We can always appreciate women who “accidentally” discover their passions and purpose! Prior to becoming a Children’s book author, what was your career focus and what did your goals look like?
I am a marketing professional. I’ve worked in marketing for almost a decade now. I love that I’m able to still pursue my career while actively exploring my passion of being an author.
My goal was to be a CMO of an amazing brand, but I think that has changed now to be CEO of my own brand. I have been able to achieve that, and while I still have my day job, I hope to continue to grow my company to be one of those big brands that I have done marketing for.
How did you come to realize that writing Children’s books was the way to go? And where did you come up with the title, “Everyone, Just Like Me”?
I really stumbled on to being a children’s author. I imagined myself writing novels one day, but never really thought of this genre. My mother had often encouraged me to write a book of poetry. When I was young, writing poetry was a big part of my life. I looked at the greats, Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni, thinking maybe that would be my path, but it really wasn’t until I got inspiration from my son that I thought to go the route of children’s literature.
Everyone, Just Like Me, literally came from my son asking me that question. When my son was in Kindergarten, a friend told him that he should only play with children that was like him, children of the same race. After discussing with him why that statement was wrong and offensive, I brought it back around to the makeup of our family and how different we are are, and there was nothing wrong with that. He then asked me why we couldn’t all be the same. Even though I thought I gave him the best explanation I could, that question bothered me all night and Everyone, Just Like Me, was born.
How did you navigate the book-writing process, as far as formatting and publishing; choosing your illustrator, etc.?
My mom was really instrumental in me publishing this book. I didn’t think that I would really publish it. When I spoke to my mom about what I wrote, she encouraged me to look into self-publishing. The traditional publishing route was scary to me. I heard the stories about JK Rowling and so many other authors receiving rejection after rejection, that wasn’t something I wanted to go through. Thankfully the self-publishing process was great. I was able to work with a team who fully executed my vision. I was very pleased.
Would you please explain the feeling you had when you published your first book? How did your children react to their Mommy’s new release?
Receiving my print book was like Christmas morning. It was quite possibly the proudest I had been since graduating from college. This was an accomplishment and best of all, my son, who had been my inspiration from this book, was able to read it that night.
My boys were excited and still are. Being to do all this and make them proud of their mom is huge for me. And also, becoming an author made my mother proud and gave my mother and I another connection. Her being an educator and me a children’s author, really brought our passions together. Her passing in 2020, this early in my journey as an author, made it so much more important to me now. I am not just building a legacy for myself and my sons, but also continuing hers.
Can you tell us a little bit about your non-profit organization, Read With Carylee, Inc. What inspired you to branch into a full organization?
Creating a non-profit was almost a no brainer. I was already doing the work, working with authors to promote diversity in Children’s Literature and working with schools and other organizations as well. I was doing this as one person, using my funds to propel this mission. I had so many business people approach me and ask, why aren’t you doing this as a non-profit? I didn’t really know where to start, but I got some help and we are slowly growing, but the mission of promoting and encouraging diversity in Children’s Literature is a mission that is important enough to keep going.
Tell us about your books! How many have you published and what is the main focus behind your niche? What do you hope parents and children are able to receive from your books?
I currently have 2 books in publication, Everyone, Just Like Me and Pretty Hair. The main focus of those books are for children to be able to embrace the differences of themselves and respect the differences of others. We are in a time where everyone feels that if opinions differ there has to be hate, a riot, or a war. If you don’t look like a certain person or type, that you are ugly, insignificant or not normal.
We don’t have to look the same way, act the same way, like the same things or even agree on anything, we just need to respect each other and be kind.
That message can go a long way, even for adults today. Somewhere we have lost sight of that and I want our children to be able to relearn that, so that their tomorrow can be brighter.
What do you think is missing from the literary arts world, as it pertains to children and people of color?
I think what is missing are publishers who want to get our stories told. There aren’t a short of storytellers, but the process is daunting and unfortunately we may not all have the funding or the persistence to go it on our own. If we had publishers who will stand behind the stories that need to be told, that will give others the willingness to write for our children.
We have to be more inclusive with our storytelling. There aren’t just white princesses, it’s not always Prince Charming that saves the day. Black people are more than slaves or Civil Rights heroes. And what many may see as a deformity may just be the beautiful obstacle that an amazing person has been able shine through. Many of our story books still only see the view from one image, while the world we’ve always lived in is a beautiful menagerie.
Is there anyone that has inspired you or motivated your mission along the way? Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
The one person who has inspired me over most of my life has been the late Dr. Maya Angelou. When you talk about wise; I don’t think there has been another person other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who has had so many life changing quotes. Many of us just knew her as the author and poet, but when I really started reading her works in high school, I was intrigued. I read so many of her books and to find out she was not just a poet, she was a singer, dancer, activist, the list goes on. She was someone who continued to reinvent herself and she was bold in everything she did; she didn’t do it half way. And to think that early in life, her voice was almost silenced.
I often feel that so many of us go silent for whatever reason, but Dr. Maya Angelou is a true example of what can be born when we don’t stay silent. That is something that I am still navigating, but also through my work, I am giving voice to those who don’t yet have a voice. For that, I can’t stay silent.
Can you share with us a mantra or quote that you love, and tell us why it means so much to you.
The mantra that I live by is actually my family scripture, Romans 8 vs 28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
There are things that will go wrong, there are things that will go right, but as long as we know and remember the promise of God, everything will be alright. This is not just a blanket promise though, it comes with action. We also need to be working toward a purpose, so I know as long as I am doing the work and living my life with good intention and purpose, I will be blessed.
What’s next for you and how can we stay connected to your projects and initiatives?
There are always things I am working on. Please continue to support Read With Carylee, follow on my website and social media; partner with us and spread the word.