage with a text as we read, reading becomes an act of rebellion and resistance to passivity. Reading becomes a renegade-worthy activity. Reading like this is as a way of living consciously.

That’s a key message for readers, especially teens. Because we (including my inner teen) love to resist. And to misbehave.

Psst! This whole post was inspired by a post here at Actin’ Up with Books. Thanks for getting me thinking about what it means to ACT UP via reading, Joli!

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All materials © 2022 Ashley Hope Pérez. Author website by Websy Daisy.