Ashley C. Ford Wants to Have Dinner with Zora Neale Hurston and Faith Ringgold
This is Rough Draft, in which our favorite writers get to the bottom of their own craft. From preferred writing drinks to whether or not you really need to carry a notebook, we find out all the ways they beat writer’s block and do the work. In this edition, we speak with Ashley C. Ford in honor of her debut: Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir. Ford recounts her childhood growing up with an incarcerated father in a moving account of forgiveness, loss, and family ties. Before diving into Somebody’s Daughter, discover all the elements that helped her get it done.
JULIANA UKIOMOGBE: Describe your ideal writing atmosphere. What gets you in the mood?
ASHLEY C. FORD: When I’m doing non-creative work, I need a window, and I need sunlight. But I like to write in the dark. At either the darkest point of morning, or after the sun goes down. Then, I light a candle, sit at whatever I’m using for a desk at the moment, put on my headphones, and gather all my materials around me like I’m in a nest. Temperature is very important. I can’t write while I’m cold.
UKIOMOGBE: Do you eat or drink while you write?
FORD: I like a mixture of salty and sweet snacks, specifically chosen so they won’t leave residue of any kind on my hands. Unsalted nuts, dried fruit, chips, or crackers.
UKIOMOGBE: Do you ever smoke or drink while you write? How do you think they impact your writing?
FORD: I usually smoke while writing. I started doing it to avoid panic attacks. Now, I do it because it’s fun, and I don’t have panic attacks. I don’t usually drink and write. Smoking puts me inside of myself. Drinking puts me out.
UKIOMOGBE: Do you keep a notebook and/or journal?
FORD: I keep a host of notebooks and journals, loosely themed by project or season, and they’re all over the place. I honestly can’t imagine what’s in all of them, but I know every stroke of my pen felt very important at the time it was written. I’ve found notebooks and journals to be the best places for me to process my emotions, or outline a story, or keep a grocery list, so every notebook has pieces of my whole life on its pages.
UKIOMOGBE: What’s your favorite quote?
FORD: “Never give up. Never surrender.” — Galaxy Quest
UKIOMOGBE: Whose writing do you always return to?
FORD: Roxane Gay, Sharon Creech, Min Jin Lee, and Gwendolyn Brooks.
UKIOMOGBE: What books did you read as a kid/teen?
FORD: As a kid, I read a lot of R.L. Stein, Edgar Allan Poe, William Shakespeare, and Sharon Creech. As a teen, I read a lot of Danielle Steel, Terry McMillan, and Laurie Halse Anderson. I still think all of those writers are amazing.
UKIOMOGBE: Do you read while you’re in the process of writing?
FORD: When I know I’m going to get to spend a good amount of time writing, I usually bring books that I’ll read to ease me into the mood. Especially poetry and short stories, just something to set the tone, and get my brain moving in all the right areas before I sit down and begin to write for myself. It’s like stretching before you hoop.
UKIOMOGBE: How many drafts of one piece do you typically write?
FORD: One to three.
UKIOMOGBE: Who’s your favorite screenwriter?
FORD: I’m paying special attention to Alice Wu and Julia Hart these days. I really love their work.
UKIOMOGBE: Do you consider writing to be a spiritual practice?
FORD: I know that I feel more aligned with my idea of the spirit when I’m taking good and real care of myself. Writing is part of that practice of care, and so it often feels spiritual, or at the very least, like an expression of my relationship to spirituality.
UKIOMOGBE: Which writers would you choose to have dinner with, living or dead?
FORD: Zora Neale Hurston, Beatrix Potter, and Faith Ringgold.
UKIOMOGBE: What advice do you have for people who want to be better writers?
FORD: Keep reading.
UKIOMOGBE: What are some unconventional techniques you stand by?
FORD: Doing what you want and not hurting anybody.
UKIOMOGBE: Can great writing save the world?
FORD: We can save the world, and maybe we will, but it won’t be any single person, tool, or moment. It will have to be enough of us united, and we will have to earn that.