Saturday Spotlight- J. Elle

Posted January 31, 2021 by stuckint in Saturday Spotlight / 0 Comments

Hello everyone and welcome to another Saturday Spotlight- where every month I feature an author and their recently released work.

Today I’m thrilled to showcase J. Elle and her debut novel Wings of Ebony. You can check out book recommendations based off of key themes from the book and come back on Monday, Feb. 1st for a full, spoiler free review.

About the Book

Wings of Ebony (Wings of Ebony, #1) by J. Elle
Published by Denene Millner Books/Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on January 26, 2021
Pages: 368

In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen from Houston has her world upended when she learns about her godly ancestry--and with evil sinking its claws into humans and gods alike, she'll have to unearth the magic of her true identity to save both her worlds.
Perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Tomi Adeyemi, and The Hunger Games.

“Make a way out of no way” is just the way of life for Rue. But when her mother is shot dead on her doorstep, life for her and her younger sister changes forever. Rue's taken from her neighborhood by the father she never knew, forced to leave her little sister behind, and whisked away to Ghizon—a hidden island of magic wielders.
Rue is the only half-god, half-human there, where leaders protect their magical powers at all costs and thrive on human suffering. Miserable and desperate to see her sister on the anniversary of their mother’s death, Rue breaks Ghizon’s sacred Do Not Leave Law and returns to Houston, only to discover that Black kids are being forced into crime and violence. And her sister, Tasha, is in danger of falling sway to the very forces that claimed their mother’s life.
Worse still, evidence mounts that the evil plaguing East Row is the same one that lurks in Ghizon—an evil that will stop at nothing until it has stolen everything from her and everyone she loves. Rue must embrace her true identity and wield the full magnitude of her ancestors’ power to save her neighborhood before the gods burn it to the ground.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

About the Author

J. ELLE is a prolific Black author and advocate for marginalized voices in both publishing and her community. Her debut novel, Wings of Ebony, sold in a six-figure pre-empt and is part of a YA fantasy duology about a Black girl from a poor neighborhood who learns she’s magical. Wings of Ebony is a lead title in Simon & Schuster’s Sping 2021 lineup. 

Six months later Elle also sold, at auction, A Taste of Magic, a MG contemporary fantasy duology about a Black girl who learns she’s a witch and fights to save her inner-city magic school with baking. Park Row Magic Academy: A Taste of Magic is also a lead title on Bloomsbury’s Spring 2022 list.

From growing up poor to being a first generation college student, Elle’s tenacity and passion for empowering others dates back to her first career in education, teaching tweens and teens from traditionally underserved areas to fight for their dreams. More recently, as the founder of the Your Story Is Your Power, a creative writing workshop, she mentors high schoolers on the craft of writing and the importance of sharing stories from their perspective.

Elle has worked as an Editorial Intern at P.S. Literary Agency and Gelfman / ICM Partners. She’s also served as a mentor for both Pitchwars and Author Mentor Match. Elle is the founder and co-host of #MondayMixer, a Twitter chat to engage writers on the platform with networking opportunities, writing questions, and encouragement. In her spare time you’ll find her cooking up some dish true to her Texas and Louisiana roots, loving on her three littles, and traveling the country with her nomadic spouse. Learn more at and  

The Interview

1-  For readers who haven’t read Wings of Ebony, can you share in your own words what the book is about? 

Wings of Ebony is a YA urban fantasy about a Black teen from a poor neighborhood who must lean into her ancestor’s magic to protect her community from drugs, violence, and crime. 

2- Wings of Ebony has a very intriguing magic system. Where did the inspiration for it come from?

From a craft perspective, in fantasy, I was really awed by the worldbuilding in the A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin. The complex web of motivations and just the overall vastness is always something that draws me into that story. It reminds me to really suss out my character’s histories as I create their motivations. I’ve read the series three times and I’m sure I’ll read it again once the next book comes out. I also really fell in love with the Ember In The Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir. Her characters and plotting just keeps me at the edge of my seat. Dhonielle Clayton’s books also do this for me. The Belle’s is a book I savored, page by page, detail by detail. And that’s a nod to Clayton’s expert worldbuilding talent. These authors’ books are never far out of arm’s reach and look to for inspiration. In Wings of Ebony in particular, you’ll find bits of inspiration from Wakanda and Wonder Woman. 

3- Rue is a fierce, flawed, and extremely compelling protagonist. What was it like developing her character and voice? 

It was fun. A bit invasive, ha ha, because Rue in many ways is me. I loved her unapologetic approach to the things she does. I loved exploring the depth of her anger and really unearthing the roots of her vulnerability. I loved exploring how someone like her can exist in spaces with seeming comfort from the outside but be a storm within. I loved loved loved digging into the love she has for her family, the way it is her pride. The way she remembers her mother, fights for her sister. The ocean of her emotions were so fun for me to wade around in.  

In terms of where she came from, Rue just spoke to me. She is me. She is so many of my cousins, play sisters, Aunty’s, friends. I can’t make it make more sense than that, which sounds wild I know. But she just spoke to me because I’ve known Rue my whole life. I’ve been her. Am her. Exploring her was exploring myself in many ways, the times I’ve been away from my home. everything that is familiar and feels safe. That burning desire to do what I need to do wherever I am be it college or some job, only to hurry and get back home. I left home at seventeen to go to college. I was the first in my family to do so. I earned a graduate degree as well. And seventeen years later, Ive finally returned home. And I’m so glad life has allowed that. Especially in a pandemic, being drivable distance to my cousins, sisters, extended family means the world to me. So you’ll see Rue dealing with a lot of that similar longing. In a lot of ways, exploring Rue was exploring myself. In terms of her dual identity, it can be interpreted both metaphorically and literally. I identify with it very metaphorically. I attended a private school outside of my neighborhood for several years. And I ended up going to a predominantly white college on scholarship for undergrad. So, I felt like I lived in two different worlds longing to return to my roots for several parts of my life. Learning how to fully embrace all of who I am was life changing, honestly. It took courage and lots of grappling with fears. Rue has lots to learn on that journey, too. 

4- Systemic racism and colonialism are prominent themes of your book. Can you speak more to these themes and the important role literature plays in their ongoing conversation?

Racism exists whether it is talked about or not. It does damage whether people are having conversations about it or not. So for me, the choice to explore racism in literature is effectively a civic duty, a moral obligation to stand against injustice. Weaving these themes into Wings of Ebony was an answer to a call to activism that’s burned deep within for many years. In Wings of Ebony, Rue poses the question: if we don’t stand up for us, who will? And that truth radiates through me, it holds my pen to the paper, it keeps me up at night. I will always discuss the injustices that oppress my community because the minute I stop, is the minute I become susceptible to passively accepting it. It’s not enough for me to hope for a better world. Writing is the work I do to try to usher in a new one. 

And this is a very personal thing. Not everyone in my community feels compelled to write about these themes and nor should they. Our inspirations and passions for storytelling vary widely, as it should. We are not a monolith. And we have countless stories that have yet been told, with every trope and theme imaginable. I just hope publishing’s doors continue to open widely for our books, those about racism and those, not. 

And I should mention that all my books will not explore racism or colonization, but occasionally one will aim to soothe the bruises of our existence in this racially oppressive country. Sometimes that comes from seeing a justice, that is difficult to fathom in reality, lived out on the page. So, yes, Wings of Ebony is searing and gritty. But, it is also cathartic in many ways. However, for as heavy as these issues are in Wings of Ebony, more than anything, this story is a tale of our magic and power. Of unshakable hope. 

5- In the acknowledgements you mention George Floyd. How does the ongoing fight against police brutality and systemic inequality in America  shape the writing and revising of Wings of Ebony and subsequent books in the series? 

I understand that much of the world is just now paying attention to tragedies like George Floyd’s murder, but understand that this isn’t new. George is one of many. Read that line again. Sit with it. Let it burn. Do you feel it? I do. And that pain just doesn’t go away. It only deepens and you sort of force yourself to keep going despite it. My writing of Wings took place before George Floyd’s tragic death. Breonna’s killers are still walking around free and she was murdered asleep! Still though, I wouldn’t say America’s recurring failure to adequately address the fundamentally racist inception of this country and the way that continues to bleed into today is what I’m actively focused on when I pen a story. It’s on the periphery, sure. But, my laser focus is on my community and crafting stories that are a salve for the parts of us that feel like they’ll never heal. 

6- Without any spoilers, can you share anything about book 2?

Hmmm. I can’t say much. But, it’s mostly all in Ghizon for those who were hungry for more from Ghizon in Book 1, you’ll definitely get that! And then, I suggest readers declare their ship loyalties because the love triangle ramps up BIG time. 

7- More broadly, what has it been like publishing a book during a global pandemic? Any advice for aspiring authors?

It’s been a mix of bitter and sweet. I’m grateful Wings of Ebony can come out at a time like this for the reason I’d mentioned earlier. It was healing to write and I hope it’ll be healing to read. But while I’m grateful to have a balm, I still rue the hurt, the pain, the injustice that makes my book so needed. I will say though writing was a good distraction for me from social media. Especially because I was writing Rue, who if you haven’t met her, has a very fiery personality. Being in her head, having somewhere constructive to put my anger was definitely cathartic.  

8-  What authors currently writing inspire your own writing? Anyone you would love to co-author a book with? 

Oh gosh so many. A few that come to mine off the top of my head are: Jacqueline Woodson, Amanda Gorman, Nic Stone, Jason Reynolds, Jessica Lewis (debut author, be sure to check her out!), Leigh Bardugo, Dhonielle Clayton, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Tiffany Jackson, Mary Roach, Jessica Olson. 

9- Did you always want to be a writer? What are some of the books that shaped your love of reading?

Honestly, I’ve always written things. But I never really allowed myself to mesh ‘the things I enjoy’ with my ‘career goals.’ Growing up I was taught to pursue what was practical, what would provide financial security and build generational wealth for my family and the generations after me. And so I pursued medicine in college. But organic chemistry was a humbling experience. Ha ha! I eventually switched my major to journalism because 1) I didn’t want to fail out of college, ha ha; and 2) I was passionate about storytelling. I fell in love with it. But I still didn’t pursue it wholeheartedly. 

I went into education because I’ve always been passionate about the formative role it played in my life. But, once I got married, my partner’s job required we move several times, sometimes multiple times in the same year, so holding a job was near impossible. I gave up teaching, sadly. And I miss it, literally everyday.

It wasn’t until several years later when a story came to me in the middle of the night. I started waking me up out of my sleep with scenes in my head, pictures of characters. It wouldn’t let me rest. So, I sat down and decided to complete an entire novel for the purpose of querying. That was the summer of 2018. And I did. It was a hot mess, let me tell you. But, after I’d completed one story, my appetite only revved up. I was utterly intoxicated by the freedom of writing, leaning into my passionate. And I was in a fortunate place in my life having just closed a very successful small business I’d had. So when Rue’s voice came to me, I put away that other hot mess I’d cut my teeth on and set out to make her story my debut. 

10- Do you have any reading or writing quirks?

I don’t like to stop writing mid-scene. It is very difficult for me to walk away in the middle of the scene, especially if I’m deep in the character’s head. This often means I’m writing for eight hours or more because I refuse to stop until I’ve finished it. Ha ha. Not the healthiest practice. I also like to draft on my computer but read through it on my phone. I swear I catch / notice different things when I read on my phone. It’s so weird. Oh and I hate microsoft Word ha ha! Google Docs all the way. 

11- When you are not writing (or reading) what do you enjoy doing?

Cooking! I love pairing flavors and creating things in the kitchen. Food descriptions in my books will never disappoint, ha ha. I also love photography, yapping on the phone (fellow extreme extroverts, raise your hand, ha ha), Real Housewives of Atlanta and Potomac, and spending an entire Saturday playing Monopoly with my family.  

Rapid Fire Questions

1- Coffee or tea? Neither! I can’t do caffeine. I *used* to love coffee and sometimes I’ll still make a cup just to smell it. *cries*

2- Dogs or cats? Dogs! 

3- Favorite place to read? In bed.

4- What types of books are in your reading wheelhouse? 

Oh I love to try anything, except really dark horror. I’m a horor wimp. But, I mean books that I’m going to put my last two dollars together to buy? THRILLERS!!!! And fantasy with worldbuilding akin to A Song of Ice And Fire Series. 

5- What are some 2021 releases you are excited about? Oh gosh, so many! A few off the top of my head are:

  • Bad With Burning by Jessica Lewis
  • Muted by Tami Charles
  • The Half-Orphan’s Handbook by Joan Smith
  • Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan
  • Anything Nic Stone writes. Like, even her tweets. (ha ha!)  

6- What do you hope readers will take away from Wings of Ebony?

Ultimately, I hope my book inspires an entire movement, where Black kids are boldly affirmed of their intellect, power, beauty, ability, their value, and rich worth in this world. 

7- Lastly, where can our readers learn more about you and your book?

Or find me on socials:

TikTok: authorjelle

IG : authorj.elle

Twitter : authorj_elle

What About You?

Do you have any questions for J. Elle? Have you read Wings of Ebony yet? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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