ASHA: Our characters are who they are because we are women attracted to the company of other strong, capable, forward-thinking women….and fun ones, too!
Alli: We wanted a character who had the permission and the authority to call it as she sees it. We currently live in a culture where we have to meticulously choose our words and our sentiments for fear of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. We wanted a character who did not feel shackled by societal norms or trends. A character who lived her life true to herself and her own moral compass.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alli Frank and Asha Youmans.
The robustness of a farm girl, the honed sophistication of a city woman, a dash of Jewish chutzpah, and a heaping cup of endurance athlete and voila, you have Alli Frank. Alli was raised in Yakima, WA, the only child of two parents who instilled in her that hard work coupled with a resilient spirit will take you far. So up some of the highest mountains Alli climbed, down insanely steep terrain she skied and across long swathes of land she ran. To pay for all this adventure, Alli has worked in education for over 20 years in San Francisco and Seattle — from an overcrowded, cacophonous public high school to a pristine private girl’s school. She has been a teacher, curriculum leader, coach, college counselor, assistant head, private school co-founder, sometimes pastor, often mayor, and de facto parent therapist. A graduate of Cornell and Stanford Universities, Alli can still be found with her nose deep in a book or hunkered down at the movies, never one to miss a great story. Alli lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband, two daughters and terribly cute mini-Bernedoodle. When she needs good food (cause she can’t really cook) she turns to her co-author Asha Youmans. Tiny Imperfections is her first book.
And Asha Youmans was raised in Seattle, WA, by an educational and civil right pioneer father and a children’s hospital administrator mother, along with a sister and a brother she admires and adores. As a child, Asha was a member of a two-time city champions Double Dutch team, among the first wave of girls to integrate Little League baseball and rode a unicycle, tumbled and juggled as a member of a traveling circus acrobatics team. She also read everything she could get her hands on from X-Men comic books to the “Clan of the Cave Bear” series to Camus. Enrolled in gifted programs while attending public school, Asha went on to graduate from one of America’s premier private academies, Lakeside School, from which her father, TJ Vassar, earned a diploma as the school’s first black graduate. After receiving a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, Asha returned to Seattle where she taught in public and private schools for nearly 20 years. Asha is a fabulous home cook who loves storytelling and connecting with others by making them smile. She lives with her white husband, two ethnically ambiguous sons, and a dog that is part Yorkie and part who-the-heck-knows. Tiny Imperfections is her first book.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to write your debut book Tiny Imperfections?
Asha: We met while working in a school our kids attended; Alli still has a daughter there. We joined the admission team and welcomed dozens of applicant students and families to visit our school. After long Saturday sessions, Alli and I found ourselves hanging out to laugh at the absurdity of parenthood and the pressures of raising successful kids. We each went our own way after working together for four years but we stayed connected.
Alli: I started my journey of writing after I left that school. When I was struck by a new story idea, while riding a bus through a snowstorm from Boise from Sun Valley, Idaho, I thought of Asha and decided to call her. I pitched my idea to her over coffee at a local bookstore, and a few hours later, we had a plan to work together.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened as you were writing this book?
Asha: When we were trying to sell Tiny Imperfections, we thought a book written by one of the first black/white co-authorships in fiction would be compelling to publishers. Perhaps naïve, but we thought our story — and our sparkly personalities — would help our book sell quickly. Editors loved it, but we ran into some that were nervous that the media would criticize our working relationship. Specifically, one suggested that people may accuse Alli of exploiting me. It was surprising and deeply insulting, but also fueled our fire to find the right publisher and editor for our book.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Asha: When we finished writing the manuscript and it was ready to be sent out to publishing houses, Alli took a picture of me posing on the floor like I was passed out from exhaustion, pages are strewn around and a post-it note with “FINISHED!” in caps stuck on my forehead. We thought it was clever and true; we were wrecked from working so hard! We sent the photo to a member of our team to ask if she thought it would be a great first post for our @alliandasha social media accounts. She immediately responded, “Uh, no. You can NOT post a picture of a dead-looking black woman.” We laughed hysterically, but it was a good reminder that while the two of us may have a deep friendship and shared sense of humor, other folks might not always see us the same way.
Can you tell us a story about an individual who inspired the themes of your book?
ASHA: Alli and I both have a number of strong female role models in our lives, and there are even more fantastic female public figures acting as world changers and role models for young girls today. Our characters are who they are because we are women attracted to the company of other strong, capable, forward-thinking women….and fun ones, too!
Alli: There’s not a specific individual who inspired themes in the book, but our readers have reported to us over and over, “Everyone needs an Aunt Viv.” That’s true and creating her character was intentional on our part. We wanted a character who had the permission and the authority to call it as she sees it. We currently live in a culture where we have to meticulously choose our words and our sentiments for fear of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. We wanted a character who did not feel shackled by societal norms or trends. A character who lived her life true to herself and her own moral compass.
Are there three things that families and communities can do to help educate themselves and tackle tricky conversations around race?
Asha: Check out some of the amazing programs available on-line hosted by people whose message offers insight, speaks to your moral barometer, or includes challenges to your point of view, and discuss lingering questions with family and friends. Right away I can suggest The Opt-In, a podcast hosted by friends Aurora Archer and Kelly Croce Sorg, and Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man, a video series hosted by Emmanuel Acho.
Alli: Be ready to put your listening skills to the test. When it comes to cultural experiences, you may find yourself in the uncomfortable position of being faced with how much you don’t know. Take it as an opportunity to continue to learn.
Asha: If you are seeking a path to allyship, begin by exploring the idea of unconscious bias, and calling it out where it exists, especially in yourself. Understand the history of categorizing humans by race, why this was beneficial and to whom, and how the results affect our thinking today. This is work everyone should do.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started writing a book” and why.
Alli: Don’t write your book on anyone else’s timeline; every word represents you so take the time to mean what you write.
Alli: When people tell you getting a book published is hard, multiple that by a thousand; it’s a lot of work for two people, let alone one.
Alli: Step away from the popcorn and tortilla chips; debut writing can equal 10 new pounds.
Asha: Carve out a specific time of day when you are working and not doing anything else; if this is your job, respect it like one.
Asha: Be ready to pivot when life happens; we never imagined we’d launch a book in a pandemic!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Alli: Hands down I want to have a cheesy breakfast burrito with Michelle Obama. I suppose I should say it’s because I want us to break down domestic policy, but really it’s her quick wit and sense of humor that makes me a super fan.
Asha: I would have lunch and a beauty day with RuPaul. Besides hoping he would glam me up and put me in my first wig, I adore his message about loving yourself and being your own superstar.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We can be found on social media — @alliandasha on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter — and via email — [email protected]. Come follow us!
Alli Frank, @allifrankauthor IG
Asha Youmans, @ashayoumans_author IG
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!