Ashley Franklin

Connecting and Celebrating–Congrats, Caitlin!

I have one goal with this blog, and that’s to celebrate my friend, Caitlin LaRue. I am HYPE that she has found an agent that she connects with and shares her vision for her work.

Caitlin and I once shared an agent. Each of us has had a unique, winding journey as we sought publication. But, one thing has been constant–we’ve been there for each other–for the ups, downs, close calls, and everything in between.

I don’t know how I would’ve handled many scenarios without her as my sounding board–and partially hostile texts to stay focused (smile). What started off as an “agent sister” dynamic has become a true and genuine friendship. She has constantly celebrated me, and I’m thrilled at the chance to now celebrate her.

I couldn’t be more happy for Caitlin as she takes these newest steps along her journey. May they be focused, fruitful, and full of all the good that she deserves.

If you haven’t found at least one friend to connect with along your writing journey, I encourage you to do so. We may often write in isolation, but the journey doesn’t have to stay there.

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Have a Heart: Using Children’s Literature to Create More Dynamic and Inclusive Classroom Discussions (Part 1)

On April 28, 2019, I had the honor of doing my very first conference presentation. The occasion: AAIM (Arkansas Association of Instructional Media) 2019. My presentation was well-received (THANK YOU!), so I wanted to share it as a series of blog posts for anyone interested, who wanted a recap, or who might have missed it. I hope these posts encourage you to think about your role in helping to shape our youths’ minds as they learn the truly transformative power of books.

My First Conference: AAIM

What’s on your bookshelf?

A Deceptively Simple Question

“What’s in your wallet?” -Capital One

Commercials have to work extra hard today in order to be memorable. Let’s be honest. Most of us skip them whenever we’re able. However, let’s not overlook the beauty of this question. The basic answer is not truly the goal–money, cash, credit/ debit cards, and many a tiny picture of a loved one if you haven’t gone fully digital.

But that’s truly not the goal. The goal is to get you to question if what’s in your wallet is doing its job. Is it meeting your needs? Is it fulfilling its purpose? And if it’s not, what do you plan to do about it?

Today, my librarian friends, I want to ask a question of you that’s essential to your profession: “What’s on your bookshelf?”

By taking a closer look at the children’s literature on your shelves, you’ll be able to assess if your collections are:

  • Meeting your students’ needs
  • More reflective of your personal tastes than the tastes of your students
  • Providing students with the emotional tools to navigate their environments
  • Instrumental in starting and/or continuing difficult conversations

and of course, helping students to have a heart.

The Beginning

Thanks to constant rezoning and the uptick of fairly homogeneous neighborhoods, children’s literature could be a child’s first encounter with someone from another culture. For many children, those first literary experiences are rooted in fairytales.

**Coming in Part 2: Fairytales, the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s, and restructuring your bookshelves**

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Butt in Chair (BIC) & Why it Vexes Me So

“STOP TELLING ME TO SIT DOWN!” is what I internally rage scream whenever I see this bit of writerly advice. Don’t get me wrong. I get it. Of course you need to get your butt in gear in order to actually write.

But, follow me with this, what if with the way my life is set up, those butt-in-chair moments are few and far between? Does that mean I’m not a serious writer? Does that make me a writer of a lesser caliber?

The way my anxiety is set up, I find BIC unnerving. If the words aren’t manifesting on the page (or in my brain for that matter), I may freewrite, doodle, wrestle with other works in progress, or let my mind wander for a bit. If nothing of great magnitude is happening, you best believe my butt is getting up.

Actually sitting my butt in a chair to get some writing done is a luxury I have maybe a handful of times a month. For this reason, I value it immensely. However, it’s just not something that I can regularly do. And before you roll your eyes at me, I do know that I’m being SUPER literal. You do have to put the time in. There’s no getting around that. However, I feel like BIC makes making time to write seem a lot easier than what it is.

My writing time is more WIM—writing in the moment. This consists of making voice notes on my phone, drafting in Google Docs on whichever device is closest, scribbling on scraps of paper, and later assembling everything when I have time (usually when my kids have FINALLY fallen asleep).

At the end of the day, no matter how it gets done, all I hope is that whatever time I have put into writing has made me feel one step closer to achieving my writing goals.

That’s all we can do—do what works best for us. What works best for you?

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Waiting out the Wait

So what are we supposed to do while we wait to hear the fate of our beloved manuscript darlings? What do you do?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the publishing business, it’s that publishing is on its own time schedule. Of course we would all like quick responses from agents, editors, and so on, but that’s not how this works. In fact, it seems like the quickest answers are usually the most disappointing. We all have friends of friends or have heard rumors (or experienced) the dreaded “No” that came in less than an hour.

Me? In my free time (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I almost rolled off my bed laughing at that.) I’ll try again. In my free time (snicker), what I do to pass the time is simple. Right now, I have a picture book on submission, so my brain is picture book jelly. I have other picture book manuscripts on deck, but I need a recharge my brain. Instead, I write articles. They’re usually creative non-fiction. Sometimes they’re not.

While on submission, I like to feel a rush–like something has a sense of urgency. So, I’ve joined a few Facebook groups and occasionally respond to calls for whatever seems interesting. It keeps my mind off of what I’m truly waiting for. I’m still flexing my writing muscles, and I tend to only respond to paying gigs. Here’s my latest from About Islam: How Do We Value Black Muslim Youth?

So, what’s your creative alternative while you stop waiting?

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Living with the “What-ifs”

Previously, we discussed acknowledging the what-ifs–acknowledging their existence without letting them ruin your day (or peace of mind for that matter).

But what if, no matter what you do, you can’t shake them? Live with them! As a creative, your work will never please everyone:

  • Different strokes for different folk.
  • Everything ain’t for everybody.
  • You can’t please everyone.

I’m sure that at least of those resonates because they are absolutely true!

If no one has told you this yet today, let me be the first: “You are an amazing creator. I admire your determination to fine-tune your craft and see its success no matter what.” 

Now that that’s out of the way, let me also say this: You’re human, and it’s okay to feel. Your feelings are valid. You’re not being sensitive. You’re not being silly. You are entitled to feel how you feel about your creative process and your journey. I do have this one request: Don’t dwell on feelings that hinder your creative output. 

Jealous? Sad? Overwhelmed? Cautiously excited? Hunny, have ALL the feels. You’re not plastic, and you shouldn’t be expected to behave like you are. Find your trusted friends and companions, and vent away. Just don’t let social media make a fool out of you. (That’s a topic for another day.)

Personally, I’m living my best creative life when I’ve allowed myself to just live–feel all the feelings, have all the experiences, be the me who I need to be at that moment–sad Ashley, happy Ashley, silly Ashley, hopeful Ashley, etc.

Sometimes, it is easier to acknowledge the what-ifs and let them go than others. During those times when those nagging questions of validation and success aren’t easily shaken, live with them. Make small goals that you can check off as you work towards maintaining your creativity.

What if nobody comes to my book signing?

(What can I do to build a buzz? All I can do is my part.)

What if my book doesn’t make it on to any lists?

(My work is #1 to someone. All I can do is keep creating.)

Don’t let the what-ifs keep you from being your best creative self. If you can’t brush them off with a “whatever,” acknowledge the core of what they’re getting at and use that as fuel to continue on your journey. Always forward.

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Why I Wrote about My “Failed” Ramadan

Yesterday, I had a piece published in Romper that discussed my first “failed” Ramadan. You can find it here.
We are naturally inclined to hide our faults. After all, we want others to think of us fondly or in a positive manner. Then why did I choose to discuss the time when I did not complete my Ramadan fast as I’d expected? Easy: I thought that maybe it could help someone.
No one wants to fail at anything. No Muslim wants to have an unsuccessful Ramadan. It can be an isolating feeling. After all, Ramadan isn’t supposed to be easy, right? Eh–not so much. Ramadan shouldn’t feel like an impossible task. If there is something causing Ramadan to feel particularly cumbersome for you, I encourage you to reach out to someone. Find that auntie you trust. Consult with your imam. Seek those who are more knowledgeable than you are, and make dua.
While I may not have been able to successfully fast for my second Ramadan, I didn’t feel like a failure thanks to having a support system.
For my fasting brothers and sisters in Islam, during this blessed month of fasting, I pray that your fast is accepted and that you feel the love of your community. Ramadan Mubarak.
And to my friends of no faith or other faiths, thank you for the “Happy Ramadan” messages.
Much love to all!

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My first time at Moms Group (aka the time someone else’s kid peed in public)

There’s a group for everything on Facebook. We all know that. That’s how I found this local Moms Group. I’ve seen their events for quite some time, but I always had other obligations. This past Wednesday, my time had finally come. I really had no excuse. The weather was okay. They were meeting at a park that we always go to. It was going to be over just before naptime (or…the time period I always hope a nap is taken).
So, we went! We were about thirty minutes late because my 3yo didn’t want to put on pants, but we made it nevertheless.
Y’all know people are not my thing. I always have to mentally amp myself up for social settings.
Me to Me: You’ve got this! You can do it. You’re amazing!!! It’s only two hours, you can talk for that long. Okay, look. Just find a couple of people to attach yourself to until it’s over.
I found “my people.”  That pretty much means my kid did something weird as we were walking up to them, I cracked a joke about it, and they laughed. That’s all it took. They were my people. They had no choice.
It was actually nice to swap mom stories of praise and woe while making sure our kids didn’t trample each other. They even had genuinely weird this-can’t-be-my-life-I’m-just-trying-to-make-it-through-the-day stories.
It was perfect. My 3yo was even behaving pretty well despite probably being close to needing a nap due to his nighttime TV sneaking. Nothing could go wrong, or so I thought.
But then it did. But not for me.
I looked up from my mini mom circle to see a little boy under the slide stand, twisting from side to side, peeing. A few of us moms who noticed scrambled to get other moms’ attention, as THIS KID HAD RANGE. Kids were giggling, and I was the lucky one to get the attention of the mom engrossed in conversation.
“Umm…excuse me. Is that kid over there, who’s peeing everywhere, yours?”
I can’t accurately describe the horror on her face, the yelling that followed, or the speed in which she packed up and left.
I can happily say that my 3yo has never done that, but he has done his own fair share of cringe-worthy things. It was great to see other moms having a crap day and life still going on. I needed that reminder. It was worth conquering my anxiety and being social.
Who knows. A story may even come from this.
 

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A little Aesop, a Bit of Thunder & Self-Actualization of my Writer Self

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before: my mom was all about representation when I was younger. Sure I lived in a predominantly Black neighborhood and attended a predominantly Black church, but school was on the other end of the spectrum.
I was in one of those gifted and talented programs, and there were only a handful of people of color in it at any given time. Clearly I learned a great deal, but there were also a few experiences that clearly stand out from the rest.

  1. My third grade math teacher was a Black woman. I don’t remember her last name, but I remember her first name was Bathsheba. She probably didn’t know it, but she made my day–Every. Single. Day. Her being brown made me feel less awkward, less alone. Seeing her made me feel like maybe I could grow up and feel like I could have an important job too. Maybe I could even be teacher.
  2. In my elementary years, I was also introduced to the first Black characters in a school-assigned book. My English teacher was white, and I couldn’t tell you her name now if my life depended on it. But I am thankful for her. Having followed the traditional route of reading what most kids read, what you naturally assume are books featuring non POC–Where the Red Fern Grows, James and the Giant Peach, Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, etc., imagine my surprise when we started reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Brown characters! Brown characters all around! I guess this class was also when I had my first of what we would now call “woke” experience. I was surrounded by white people and was reading about ill-intentioned white people. It was a new layer to the feeling of difference. But, I was reading about brown people. It was also the first book I remember making me cry. It was also important because it was the first POC book that I remember beyond Aesop’s fables. Yes, it was also dated, but it made me feel relevant.
  3. The first two events sparked something another first-the first time I changed my mind about what I could be when I grew up. Maybe I could write too. I vaguely remember that we had a reaction assignment. I remember writing about slaves. My Uncle read it before I turned it in, and I remember him asking if I’d really written it because it was really good. My teacher also thought it was good. Maybe that’s when I first became a writer. It just took me until my 30s to remember my purpose and step back into it.
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Pre-k graduation & other tragedies

Yes, I was on the fence about my kids’ pre-k graduation at first. Then I was super excited about it and disgruntled because we were running late. As luck would have it, so were they. We ended up being like 15 minutes early while also being 15 minutes late. Feel free to let that sink in for a minute.
The graduation celebration basically had two parts. The first part was the kids doing Quran recitations and sharing other tidbits that they’d learned throughout the year (or in my kids’ case, the past couple of months). The second part was more for the parents and gave basic information about the school’s first year of existence. I guess you could say that the celebration was for the kids and the school as a whole. I commend the principal and the board. I mean, I imagine that it’s no small task to start a school!
Anyway, my 2yo was being a typical 2yo and wanted nothing to do with the entire thing. He drank water, kept the teachers running after him, and then came and sat on my lap during the performances. It’s not like he didn’t know the routine. He did it from my lap and cheered his brother on.
My 5yo was awesome. He was most active during the songs, and that’s what I expected. He shook and sang for al it was worth. It was great.
I’m pretty sure they called my 2yo as one of the first ones to get his certificate just to get him out of the way, and I totally understand that. He actually went back and sat with the other kids after he got his graduation cap and goody (goodie?) bags. I couldn’t help but smile when my 5yo proudly got his certificate. He has had an eventful year (in and out of pre-k, a couple of floods, moving, etc.).
The tragedy?Maybe 10 minutes into the parent part, the principal tapped me on the shoulder saying my 5yo had got hurt. Apparently he had been playing on a scooter, and the scooter proved to be the victor. He was upset, crying, and bleeding. I gave him kisses and told him I was proud of him for being so brave. The teachers, volunteers, and assorted sisters of the community all helped. They were great.
So yeah, that totally sucked. But, a little cuddling, ice, and biryani when we got home and all was well. An assortment of text messages from the sisters of the community didn’t hurt either.
All in all, it was an exciting day. But hey, I’d expect nothing less from my family. Oh yeah, I did say tragedies, huh? I guess the other tragedy would be realizing my babies aren’t babies anymore.

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Writer’s Life: Waiting, more waiting, and then anxiously waiting.

Hey, I’m all about honesty. If you’ve read even one of my blog posts before, you should be well aware of that. So, now I want to have another one of our good old sit-downs where we take a moment and I hit you with a truth bomb.
I am no less anxious now than I was when I didn’t have an agent. I still check my emails an unnatural amount of times during the day.
I know that may seem a little hard to believe, but it’s 100% true. How can this be? It’s simple. Having an agent has opened the doors for my work to be seen by editors and publishing houses that I typically would not have access to. (Yay!) Having an agent gives me some muscle, if you will, a support system, and a sounding board.
Having an agent has not given me access to a magical fast lane in which my work ascends to the top of an editor’s email queue and said editor then falls over herself at the chance to bask in the glow of my manuscript.
Nope! I still anxiously await to get good news. Even the good news that I wait for has changed. While I would love to only get showered with contracts, it is also a treasure when an editor takes some time out to offer notes on a manuscript and/or even agrees to review it if I’m interested in making some changes.
Waiting is hard at any stage of the writing journey. If it helps, know that you’re not waiting alone. And while you are waiting, use your time wisely. Hone your craft. Experiment with your writing. Do a bit of reading. Take a class. Take a minute away from writing and live. (Yes, imagine the fresh influence on your writing when you’ve had an awesome experience.)
What’s really helped me? I’ve buddied up with other writers who are pretty much on the same leg of this journey, and help encourage each other. We vent to each other. We support each other. We pretty much remind each other that we’re not alone. In all honesty, they are my anxiety cushion so that when I reach out to my agent, I seem like I have it halfway together.
Find a buddy, and buckle up. The path to publication is an unpredictable ride.

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