Ashley Franklin

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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Note to self:Don't get lost in animal stories.

I feel like I am truly getting closer to my dream. Thanks to my overactive imagination, I can almost smell the picture book newness with my name on it. In real life, while I’m waiting to hear back from publishers, I am continuing to write. After all, that’s what you do to avoid stalking your email. Seems logical to me.
I’m drafting 4 new picture book manuscripts at once. (I can’t think one story at a time.) I realized that 3 of them have a non-human main character. For me, this is problematic.
I grew up loving animal stories. They were my comfort zone. Why? They felt like a safe alternative since I didn’t see much of me in the stories I loved. I’ve said before that I had copies of folk tales and all that. Still, I could only relate to them but so much.
Today, I made a vow to draft a manuscript focusing on a human character for every non-human character driven story. That might not mean much to you, but it does to me. To me, it matters. For the little girl whose imagination readily filled with White characters and animals but struggled to imagine someone who looked like her doing similar things, it matters. For the little girl who will always remember being told that she could only be the neighbor or the dog when playing “house” at school because she didn’t match, it matters a lot.
 
 

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Won't you be my (bookshelf) neighbor?

This week on Twitter, I had a super brief conversation (after all, it is Twitter) in which I agreed that having diversity simply for the sake of diversity in literature is an epic fail. To be honest, I hadn’t even thought of this as an issue until the original poster’s tweet graced me with its presence.
That got me thinking. If folks think writers and publishers are seeking diversity at the expense of quality, it is seriously time to offer up some clarity. For example, it is my dream to be a successful writer. (My definition of that likely differs from yours, but we’ll save that for another post.) I don’t want a red carpet rolled out for me simply because I am a POC writing diverse characters. No! I want to be right alongside of any other writer, POC or not, whose work has received accolades if my writing is of the same caliber.
Yes, recognize that I am a POC and my characters will be diverse. However, don’t box me in. If I happen to write something amazing, I don’t want someone to say that the writing has merit and I’m a good writer for a POC. Nope! If I’m awesome, don’t segregate my awesomeness. Spread it around.
How do you organize your bookshelf? The present state of my bookshelf wold likely give someone hives. It’s just that unorganized to the untrained eye. To me, I have my books arranged by how much I like them. Sula is next to Madame Bovary. Great Expectations is next to Hamza’s Heroes. See, that may mean nothing to you. To me, it means I know exactly what I’m reading next.
Maybe one day I’ll be on your shelf. I wonder who will be my neighbor.

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