Giveaways Inspirations and Influences

Guest Author & Giveaway: Ashley Hope Peréz on Inspirations & Influences

Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free rein so they can go wild and write about anything they want. It can be about their new book, series or about their career as a whole.

Today’s guest is Ashley Hope Pérez, YA writer, author of What Can’t Wait which was just named to the ALA Best Fiction for YA list. Her second book, the wonderful The Knife and the Butterfly was released earlier this month and has been reviewed by Ana HERE. We were delighted to be invited to join the blog tour and suggested a piece for our Inspirations and Influences feature.

Here is what Ashley has to say:

Ashley Hope Pérez’s Inspirations and Influences (Okay, Mostly Inspirations)

I owe everything I have as a writer to my students. My influences are many and contradictory,* but they would be nothing but damp tinder if it weren’t for my students. Their inspiration was the spark that made me start writing.

It’s been almost five years since I left high-school teaching to go back to school myself, and my kiddos are still lighting new fires in me as a writer. Let me take you through a tour of all the ways my students inspired me as a writer (my debt to them for how they changed me as a person…that’s even bigger).

My students’ stories.

On paper and in person, my students told me about their lives, and to this day, bits and pieces of their experiences filter through in my writing all the time. Sometimes I’m writing a character’s reaction to something his friend says, and I realize, Chris Escobedo was the one who said that. Seventh period. 2005. Short guy with a sweet grin. Had a baby and worked all the time. Often, though, it’s more general than that, as with the many students who shared with me about how it would feel to be the first in their families to finish high school or to go to college.

My students’ reading.

Some of my most resistant students became avid and opinionated readers by the end of our time together. In the process of that transformation, we had many, many conversations about what spoke to them in the books they were reading—and what didn’t. To this day, when I sit down to write, I ask myself, what would get even my most reluctant readers to turn the page?

For my debut novel, What Can’t Wait, they told me straight out what they thought. Many of them read an early draft of the novel, and I had them draw a line across a page if they found their interest waning.

While writing The Knife and the Butterfly, I was still imagining my students’ reactions. They kept me revising until the plotting was as tight as I could make it, the pacing as compelling as possible. I had a few specific students that I pictured as my readers all throughout the process.

Now, as I work on my top-secret manuscript for novel #3, I ask myself, how do I write the historical novel that my students would devour (and that would keep them from even thinking twice about the boring sound of “historical”)?

My students’ stuff.

For the most part, it was the traces my students left behind in my heart that inspired me. Every once in a while, though, the physical objects they left behind in my classroom played a role.

I’ll never forget finding a note from one of my male students to his girlfriend (also a student) that was so sexually explicit I struggled to look her in the eye after reading it. The intense bravado and sexism of that letter was something I returned to as I wrote in Azael’s voice — especially before he gets so scared that his macho persona starts to slip away.

Another time, one of my students — one who was constantly writing and drawing on my desks — left behind his black book of designs for me to look at. Even though it didn’t change how I felt about him marking up my desks (or how often he had to clean them) it gave me a different perspective of his need to make a mark on the world around him. That’s something that definitely impacted how I portray Azael’s street art and tagging.

A less fun “artifact” from my teaching days was a virulently hostile message from a disgruntled student, a message that cut very, very deep and left me reeling for days and inspired this drawing of me being throttled.

I needed to encounter that hostility and suspicion, though, to later write Lexi’s journal entries believably.

My students’ absences.

I know, this sounds like the most bizarre source of inspiration EVER, but let me explain. It used to drive me crazy when my students—many of whom had very messy, difficult lives—just up and disappeared for stretches of time without notice. And sometimes they never came back; that was the worst. As a writer, though, a lot happened for me when I started to imagine the “why” behind those absences.

In fact, Azael—who is a high-school dropout—was inspired as much by the students I never taught as by the many I did teach. I couldn’t stop thinking about the middle-school students and freshmen who disappeared long before the senior English classes I taught.** Who were these students who fell between the cracks? Writing The Knife and the Butterfly gave me a chance to imagine one answer.

My students’ willingness to make ME work.

My students were the ones who convinced me to start writing a novel for them, and that novel became What Can’t Wait. Once I told them I was going to do it, they never expressed doubt that I would finish. I pushed them really, really hard in my class; they expected me to do the same for them. 200 teenagers waiting for you to practice what you preach—that’s what I call motivation. Even now, when I’m feeling lazy or tired and I don’t want to write, sometimes all I have to do is summon up the raised eyebrows of one class of students to scare me straight.

I still hear from former students quite often. They are all grown; many have families, some have already finished college, and a few are actually teaching in the same district where I once taught. (That really makes me feel old!) Even as I relish the adults they’ve become, I hold onto the memory of the teens they were—what they wanted, how they struggled, and what they taught me. I wouldn’t be writing novels today if it weren’t for their inspiration.


*I am a compulsive reader and a comparative literature PhD candidate. If you want a peek at just how much I read, check out this post.

**In Houston schools, the de facto dropout rate is an astonishing 50%. These dropouts get classified in lots of creative ways, but the reality is, out of a starting freshman class of about 1550 at the high school where I taught (which was typical) only around 800 actually graduated.

Thank you, Ashley!

And now, for the giveaway…


Courtesy of the author and the publisher, we are giving away a copy of The Knife and the Butterfly. The contest is open to ALL, and will run until Saturday February 11 at 11:59 (PST). In order to enter, just leave a comment here – why not share a favourite story about an inspiring teacher (or student)? Only one entry per person, please! Multiple entries will be disqualified. Good luck!


  • Clare
    February 8, 2012 at 6:24 am

    My semiotics professor at school was simply brilliant, a really model and suc an inteligent and educated man. He inspired me to be a better professional and person (:

    Hope I win the book!!

  • Katie
    February 8, 2012 at 6:49 am

    My third grade teacher was incredibly nice and patient. She helped me with math, and to this day is the only teacher who has succeeded in helping me understand it.

  • Ashley Hope Pérez
    February 8, 2012 at 7:08 am

    @Clare, thanks for being the first to comment, and I’m glad we professor types can still reach our kiddos.

    @Katie, math is a huge part of my first novel, WHAT CAN’T WAIT. My hubbie is one of those awesome math teachers. 🙂

    (P.S. I’m here working up the courage to click back over to the review Ana wrote and to comment on it properly. Oh. My. Goodness. Way to make my WEEK, Ana!)

  • Peter Bess
    February 8, 2012 at 7:56 am

    My favorite teacher was my English/Literature teacher in high school. She introduced me to Shakespeare and Tolkien, Harper Lee, Madeline L’Engle, and many many more. She was the best teacher ever.

  • Kaethe
    February 8, 2012 at 8:06 am

    I was lucky enough to have three outstanding English teachers: Mr. Rosenberg in 6th grade, Mr. Schuszler in 7th, and Mr. Edwards in 12th. The first two made it clear that we are surrounded by brilliant thoughts, and genre should never be seen as limiting. The last told us that “education is the one thing people are willing to pay for and not get their money’s worth.” Thanks to him, I got very good value out of my college years.

    Props to all teachers who change lives every day, even if they never know it.

  • SandyG265
    February 8, 2012 at 9:42 am

    I ahd an English teacher who took time outside of the class period to help me with my writting.

  • ANna
    February 8, 2012 at 9:47 am

    My seventh grade latin teacher made it seem cool to be good at latin, which is a very hard thing to do (after all, latin is a dead language!)

  • Justine
    February 8, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Mr. H, who taught biology at my high school, had one of those zany personalities that made students pay attention and engage with the course content. He still stopped by classes the year after he retired and it was always a treat when he guest-taught. Kudos to the administration for finding a worthy successor to Mr. H because Mr. G also had the same wacky personality, knack for humor, phenomenal illustration skills, tall stature, and booming voice. While providing running commentary, they drew the most beautifully detailed colored chalk diagrams of cell organelles on the blackboard. Their art looked as good as the textbook figures. Not only did they know every detail of their teaching material, they were true performance artists that seemed larger than life. They also did stuff that probably would’ve horrified staid administrators — like throw chalk at their students and address their students by ridiculous nicknames. They were cajoling and demanding in the same way that coaches expect the best out of their athletes. I haven’t even mentioned the assorted kitsch that dangled from the ceiling of their biology classroom. Generally, science classrooms are sterile, cold, and bare, but there was so much uselessly funny stuff suspended above our heads. Mr. H’s persona extended beyond the biology classroom in that he would also disrupt Mrs. B’s history class. Mrs. B was at the age where she would soon retire so Mr. H and Mrs. B were longtime colleagues. Mrs. B was obsessed with JFK and we spent a disproportionate chunk of the year on his presidency. When Mrs. B simply would not shut up about Camelot, Mr. H’s teasing was definitely a welcome distraction. I’m very glad that I was in high school during Mr. H’s transition to retirement!

  • Flannery
    February 8, 2012 at 10:55 am

    What a wonderful post! I read and loved What Can’t Wait last year so I am really looking forward to reading her second book:)

    There are just so many teachers I’ve learned from, from elementary all the way through law school. I think my favorite teachers are the ones who can somehow get students excited about topics that might not sound too exciting to them. Things I know a ton about due only to a teacher’s enthusiasm: The New Deal, the Reformation, contracts, environmental law, types of rocks, The Scarlet Letter, Catcher in the Rye, and Plato. (and so,so many more)

    This is a great blog feature. I’m going to go reread past author’s inspirations!

  • jen m
    February 8, 2012 at 11:28 am

    this book looks *so* good! i can’t wait to read it. and i will definitely go back to ms perez’s first book which also looks super awesome. squeee! 🙂

    i’ve had lots of great teachers throughout my life but one person i’d love to recognize is my current adviser. i’m a phd student in biomedical engineering, and in addition to being a great mentor and putting up with all of my crap, my adviser has helped open my eyes to all of the barriers to women and girls and other underrepresented groups in the maths and sciences. i’ve been really lucky my whole life, to know what i wanted to do and have a supportive family. but now i know that not everyone has had the opportunities i’ve had, and it has become a big priority for me to help extend opportunities out to more people. i am so appreciative of the influence this professor has had on me personally and professionally.

  • Alina
    February 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    My highschool A.P. bio teacher taught me to love the subject

  • Jennifer @ A Librarian's Library
    February 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    The teacher that had the most impact on me was my high school gifted classes teacher. He was the teacher that challenged me to grow and to continue learning, to find things that interested me. He was an amazing teacher who continues to keep in touch with me now, 4-5 years later. He even came to my wedding! 🙂

  • Katherine
    February 8, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I had a very funny History teacher who made learning fun. Never had another teacher like him.

  • Carol Thompson
    February 8, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks for the giveaway and for opening it to worldwide entries.

    Unfortunately I don’t have a story about a teacher to share with you.

    Carol T

    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

  • Allison
    February 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    My Business Law (and Personal Finance, Computer Applications, and Business Management) teacher was fantastic. He told a ton of life stories and I’m pretty sure I learned more about how to be street smart than business. But I enjoyed the classes(:

    And this book looks AMAZING, by the way

  • Dellan
    February 8, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    My university professor – dr straukamp – made history sing to me again after many dreary K-12 years. He inspired me to change my major and graduate with a degree in history. I’ve never been sorry.

  • Bethanie
    February 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Hi, thanks for the giveaway! This was such a good post, and your book sounds so good! I’ll definitely be looking out for your first one too 🙂
    I had one amazing teacher in primary school who singled me out for a special project of writing a novel. Her utter confidence that i could do it and faith in me really helped me believe in myself, especially when others didn’t, and years later i can still picture her raising her eyebrows and demanding more when I try to make excuses haha

  • scribe
    February 8, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    my biology teacher–saw something in me that no one else did.

  • Llehn
    February 8, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    I’m another one of those who love her lit teacher. She was the first teacher who dropped the formal educator facade and treated us like friends. SHe was my John Keating.

  • Breanne
    February 8, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    My 4th Grade teacher, Mrs. Terrill, was the first teacher who recognized how much I loved to read and suggested books and authors that I could try. She really showed me how much there was out there – so many books! So little time!

  • Taylor
    February 8, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I did have a few teachers in elementory school who I really loved.Becuase of them I almost became a teacher. Not as much in my high school years.

  • MOSH
    February 8, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    Hi from ISRAEL
    I’m a retired teacher,61-year old,with 31 years of teaching History at high school.I’ve been always (and still) a kind of zany and wacky type with a strong knack for humor,attracting a lot of students like bees to a flower’s nectar.I recall how one day I had a bet with G who was one of my favorite students,during a lesson,with all students cheering up at me,that I’ll catch up with him while racing all along the corridor.Hey,he took off like a rocket,the ‘bastard’.My students never forgot this show.
    I was the ‘hero’ of the school for years.
    Unfortunately, this lovely young kid was killed during his military service. I was left with a signed nice comic drawing of my face he had done for me in class.Every year, on Memorial Day to Our Fallen Soldiers I visit his grave, standing there, sometimes weeping silently. He was only 18. I have a lovely grandchild. G’s father has no son,no grandchildren. Aside G’s grave are my other students’ graves.A whole class is scattered all across the field.
    This is the kind of memory I bear all the years – larking,laughing and weeping.

  • Rachael L
    February 8, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    My high school physics teacher always gave me great advice for achieving a successful career. Thank you for the giveaway!

  • Emily
    February 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    My high school chemistry teacher was one of my all-time favorites. His energy and enthusiasm were infectious; he’d jump up and down with excitement when he explained what significant numbers were and why they were important. Taking his intro class was what convinced me to take AP Chem with him two years later, and I wasn’t even a science student.

  • Chenise Jones
    February 8, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    I love novels that explore gang culture. It’s absolutely fascinating! Can’t wait to read this!!

    Throughout high school my music teacher, Mr. Hilland, was definitely one of my favourite teachers. He was so down to earth and connected so easily with students. He was as much a friend as he was a teacher.

  • Dovile
    February 9, 2012 at 12:33 am

    I had a few great teachers, and one of them helped me greatly to decide what I’d like to study. I’m grateful to her for that.

    spamscape [at] gmail [dot] com

  • Rachel
    February 9, 2012 at 12:45 am

    I went to an all-girls school where the idea of studying engineering was pretty much never mentioned to the students. But our physics teacher in the last two years of high school was so good that me and two other girls ended up studying engineering at university – and I love it 🙂

    Also, her books sound amazing

  • SonomaLass
    February 9, 2012 at 2:01 am

    My most inspiring teacher was my Dad. Of course he taught me from the day I was born, but at the age of 23, I actually took a formal class from him, and it blew me away. His passion for the subject (theatre history) and his determination that we think critically and defend our positions were instrumental in making me a better student and, eventually, a better teacher.

    As a teacher (high school, then undergraduate), I am always learning from my students. That really resonated with me when I read this post.

  • Ashley Hope Pérez
    February 9, 2012 at 2:22 am

    Thanks for all the great comments and the teacher love… I especially agree with the sentiment, “education is the one thing people are willing to pay for and not get their money’s worth.” I always try to help my college students key into something of personal value to them in every class–motivation transforms assignments into missions. (Or at least that’s what I tell myself.)

  • Martha C.
    February 9, 2012 at 4:24 am

    My marketing teacher had more faith in me than I did.

  • Nikki Egerton
    February 9, 2012 at 5:24 am

    What a fantastically inspiring post, thank you!
    I was one of the weird kids who loved going to school, but no teacher inspired me as much as my English Literature teacher. He took a special interest in me as he saw how passionate I was about literature and gave me book recommendations that sent my reading habits into new areas I’d never have found on my own. He was completely interested in everything I had to say, everything I wrote and I think truly believed that one day my writing will be out there in the big wide world. I hope if that happens I’ll be able to track him down and say thank you.

  • Ashley Hope Pérez
    February 9, 2012 at 6:08 am

    @ Nikki– what a great story. A piece of advice: don’t wait to track him down! Teachers love (and need) to hear from students they reached. My seniors used to do a retrospective portfolio (basically a summative collection of their writing with a number of reflective pieces added in), and one part was a letter to a teacher who made a difference. Part of the assignment was to actually track down the person and send the letter.

    So often we feel gratitude but don’t express it.

  • Bethie
    February 9, 2012 at 6:13 am

    My 8th grade English teacher taught us so much. She really was an inspiration.

  • Jen B.
    February 9, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    I honestly don’t have any memories of an inspiring teacher. I know it’s sad but I don’t. I had a handful of teachers who really seemed to care whether or not we learned but none really inspired me. However, my kids have had the blessing of having some really amazing teachers. I encourage my children to write their teachers thank you notes and to tell the front office how much they appreciate the specific teachers. I want my kids to have better memories than I do.

  • Katie
    February 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    My 6th grade students. I still think of them whenever I read a particularly great book and wish I could share it with them. I vividly remember sitting in a semi-darkened classroom and taking turns reading aloud from Walter Dean Myers’ “Street Love.” And then there was the year our lit circles read Copper Sun and 47 and I saw my students truly take charge of their own learning. And I’ll never forget my little Valam, whose favorite book was “Misty of Chincoteague.” And TaSilver who re-read “Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie” at least 4 times over the course of a year. I miss them!

  • Mary Preston
    February 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    My Father was teaching in small country schools. We moved every time he got a promotion. It worked out that for the 3 schools I attended in primary school my Father was my teacher. I called him Sir at school & Daddy at home. I loved it.

  • Joan
    February 9, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    I believe some of the best teachers are your relatives. I don’t know how many times I have heard either myself or someone else tell me what they have learned to do or NOT to do.

  • Suzanne B.
    February 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    My current graphic novels Professor. The first course I took with him was on the theory of performance; the entire class was made up of 3rd and 4th year students in Drama/Theater… and me, a second year in literature. I was extraordinarily intimidated, and almost never spoke in class. Instead, I poured my passion for the subject into my essays – and the Professor always made a point of commenting (on the essays, not in class) on how much he appreciated the work I was putting in. In a lot of other classes, shy students like me feel invisible, but he made sure I knew I wasn’t – and that verbal participation wasn’t the only way to be a part of the class.

  • mary anne
    February 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    I never met my favorite teacher – but she made my son memorize “The Raven” in 7th grade. Which means the whole family got to hear “The Raven” over and over and over. And we could derail his recitation at any given point by whispering, “Nevermore”.

  • Vivian
    February 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    The teachers who inspire me need not do anything fancy other than teach their subjects well. Those who do share their enthusiasm and knowledge of their subject with me and make me interested and want to learn as a result. That is a good and inspiring teacher.

  • Brenda
    February 10, 2012 at 12:10 am

    My mother was a teacher before she retired to stay home and look after the kids. Nothing like a little one-on-one attention for schoolwork to really help a 7 year-old focus and learn better.

  • Emily
    February 10, 2012 at 1:27 am

    It’s always really interesting to hear where authors get their inspiration from and I loved reading this, because she was actually drawing from real experiences 🙂

  • Lily Froggy
    February 10, 2012 at 10:34 am

    I remember how my Italian teacher used to be so friendly with us – it was the last year of high school and everyone was so stressed about the exams, but he was always so cool about it, not caring about the grades but only trying to make us like the language and become better adults. I wish all teachers were as passionate!

  • LeAnn
    February 10, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I always loved my high school English teacher. I would even bring fiction and poetry into class just to show her what I was reading. She was also so supportive and great!

  • Sara
    February 10, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    My 12th grade AP English teacher taught me critical thinking. It’s embarassing that it took that long.

  • Rachel
    February 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    My high school English teacher both gave to me and nurtured my appreciation of poetry, which is something that will be with me for the rest of my life.

  • Tina
    February 11, 2012 at 10:09 am

    One of my professors had so much fun teaching art history that I decided to add it as my second major. She made me love learning and to seek kinds of knowledge that I had not otherwise thought of.

  • Dana
    February 11, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    I honestly don’t remember an inspiring teacher… But I do want this book!

  • Becky C.
    February 12, 2012 at 9:06 am

    When I was in 7th grade, I had a teacher who really pushed me in math. I always had found math to be too simple, so he constantly was giving me more advanced work in math. I found I really enjoyed the work and found that even if I could do something easily, that sometimes, going above the requirements could have great rewards.

  • The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Pérez « Lost in a Good Book
    March 22, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    […] very happy as I barely ever win those sorts of things. I really enjoyed Ashley Hope Pérez’s post about being inspired by the students she had taught and specifically writing her books for them […]

  • Ahir Vora
    August 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    It seems like you have gathered yourself a
    good size following nowadays. I’m glad for you!

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