“I write. I teach. I mom.” That’s the way Ashley Franklin explains it on her website. Ashley is the debut author of Not Quite Snow White, a lovely picture book illustrated by Ebony Glenn and published by HarperCollins. She is also an adjunct college professor who lives in Arkansas with her husband and two young sons. Today The Brown Bookshelf is happy to present–in her own words–our second honoree of the year, Ashley Franklin.
The Back Story
Not Quite Snow White sold after a major time of reassessment for me. It was approaching a year that I’d been with my first agent, and nothing had sold yet. I’m a firm believer that you must make the necessary adjustments if you’re not getting the results you want, so I asked my agent to pull everything I had on submission and took a step back. While on this break, I took a picture book class to improve my craft. I’d taken a class before, but this one was with a different author. I participated in Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm (then PiBoIdMo) to generate ideas and soak up the wisdom from its blog posts. I’d done it before, but I took it more seriously this time around. It wasn’t something fun I was trying out. It was a challenge I was seriously doing in order to improve my chances of securing a book deal.
A few months into submission, we got a request to revise. We received an offer after that revision from Harper. My editor has been absolutely wonderful!
Brandy has always been one of my favorite singers since I was a kid. Naturally, I was mesmerized when she played Cinderella in the 90s. This was another piece of the inspiration puzzle for Tameika in Not Quite Snow White. I tend to listen to Brandy’s music in those rare moments when I have chunks of time to write. It puts me in a good place.
Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is one of my best writing friends, and she has a way of incorporating imagery into her writing that I admire. Our writing styles are quite different, so brainstorming with her or preparing drafts I know she’ll eventually look at pushes me to consider my work from different angles. I tend to think that Jamilah’s work tends to have a soulful musicality to it, and I am in awe of it.
I wish I could say that I have a set schedule and a similar process for each time that I write, but I don’t. Sometimes the title comes to me first. Sometimes, I start drafting right away. Sometimes I think of a catchy line and build around it.
With Not Quite Snow White, I knew I wanted to write a princess story because I was always a Disney princess fan and princesses are always popular. I noticed that stories about Black princesses were still few and far between and wanted to fill the void. (Yes, there’s Princess Tiana, but she’s a frog for the bulk of her movie.)
The one consistent thing that I do is that I write everything by hand. My ideas stick with me better that way. It is particularly helpful to me because I normally have to squeeze my writing time into stolen moments of everyday life.
Under The Radar
At one of my book signings, I had the pleasure of meeting an illustrator named J’Aaron Merchant. She’s really starting to hit her stride and is building up momentum with her recently illustrated works Your Own Kind of Beautiful and Homecoming.
The State of the Industry
What do you wish the kidlit industry better understood about publishing Black children’s books/Black authors/Black illustrators?
Black people are a multitude. Our joy, our pain, our love, our curiosity—they can’t be adequately captured in a handful of books. Black children need to see more books written by Black authors. They need to see more books from Black illustrators. It’s empowering to see yourself represented in a book AND see that someone like you is behind the creation of that same book.
I truly wish the kidlit industry understood that our stories haven’t been adequately captured up to this point, and many times due to barriers beyond our control. It can be difficult to get your authentic voice out there if your work must pass through multiple hands belonging to those who aren’t familiar with that voice or have preconceived notions about the people behind that voice.
Ezra Jack Keats didn’t bless the publishing world with Peter from The Snowy Day hundreds of years ago. That happened in the 60s! We have been thirsty for representation, but it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. Black creatives need more opportunities and we need to feel welcome in the spaces that are offering those opportunities.
What do we still need more of in books centering Black people and Black experiences?
We still need more of absolutely everything when it comes to books centering Black people and Black experiences. There is such a wide range of themes. Settings, and adventures that white characters, animals, and inanimate objects have had the privilege of doing poorly and exquisitely well.
We need more books that showcase Black children simply being. Our children deserve more books that showcase them in situations that aren’t trauma-based or expected (like sports). Don’t get me wrong. These books are needed, but their presence in the small space that we are given seems heavily skewed.
We need books featuring more Black children in all their wonderful complexity. We need more reflections of children who are quiet, shy, autistic, anxious, playful, proud, joyous, economically diverse, and more!