Alli Frank and Asha Youmans, THE BETTER HALF

Alli Frank and Asha Youmans, THE BETTER HALF

Guest host Julie Chavez interviews comedy writing duo Alli Frank and Asha Youmans about The Better Half, a charming, laugh-out-loud funny book about a woman who has reached her personal and professional pinnacle and then… gets pregnant! Alli and Asha share their mission of exploring challenging subjects through a lens of humor and joy. They also talk about their partnership with Mindy’s Book Studio (Mindy Kaling’s new publishing house!) and their lovely writing support group, the Tall Poppy Writers. Finally, they play the question game with Julie (“When was the last time you got unreasonably upset?”).


Julie Chavez: Hello, ladies. Welcome to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I’m so glad you’re here today.

Asha Youmans: Thanks for having us.

Alli Frank: We’re happy too. Always.

Julie: I love that you two, Asha and Alli, are in the same room, which is especially fun.

Alli: We like to escape our house.

Julie: So it wasn’t a hard sell. I’m out. Bye, everybody.

Alli: Peace out.

Julie: So exciting. I’m here with you today so we can talk about your book, The Better Half, which I finished last night. I really enjoyed it. It’s such a good book. Well done. I have not read your other two, but I will definitely be going back. This one’s fantastic.

Alli: Thank you.

Asha: Thanks. We love it too.

Julie: You did such a great job. Although, I do have to start with the one premise about a pregnancy happening a little later in your life. That is the sort of thing I have nightmares about sometimes.

Asha: Yes, the join the club.

Alli: We can’t anymore, and we still are terrified.

Julie: I am nearing the point where that will not be happening for me anymore. Even still, I get nervous, too, that everything’s jumping ship down there. People are getting — eggs, more specifically — are getting desperate. I’m like, don’t do anything crazy. We have teenagers. We can’t do this.

Asha: Oh, yeah, you just wait. I have adult children now. It’ll go from worrying about yourself to them. Oh, my gosh, one of them could procreate any moment.

Julie: Oh, my. Oh, gosh.

Asha: Did I give you something to worry about there? I’m sorry.

Julie: Asha, thanks so much for ushering me into my next nightmare. This is fantastic. I’m so lucky. Will one of you give me the pitch on, what is this book about?

Alli: The pitch is, we would say there are two main themes. Let me preface those themes by saying that we have this really uncanny ability that we write about something, and then that thing happens in the world. The Better Half, we actually wrote a while ago and then wrote our second book. We just flopped when they were coming out. This question for us about a woman who has reached her professional pinnacle and then this very female thing happens to her, a late-in-life pregnancy — she has all the abilities, the money, the house, the loving family, to have the child, but it’s still her choice. That was really what we were grappling with. She has the maturity. She has the money. She’s been a good parent already. It’s still a choice. We were writing that before the really big discussion about Roe v. Wade was happening. It was fascinating editing that book. As Roe v. Wade was happening, there wasn’t the discussion about the women of privilege who can have the kids but still may not want to. They’ve already done it. They’re at a different place in their life. We’re excited for this book to come out because it is a different lens and a different type of person who should still have the opportunity to make that choice about her body and her future. It’s kind of crazy that it’s now happened in ways we never imagined would go down when this book came out. That was our first theme. Then our second theme that we were super interested in exploring was the saying of, “Not all skin folk are kin folk.” What does look like? How does that play out? You want to talk more about that one?

Asha: It’s something that I think that we have an opportunity to discuss when we’re sharing with audiences as we’re talking about books and visiting bookstores, visiting schools. I’m not the monolith of the Black culture. Alli is not the monolith of Jewish culture. own personal perspectives that may be influenced by where we come from, by our makeup, by our background, but we don’t speak for everyone. I don’t agree with every Black person I know. I don’t know every Black person I know. There’s one more thing. I want everybody to know that too. You might find differences of opinions across geographical lines. There are Southern Blacks that — I don’t know their story. They don’t know the story of a Black person growing up in the Pacific Northwest. We had a good time exploring that. I think a lot of people would assume, wow, there’s two Black characters, they’re going to be on the same side now. They’re going to be each other’s ally. We have explored that in our books, that it’s important to have that sort of ally with you. In this book, we take a departure from that point of view and look at what the ramifications are of being in conflict with someone who you expect to have your back.

Alli: That allyship should be a choice, not just because it’s the only other person that might look like you in the room. Those are really the two themes that we wanted to explore. Again, not light topics. The mission of our writing is to be able to explore challenging topics of race and religion and privilege and parenting and education, but all through a lens of humor and joy and comedy because you can learn and expand and laugh at the same time. It doesn’t always have to beat you down to feel like you have learned or explored something. We have that mission that our books will always — the stories might change. The characters will change. The mission to use comedy and humor to look into the challenging parts of life will always be how we write because we want to have fun doing it.

Julie: I love that lens that you bring to it. Just listening to you talk about that, that makes a lot of sense to me. Joy can be a conduit to growth just as pain can. How do we take that road, especially when we’re choosing it? I really like that. I also liked listening to you talk about characters you would expect, maybe, to ally. Maybe assumptions, I should say. I even had certain assumptions about some of the characters early on that then were turned over for me by the end, which I really appreciate for myself. It’s so funny when that happens because it kind of unearths a bias or a thought that I didn’t even realize I had. You did a very masterful job with especially — I don’t want to give too much away. I’m always really careful. One of the characters especially, I thought, oh, I did not see that coming, in a good way. It’s a reminder, too, that people are more than whatever our first impression of them is, most of the time. There are some dirtbags out there. Those people just make us feel good because we’re like, hey, I knew it.

Alli: Also, we always talk about how stereotypes do exist for a reason. There are commonalities in cultures and religion and race and all those things. Sometimes as writers or creators, you get nailed for, you’re being too stereotypical. I think there’s this balance of, you can have stereotypes and still be surprised by those stereotypes. Both can happen at the same time. As you read, we don’t shy away, necessarily, from stereotypes, but it’s always with a depth of then what’s unique to that individual.

Julie: Yes, it does feel very true. You’re using the stereotypes as a jumping-off point, but it’s not the whole of your character. I love that. I know I mentioned before we started recording that we were going to play a little game. Before we do that, I would like to hear about the Tall Poppy Writers. I don’t know anything about them, but I feel like it seems like a really friendly, non-dangerous cult that I would like to be part of, so if you can just give me some insight as to what it’s like to be in that group.

Asha: I would say a very smiley cult. Very smiley.

Julie: Perfect. Good.

Asha: Very friendly.

Julie: I love a friendly cult.

Alli: Female-centric.

Asha: We are both members of the Tall Poppy Writers. Founded by Ann Garvin, fantastic author herself and one of the driving forces in literature and book writing and mentoring other people to write books and best practices to do so. It is populated by about thirty-five women with just extreme talent. Denny S. Bryce and Sadeqa Johnson. Zibby Owens is a —

Julie: — I know her. Weird.

Asha: Danielle Girard. The list goes on and on and on. It’s a group of women committed to supporting each other in our work as writers by lifting each other up when we have new work that comes out, celebrating each other when we achieve accomplishments, and also reaching back. There was a contest that just closed to welcome new writers called The Perfect Pitch. As a writer, you get people saying, “You’re a writer. I have this book idea. Could you look at it for me?” Those requests can get a little bit overwhelming. The Tall Poppys are a very generous group. Ann and staff and some of the writers came up with this idea to, let’s open it up. Let’s see if we can get some great agents out there, some great content creators, publishers, managers, anybody we can get to run this contest and have people get us their best pitch sentence for their books and turn that into advice and maybe turn that into someone who’s exploring their opportunity as a writer. It’s pretty exciting.

Alli: I would just add the Tall Poppys grew out of this shift in publishing of, how do you do PR for a book? It’s weird. Is it podcasts? There aren’t as much in-person stuff. There’s so much in social media, but if people aren’t drawn to you on social media, then you’re dead in the water. It really came about as a way to support each other in the launches of your books, but having an element of comfort that the books you’re pitching — maybe we haven’t had time to read them. Because the authors have all been vetted through the Tall Poppy process of being invited, you know that you’re putting out on your personal social media, a great writer, a story that will hit somebody’s heart and mind. That’s how it grew or the purpose why it grew. Then it’s flourished from there, blossomed from there.

Julie: Blossomed from there. Wow, way to bring it home. You should be writing. You should be a writer. That was tidy. Way to go. I do want to ask too — I should know the answer to this, so forgive me. Is this your first one with Mindy’s Book Studio?

Asha: It is.

Julie: I was thinking it was because her imprint is fairly new. Was that an exciting thing for you?

Asha: So exciting.

Julie: That seems like a dumb question. I adore her. I love the way she shows up in the world. Out of people to be aligned with in this, it feels like your book, obviously, is perfect for her. It seems like that would be an exciting place for your book to land.

Asha: For sure. She’s an author, producer, director, actor, comedian. I don’t know what she hasn’t done. To be chosen by someone who has such a sharp eye in so many industries, it feels just very empowering and legitimizing to have her stamp on our book. It’s been fun too. Her team has been very supportive and excited along with us to have this book come out.

Julie: That’s so joyful. It’s always nice when things can feel multiplied. Publishing’s such a hard business at certain turns because you can feel very exposed as the creator in sort of a strange way. Having that backup is pretty great.

Alli: I will also say, though, if you know when you’re well-aligned — when she announced her book studio, Asha and I knew who we were and what we were writing was exactly what she was trying to bring out into the world. We were thrilled when she chose us. However, we also knew that our story was going to elevate her brand. To me, it didn’t feel like, aren’t we so lucky? Aren’t we so lucky? We brought her exactly what she was looking for.

Julie: In the right publishing relationship, that’s how it should be in terms of the creator bringing something and the publisher bringing their resources to pull that into the world. It’s a team effort. They can’t do it without you because you’re writing it.

Asha: We did.

Julie: You did. We did. You have now answered my questions about the cult and the other new club that you’re a part of, which is the Mindy Kaling studio. You now have earned your ticket to play the game I made up. It’s sort of like a cross between The Newlywed Game and Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin? I almost blanked on the name of the game. The game is really perfect. Let’s start with an individual question. Each of you answer for yourselves. Let’s start here. The last time I got unreasonably upset…

Alli: I know mine.

Asha: Okay, you tell yours.

Julie: I had to think of mine too. I love this one. Okay, go.

Alli: I would like to say mine was not unreasonable. Can I preface? In my view.

Julie: That’s what an unreasonable person says, though.

Alli: I lost my earbuds. I went back to every place they could possibly be. I asked my teenage daughters, my husband. Has anyone seen them? For two days, I was racking my brain because I don’t lose things. I’ve got other Achille’s heels, absolutely, but I really don’t lose things. My nineth-grade daughter was at lacrosse practice. I thought to myself, I’m such a ding-dong. Why did I not just do “find my earbuds”? I turned that on, and it shows it’s at my address. I’m like, how’s that possible? I scoured the house. Then I put the noise so it’ll ding. Ding, ding, ding. I’m following it and following it and following it, all of it right to the very bottom of my daughter’s disgusting lunch bag. There were my earbuds with her orange peels, her half-eaten , and her yogurt cup. That was after she told me, “I don’t know where they are.” When she got home from lacrosse, because I’m a writer and a storyteller, I invited her into my room for story time. I retraced the story of my steps to finding my earbuds in her lunch bag. I was pissed.

Julie: I’m going to take back what I said earlier because I would be reasonably upset about that too.

Asha: Mine is much shorter. Last time I was unreasonably upset was, someone just texted me when I was busy. Just that, ugh, who is daring to text me right now? That’s unreasonable. That was unreasonable. You could’ve been upset about the AirPods. I get upset about little, teeny, teeny things.

Julie: See, I think I’m more like you where I like to save my rage for just random things that don’t deserve it.

Asha: Why do I have a phone if I don’t want someone to text me?

Julie: Right. Why don’t I put it on silent? How were they to know what I was doing in my home? No, how dare you interrupt me? I’m here for that. I like that.

Alli: I wish I would’ve seen that because you never get angry.

Asha: I don’t, but I do get unreasonably angry.

Julie: Hey, good to know about yourself. I love that. Now this, I want to hear from each of you. Here’s the question. Few people know I could talk for hours about…what? What could Alli talk for hours about, Asha?

Asha: Oh, my gosh. Alli could talk for hours about anything she’s researched. The term “going down a rabbit hole” was written for Alli. I think she sprouts an actual bunny tail when that happens. I hear quite a few long, epic stories about the research that she’s — it could just be about a person who’s starring in a new show that she watched.

Alli: It could be very important information.

Asha: It could be very important information. Often, it’s about a star that is on a show that she watched.

Alli: It’s usually because I think they would be good in a role in one of our books.

Asha: That’s true. That is true. She has justification behind it for herself.

Alli: Asha getting a text and being annoyed.

Asha: Is she writing to me about Idris Elba again?

Julie: Look at this fact I found. You’re like, I cannot. I love this. This is amazing.

Alli: three times about his marriage status.

Julie: You can search it in your phone. It’ll pop right up. It’ll be a whole chain. You can feel yourself get all rage-y again just for fun. I love that. Alli, your turn. What would Asha talk for hours about?

Alli: When Asha says, “Girl, let me tell you…,” I have to go get a drink because I’m about to hear it all about her brother or her sister.

Asha: Yeah, my siblings.

Alli: Who she loves more than anything, but she can go forever.

Julie: And give you all the details.

Alli: I get myself a glass of water, and I settle in.

Asha: We were just talking about them before you came on.

Alli: And here’s my drink.

Julie: You were like, uh-huh, let me just go to the fridge real quick. Sounds like a Pavlov’s dog kind of response too. As soon as she starts that phrase, you’re like —

Alli: — I’m thirsty.

Julie: I love that. Let’s do one for each of you for yourselves. If you could see into the future, you would want to know what?

Alli: You want me to start?

Asha: Sure. You got one?

Alli: This is not so funny or uplifting. I have to say that AI terrifies me, and the growth and the trajectory of it. I would love to be able to see in the future if there were an end result of that there was some regulation around it. That would be the positive lens of seeing into the future, but I would also be terrified to see into it about AI if it’s going to go unregulated. I do spend a little too much time recently sort of rubbing my hands about that, less about us and more about our kids and their future.

Julie: That’s true. Doesn’t that feel like a side effect of having children? You can’t help but forecast out and think, what is their world going to look like, especially with the pace of change since we were young? It’s paralyzing.

Alli: I kind of parent like it’s 1973. This is the first thing I really have to say that I — I’m not an angsty person when it comes to parenting. This one, it’s particularly compelling to me because I’m like, whoa, this is actually making me nervous. If I’m reacting to it, at least for me, it’s something. On that downer…

Julie: I love that, though. I love that answer. Thank you for answering it. It makes sense to me. Okay, Asha.

Asha: It was very heartfelt. I was going to say I just want to know if I’m going to fit into that size-eight dress that I bought. Am I ever going to? The tags are still on.

Julie: Oh, man. It’s so true. I see all these pictures of people getting in their wedding dresses. I’m like, what? I don’t know that that’s in my future. Come on.

Asha: If I don’t, I know it’s because I’ll have a lot of good meals on the way. It doesn’t keep me up at night, but I do want to know.

Alli: If that one pair of jeans that you’ve been holding onto…

Julie: If would be so great if we could harness and regulate AI to tell you if you are going to fit into that dress. That’s what we really need.

Asha: AI doesn’t have any idea that that dress has so much dust on it. I’ll have to wash it first anyway.

Alli: I feel like if AI can write a paper, can’t they lose weight for me?

Asha: Come on, stupid AI.

Alli: Do something useful.

Julie: Yes, there it is. We need it to be good. Here’s another one. This is for each other. What is the other person particularly stubborn about? This could have to do with your writing process or just in general life.

Alli: Asha could pick from a myriad.

Julie: Are you a stubborn person, Alli?

Asha: Yeah.

Alli: I like to say I have conviction.

Julie: Convictions. We’re going to put a little spin on that.

Asha: What thing are you particularly stubborn about? In dealing with her very lovely husband, very talented, handsome, kind —

Alli: — What are you going to say?

Asha: That she is right every time. It don’t matter what it is. It could be a small issue. It could be a giant issue.

Alli: Is that true?

Asha: Oh, yeah. Yes. If he doesn’t mind what she says, it’s going to be trouble. He’s so patient. It’s good, though. He loves her to death. I’m like, you do?

Alli: I feel like I’m very compromising.

Asha: You do? Okay.

Alli: Wow. That’s not where I thought you were going to go.

Asha: No?

Alli: No.

Asha: I’ve been holding onto that one.

Julie: I’m so glad you could share it with me. My best friend, they have a similar relationship where I swear if she said to her husband, “Hey, just go lie down in traffic for a while,” he’d be like, “Okay, cool.” Every time, I’m like, why is this happening? I don’t understand. I’m sure it’s just a testament to your husband being a lovely man and you having convictions.

Alli: Let me say he is not — the thing is, he’s as strong as I am, so when he doesn’t actually listen to me, then I have to go tell Asha why I’m right.

Julie: Oh, I see. Okay, this is good to know.

Asha: I think I get that side of it.

Julie: You are helping her release that so she can stay married and not smother him with a pillow in the middle of the night.

Alli: Yes.

Asha: She’s not allowed to leave him. It’s not happening. If she leaves him, she’s going to have to leave me. No. I can’t take her without him.

Julie: Exactly. You’re in a tricycle situation. You can’t. No, no, no. We can’t upset the apple cart. I’m with you a hundred percent. That’s what girlfriends are for, though, right?

Asha: It’s true.

Julie: There are certain battles with my husband where I’m like, okay, so we’re done, obviously, with this.

Asha: I’m going to get on the phone, and it’s going to be all about you.

Julie: A hundred percent. I’ll be in the backyard talking about you. You don’t need to wonder. Your turn now, Alli. What’s Asha stubborn about?

Alli: I really have to say she’s not stubborn in the typical sense of stubborn. I’m going to use the word consistent instead of stubborn. Asha is consistently the stereotype, in the best way, of a middle child.

Julie: I love it.

Alli: Unbelievable at keeping peace. She’s unbelievable at being unflappable when I’m all worked up. Asha’s steady as she goes. When I’m being stubborn, Asha’s so good at just letting me ride it out. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Julie: She’s drinking her water at that point.

Alli: Pushes us on our way. Asha is just unbelievably consistent at being even keeled.

Asha: My husband could give you a whole list of things I’m stubborn about.

Julie: The next interview will be that. I’ll interview your husbands and ask them these questions.

Alli: I actually thought of a small thing. She will not give away her mac and cheese recipe. Does not matter who asks. It could be Mindy Kaling asking. You wouldn’t give it to her.

Asha: She’s not getting it.

Alli: That’s what Asha’s stubborn about. Will not give away her mac and cheese recipe.

Julie: That is inspiring. I love that almost petty — I mean in a good sense. A petty moment where you’re like, no, this matters more than your life.

Asha: Actually, that word describes both of us pretty well.

Alli: Oh, yeah, we’re so petty.

Julie: Hello. I’m here for petty. I really do enjoy it. It’s necessary. I have to say this was so much fun. You two are a delight. I love seeing the way you talk and hearing a little bit about you together because it shows up so much in your book. Your rapport and the dialogue, all the things, I can totally see it in the two of you. It’s just so fun. Thank you for this time. Thanks for being so game to do something fun and different and potentially friendship-altering, but thankfully not. Yay.

Alli: Marriage-altering if my husband’s watching.

Asha: Or marriage-altering if Julie gets her hands on my husband to test him about my stubbornness.

Julie: It’s true. I’m going to give him a ringy-dingy and ask him just a couple of questions. It’s fine. You can talk to my husband. He’ll tell you all the dumb things I do. We argue about the dumbest stuff. What couple doesn’t, though, right?

Alli: Absolutely.

Asha: That’s the good stuff.

Julie: Yeah, it is. Although, last night, he was moving my shoes again. I was like, I think we’re going to die this way. It’ll just be him putting my shoes on the shoe rack forever, and then one day, we die. The end. Oh, well.

Alli: lift.

Julie: It’s so true. A little place for them .

Alli: I do have to say, since you’re in Pleasanton — I know because you’re doing these podcasts, you have a million books to read. Our second book, Never Meant to Meet You, takes place in the East Bay, so if you want a little close to home. It’s about a Black Baptist woman and a white Jewish neighbor who never cross their common California bungalow driveway. Then something happens that pushes them together. It takes place right in your backyard. Now that you’ve met us and know our humor —

Asha: — I think you’ll read us in the book.

Julie: I will be ordering that today. That will be another thing that I’m stubborn about. I refuse to cut back on book spending. Yay, thank you. Thanks so much, ladies. This was a joy.

Asha: Thank you, Julie.

THE BETTER HALF by Alli Frank and Asha Youmans

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