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Local author balances school, book release, family


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By Kelsey Holder




Ashley Pérez was in her second year of teaching in 2005 in Houston when a spell of spontaneity hit her. She peered up from her notebook and saw a tattoo parlor across the street.

Drawing out designs, she gave herself 24 hours to confirm the rebellious move she was about to make.

“I got the word ‘yes’ tattooed onto my own body,” Pérez said. “I got a tattoo that I can slap.”

The small tattoo, written in Courier New font, rests on her left hip and reminds her to be “present in the moment,” she said.  

The now 26-year-old Pérez followed up getting a tattoo by pursuing her Ph.D. in comparative literature, teaching an IU night class, writing her third fiction novel and promoting her first fiction novel, “What Can’t Wait.”

“A lot of responsibility is on an author to get the word out about her book,” she said. “I thought I wrote a book, and that’s it. I could start writing my next book. It’s more than that though.”

“What Can’t Wait” is available in Bloomington bookstores and online in stores like Boxcar Books, Howard’s Bookstore, Book Corner and Barnes & Noble.

The book will be released nationwide on March 1.

“What Can’t Wait” follows a high school senior who faces many of the conflicts that Pérez’s students at Cesar E. Chavez High School in Houston faced. Under her family’s pressure, the main character does not feel that she can move away to attend college.

“Students felt like they had to stay at home,” Pérez said of her Chavez students. “With so many expectations of them from their families, they felt they couldn’t leave.”

She allowed her students to read the first draft of the book. One student told her it was the first book he’d ever finished.

“It is cool to see how many seeds of the book, even ones I had forgotten, had been planted while I was teaching,” Pérez said.

Her second and third novels are also based in Houston and share experiences that she encountered while teaching there for three years.

Pérez said she did not grow up in the lifestyle most of her Chavez students experienced. She is from a small town called Kilgore, Texas, and grew up with parents who encouraged her in school.

She started college at 16 and taught high school students before she was legally able to drink.

“I told the students I was 40,” she said. “I wore the ugliest clothes and shopped in the old lady section. I didn’t want them to know my age.”

While teaching at Chavez, she met her husband and former AP Calculus teacher Arnulfo Pérez. Arnulfo currently is working on his Ph.D. in math education at IU and wants to work in the public school systems developing curriculum.

At Chavez, their classrooms were located in different wings of the school, so he said he sent her notes via students.

“I stapled them shut all around the outside so no one could read them,” he said.

The newly married Pérez couple moved to Bloomington during summer 2007 to attend school.

While reading one book a day for her IU classes, Pérez manages writing, taking care of her 9-month-old son, Liam Miguel Pérez, and promoting her novels because of her schedules.

“I’m kind of a schedule freak,” she said.

Pérez makes sure to have 15 minutes of writing, 15 minutes of exercise and 15 minutes working on publicity every day. She also budgets her money as well.

“My husband and I don’t make enough right now to put us over the line (of state benefits),” Pérez said about raising their son, who receives benefits from Women, Infants, Children and Hoosier Healthwise for state health care.

Even though they aren’t making the incomes they’d like to eventually make, they said they are content in their weekends spent at home.

“We have a full life,” Perez said. “It’s important that our positive experiences for our son are not dependent on money.”

While “living in the moment” and saying “yes” to all goals she sets, she knows her book is already a success.

“This is the book I wanted to be able to hand my students,” she said. “There’s something powerful about reading and recognizing your world, and now that exists for them.”

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