The Broken Plate Recommends

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford – an Interview with Ayah Eid

It was a combination of things that led Ashley C Ford to choose Ball State for college.

“I chose Ball State partly because I thought it was beautiful, partly because it felt far enough away from my family that I could sort of be whoever I wanted but not so far that I couldn’t get home for holidays. If I needed it, catch a ride with somebody.”

Another reason she chose to attend Ball State was her interest in the fashion program they had. Ford started her freshman year in the fall of 2005 as a fashion major. She eventually became an English major.

According to Ford, there was a sense that things were about to change amongst students. That change ended up being the recession.

“..We were all trying to figure out what we were going to do after we graduated, how we were going to find jobs and not have to hopefully not have to move in with our parents because also at that time, all the news stories were about how our generation was failing and moving back in with our parents. So it was a really, really I think high-stress time to be a person and merging into that version of adulthood..”

Despite this, Ford felt insulated from the recession while at Ball State.

“.. You knew that these things were happening out there. But at Ball State, I guess it just felt like it made sense to just keep following your curiosity. And to really enjoy this time, where you got to not just figure out what kind of job you wanted to do in the world, but what kind of person you want it to be in fact.”

At this time in her life, Ford had “a lot of confidence-boosting experiences” at Ball State.

“..I’d come from a school system that was poorly managed, and underestimated, and under-resourced in my hometown, and then to come to Ball State and have all these resources, have all these things that are available to you. I suddenly realized that I was not dumb. It’s not that I ever thought I was like, truly dumb. But I did think I had a limited intellectual capacity….”

If she thought she was going to struggle in a class, she went to the tutoring center and go to her professors’ office hours to get extra help. This allowed her to finish the class with a higher grade.

“.. I realized that that was the difference. It wasn’t that I wasn’t capable of getting things done. It’s that I hadn’t had what I needed to get things done and to see this version of me play out in my academics..”

This realization led Ford to become curious about what else she may be capable of doing. It also led her to ask herself the question:Could I write a book?

Somebody’s Daughter took around ten years to write.

“One of the main pieces of the book comes from something I started writing when I was a student at Ball State. And I had a professor, [Jill Christman], who said that she thought the story that I was digging into here could be a book, and then for ten years, I slowly turned it into a book.”

After graduating, Ford had planned to work for nonprofits. She had spent time at Ball State working with Student Voluntary services and was a part-time AmeriCorps member for three years.

“ I didn’t really believe in my writing enough to try to turn it into a career, nor did I feel like I had the training information or background to turn it into a career. So, I just always thought writing would be something I did on the side. Like it would be something that I did sort of like a hobby or for fun. And I would take all of this training that I’ve actually gotten in the industry of nonprofits and work full time in that place, and I very quickly found out that that was not going to work for me.”

Due to the hyper corporate environment and bureaucracy issues that she found many nonprofits dealt with, she typically would leave those jobs; however, while working a nonprofit space, her car broke down, causing her to lose all three of the jobs she had.

“I decided that you know what, I’m just going to start writing then I have all this free time now that I’m an unemployed, very broke person. So I’m just going to start writing, and I’m going to start thinking about who I want to be as a writer. And that’s what I did. I just kept doing that until opportunities came.”

At first, Ford was writing small essays for different online publications. The Editor in Chief of Indianapolis Monthly reached out to Ford based on some tweets. Ford wrote a few times for her. That was the first time her writing was in print.

Ford also wrote a shared blog with some women who had been in Jill Christman’s nonfiction with her.

“There were like six of us. And we all had a day of the week that we wrote one blog post on a blog. And an essay that I had written on that blog ended up being seen by a woman who was also writing a lot in internet spaces and Roxane Gay. And then she published that piece, and I mean, it just, it just kept going.”

Ford kept writing for different places and was offered a job at Buzzfeed.

“I went and worked at BuzzFeed; I moved to New York, work at BuzzFeed, left BuzzFeed, and started freelancing off and on, working for different companies off and on. I’ve done a lot, and it’s been a lot of fun, but the whole time I was doing all that stuff I was also working on my book.”

Something Ford had to work through was owning her story.

“..I grew up in a black household. And there’s this saying and a lot of black households that what goes on in this house stays in this house. You’re not really supposed to talk about what happened to you and not supposed to share this. And I had that belief and held on to that belief for a really long time. And it took me going to therapy and having really important deep conversations to realize that you can’t owe somebody your silence when they harm you. And that was really hard for me to accept for a long time….”

Ford met with Maria Massey, who wanted to represent her as her literary agent, and they began making plans for sending out proposals to different publishers. The proposal consisted of 30 pages of the memoir, an outline, a bio, and a synopsis of what Ford wanted to write.

Massey sent the proposal to various editors at various publishing houses, and they began to hear back from some of those editors and have meetings.

“They wanted to know about what I wanted. It was like a week of having conversations with different people about all the different versions of my book that l could exist in the world one day.”

Ford ended up choosing Flatiron.

“ I really, really liked the publisher that I chose, Flatiron even though it would have been an honor to be published by almost all of them but Flatiron, in the end, made me an offer and a space for me in a way that I just never expected and never dreamed of. And I just can’t imagine at this point working with another publisher. But I really just loved working with them.”

From there, Ford chose her editor, and they worked on the book together over the course of a couple of years. They then submitted a manuscript and went through the editing processing. Ford then went through marketing meetings, and the book was released.

Ball State’s President’s Office reached out to Ford to work together. Ford was given a few different options for what she could do, and she chose the option that worked best for her coming off her first book tour and book publicity season.

“I’ve always said that I wanted to do something fun with Ball State. And it was a great opportunity to bring me back. It was a great opportunity for me to go back to be able to talk to students, not just on Ball State’s campus but also in the community. It, like, it was just amazing.”

During her book tour, Ford was able to talk to some of her favorite authors, peers, and colleagues. She was also interviewed by Oprah.

For Ford, it was a full circle-moment. She was a student at Ball State when Oprah launched her OWN Network. She remembers moving into the converted basement apartment of the family she nannied for.

“There was a TV down there, and I turned on the OWN Network, and I remember there being this thing called I masterclass and I remember listening to Oprah talk about intention in your life and how you can’t live your life in a way where you’re just reacting to what happens. You have to have some direction. There’s only so much we get to choose in this life, but you can choose your intention. Always. And that shifted something in me, and a lot of things in my life started to change from that moment. A lot started to change. And so to then have this book be coming out and to have it published by an Oprah book, and to be in conversation with Oprah and that moment having her call me ‘Ash,’ like. . . a nickname. Like we know each other. I don’t know how to explain how a moment like that feels in your body. It’s like all the lights turn on.”