Saturday, October 1, 2022

Q&A with Alli Frank and Asha Youmans




Alli Frank and Asha Youmans are the authors of the new novel Never Meant to Meet You. They also wrote the novel Tiny Imperfections. They both live in the Pacific Northwest.


Q: What inspired the plot for Never Meant to Meet You, and how did you create your characters Marjette and Noa?


A: Never Meant to Meet You sprung from the collective grief we experienced during the heart of the pandemic. It may seem odd to be inspired to creativity during a difficult moment in time, but we discovered that our humor could indeed be sparked by a global calamity.


We needed somewhere to channel all the emotions we were experiencing as individuals, as well as processing the effect the pandemic was having on our children, husbands, and parents.  And we just needed some joy, something to make us laugh, some girl time, together, during the long, solitary months of the coronavirus.


The lead characters, Marjette and Noa, are loosely based on us. Like them, our friendship developed at a mature stage in our lives. We have each come to terms with the importance of our respective religions. We have settled into a relationship – one which extends to our husbands and children -- that is the awesome gift of found family.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between the two women?


A: The dynamic in the beginning is based on assumptions by Marjette that she and Noa would have absolutely nothing in common.  It takes a tragedy to bring these two neighbors together, to learn about each other, to come to respect and care about one another and ultimately become true friends.


Their story ends with them being closer than they ever thought and finding space in their relationship to encompass their loved ones. Marjette and Noa personify the notion that our similarities vastly outweigh our differences.


Q: On your website, you write, “In an entertainment era marked by Black trauma, our mission is to bring stories of Black and Brown joy, love and laughter amidst the challenging topics of race, religion, privilege, parenting and education to readers.” Can you say more about that, especially as it relates to this new novel?


A: When telling the story of Black and Jewish experiences, film, television, and books often gravitate to the trauma these two groups have faced. Slavery, Russian pogroms, Holocaust, Civil Rights history, and ghettos for both groups rule the headlines, as if those are the only ways to learn about and understand the Black and Jewish experiences, through their darkest days. 


There is so much joy, love, and humor in the everyday lives of Black and Jewish people that rarely gets explored or shared as a tool for our country to educate themselves. Humor and joy are powerful tools that are so rarely used to bring people in, enlighten them, and send them on their way feeling kinship and kindness towards those who may be different than they are.


Q: How did the two of you collaborate on the book?


A: We start with any “business of the books” we have outstanding. This is not always an author’s favorite part of the writerly life, but it is easily half of the work, needs to be tended to, and we actually enjoy it. 


This time may include anything that ranges from our LLC finances, action items to follow up on for our PR agent if we are in book launch mode, deadlines we may have coming up with our editor if we are in editing mode, and reaching out via email for promotion possibilities we may be working on for ourselves.

Social media “to dos” (which really means Asha’s “to do” because Alli would rather pull weeds than post) and then calls with our literary agent who is in New York while we are in the West.


There are days when our work varies, dictated by where we are in each book’s progress. We basically have three formats in which we work. Sometimes it’s in person, sometimes it’s on FaceTime, sometimes we are working solo. 


When kicking off a new book we have already brainstormed and loosely outlined together, Alli begins by emailing three rough chapters to Asha with a ton of notes attached. The storyline is there but the depth of emotion is barely an inch deep. 


Asha takes those chapters and brings the characters to life with more authentic dialogue, inner thoughts, emotion, and believability. Alli moves on to getting the next three chapters down on paper. 


We are deep in our divided work, but both committed to the deadlines we have agreed upon to constantly be passing chapters back and forth. There is crossover in all our work, but we endeavor to stay in our respective lanes and support each other’s strengths.


If we get stuck on where the story should go, we rely on FaceTime or sitting together, for hours, building the next chapter word by word.


Usually when this happens Alli is freaking out that the story is impossible to rework, our past books have been a fluke, we are doomed, it’s all over. Asha tolerates the freak out, but always with a slightly raised eyebrow, and they calmly move the chapter forward. Miraculously, words get down on paper, we survive another day as writers and Asha is always right, we can do this.


After chapters have gone through Alli’s world building and Asha’s character building, it’s time to read out loud. Asha is always the voice as her intonation brings the characters to life.  Alli is the scribe and keeps all electronic files in order. We negotiate and agree upon EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. 


Most times this is easy, and we are on the same page. Sometimes, because we are writing about race, religion, class, privilege, love, heartache, and parenting through it all, our conversations are hard, heated, and we must give our work the time and deep discussion it deserves. 


Neither of us gives into the other because we have committed to getting to a place of agreement on every aspect of what we create. This is our non-negotiable. 


We read our books, out loud, all the way through at least four times if not more. It may sound tedious, and it can be, but we have found it is our most proven method to bring our stories to a level we are proud of when submitting to our editor and ultimately when our books end up on readers’ shelves.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Our third novel, The Better Half, is done and is waiting for feedback and a haircut (it’s too long) from our fabulous development editor, Tegan Tegani. We adore the story! 


Also, we are deep in the struggle of the first 100 pages of our fourth book. The early stage of writing a new book is like wearing tight jeans, it’s never easy when we first try on a new story and the discomfort always results in the same question, “Why are we doing this?” But we do get over that hump, eventually…


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: We are so deep into the cancel culture era where people feel stifled to say anything for fear of being attacked and dismissed.  If we want to know people better, particularly people different than ourselves, we must enter conversations with the assumption of good will for all who are gathered to talk and listen. We need to speak bravely and listen fearlessly. 


If the questions you ask or the answers you give are not met with an open heart and mind, but with derision, do not let that stop you from reaching out to another person. And another. And another until you find the understanding you seek.


We are speaking less to one another right now, rather than more, and that is not the way to bring our country together. It can only divide us further. Words can be powerful, words can be emotional, but in the end, they are what we rely on to connect with our fellow humans. We should not use them to dismiss each other.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Alli Frank and Asha Youmans.

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