Ashley Franklin

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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Kitchen Conversations (for Char and Michelle)

This was one of the first pieces that I wrote that I was proud of. It’s not something that I’d intended to send to an agent or a magazine. It’s something that I wrote for me. I wrote it to see if I could. I’d been writing academic papers for so long, I wanted to see if I had lost my creativity.
If you followed my other blog back in the day, you’ve seen this before. Why have I chosen to share it here? Though I wrote it just a few years ago, the first people that I shared it with have both passed away within the last couple of months. Both of them had encouraged me to write a follow-up, but you know how it goes. Busy, busy, busy.
Michelle and Char, you both believed in me when I wasn’t sure that I believed in myself. I’ll never forget that. It never crossed my mind that neither of you would be here this time next year with a copy of my book in your hands. Besides, y’all were around my age. It never crossed my mind that we didn’t have plenty of time.
But y’all fussed at me for not having written a follow-up time and time again. I’m sorry. I’m revisiting (and sharing) the story here. I’m mentally getting back into this space so that I can hold up my end of the bargain and write a follow-up, like y’all asked. I don’t know how long it will take me to write Part 2 of “Kitchen Conversations,” but I will start it today. Forgive me for my tardiness.
Make time for what and who matters. Love others. Love yourself. Love your craft. Take nothing for granted.

KITCHEN CONVERSATIONS

If home is where the heart is, that heart beats in the kitchen. Every morning, breakfast came with a side of questions. This one also came with crayons.
“Mama, how come we don’t match?” Mama laughed. He loved her laugh. It reminded him of the sound his trucks made when he revved them up on the kitchen floor.
“What do you mean, baby?”
He took a crayon out of the box and sat it on top of his picture. “There is one brown crayon in my box, and only one of us is that brown”
“Let me see what you’ve got here.” Mama looked down at the white piece of paper with the family drawn on it. He was right. Only one of them was the color of the crayon.
“I’ll have to change my picture, or it won’t be right.” He looked sad.
There was no room for tears at the breakfast table. Mama slowly stirred milk into her coffee.
“What’s your favorite color?” she asked.
“Green!”
“Green is a good color. It’s things that grow, things of life. But now brown, that’s for roots, foundation—solid things. Those are the things that give you a good start.”
“What does coffee help you start?”
“My day!” There was that laugh again.
“Why don’t you measure the milk?”
“I know how I want it to taste. The lighter the color, the sweeter it tastes. Still, no matter how much milk I add doesn’t change the fact that this is a cup of coffee. It’s the same with people. We all have our flavor, but we’re people just the same.”
He thought about his family– how different they looked, how different they acted, and how much fun they had when they were together. He smiled. “I don’t have to change my picture.”
“No—just your box of crayons.”
Breakfast was over, but that’s what happens when you stay up late playing video games. She didn’t see her mom or brother, but she was happy to find her aunt in the kitchen. Her aunt was amazing! With skin the color of sand, eyes that shined like steel drums, and clothes as bright as rare tropical flowers, Auntie Celise wasn’t just from the islands, she was them. Auntie had style!
Picture day was tomorrow, and she had no idea how to ask Auntie to fix her hair. Cornrows, afro, twists, ponytail, braids? She just didn’t know. Most of the girls in her class wore their hair bone-straight. That was going to take some effort. Overwhelmed, she let her head fall onto the table with a thud.
“Girl, what’s wrong with you?” Auntie asked, putting down her magazine.
The girl lifted her head.  “I hate my hair! Can you just make it super straight like everyone else’s?”
Auntie reached over and ran her fingers through the girl’s hair. “Ooh I know what you mean. How I hate having hair with so much personality! Who would want hair that stands up to the Sun with sass, curls and twists to defy the bravest of combs, or threads into designs that would make a spider jealous? Go on and get my flat iron. I’ll hook you up.”
The girl didn’t move. “Let me think about it some more.”
Dinner had come and gone by the time Papa walked through the door. He found the two of them in the kitchen with their evening treats.
“Can we get an allowance like our friends do?” they asked sounding hopeful.
“Why hello to you too! Allowance? I’m allowing you to eat up the rest of the ice cream. How’s that?” said Papa.
The four eyes looking up at him from two bowls quickly looked back down.
“Be about your business!” he said, loosening his tie. “Keep that in mind, and money will always come your way.” It seemed like a new twist on the money doesn’t grow on trees speech was coming. “What do you need money for anyway?” asked Papa.
“We’re saving for a new video game and some new crayons,” she said.
Papa placed a quarter and a dollar on the table. “Which do you want?”
The boy was faster and got the dollar. She cut her eye at him with a look of disgust that comes naturally to big sisters.
“When you’re about your business, you never lose focus of what’s important.” He kissed their foreheads. “I’m about to run to the store to grab a few snacks. Either of you want to come along to pick up something?”
The boy hopped off his chair and ran to the door. Papa smiled at the girl still sitting at the table.
“You are about your business,” he said as he patted her on the shoulder. He walked over to the boy and patted his head. “You, son, have a lot to learn. You two go ahead to bed. The kitchen is closed.”
 
 

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On being a mommy writer

Time is never on my side. Kids always need something. That’s what they do. That’s their job. Students always need something. That’s what they do. That’s my job. House duties never end. It’s not like I can afford a maid, so that’s my job too. Hubby helps out a great deal. Bless his heart, but there are still some days I wish I could shut out the real world and dive into the worlds I’ve created—just live the words, be with my characters as I continue to write life into them.
Times when I can solely spend dedicated to writing (that’s not in the wee hours of the morning) comes few and far between. I can’t express the joy I have when my husband announces that he’s packing up the kids so I can have a writing weekend.
But what do I do in between those writing weekends? Do I just not write? Do I look longingly at my notebooks, wishing that I could run away with them? Nope! Well…not all the time.
I use my cell phone. I’ve downloaded Google docs to my phone and I use it to continue working on manuscripts during time sucks–car line, doctor’s office, waiting for pots to boil, etc.
For bursts of ideas, I use the notes app. Finish a draft while on the go? I email it to my printer so it’s waiting for me when I get home. See something inspirational while I’m out? I snap a pic and email it to myself. Of course, I still carry around a composition book if I know I’ll be sitting somewhere for a while (like my kid’s taekwondo lesson) and I’m in the early stages of drafting. I have a big purse for that.
As writers, many of us have different obligations. We may not always have the time we want to write, but we should always try to best use and manage the time that we have.
 
 

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A girl now has an agent

Yeah, that’s right. I officially have a new agent. The whole process of initial querying to phone calls to stressing out and losing sleep over the decision took less than a month.
I know being in the query trenches can be time consuming, so I was shocked at how quickly this happened. I was honestly just hoping to find an agent within six months.
This time around, I was more prepared. Since this would be my second agent, I knew exactly what I wanted and didn’t want. My list of questions was detailed and reflected my writing and career goals.
I ended up with three offers out of the five agents I queried. Narrowing it down to two was ridiculously hard.
So, who is my new ridiculously fantastic agent? No other than Kathleen Rushall at Andrea Brown Lit.
::Happy Dance::
 
 
 
 

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My only resolution: Try not to stress

I am a high-stress person. I’ve been that way my entire life. My mom has always referred to it as my ability to predictably “get easily worked up.” I accepted it as just how I am and didn’t really pay it any mind until I hit my 30s.
Boy, the 20s can make you feel invincible. The 30s will snap you back to reality like “Nah, my dude.” I stress to the point of having chest pains. Where they do that at? Not cool.
Are there things I want to accomplish in 2018? Of course! I want to be healthier. I want to find an agent. I want to sell another book. I want a better work/life balance. I want to not stress about finances, health insurance, potential car trouble, how many words I can get written in a day/ month/ week, so on and so forth.
But, I can only control so much. As long as I’m trying my best–really putting in work–I need to ease up on myself. I also need to recognize the difference between stressing over something and worrying about something. I think I somersault past worry and perfectly land on stress every single time.
So this year, I’m going to try to stress less. It may be by exercising more, drinking more tea, praying more, doing yoga…I don’t know. All I know is that I’m going to actively work at it, and that’s good enough for me.

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StoryStorm 2018…I'm doing it this time.

StoryStorm will always have a special place in my heart because it was one of the first community writing tasks that I did. Back then it was called PiBoIdMo (still not sure of the correct pronunciation), and it was the jumping-off point that helped me to start networking and discovering some of the many writing tools and communities available.
I was still plowing through the previous year’s ideas last year, so I didn’t participate. This year, I’ll be jotting down ideas in my sparkly, new notebook courtesy of one of my best writing buddies, Caitlin LaRue.
I’m a sucker for a new notebook and gel pens. (Don’t mind the stars all over the table. The kids and I are having a glow-in-the-dark party later.)
I love colors, glitter, and sparkle. Maybe that’s a testament to the days when I was absolutely in love with all things Lisa Frank.
While we’re on the subject of mini obsessions, I don’t know who in my Twitter feed posted a color sequins pencil pouch, but I can’t stop thinking about it and it’s taking all I have not to buy it. Well, there goes that. I didn’t make it to the end of the post without buying the horribly ugly yet adorable pencil pouch. But, I used a gift card. (Thanks, Amber!)
I have a laptop and frequently write on my cellphone, but I cannot get away from writing by hand. There’s something about it that makes me feel extra legit. I’m a writer. I have quirks. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was approaching a mini rage yesterday because I wanted a pink pen to do my edits and could only find turquoise and purple. I’d already used those colors when revising earlier sections and wanted a different color. See, now if I’d had my hand sequins pouch, all of my different colored pens would’ve been in one spot. See! I had an obvious need.
Will my unicorn notebook hold the idea of what could be my next big sale? I have no idea. But, I will be in a good mood while writing my StoryStorm ideas in it. And who can really put a price on a good mood?

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When a girl who has no agent starts looking for one

This is it! I’m back in the query trenches. Don’t roll your eyes. Yes, I know that there are plenty of writers out there who are in the trenches. I know that there are plenty of writers who have been in the trenches for quite some time. What makes me so special? I never spent that much time in the trenches in the first place! That’s why I am currently terrified. When I pushed send yesterday, I felt physically ill. And this isn’t be trying to be poetic or speaking in hyperbole.
Before landing my last agent, I’d queried maybe 10 agents (15 tops, but I think 10 is pretty accurate). Then, thanks to that whole flood thing, I’d all but given up. I got an agent thanks to a Twitter event that I entered at the last minute.
Now, here I am looking for a new agent. It’s different this time because I now know how brutal querying can be.
I’m also different this time around. Now, I have an idea of what qualities in an agent. Before, I just wanted one. I wasn’t picky. Another difference: I guess I’m considered pre-published since my debut picture book is scheduled to come out Summer of 2019. I’m also not querying picture books this time around. Nope! I’m querying a chapter book. If I thought few agents were interested in picture books, there seem to be even fewer interested in representing chapter books.
As usual, I have lofty goals. That’s my thing. I’ve said several times that I want to write stories that I wanted as a kid and stories that I want for my kids. Brown and black kids can do some amazing things too. I hope I get to show this in the stories I have been blessed to create.
Blessed? Yes! Creating something from nothing isn’t just talent. It’s a gift and a humbling experience when it all comes together. So yeah, blessed. Now to find an agent who wants to help me share this gift with the world. Wish me luck!
 

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Tinkering around with a new revision strategy

I wrote a picture book story of Black Creole girl a while ago. The few editors that responded did like it, but they either a) weren’t in love with it enough to buy it OR b) wanted me to up the stakes.
One particular editor commented that as she read it, it made her want to get up and dance. This is actually my favorite piece of criticism so far. It stuck with me.
Last week, I decided to dust off the manuscript and try it again. I printed it out and took notes directly on it. I made a list of things that I wanted the new manuscript to do. I went through with my trusty pen and crossed out everything that I didn’t think would help  to reach my list of manuscript goals.
I have about four sentences left, and they’re still not fully exempt from the chopping block. I even changed the title! Was it hard to get rid of that much text? I’ll admit that I did pout for like two minutes. I got over it though.
I feel fortunate that I”m not one of those people who gets extremely attached to their writing. Did I love this manuscript enough to revisit it? Yes. I guess that does show some attachment. However, I’m not so attached to it that I’ll horde words just for the sake of keeping them, especially if they’re not beneficial.
I’m sorry! I haven’t touched upon the title of this post yet. I mentioned that the editor mentioned liking the sound of the manuscript. So, that’s one area of focus I’m really trying to bulk up. Remember the cartoon Madeline? I loved how it sounded as a kid, so I’ve started listening to old YouTube episodes of it as I do my revisions.
Will this land me an agent or result in a sale? I have no idea, but I”m having fun. Never stop having fun on your writing journey.

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I got a critique that hurt my feelings.

So, here’s what happened. I’d written something that I thought was great. Like…every time that I read over it, I expected some sort of holy light to shine down on it. Real talk. I am just that ridiculous.
So, I sent it over to my faves at Rate Your Story, and it came back with some straight to the point feedback, definitely no compliment sandwich in sight, and a score of 6. 6?! I friggin love this story, and 10 is the lowest score possible. How dare they give me a 6. Don’t they know I have a book coming out? I know what I’m doing!
Nope! I do not. And to be honest, I had to laugh at myself. The whole reason I was extremely eager to send the story in for feedback is because I’m trying out different genres. (Disclaimer: I’ve taken PB, CB,and MG courses, so I’m going into this totally blind.) But, as I’m sure you know, executing what you’ve learned when crafting your own story and really making it your own is completely different that reading some text from a class and being like “Oh yeah. I totally get that.”
So, I spent an hour or so being bitter, and then I printed out the feedback sheet. I printed out my story, and then I got excited. I underlined different parts of the feedback that I thought were spot-on and took notes about possible changes to make and where.
That’s the thing. Feedback should challenge you. At the end of the day, yes, I am the writer and the final decision is mine regarding what changes to make. However, a good writer will take the time to truly assess what will make the manuscript stronger.
I tell my students this all of the time. Feedback isn’t meant to hurt your feelings. It’s to help you grow. It either affirms things about your writing or challenges them.
Honestly, this set of feedback made me wish I knew who’d actually given it. I’d write them a note letting them know that their comments made me pout but then push harder. Thanks.
Oh, and do I recommend Rate Your Story for critiques? I do. I’m a fan. Honestly, I’m currently saving my coins to buy another year of membership. Besides, they did give me some solid feedback on the manuscript that I did end up selling (hoping we can soon get another dose of that magic potion brewing).
And with that, I’m off to do some revisions.

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On leaving my agent

I know you’re probably shocked to see me post since I haven’t posted in ages, and for that I apologize. You see, when your life revolves around your use of words, you sometimes have to know when not to run your mouth.
I’ve posted several times about my desire to be transparent with you about my writing journey and all it entails. My time of silence was not at attempt to keep you in the dark. Instead, it was a self-check. Yes, sometimes you have to check yourself. Deciding to leave my agent was one of the toughest decisions that I’ve had to make since embarking on this writing quest. I chose to confide in family and my trusted writing friends (new and old). What I didn’t want to do was to blog away while still all in my emotions.
That being said, after making a tough business decision(it wasn’t personal at all), I am back in the query trenches. It’s a scary thrill right now. I actually plan to start querying in about two weeks. I’ve been working on my query letters and new manuscripts. I’m ridiculously excited about the new manuscripts that I’m working on! (Judge your mother. I know I just ended a sentence with a preposition. What of it?!)
Am I sad that the path I thought I was on came to an end? Of course! But, if I’ve learned nothing else, I am definitely learning to hang on and enjoy the ride. You’ll never know what you’ll learn and who you will meet along the way. If you’ve hit a few bumps during your own writing journey, know that you’re not alone. Take time to regroup and press on.
So, here we go again (smile).

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