Monday, March 5, 2012

Guest Post: Ashley Hope Pérez

Ashley Hope Pérez, author of What Can't Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly, agreed to wrap up her recent blog tour with a guest post here on the Carolrhoda blog. Here, she tells us what she wants readers to know about the similarities and differences between her two novels.

Thanks to the amazing folks at Lerner, my latest novel The Knife and the Butterfly looks gorgeous next to my debut novel, What Can't Wait. You can tell just by looking that these books belong together. Kind of the way any siblings, no matter how different, belong to the same family. But—as you can also tell from the covers and book blurbs—The Knife and the Butterfly is not (NOT!) a sequel to What Can't Wait. In fact, it's so different that sometimes I feel like I need to prepare readers.

When I'm writing, this kind of thing is not a problem. It's not even something I think about. Each project presents me with its particular terms and demands, and I accept them. I don't know any other way to write.

But things get more complicated when it’s time to introduce the new novel to the world. I feel a little like a mom at that first back-to school conference with a teacher who has taught one of my kids before. “He's really different,” I want to say, “but there are still lots of reasons—maybe even more—to care about him and take time to get to know him.”

Hang on, aren’t both What Can't Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly set in Houston? (Yes.) Don't they feature Hispanic protagonists? (Yes.) Aren't they both contemporary realistic fiction? (Mostly yes.) Isn't there even a character from What Can't Wait who shows up in The Knife and the Butterfly? (Yes! And you get bonus points if you can find that character!)

Now let's look at a few of the differences in the characters' worlds. Marisa, the protagonist of What Can't Wait, is trying to figure out how she can go away to college without blowing all her family/friend relationships. Azael, the protag of The Knife and the Butterfly, dropped out of school after seventh grade and drifts from friends' couches to abandoned apartments in the area of town where he grew up. Marisa's mother sometimes undermines her efforts to put education first, and her father is overbearing and often ungrateful. Azael's parents are missing completely; his mother died when he was a kid, and his father was deported back to El Salvador before Azael was out of middle school, leaving him and his brother essentially orphaned. Their gang and neighbors are the closest things they have to family. Marisa feels invisible sometimes in spite of the teachers, friends, and boyfriend who care about her. Azael has completely fallen through the cracks of just about every system that should have looked out for him. When the novel opens, he is a dropout, a gang member, and a kid on the fringe of everything most of us take for granted.

The best way I can think of to explain the different worlds represented in What Can't Wait and The Knife and the Butterfly is this: What Can't Wait reflects the tough world of some of the students I was lucky enough to teach. The Knife and the Butterfly is about the kids I never got to teach. It is my exploration of one world that swallowed up students and sucked them out of school long before their peers walked into a senior English class.

Readers who pull both books off the shelf will discover at least two different dimensions of teen experience. They will think about how education and family make a way to a better future for one character (Marisa in What Can't Wait), and they will feel the weight of lost promise—and the narrow margins in which change is possible—for another character (Azael in The Knife and the Butterfly).

In fact, that’s how I want to picture my readers—not staring at my books on a shelf, but holding one in each hand.

And lucky for you, readers, Ashley's first book, What Can't Wait, will be available in paperback in just a few short months!

Did you miss any of the interviews or guest posts in the blog tour for The Knife and the Butterfly? Find all the links in one place here. And be sure to check out Ashley's blog, follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Stop abusing the word “censorship”

Seth Godin has been “censored!”

Except, he hasn’t. Apple has declined to carry his book in their iBook store—a move that seems obtuse on Apple’s part (if for no other reason than they’re handing a PR moment and a news cycle to Godin and, by extension, Amazon). But vastly more disturbing than Apple's policy (which is entirely unsurprising in the context of Apple decision-making) is Godin's gross abuse of the word “censorship.”

Look, when you have your own imprint at the dominant ebook retailer, you have not been censored when a competing retailer refuses to carry your “manifesto” and even tells you why. That is not censorship. (And he doesn’t even need to use the word. The business/philosophical story here is no less interesting without misappropriating the word "censorship.")

Hell, I’m not even sure he’s been meaningfully wronged in this. Look at his argument:
There’s been a long history of ubiquity at the bookstore. With a few extreme exceptions, just about every book is available at every bookstore if you’re willing to order it. Universal availability feels like part of the contract we make with bookstores–we expect them to sell everything. In the digital world, this goes triple, because there’s no issue of shelf space to deal with.
Even leaving aside the cojones it takes for an Amazon employee to wrap himself in the mantle of traditional bookselling, this seems a very shaky argument. The analogy doesn’t hold up. He’s saying that it wouldn’t be “censorship” (or even something worth protesting?) if a brick and mortar store didn’t shelve his book as long as it could order it. This is, apparently, “universal availability.”

Fine. Let’s look at the actual implication of his book not being on iBooks (a platform that only works on three devices, mind you) in those terms. A customer opens the iBooks store and searches for Godin’s book. He finds nothing. Now, here’s where things get interesting. One argument—Godin’s argument--says that this is forced obscurity—essentially, he asked at the counter and the clerk looked in the computer and found nothing. A potential customer cannot see that the book exists and therefore it doesn’t and thus a sale is lost and harm is done. Another argument—my argument—says that the act of searching an individual ebook-store is not analogous to placing a special order; it’s analogous to browsing the shelves. A potential customer doesn’t see the book, so he clicks to Google or to another store (perhaps, I don’t know, the one owned by the company that Godin works for?).  In much less than  the time it takes for a brick-and-mortar browser to order a book he didn’t find on the shelf, an ebook customer who doesn’t find a book in a particular store can find the book on the web or buy the book from another store. I’d argue that this is how the vast majority of people shop on the web.

“Universal availability” is your contract with the web, not with any website. In no way is that principle being violated here (as Godin admits). It seems to me like Godin is being willfully dense not to see this distinction. A decade of digital commerce has conditioned people to shop this way. In fact, I would wager that a great many customers for Seth Godin books would check Amazon even if they found the book in the iBook store.* It’s basic comparison shopping.

Censorship is real. Real censorship causes real harm. Seth Godin, however, has not been censored, and when he uses the word this way, our understanding of the gravity of actual censorship is diminished.

*And this “manifesto” isn’t on Amazon either as far as I can tell, but maybe Amazon doesn’t sell his manifestos? I can’t keep track.