It is such a great joy when we can send our subscribers great, high quality books and also uplift a new, independent author and illustrator. We have achieved that happy combination with Carefree Like Me! by Rashad Davis. Read on to learn how he got started, how he channeled darkness over police brutality into the creative spark for his books, how he creates his characters, and how you can get in touch with him.
Jambo: Tell us about your journey as an independent author. Is self-publishing difficult? Is it difficult to get placement in high profile bookstores like Barnes & Noble?
Davis: I took so many leaps of faith with this entire process! I truthfully had no idea what I was doing, but the universe really stepped in and provided everything to me that I needed as soon as I needed it. I researched as much as I could about crowdfunding, because I knew at the very least that I needed to raise capital to print out my books. I had initially opted to work with PrintNinja, but in the middle of crowfunding (raising money through donation or pledges on sites like Gofundme or Kickstarter) the self-publisher Mascot Books found me on Kickstarter. They offered their services, and I chose them based on several factors. Firstly, their rates for printing compared to the really high quality of their books. I retained all rights to the books. It would take significantly less time to ship books to me, and I also considered the fact that they could get the books into major distributors to then get it into major retailers and libraries. These are ultimately what sold me. When I saw my book sitting on a shelf in Barnes and Noble, I almost cried. (Just kidding. I totally did cry.) Mascot Books will provide the book to distributors for them to get it into retail stores, but ultimately these retailers have to LIKE the book. For Barnes and Noble to see my debut picture book and like it so much that they are willing to put it on their bookshelves is huge! I think that my experience with Barnes and Noble is quite rare, but it is doable if not difficult! The biggest thing is having a connection to a distributor and producing high quality content.
“I also have been adamant about creating spaces where children, especially boys of color, feel encouraged to explore their inner-lives and empathy skills.”
Jambo: What was the inspiration for the Carefree Like Me series?
Davis: Carefree, Like Me! was born out of so many things happening at once. Truthfully, I was sitting on the couch and three words seemingly downloaded into my head. I remember hearing “Best friends, chakras, adventure.” I wrote it down on a sticky note that I stuck on a vision board and let it sit. The story developed as time passed for the next 3 months and life created the story for me. I was feeling heavy and truthfully depressed by the string of murders of unarmed black men in the United States. I felt powerless and broke down. I needed an outlet and created a character named Amir. I initially wanted to name him Tamir after Tamir Rice, but I didn’t want to feel as if I was profiting off of the death of a child. I instead named him Amir to honor him without directly taking someone’s namesake. Beyond this, I also was developing my burgeoning spirituality. I thought it would be amazing to have a story set in a fictional “spirit world” where I could explore some of my own philosophical beliefs without seeming overbearing or preachy. I studied Anthropology so the idea of incorporating ancient cultures was perfect for me. And I also have been adamant about creating spaces where children, especially boys of color, feel encouraged to explore their inner-lives and empathy skills. Boys are so discouraged from developing our inner worlds that I wanted to create a safe-space for them to do just that.
Jambo: Tell us about the main characters, Neena and Amir. How did you come up with them?
Davis: Both Amir and Neena are very largely based on me and my best friend of over 20 years. I cheated a little bit with their personalities since I know them so well! Amir is the protagonist and like me is lighthearted, goofy, sensitive and lives with his heart on his sleeve. He’s the definition of a carefree child but his lack of discipline gets him into trouble. Neena, on the other hand, is his total opposite. Like my best friend, she is logical, practical, book-smart and nurturing. She’s the definition of a type-A character, but her caution and inability to think with her heart stifles her. Like in real life, they are perfect counterparts. I designed them to be yin-yang so that they could help each other where one was lacking on this adventure that would challenge everything they knew. Together, they are balanced.
Jambo: Can you tell us about their backgrounds?
Davis: It was important for me to have characters of color being the saviors of their own lives and of the world. Like me and my best friend, both Amir and Neena are African-American and South Asian (Indian), respectively. Amir has a *little* something extra though with regards to his origins that I don’t want to reveal just yet, but it was important for me to have characters with brown skin. Growing up, so many of us struggled with finding images that mirrored our realities. Having students pore over these stories and say to me that they “look like me” always chokes me up. Kids don’t necessarily say it out loud that they’re missing stories with their own image, but as soon as they’re presented with these stories their worlds open up dramatically. I can see their perspectives change as they absorb the narrative, and it’s the most beautiful thing to bear witness to. Mostly because I was also that child at one point too.
Jambo: Carefree, Like Me! – Chapter 1: Root the Brave is the first of a series of Carefree Like Me! books. What else do you have in store for your readers?
Davis: My intention was always to build a world with this series. Whenever I create, I usually can’t create stand-alone stories. The worlds I build are always massive breathing in my mind, and Carefree, Like Me! was no exception. Chapter One is the first in what I want to be seven books. Each book is based on a different chakra in the Hindu or Buddhist religious traditions, and with that comes a new adventure and a new emotion to explore. Every book has its own flavor because they are in literal separate dimensions or worlds within a larger “spirit world”, so readers will be getting something entirely new each book! I also will be changing the approach to each book to match the art style of that culture. Every story is full of adventure and love, but specifically readers will find themselves in a world based on the ancient dynasties of China and how to deal with anger.
Q. Did you plan out the entire trajectory of all of the books before you started the first one or do you let each one guide you to the next as you write them?
Davis: In typical Amir fashion, I don’t have things planned! I typically write intuitively and let the story breathe a life of its own. What I do have planned thoroughly are the character traits and the ending. I know how I want the story to end, but I can’t ruin that for you can I? 🙂 Writing intuitively makes the process of writing fun for me too. If it isn’t fun and I have a choice, why do it?
Jambo: Were you an author first or an illustrator first? Can you tell us about your transition into doing both illustration and writing?
Davis: For me, the ability to write and draw work in tandem, so the question of author vs. illustrator is a tough one. Most often I’ll have a story idea, but the story only comes to life when I draw the character. It’s peculiar in that once I draw a character, they have their own “soul” so to speak and they are the ones who tell me who they are. I tend to draw most often because that often times requires less critical thought, but for me both writing and drawing are a part of the same dance.
Jambo: How did you hone your skills as an illustrator? How about as an author?
Davis: For me, honing my abilities as an illustrator has always been a process of consistently doing. But consistently doing with a specific goal in mind. Whenever I draw, I try to focus on something that I’m weak in. Whether that’s hands, landscapes, dynamic action poses, or whatever, I go in with a specific thing I want to conquer. With writing, it’s a similar process. However, I think most of my writing ability has come from osmosis by reading a LOT. My mother thankfully read a whole lot to me, and I’ve borrowed so much from incredible writers over the years. Improving my writing has come mostly from my love for reading.
Jambo: If someone likes your style, do you take commissions?
Davis: I do! Single illustrations are a lot easier to manage, but I definitely work with people on their picture book projects. The only stipulation is that I need to resonate with the manuscript and the project’s mission. It’s always tough to tell someone that we aren’t a match for a project, but I’d much rather do that than produce work that I’m not feeling energized by. I love stories of whimsy and magic, but I also love historical fiction. I get approached a lot for simple family stories, but that’s not what gets me excited. Bring on the fantasy!
Jambo: How can people find you online and on social media?
Davis: I feel like I’m everywhere. Regardless of where I am though, I’d love to chat with you so reach out! You can reach me on my website at: www.ramalikillustrations.com. You can find me on social media on Instagram at: @ramalik_illustrations. You can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/ramalikillustrations. Or you can find me on Twitter at: @RashadMDavis. Let’s chat!