Shocking history of mid-1900s maternity homes exposed in author’s award-winning debut novel

“A gorgeous, thrilling, and important novel! These strong women will capture your heart.”
– Stacey Swann, author of “Olympus, Texas”

AUSTIN, TexasWould you be able to give up your first-born to strangers? Told from the perspective of three different women in the 1960s, “No Names to Be Given” (Admission Press) delves into the lives of three young women forced to do just that. The heartbreaking but uplifting debut novel by Julia Brewer Daily is a story that chronicles the desperate push and pull between family and redemption.

The widely anticipated and award-winning debut is a glimpse into the lives of women forced by society to gift their newborns to strangers. Although this novel is a fictional account, it mirrors many of the adoption stories of its era. When three young unwed women meet at a maternity home hospital in New Orleans in 1966, they are expected to relinquish their babies and return home as if nothing transpired. Twenty-five years later, they are brought back together by blackmail and their secrets threatened with exposure — all the way to the White House.

Told from the women’s perspectives in alternating chapters, readers will be mesmerized by the societal pressures on women in the 1960s who found themselves pregnant without marriage. How that inconceivable act changed them forever is the story of “No Names To Be Given,” a novel with southern voices, love exploited, heartbreak and blackmail.

“No Names to Be Given”
Julia Brewer Daily | Aug. 3, 2021 | Admission Press | Women’s/Historical/Literary Fiction
Hardcover, 9780998426181, $29.99 | Paperback, 9780998426174, $16.99
Ebook, 9780998426167, $4.99 | Audiobook, 9780578856162, $19.99

About the Author

Julia Brewer Daily is a Texan with a Southern accent. She holds a B.S. in English and a M.S. degree in Education from the University of Southern Mississippi. She has been a communications adjunct professor at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, and public relations director of the Mississippi Department of Education and Millsaps College, a liberal arts college in Jackson.

She was the founding director of the Greater Belhaven Market, a producers’ only market in a historic neighborhood in Jackson, and even shadowed Martha Stewart. As the Executive Director of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi (300 artisans from 19 states) which operates the Mississippi Craft Center, she wrote their stories to introduce them to the public.

She is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas, the Women Fiction Writers’ Association, the San Antonio Writers’ Guild and the Women’s National Book Association.

Daily is an adopted child from a maternity home hospital in New Orleans. She searched and found her birth mother and through a DNA test, her birth father’s family, as well. A lifelong Southerner, she now resides on a ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas, with her husband, Emmerson, and Labrador retrievers, Memphis Belle and Texas Star. For more on Julia, visit her website

Follow Julia Brewer Daily on social media:
Facebook: @JuliaDailyAuthor | Twitter: @JBDailyAuthor | Instagram: @JuliaDailyAuthor

Praise for “No Names to Be Given” and Julia Brewer Daily

“This book is a relevant read and one that will keep readers guessing page after page until the very end.” — The US Review of Books

“An insightful and sympathetic view offered into the lives of those who were adopted and those who adopted them.” — Pam Johnson, author of “Justice for Ella”

“A novel worthy of a Lifetime movie adaptation.” — Jess Hagemann, author of “Headcheese”

“Readers can expect deep knowledge of the world the characters inhabit.” — Sara Kocek, author of Promise Me Something

“I found myself thinking about Becca, Sandy, and Faith frequently as I went about my day — I was always excited to sit down and find out what happened next.” — Sarah Welch, author of “Austin Brown Dogs: The Shelter Dogs Who Rescue Us”

“Today’s young women, especially, need to absorb ‘No Names to Be Given.’ ” — Midwest Book Review, D. Donovan, senior reviewer

“How could such a tragic choice be an everyday kindness from one woman to another?”
Story Circle Book Reviews

“The characters in ‘No Names to Be Given’ step off the pages of the book and into your heart. This book is a fist full of emotions rolled up into an unforgettable journey. Hold onto your hat as Julia Brewer Daily takes you on a ride that is truly remarkable.” — Diane Williams, author of “The Life and Legacy of B.B. King: A Mississippi Blues Icon”

In an interview, Julia Brewer Daily can discuss:

  • Her personal experience as an adopted child from a maternity home in New Orleans and how she drew on those experiences when writing the book
  • Adoption today compared and contrasted with the process during the early to mid-1900s
  • The evolution of women’s reproductive rights and stigma around unwed mothers
  • The process behind writing her award-winning debut novel
  • Her Southern roots and how they helped inspire the book’s setting
  • Future projects she’s working on

An interview with Julia Brewer Daily

1. You have a uniquely personal connection to the story. Can you explain the inspiration behind the book?

I am an adopted child from a maternity home hospital in New Orleans. This debut novel has the same memoir thread running through it with three protagonists who meet at a maternity home in New Orleans to relinquish their babies for adoption and return home as if nothing transpired. Twenty-five years later, they are brought back together with a blackmailer threatening to expose their secrets — all the way to the White House. Their adopted children are featured in the novel, as well, and one of them mirrors my own life. DNA results are used in “No Names to Be Given” to find an adopted child, just as I found my birth father’s family through DNA results. Although there was no blackmail in my own life, many birth mothers I researched were threatened with their secrets of becoming pregnant before marriage and giving their children for adoption.

2. Though the book is a novel, the reality of maternity homes in the early to mid-1900s is well-documented. How did you balance the fact from the fiction?

Societal mores in the 1960s forced unwed pregnant women to relinquish their babies for adoption. Adoption is a two-sided coin — heartbreak and loss for the birth mother, joy, and elation for the adoptive parent. It is a subject that has not been fully explored in books and film. One hundred million people in the U.S. have adoption in their immediate families. Although “No Names to Be Given” is a fictional account, it is based on many true stories and sparks conversations about adoptive parents, birth mothers, adopted children and the life-long impact on all three groups.

3. The main characters – Becca, Faith and Sandy – are complex and incredibly different. How did you go about developing each woman so they were unique yet still harmonious as a trio?

I wanted readers to recognize that women from all soci-economic backgrounds experienced the same social and family pressures to relinquish their babies for adoption. So, in that aspect they were very much alike. Each of the women in “No Names to Be Given” transform from being fearful and controlled to being strong women who survived a traumatic experience and moved past it. They had false beliefs that they were not worthy and would not be able to handle the scars and wounds in their psyches, but they developed into impressive women, in spite of the trauma.

4. While there is less stigma around unwed mothers today, there’s still a large focus on women’s reproductive rights. What are some differences you see today? Some similarities?

Because the book is set in the 1960s during a time when pregnant women were expected to give up children out of wedlock, I think young women today will learn about a time of which they know little. Perhaps the lesson for us is to learn from history and not repeat our mistakes, mainly the shame inflicted on young women who were forced to give up their babies. The struggles continue today with laws instructing women what they can and must do with their own bodies. Interestingly, we do not see those same levels of requirements for men.

5. What do you hope readers gain from the book?

Forty years ago, when I had the idea for this book, there were few stories about adoption. Today, that is no longer the case. However, I lived the adoption story and can give glimpses into all aspects, from the birth mothers, adopted children and adoptive parents’ points of view. It is a story that sparks a discussion about the complex topic of adoption and the ramifications that existed then and today.

6. What are you writing next?

I wrote a second women’s fiction novel about a female heir to the largest ranch in Texas who stumbles upon an ancient people living on her property. It is currently being edited and should be published in 2022.

Download press kit and photos

Interview with Kate Czyzewski from Thunder Road Books

1. What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

My favorite area of the bookstore has to be our children’s section. Though it heavily competes with our movable wooden ladder (so cool!). Nothing makes me happier than when the young children come bursting through the door and run straight back to grab a book they’ve been itching to read. We also have a daily activity table that mirrors our weekly storytime theme. Kids know it is a space just for them and a space where they can be creative. It’s a great feeling to see how much time our families spend there together.

2. What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

At Thunder Road Books, it’s been important to us to curate books that you may not see in the mainstream everyday. Right now, I love seeing Immortal Axes, Guitars That Rock by Lisa S. Johnson. Our theme is “flicks, books and rock and roll.” Also, during opening weekend, we had a customer special order Booze and Vinyl with us. Now, it’s a staple gift item for the store.  Seeing books that speak so much to the creative vision behind music and art is both aesthetically pleasing and also deep in history!

3. If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

New release: I can not recommend Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson enough! Jeff Cook, now an art dealer, runs into a former UCLA classmate at the airport. When their flight is delayed, the two decide to grab drinks and catch up. What starts out as a casual, “What have you been up to since college?” quickly becomes Jeff divulging how a life-changing moment altered his path to this day. Jeff, while at the beach one afternoon, comes to the rescue of a drowning man. Unbeknownst to him, the man he saves is Francis Arsenault, world renowned art dealer and begins to insert himself in the life of the art dealer. Obsession, psychological suspense- this one packed a punch!

Backlist pick: There are so many incredible backlist picks I’d love to share with you, but I’d like to share with you a New Jersey author, Julie Maloney, and her book A Matter of Chance. Julie Maloney’s talent lies not only in her development of suspense and engagement, but in her character development. Here is a novel whose secondary characters drew me in just as much as the protagonist. I also loved all the NJ references! Us Jersey gals stick together! Julie’s author event led me to meet Thunder Road Books’ owner, Basil Iwanyk and now I manage the store. I love how much the book community connects with one another!

4. Do you have a strange customer story? 

Oh yes, that I do!  We were awarded the privilege of selling Sir Paul McCartney’s Lyrics book, the exclusive signed and numbered edition. Our store chose to hold an auction and proceeds were donated to our local fire company. In our planning stage for the auction, we had a customer who called, asking for the manager pretty much daily for almost 2 months straight about this book. The mistake we made was telling him who the manager was because that was it. Voicemails and phone calls each day. At one point,  he felt he was so deserving of the book, he shared with us the “visions” he had that Sir Paul McCartney himself felt this book should be his. He gave us quite the entertainment (and at times, frustration) that can be associated with being a retail store!

5. What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event? 

I have been a long time fan of Fiona Davis. She’s an auto-buy author for me and her works of historical fiction are superb in their research and execution.  I had the pleasure of meeting her in person when she was touring for The Chelsea Girls and again when she toured for The Lions of Fifth Avenue. For her newest release, The Magnolia Palace, Thunder Road Books will be hosting her in February at the Spring Lake Theatre.  We were looking for an author to be her panelist, but some plans changed. I am so honored to be jumping in as her panelist for the evening. To say this is a full circle moment and a dream come true is an understatement. I do not take any of our connections to authors for granted. To be in conversation with an author I have long admired and be able to share the joy of her stories with our readers is something I will forever cherish.

6. What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

I love this question! So many of my non reader friends say to me all the time, “It must be nice to sit at work and read all day.” Well, I wish that were the case! Actually, I’ve read less this year since I started working at the bookstore. It brings such joy to be here each day, but it’s also working with our owner, Basil, in running the day to day business. A business has jobs that need to be done, phone calls, invoices, website content, social media tasks, booking events, running to the bank for change!  In order to bring our readers the best titles and recommendations, that takes time, curation and proper ordering. We are still learning as both Basil and I were not booksellers in our previous career paths. He still runs the successful Thunder Road Films and I was a special education teacher for some years. Bookselling has been a learning curve for us and we are continuing to soak up all the advice from fellow booksellers!

7. What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

Oh my gosh, the BOXES! Getting deliveries is great because you get to see what’s coming out to share with readers, however, during our holiday rush, we carried countless boxes down the street and up the stairs to our office/storage space. I definitely get a physical workout working here. Who would have thought? My favorite part of working at the bookstore is our customers and community. Nothing makes me happier than when a customer comes in and says I absolutely loved that book that you and/or your staff recommended to me. It’s great to be reading along with our community. Now, instead of talking my husband’s ear off about what I’m reading, I have people who want to chat about that everyday! I also love our weekly storytime readings. Reading to children is where my heart will always be. Starting their reading habits at a young age is the greatest gift an adult can give.

8. Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles? 

One of the most incredible books of 2021 was Chris Whitaker’s We Begin at the End. THIS BOOK. Part drama, part mystery, part family saga. This book took my heart and then broke it and then put it back together again. When friends have asked me to describe my “go-to” book genre, I usually say books that leave me a mess and need to put me back together.  We Begin at the End is one that will stay with me for a long time. I felt that way about Wiley Cash’s This Dark Road to Mercy. Released in 2014, it was one of my book club’s first picks and we still talk about it to this day. The story of two sisters whose mother passed away and the girls end up in the care of a court appointed legal guardian. The story is narrated from the girls’ perspective, the guardian, and the father that signed away his parental rights. A vendetta surfaces as more information about the father’s past is uncovered. This one left me in awe and needs to be read more!

Katherine Czyzewski is a store manager and bookseller at Thunder Roads Books in Spring Lake, NJ.

Heartfelt middle grade novel navigates loss and healing via a compassionate, blossoming friendship

Prize-winning writer tackles important issues with realism and grace

Vail, CO – What does it take to recover after tragedy? What does it mean to be a friend? A chance encounter between two lives in upheaval leads to a touching story of friendship and healing in Heather Mateus Sappenfield’s “The River Between Hearts” (Fitzroy Books/Regal House, February 1, 2022).

On an ordinary Monday, Rill Kruse left for third grade with a dad, but when she came home, he’d been stolen. By a river. One year and thirteen days later—on the first morning of summer vacation—Rill still insists he’s on his way back home.

When Rill’s cat, Clifford, leads her to the family tree fort on the mountainside, she discovers a stowaway, Perla, who appears to be on the run. As Rill considers the events that led Perla to this moment, she embarks on an adventure that tests her understanding of the world and forms a friendship that defies boundaries. The lessons Rill learns nudge her—and all those she loves—toward healing.

Following in the footsteps of literary icons such as Kate DiCamillo with a spirited main character, a memorable adventure, and a heartfelt exploration of contemporary issues, “The River Between Hearts” is a middle grade novel bound to connect with readers of all ages.

“The River Between Hearts”
Heather Mateus Sappenfield | February 1, 2022 | Fitzroy Books | Middle Grade Fiction
Paperback | ISBN: 9781646032068 | Price: $16.95

HEATHER MATEUS SAPPENFIELD loves adventures, especially in the Rocky Mountain landscape that’s been her lifelong home. As part of women’s teams, she’s won 24-hour mountain bike races and road bicycling’s Race Across America—San Diego, California to Atlantic City, New Jersey. She’s also competed in the Mountain Bike World Championships; ski instructed for Vail Resorts, and loves backcountry ski touring. Her toughest adventures, though, arise in the writing of stories. She is the author of two contemporary YA novels, “The View from Who I Was” and “Life at the Speed of Us,” a Colorado Book Awards Finalist. Her story collection, “Lyrics for Rock Stars,” released as winner of the V Press LC Compilation Book Prize, was nominated for the MPIBA’s Reading the West Awards, was a silver medalist for the IBPA’s Ben Franklin Awards, and was featured on Colorado Public Radio. Her most recent book, “The River Between Hearts,” runner-up for the Kraken Prize, is a middle grade novel about friendship and healing. For more information, visit

Follow Heather Mateus Sappenfield on social media:
Facebook: @heathermateussappenfield | Twitter: @alpineheather
Instagram: @heathermateussappenfield

In an interview, Heather Mateus Sappenfield can discuss:

  • Her inspiration for this story, and what compassion means to her
  • How middle grade books can connect with children and adults alike
  • How and why she balances heavy topics with a lighthearted and naive perspective
  • What she hopes readers will take away from this story
  • What’s next for her on her author journey

Praise for “The River Between Hearts”

A shimmering, breathtaking read! A spirited heroine with a voice that leaps off the page, a scenic setting I want to spend time in, vivid characters, adventure, swift page-turning chapters, and heart—this book positively sparkles with emotion. Fans of Kate DiCamillo will be delighted by the wonderful tale that Heather Mateus Sappenfield has crafted!”

—Todd Mitchell, author of “The Last Panther,” Colorado Book Award Winner

“A chance encounter of two lives in upheaval leads to a beautiful story of friendship, healing, and a cemented belief that people are not things. Sappenfield does a beautiful job at tackling important issues for middle grade students to grasp!”

—Sarah Hopkins, Bookseller, Bookworm of Edwards

“Heather Mateus Sappenfield’s The River Between Hearts is a beautiful young MG that hits all the right notes: a strong heroine who’s dealing with all the changes of growing up, and has a broken heart that needs mending. This story has lots of heart, a beautiful setting, and a spirited, sweet voice make the words come alive. Perfect for fans of Leslie Connor’s A Home for Goddesses and Dogs and Laurel Snyder’s My Jasper June. The Colorado setting shines and carries you away. The River Between Hearts is a middle-grade novel not to be missed!”

—Fleur Bradley, MG author of “Midnight at the Barclay Hotel,” NPR Best Book of 2020

“Rill and Perla may be very different, but the adventure that awaits them this summer will prove the opposite. The two have to repair hearts that do not know about language, social class, or race, yet the friendship that unites them will be stronger. The River Between Hearts is a clear example of what an intercultural friendship means, and the mental health of a child at 10 years of age, and the healing process that entails them. The river that took what they want the most will be the same one that will unite them in the fight to find the best in each other, in the fight to find themselves.”

—Rocio Garcia-Roa, Technical Services Specialist, Eagle Valley Library District

“The River Between Hearts is a beautifully written story about friendship and acceptance. Rill and Perla are heading into summer vacation dealing with their own grief and loss. They learn, ‘The best adventures…true ones…test you and teach you about yourself.’ Heather Mateus Sappenfield does a wonderful job describing the impact of immigration on children in resort communities and I look forward to sharing this novel with my students.

—Beth Cooney, Lead Literacy Teacher, Edwards Elementary School

“an outstanding middle grade novel. Being a teen in a town similar to Rill’s, a lot of topics are easy to connect to, especially for kids in our community…. this story has so much to offer… The ending does not disappoint and ties the whole story together perfectly.”

–8th-grade reader, Homestake Peak School

An Interview with Heather Mateus Sappenfield

1. What’s the inspiration behind this story?

In the mid-nineties, I taught high school language arts. Students who were new to America would turn up in my classes. Some of them were undocumented, yet I’d become a teacher to help anyone with a desire to learn. These students were a marvel to me because, despite knowing little, if any, English, and despite knowing few of the basics of daily life within the school, they managed to get by. Often admirably. Often while also working one or even two jobs after school.

Some mornings I’d walk through the school’s front doors to discover a group of them gathered in the lobby, crying and comforting each other because a family member, or maybe a few, had been rounded up for deportation the day or night before. I tried to imagine how that must feel: being left behind in a foreign country with no documentation and no family. Later, these students would be in my class, trying to concentrate, learn, and continue on. Their courage amazed me. When I started writing novels, I knew this was a story I would someday explore.

2. What does compassion mean to you?

This novel is a map of Rill’s journey to understanding compassion—how it feels, how to express it, how giving it to someone else can be a gateway to one’s own healing. Her teacher, Mr. Rainey, defines compassion as “a feeling of worry or pity for the suffering or misfortune of someone else.” The word pity, in its pure form, means sympathetic sorrow for one who is suffering, distressed, or unhappy. It can, however, carry the extra meaning of looking down on the thing you feel sorry for, and part of Rill’s journey is growing from seeing Perla as a “thing” to someone who is her equal and, ultimately, her friend. For me, that’s true compassion. I believe moments when we meet people who differ from us—in nationality, in ethnicity, in spiritual belief, in social strata—define us, and they have the potential to be among the most beautiful experiences available to us as human beings.

3. Who is this story for? Why explore immigration through a middle grade lens, rather than YA or adult?

When I state that this novel is “A read for all ages. A read for our times,” I’m being honest. It’s written through an almost-eleven-year-old’s eyes because Perla’s predicament is happening to kids—here in the Vail Valley, throughout Colorado, across our nation, and around the globe. I hope this novel illustrates the costs of apathy or indifference and, through Rill stumbling along and making mistakes, guides young readers toward compassion.

There’s an interesting dynamic that occurs when someone older reads a middle grade novel. Perhaps because these books are written and marketed for “children,” more mature readers tend to open the first page less guarded, and thus they’re unconsciously more susceptible to its messages. Middle grade novels are rarely simple, though. Young readers have agile minds, hungry to define their world, so these books are filled with depth and theme, irony and wit. Crafted to be easier to decode, there’s less filtering, so all this good stuff travels straight to the heart. I firmly believe every adult should read at least one middle grade book a year. It’s good for the soul.

4. From a craft perspective, how do you approach writing about difficult topics for younger ages?

Crafting middle grade stories is much harder for me than writing adult, or even YA, books. I relish a succulently worded description or turn of phrase, but for kids, I must do this so deftly that it’s seamless, with little or no overt artifice. There’s no nostalgia or looking back; I must be fully with the protagonist, viewing the world in that moment through their eyes. The rule “show don’t tell” is vitally important, especially when writing about difficult topics. So my characters move, via action and thought, toward figuring things out. Making mistakes is important. And they often don’t understand what motivates them, so the reader treks with them toward discovery.

5. What’s next for you on your literary journey?

Answer coming soon…waiting on exciting news!

Books Forward January 2021 Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter featuring our award-winning authors and industry news. This issue features upcoming book releases, recent media coverage and much more!

Read the January 2021 newsletter here!

Unleashing the Power of Respect: The I-M Approach

BOSTON, Massachusetts – Human beings all want the same thing: to feel valued by another human being. Sometimes we don’t feel very valuable at all, and this can make us angry, anxious, or sad. Those of us seeking mental health services may especially perceive ourselves as less valuable—as having a disorder. Often, we worry that those around us—our family, friends, and colleagues—see us the same way, depriving us of a supportive community when we need it most.

Enter Dr. Joseph Shrand and “Unleashing the Power of Respect: The I-M Approach.” This book, releasing on Feb. 19, 2022, will change the way you think about mental “illness.” Instead of thinking of individuals living with mental illness as disordered, Dr. Shrand encourages his patients—and all of us—to take a closer look at who we are and why we do what we do. Instead of being broken and less-than, we are all at our I-M, doing the best we can at this moment in time, with the potential to change in the very next second to a different “best we can.” This fundamental but simple change in the way we see ourselves and each other is all about respect. Respect leads to value, and value leads to trust.

Through a series of riveting stories, Dr. Shrand explores the deepest mysteries of people diagnosed with depression, attention deficit, bipolar, schizophrenia, trauma, borderline personality, addiction, and autism. Using his innovative I-M Approach as a road-map, we can all begin to make small changes that have big effects, and recognize we control no one … but influence everyone.

“Unleashing the Power of Respect: The I-M Approach”
Dr. Joseph Shrand | Feb. 19, 2022 | Books Fluent | Nonfiction / Self-Help / Psychology
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-953865-23-6
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-953865-24-3

Dr. Joseph Shrand is Chief Medical Officer of Riverside Community Care headquartered in Dedham, Mass. He has been a Lecturer of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and an adjunct Faculty of Boston Children’s Hospital. He is triple Board certified in adult psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, and a diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine. Dr. Shrand hosts a weekly radio show on WATD 95.9 FM, The Dr. Joe Show: Exploring who we are and why we do what we do. He is the author of Manage Your Stress: Overcoming Stress in the Modern World, Outsmarting Anger: Seven Strategies to Defuse our most Dangerous Emotion, the winner of the 2013 Books for a Better Life Awards, 2013 Psychology self help category, The Fear Reflex: Five Ways to Overcome it and Trust your Imperfect Self, and Do You Really Get me? Finding Value in Yourself through Empathy and Connection. Outsmarting Anger has recently been republished in paperback due to demand. Among colleagues and staff, he is affectionately called “Doctor Joe,” as he was “Joe” in the original children’s cast of the PBS series “Zoom.”

Find out more about him at

Follow Dr. Joseph Shrand on social media:
Facebook: @TheDrJoeShow | Twitter: @DrJoeShrand

In an interview, Dr. Joseph Shrand can discuss:

  • The concept of the I-M Approach and how it can unleash the power of respect
  • Moving away from self-criticism to self-esteem
  • Recognizing that the common thread that binds humanity is the need to feel valued by another person
  • How we can move away from increasing our own value by decreasing someone else’s, and recognize that every time you remind someone else of their value, you increase your own value
  • How the I-M Approach can help each of us become reflective instead of reflexive
  • How you can apply the I-M Approach right now and make a small change that can have a big effect
  • How this strategy can help manage the national anger in our country, and how the concepts in his books are particularly relevant in this social and political climate
  • How the I-M has two truths: Small changes can have big effects, and you control no one but influence everyone: you get to choose the type of influence you want to be
  • How the I-M is applicable to everything, everyone, every business, and every country. By applying the
  • I-M Approach, you can move closer to your own definition of success
  • His childhood experiences on the PBS series “ZOOM” and how that shaped his life and career as a psychiatrist. The show will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022

What is the I-M Approach?

I believe that no one is broken but that we are always doing the best we can at every moment in time with the potential to change in the very next second to another best we can. I call this our I-M: this Is Me; my Inner Me. This is who I-M (I am). We are always at our current maximum potential. There are four domains: 1) the Home Domain, 2) the Social Domain, 3) the Biological Domain of our brain and body, and 4) the IC (I see) Domain: how I see myself and how I think others see me. Human beings are very interested in what other people think or feel; we call that empathy. But what we really want to know is what are people thinking about me? Do they see me as valuable?

We respond the best we can to the influence of the Four Domains. Something happening at home can influence the way you behave at work. Waking up with a pimple on your nose can influence the way you see yourself and the way you think others see you. A Supreme Court decision or a change in the climate thousands of miles away can have an influence on every aspect of your life.

The I-M Approach does not say you have to like your current maximum potential. It does not say you have to condone your I-M. Your I-M is not a free ride: just because it is the best you can do does not mean you are not held responsible because everything you do has a natural consequence. The I-M Approach does not even say you are going to win and be successful.

But instead of judging yourself as broken, less-than, not doing as well as you could, should be doing better, let’s look again at why you do what you do based on the influence of the Four Domains. Think about the words “look again.” Reverse them to “Again look.” Again, to repeat something, look like a spectator. The I-M gives you a road map to respect why you do what you do as influenced by and responding to the Four Domains.

When was the last time you got angry at someone treating you with respect? Respect leads to value (which everybody wants), and value leads to trust. And with trust you can be yourself, make mistakes, learn, and not fear you will be judged as less valuable.

Respect leads to value and value leads to trust. But the opposite is also true. Disrespect leads to feeling less valued, which leads to mistrust. This is the pattern of all conflict in the world, on an individual or national level. On a racial level. On a religious level. We have spent millenia increasing our value by decreasing the value of others and are then astonished we have anger, conflict, inequality, war.

But we don’t have to do that any more.

Every time you remind someone of their value, you increase your own value.

When you use the I-M to wonder why someone does what they do in response to the influence of their four domains, you can respect instead of judge. That has an influence on the Biological domain of the other person through their IC domain, as they see you not judging them but just interested in who they are and why they do what they do. I can discuss this in a lot more depth as we explore together the immediate application of the I-M Approach and unleash the power of respect.

We all want the same thing: to simply be valued by someone else. When you feel valued you feel safer. And when you feel safer you have a foundation for discussion. Just because you don’t agree with someone does not mean you have to disrespect, value, or trust them less. When we are reflective instead of reflexive we can move away from increasing our value by decreasing someone else’s value.

The I-M Approach unleashes the power of respect. I have lived it, seen it, both in my professional and personal life by seeing people as doing the best they can at any moment in time.

You ask an important question in your new book, “Unleashing the Power of Respect: The I-M Approach:” “When is the last time you got angry at someone treating you with respect?” Can you elaborate?

Anger is an emotion designed to change something, but being respected feels great so the brain does not activate anger. It just can’t. This is the power of respect: it can calm another person’s angry brain. Respect encourages you both to wonder rather than worry, to be reflective and not reflexive, to be cooperative and not just competitive. Respect enlarges the social group, and a larger group is a safer group.

Respect leads to value, which is what everybody wants and value leads to trust. The I-M Approach can help an individual have a different perspective on another individual, leading to a more productive interaction and relationship.

The I-M Approach is also applicable to entire systems. When a group feels disrespected by another group, they feel devalued which leads to mistrust. Ultimately this leads to racism, religious intolerance, bigotry, bias, prejudice, and ultimately war. Even these are an I-M, so instead of judging the people that make up these groups, let’s respect why they do what they do based on the influence of the Four Domains. This is the roadmap to a rekindling of value, which can lead to trust. We can apply the I-M Approach right now to our fractionated country and conflicted global community. This is the power of respect.

In your book, you discuss how increasing the value of others in turn increases our own value. We enhance our success when others feel more successful. Can you give some examples of how this can be done?

Do you say “thank you” to someone who is helping you in a store? That has an influence on their Biological domain, and they feel differently than if you did not thank them. That is such a small thing, but when you really think about what is happening, it is amazing. Through their IC Domain, they recognize you see them as valuable. This influences their Biological Domain and they feel a rush of pleasure. You are part of someone’s Home or Social Domain. You control no one but influence everyone. You get to choose the kind of influence you want to be. When you show gratitude to someone else, you increase their sense of value. And they are more likely to reciprocate and do the same for you.

You can do similar things at home and at work. Find opportunities to remind someone of their value: you will be amazed at what can happen. It’s the little things that matter, as small changes can have big effects. Putting up the tea or coffee in the morning if you are the first one awake. Saying “I love you” to your person activates their Biological Domain through their IC. They feel better, and so do you. Be creative: how can you remind someone of their value today?

You radiate hope and positivity. Have you always been that way?

I had an amazing opportunity as a kid: I was chosen to be one of the original “ZOOM” kids on PBS. Talk about being reminded of one’s value! But “ZOOM” happened at a very difficult and sad time of my life, where there was a lot of anger in my Home Domain as my parents were in the midst of divorce. And there was a lot of anger in the Social Domain stemming from racial injustice, the Vietnam War, global and local conflicts.

And there I was, several times a week, able to find a place where I could just have some fun. Where I felt respected and valued. That led to a trust among the seven “ZOOM” kids, a lesson I did not appreciate until about 10 years later in 1982 when I first created the I-M Approach.

I am hopeful and optimistic about the future of humanity. I truly believe we are on the cusp of an evolutionary leap. We now know enough brain-science to shift our own brains from our primitive limbic system to our prefrontal cortex. We have the ability to anticipate the future, and can work together to ensure the best possible I-M for ourselves, each other, and our globe. I have faith that in our heart of hearts human beings are good. The I-M Approach provides a roadmap so we can safely assess who we are and why we do what we do, and make a small change that can have a wonderful influence.

So yes, I am extremely positive and hopeful. I believe in each and every one of us, and that each and everyone of us can unleash the power of respect. How cool a world will that be!

How else did “ZOOM” impact your life? Did it shape your career?

It is an interesting experience to be nationally famous at the age of 13. For some people it could make you feel invincible and entitled. That was not my experience, nor the experience of any “ZOOM” kid of the 1970s. Instead, I felt humbled and grateful to have that experience. We had an opportunity to show millions of people that kids of all ethnicities and socioeconomic strata could hang out and play. That we could be friends, that we could look at each other as people and not as a Black kid or a Jewish kid or an Asian kid or a Hispanic kid. Not as boys are better than girls, or girls are better than boys. But that we were one group, and that there was always room for one more. I had a career in the theater for many years after “ZOOM,” but then decided to go into medicine after working as a writer for CARE, the international aid and development agency. Us “ZOOM” kids still keep in touch, almost 50 years later. It laid the foundation for all of my work regarding respect and value and trust. It laid the foundation of the I-M Approach, seeing each of us as doing the best we can with the potential to change. “ZOOM” laid the foundation for seeing the good in people, and embracing differences as a pathway to deeper insight into who we are and why we do what we do.

In your book, you discuss how small changes can lead to big effects. How have you applied this concept in your own life?

I think this excerpt from one of my short stories called “Medical School Does Not Hug” is a great example of a small change with a big effect:

In the summer of 1978 I was working as the camp counselor of a cabin-load of 7 year olds who had been sent to overnight camp in upper state New York. The counselors had arrived a few days before the campers to “team build,” and I found myself sitting in a large recreation room, one of many strangers in a circle of strangers. There seemed no interesting prospects for a summer romance, and I resigned myself to a long and uninspiring summer.

And then it happened. Across the room, with sun streaming behind her, entered a new camp counselor. She was beautiful. Long hair the color of a warm russet topped gently by a black beret, a rainbow shirt with the promise of hidden treasure, jeans and multicolored sandals she sat in a metal back chair as did I, but far away across the room. I was riveted, as was every other male counselor there. Summer became more interesting by a number of magnitudes!

The group leader ended this one exercise and asked us to break into smaller groups for the next one. I wondered how I was going to get across the room to sit next to her. And then, to my astonishment she fixed her gaze, walked across the room, and asked me if she could sit in the empty steel back metal chair next to mine.

This was my moment to be cool. So I looked up at her and said, “Bluhbbbllmummnph!”

She sat down anyway.

And that is how I met Carol. Both of us 19. Both of us far from home, but remarkably our homes only 45 minutes apart. Imagine. Here we were, six hours drive away, with other campers from all over New England and New York State, and we lived less than an hour away.

Other small changes with big effects: Every time I work with a patient/teacher I hope we can make a small change with a big effect. Sometimes this may be changing a medication, a small change in the Biological Domain. Sometimes it may be using the I-M Approach so a person can explore what is going on with them without the overlay of judgement and the fear that they will find they are broken.

For me, small changes happen every day, each with a potential effect.

Why is it so important to have open discussions about anger and respect today, during an unprecedented health crisis and an era punctuated by fear and resentment?

Respect leads to value, and value leads to trust. With trust you can begin exploring what the angry person wants to see different, and begin a conversation and negotiation that leads from anger to peace, from competition to cooperation, from the three F’s of fight-flight-freeze to the three F’s of a social animal: Family, friendship, fellowship. Respect is the foundation of reuniting our society that has been so damaged and fractured by anger. I want to know why people are angry, what do they want to see different. Are they envious or suspicious? Do they feel less valued? Using respect we can have that discussion, as respect leads to value, and value leads to trust.

A virus is a small change that can have a big effect. The pandemic has shown that human beings across the globe have more in common than separates us. We can use the pandemic to rally together: having a common “enemy” unites the individuals in those groups. The common “enemy” right now is the coronavirus and its variants. (One day I believe humanity will be able to unite with a common goal rather than a common enemy).

Why do people dismiss or try to avoid feeling anger? And what impact does that have on the person?

A lot of people do not like to see themselves as angry. It implies that they are less-than, and are not in control of their emotions. They are afraid their anger may be expressed as violence and aggression. In some ways, this worry says a lot of good things about a person: that they still care about how their anger will influence another person. It is still an I-M. Using the I-M Approach you can look again at why you do what you do instead of judging yourself as less than and broken. Suppressing anger can lead to depression and anxiety, to feeling inadequate and with less value.

There’s nothing wrong with anger: it’s what you do with it that matters.

Tell us about your podcast, The Dr. Joe Show.

The Dr. Joe Show uses the I-M Approach to explore who we are and why we do what we do. I have guests from all sorts of areas, from psychology, to law, to theater, to bee keeping! People who have survived cancer, death of a loved one, racial inequity, loved ones with Alzheimers, and windows into so many aspects of our human condition. We apply the I-M Approach to appreciate the influence of these events on the Four Domains. At the end of the show my guests recommend to our audience a small change that can have a big effect, and tell us what kind of influence they want to be by telling their stories.

I truly believe we are always doing the best we can, but influenced by the Four Domains. The Dr. Joe Show explores the influence of those domains, so a listener can apply a small change that very day and move closer to their own definition of success. We remind the audience that they control no one, but influence everyone. They get to choose the kind of influence they want to be. Using the I-M Approach, at every and any moment in time you can remind someone of their value by wondering why they do what they do instead of judging them as broken wrong, less than, (which will only make them angry!). Whenever you remind someone of their value you increase your own value. And everyone wants to feel valuable.

What is Drug Story Theater?

Drug Story Theater is a 501 c-3 that takes teenagers in the early stages of recovery, teaches them improvisational theater, then uses psychodrama to help them create their own scripted shows about the seduction of, addiction to, and recovery from drugs and alcohol. The teens then perform these shows for middle and high schools so “The Treatment of One Becomes the Prevention of Many.” All the audience members take a pre-show neuroscience quiz, then watch the show. In between each scene the performers step out of character and present three short interactive PowerPoint presentations to the audience teaching them about the adolescent brain and why it is at such risk for life long addiction, more than any other age brain! We are teaching kids that addiction is not about morality, it is about mortality. That based on the brain science, you can get high but the price you pay is trust: you decide which pleasure is more important to you. And that the greatest risk factor for first time substance use is low self-esteem. But at any and every moment you can remind someone of their value. And whenever you remind someone of their value you increase your own value. That’s positive peer pressure!

After the show the audience takes the same neuroscience quiz, and are asked questions about perception: how much do drugs and alcohol influence school, relationships, and do they think marijuana is addictive. Following that there is a talk-back between the audience and the performers which I moderate.

We have performed for over 40,000 kids and adults in Massachusetts. For more information go to

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NYT Bestselling Duology Ascends to Stunning Climax with Book 2

J. Elle’s YA fantasies tackle racism, privilege, empowerment and love

“Bold, inventive, big-hearted and deeply perceptive.” — Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also A Star

“A masterful adventure.” — Kirkus, Starred Review

HOUSTON, Texas – YA fantasy novelist J.Elle is releasing Book 2 in her New York Times bestselling “Wings of Ebony” YA fantasy duology, “Ashes of Gold” (January 11, 2022, Millner Books). The release of the epic conclusion to her hit debut is just the beginning for Elle, who—jettisoned to literary popularity by a viral tweet—is under contract for a second fantasy duology for young readers.

Described as “The Hate U Give” meets “Wonder Woman” in a “Black Panther” world, “Wings of Ebony” was

  • An instant New York Times bestseller
  • Barnes & Noble’s February 2021 YA Book Club pick
  • An Amazon Editor’s Pick for Best Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

Like its predecessor, Elle’s latest release “Ashes of Gold” is a lead title for new S&S imprint Millner Books. Houston teen Rue is back and must make her final stand to help her people reclaim their stolen magic in her homeland of Ghizon, working to become not just the fighter her people need, but the leader they deserve. It extends a unique perspective on racism, privilege, cultural appropriation, community and resilience.

Elle’s debut sparked a firestorm of interest when she participated in #DVPit, a Twitter book pitching event for historically marginalized voices. Six months after her first contract, Elle sold a second fantasy duology for middle grade readers at auction to Bloomsbury Publishing.

A former teacher to inner-city students, Elle drew inspiration for the novel from her own experience growing up poor in Houston’s Third Ward and from her desire to inspire younger generations. Her novel has already been integrated into school curriculums nationwide.

“Thanks for writing books that make kids fall in love with reading.” — Read Woke founder Cicely Lewis

About J. Elle

J. ELLE is a prolific Black author and advocate for marginalized voices in both publishing and her community. Her New York Times bestselling 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 and her follow up Ashes of Gold are lead titles for Simon & Schuster’s Millner Books.

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

Shortened Bio:

J. Elle is a New York Times bestselling author of young adult and middle-grade fantasy fiction. She is best known for her debut novel, Wings of Ebony, and her work has been translated into three languages. The former educator and first-generation college student credits her nomadic lifestyle and humble inner-city beginnings as inspiration for her novels. When she’s not writing, Elle can be found mentoring aspiring authors, binging reality TV, loving on her three littles, or cooking up something true to her Southern roots. More at

Praise for J. Elle’s Work

Kirkus Starred Review for Ashes of Gold: “Elle’s thrilling conclusion to the Wings of Ebony duology delivers a hefty punch. Rue’s feelings of insecurity and fear of failure connect readers to her as she weighs a multitude of consequences at every turn. Bri’s character arc, as one of the Grays, is a wonderful portrait of allyship and the confrontation of privilege. Elle delivers in her sophomore outing. A masterful adventure.”

Ashes of Gold named one of Apple Books’ Most Anticipated Winter Reads

School Library Journal Starred Review: “An ode to family, true belonging, and magic. Highly recommended for all collections.”

“The best fantasy novels invent alternate worlds in order to illuminate our own. Wings of Ebony is one of them—a bold, inventive, big-hearted and deeply perceptive vision of a Black girl’s journey to reclaim her magic from forces determined to destroy her. The parallels to our current reality are unmistakable and the book brings us all a much-needed ray of hope.”
—NICOLA YOON, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also A Star

Wings of Ebony is an intense, page-turner of a book about magic, sisterhood, community and family. Debut author J. Elle offers us a richly-wrought world, weaving together past and present with a rare blend of deft insight and keen humor that leaves the reader wanting more.”
—SABAA TAHIR, #1 New York Times bestselling author of An Ember in the Ashes

“There is little on earth more powerful than seeing a reflection of the self, not only as it is, but also as it COULD be. Wings of Ebony is a rooftop-shout of affirmation that black girls from ALL walks of life are magic.”
—NIC STONE, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin

“A remarkable, breathtaking, earthshaking, poetic thrillride bristling with magic, life, and so much love. Rue and her incredible adventures will change the world.”
—DANIEL JOSÉ OLDER, New York Times bestselling author of Shadowshaper

“A heart-racing thrilling fantasy that sucks you in from the very first page. J. Elle has such a voracious voice and she’s about to change the game!”
—TIFFANY D. JACKSON, New York Times bestselling author of Grown and Monday’s Not Coming

“J. Elle has crafted an unapologetic heroine determined to save her block from agents of stolen magic in this immersive hidden world. A thrilling and irresistible new saga about loyalty and lineage.”
— KIM JOHNSON, Indie bestselling author of This Is My America

Kirkus for Wings of Ebony: “Heart stopping action and intrigue from cover to cover.”

Publisher’s Weekly review: “Full of grief, love, and vengeance, this poignant debut encourages readers to embrace the whole of their identities to overcome pain.”

Media Buzz for J. Elle’s novels:

★ Kirkus Starred Review for Ashes of Gold: “Elle’s thrilling conclusion to the Wings of Ebony duology delivers a hefty punch…A masterful adventure.”

Ashes of Gold named one of Apple Books’ Most Anticipated Winter Reads

“An incredible debut.” —NPR, “These 3 YA Novels Will Transform Your Summer Into Something Fantastic”

“7 YA novels featuring strong, vulnerable, unique Black girls coming in 2021” — NBC News

“This is the debut fantasy we need right now!” —Ms. Magazine

Best YA Fantasy Books with Black Main Characters — POPSUGAR

“Fantasy fiction and magical Black girls is a mystifying combination that is rarely seen between book covers and on the page. It is a refreshing and welcome read.” — MADAMENOIRE

“Wings of Ebony may be a fantasy novel, but its parallels to our own world are what makes it poignant. I found the world to be interesting in its own right, and the lessons the story imparts made the novel that much more special.” —Medium

“In Wings of Ebony, debut author J. Elle brings magic to
Houston’s Third Ward.” —NONDOC

“A riveting first installment in a duology that reminds us of the power of Afro-futurism and the Black fantastic…With Rue at their side, a new generation of readers will feel empowered to love the Houston of their minds and bring to life the worlds they imagine.” —Texas Observer

“To offer much more story would be to undermine the care with which Elle tells the story of a girl discovering the breadth of her power and the richness of her cultural heritage. But allegory abounds, touching on systemic racism, the destruction of communities, colonization and the ways — good and bad — our lives and actions are interconnected.” —The Houston Chronicle

“J. Elle’s Wings of Ebony Is So Powerful in 2021.” —We Need Diverse Book

9 Young Adult Novels We’re Excited About —Essence

A Winter 2021 Recommended YA read from Book Riot

Black History Month pick by Well Read Black Girl

Additional News Details

  • Elle coordinated a donation of over 500 books to Jack Yates High School (the high school in her hometown neighborhood of Houston’s Third Ward, where George Floyd—to whom the book is dedicated—also attended)
  • Elle designed an interactive curriculum based on “Wings of Ebony” that is being incorporated into schools nationwide.Elle completed the manuscript for “Wings of Ebony” in 35 days.
  • The new imprint Millner Books is spearheaded by NYT-bestselling author Denene Millner, and focuses on fresh African-American voices.
  • Elle has served as a mentor for both PitchWars and Author Mentor Match.
  • She is the founder and co-host of #MondayMixer, a Twitter chat to engage writers with networking opportunities, writing questions and encouragement.
  • Elle grew up in Houston’s Third Ward which inspired her novel, where her younger sisters still live.

In an interview, J. ELLE can discuss:

  • Her unique approach to portraying inner-city communities as places full of magic and power
  • Her unconventional path to publishing success as a debut author turned instant bestseller—and how she’s now coaching other authors toward their own success
  • Why she writes about kids who are impacted by and who must grapple with racism, privilege, cultural appropriation, single- or mixed-parent homes, and finding family within community
  • How the unique challenges of growing up in an inner-city neighborhood inspired her writing
  • Why YA Fantasy is her chosen genre for portraying powerful Black characters and communities
  • How her passion for education and empowering young voices, paired with the importance of leaning into African American heritage and legacy, had an influence on her writing
  • Why it’s important to create a dialogue around how non-POCs can be allies to POC communities
  • How to have conversations about privilege with friends who don’t “get it”

Author Headshot

Photo credit: Chris Spicks Photography

*Available for download here

Book Cover

Cover art credit: Taj Francis

*Available for download here

About “Ashes of Gold”

In the heart-pounding conclusion to the Wings of Ebony duology, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Nicole Yoon calls “bold, inventive, big-hearted and deeply perceptive,” Rue makes her final stand to reclaim her people’s stolen magic.

Rue has no memory of how she ended up locked in a basement prison without her magic or her allies. But she’s a girl from the East Row. And girls from the East Row don’t give up. Girls from the East Row pick themselves back up when they fall. Girls from the East Row break themselves out.

But reuniting with her friends is only half the battle. When she finds them again, Rue makes a vow: she will find a way to return the magic that the Chancellor has stolen from her father’s people. Yet even on Yiyo Peak, Rue is a misfit—with half a foot back in Houston and half a heart that is human as well as god, she’s not sure she’s the right person to lead the fight to reclaim a glorious past.

When a betrayal sends her into a tailspin, Rue must decide who to trust and how to be the leader that her people deserve…because if she doesn’t, it isn’t just Yiyo that will be destroyed—it will be Rue herself.

Book Cover

*Available for download here

Promotional Photos

*Available for download here

An Interview with J. Elle

1. How did writing ASHES differ from writing WINGS for you?

I wrote Ashes of Gold in the middle of 2020 when the world was both in the middle of a global pandemic and on fire with protests and rioting over the egregious public murder of George Floyd. Finding the headspace to write a story as emotionally rooted as Rue’s was difficult. But dipping into her head was somehow healing at the same time. I’d written Wings of Ebony with no certain expectations of what it would become. I didn’t have a book deal or an agent. But when I wrote Ashes of Gold, I knew it would make its way to shelves! Totally different headspaces.

Also, the time to think and process and explore on the page was night and day different because I had to write the sequel on a tight deadline. Any series writer will tell you that crafting a sequel is a unique challenge. There’s a novelty with book one—it’s a new world, an exciting adventure with a new character. But with a sequel, the novelty has worn off some. Most can count the number of sequels they love as much (if not more) than the first book on one hand. So, I set out to make the sequel to Wings of Ebony one to remember.

2. You have a wonderful vision of inner-city communities as places full of magic, potential and power. How do you approach blending some of the harsher realities of these communities with the more fantastical elements in your novel?

Outside of the pages of a book, those of us living with these harsher realities can find it tough to reimagine a world without them. But in fiction, we have limitless imagination, tools and power. I try to examine societal complexities that might inhibit us from challenging the status quo, and I put magical resources at my character’s disposal so my readers metaphorically understand that they are indeed capable of more than they can even imagine. The mindset that we can’t impact change is the first injustice we must eradicate.

One of my favorite characters in “Wings of Ebony” is tattoo-covered, gold grill-wearing Julius. How the media typically portrays kids who look like Julius is decidedly different from Julius’ real story. I’m going to make sure Julius and kids like him get their space on shelves.

3. Trust is a very important theme in Rue’s journey, as Rue learns not just about trusting the people around her, but trusting herself. Why was this such an important element for you to include in the story?

When you grow up in a place like East Row, like where I grew up, you learn very quickly that people outside of your community often look at you with judgement, which makes trusting those you don’t know scary. Community becomes our safe space. Rue was snatched from that sense of security and is constantly battling the trauma associated with that. And just when she thinks she finds someone she can trust, someone else disappoints her. I wove this all in intentionally to humanize the brutal reality so many kids face. Rue is a child, at the end of the day, and her experiences are formative. Her wounds have a ripple effect. I want readers, who don’t find their wounds so easily buried, to be able to see themselves in Rue. And I want those coming to these pages as a window to better understand the brutal reality so many kids deal with everyday.

4. Without giving away spoilers, how can readers anticipate Rue changing between WINGS and ASHES? What will challenge her in ASHES?

In Wings of Ebony Rue struggles to embrace who she is fully: Ghizonian and chosen to return her people’s stolen magic. Embracing that requires Rue to forgive the only Ghizoni in her life—the father who abandoned her. Once those walls come down, she is able to step into her identity fully and embrace it with her whole heart, which unlocks her ability to tap into her ancestor’s magic. But understanding that she is Ghizoni and understanding how to be Ghizoni are two entirely different things. And in Ashes of Gold we see Rue’s understanding of what she is capable of grate against what she is actually capable of. One of the things I wanted readers to see in Rue is that, as fiery and powerful as she is, she has flaws too. Ashes of Gold puts vulnerabilities Rue is in denial about front and center in order to force her to grow. She fails huge in chapter one of the book and it shakes everything she thought she knew about herself. Rue is human and in book two I wanted to dig into that humanity and show just how fragile it can be.

5. What else can readers look forward to in this book?

Aside from Rue’s growth, in Ashes of Gold, readers get to see a lot more of Ghizon as most of the book takes place on the magical island. There’s a lot more magic and a deeper dive into the culture of the Ghizoni people in book two which I’m really excited about. By far, one of my favorite parts of the sequel is Rue getting a love story. While there are definitely world-relevant social justice themes in Ashes of Gold, Rue doesn’t just exist on the pages of a story to fight racism. She’s a Black teenage girl and she deserves to just be a kid. It was important to me to write that into canon for her. So you’ll see that romance plays a very central role in Ashes of Gold. In Wings of Ebony, we saw Rue’s budding love interests with the boy she grew up with and the boy she met in Ghizon. So in Ashes of Gold readers can expect to see those relationships develop and change in surprising ways.

6. Throughout the novel, Rue is learning not just to be a fighter, but a leader. What does leadership really look like for her?

It’s hard to answer this question without spoilers. But I’ll say this: a lot is being asked of Rue and what I love about her is that she doesn’t emptily step into other’s expectations of her. She weighs things very heavily, looking at all their implications. And while that risks stifling her at times, I think her thoughtfulness and humility make her such a great character to look up to.

7. Why was the blend of YA Fantasy and Contemporary genres particularly important for you when crafting your duology?

I tend to like books that have real-world issues front and center, but I realize exploring difficult themes through fantasy is more palatable for many readers, becauses it’s a step removed from reality. Ultimately, I want my books to spark tough conversations. There will always be commentary in my books, weightier topics I want to challenge teens to consider, and the contemporary elements of my story allow me to explore these topics more directly. But I wrap those contemporary elements in a fantastical story, so that while teens grapple with these weightier topics, they are also inspired and encouraged by the metaphorical, magical “what-ifs.” Readers will finish “Wings of Ebony” and have had an unflinching look at the reality of racism (toward inner-city kids in particular). But they will also have reconciled that disgusting truth with how powerful we are in the face of that injustice, how we are changemakers that will be reckoned with.

8. Why is this duology so important to you personally?

These books are a love letter to younger me, to my teen sisters, to my community and the home that raised me. I grew up seeing communities like mine depicted only as troublesome, wrought with crime, full of kids “not going anywhere.” But that wasn’t how I viewed my home growing up. So, I decided to shift the narrative and show a home like mine as magical, so that kids from places like where I am from see their neighborhood on the page/screen in a different way than how it is typically portrayed. This is vitally important so kids in our community realize their day-to-day lives are rich with magic, too. I believe shifting the connotation of the term “inner-city kids” will help fill shelves, and conversations, with representation that shatters stereotypes. My stories are a no nonsense, unapologetic step in that direction.

9. Who is this duology for? Who will be drawn to this book?

This story isn’t just for Black kids. It’s for underdog changemakers and their allies—those who know how to become allies and those hungry to learn. Fans of Katniss Everdeen, Starr Carter, and anyone in love with all things Wakanda are going to rave about these books. I can’t wait to see the cosplay!

This duology can also be instructive and a great fit for classrooms full of kids learning how to have safe, productive discussions about race with others who may not share their identity. A 6-week curriculum complete with a Hyperdoc, day-by-day lesson plans, vocabulary list, hands-on activities, discussion questions, and a culmination project that ties well with Black History Month can be found here.

10. Why are conversations about privilege important for kids to have with one another, particularly today?

We have one world with thousands of cultures within it that, for the good and health of this world, must learn to work together. We can’t exist singularly in our own communities and choose to not coexist. First, that allows the powerful to remain powerful without challenge; second, it’s not realistic. But in order to come together in collaborative environments and engineer true change, creating a world we are proud to live in, we must learn how to work together. This starts with checking our bias at the door, and realizing that our preconceived notions—often subscious—are shaping how we interact with and treat people who are different from us. And an often ignored facet of that conversation around bias, racism and xenophobia is privilege.

Privilege is the dagger that stabs you in the back that you never saw coming—because you “didn’t know” it existed. People who are unaware of the privilege they possess do damage to others around them without even realizing it; and yet they wonder why they’re unable to have productive, meaningful discourse with people who are different from them. On a global level, that lack of self-awareness stalls productivity, throws a wrench in business connections and the economy, and fractures our growth. On a personal level, at minimum, it shatters relationships and breeds toxic thinking.

We all suffer when the privileged are afforded the ability to live within a bubble without awareness. The “Wings” duology aims to pop that bubble. I want to equip the next generation with tools to have these tough conversations that yield self-awareness, in order to usher in a more tolerant and mutually respectful world. Colleges are catching on to the importance of conversations around privilege. There are resources being implemented at the university level to study the social construct of privilege, and I’m excited that my books are appropriate to be a central part of these and conversations to come.

11. It’s incredible that you wrote the manuscript for “Wings of Ebony” in just 35 days. How long has this story been developing in your mind? What can you tell us about the writing process?

Honestly, Rue’s voice just came to me one morning. I’d had an image in my head of a girl standing over an injured little girl and using her magic to save her life. The setting of that image was my neighborhood, where I grew up. And it just hit me that this is what I hadn’t seen before: my neighborhood, the people there, the places, depicted as magical. I can’t explain it, but the story just poured out of me, and while it’s undergone significant revisions since that 35-day-version, Rue’s fierceness, her fire, her heart and her magic are still the same. The writing process varies from person to person, but what I can say is that if there is a story or character or voice burning to just pour out of you, let it.

12. Few authors experience the kind of whirlwind success you’ve experienced in the past couple years. What has this publishing journey been like for you? What has surprised you, challenged you, and helped you grow?

The fact that I am going to have a book headed to shelves still surprises me. When I set out to write “Wings of Ebony” I was very new to writing fiction and wasn’t sure what to expect. My DVPit pitch blowing up on Twitter shocked me, but from then on I knew I was on to something highly marketable. One of the reasons I’m committed to mentoring aspiring authors is because I want them to understand I was just where they were. I’m so new at all of this, so they too should keep fighting, hoping, revising, growing, and I believe they’ll get there, too.

There’s nothing like going on submission to editors that makes you realize just how much of a privilege it is to have a book in the world. This industry really forces you to remember that patience is important and there’s no use in stressing about things out of our control. I was on sub for 5 months, and during that time I completed a revision for a brilliant editor at a Big 5 publisher who gave me some very candid, pointed feedback. I have an ambitious, can-do attitude—just tell me what needs to be done and I’ll blow you away with how fast and well I do it.

Writers should understand that revising can be magic for your story, so don’t be overly precious about your words. If you want to publish traditionally, understand you’re looking for a partner (to put their money behind your book) so you’re going to have to flex some. And a good editor is going to actually make your book much stronger. That’s the best part!

I completed my revision quickly, and we sent it to everyone still considering my pages, which was about ten editors or so. From there we had multiple editors interested, but Denene Millner at Simon & Schuster came in strong and fast with so much enthusiasm and ultimately won me over. Working with her has transformed my writing. This book is miles from where it was. As such a novice writer, I just feel so fortunate and lucky to have this opportunity. I still pinch myself everyday wondering how any of this can be real.

13. What top advice do you give to other writers who are working to make their voices and stories heard?

First, understand that there are so many factors involved in pursuing traditional publishing, and most of them are out of your control. All you control is the writing. Focus on being well-read in your genre and writing the best book you can write.

Second, know that rejections are an inevitable part of the process and are not a reflection of you as a person. They are not brick walls, they are stop signs. Pause, learn, grow—KEEP GOING.

Third, and most importantly, neither of those two facts negate the need for your voice. The voices drowning out ours have a lot more privilege and access. So remember, tenacity is your greatest weapon.

14. In what ways did your own childhood experience inspire Rue’s neighborhood and community?

“Wings of Ebony” is set where I grew up, on the southeast side of Houston. The “community as family” aspect of my story is probably one of the strongest parallels to my own childhood. Growing up, neighbors are aunties. “It takes a village” isn’t just a saying. Communities like mine look out for one another because we have to. We are forged with a closeness rooted in our identity and the “hood” we call home; it’s one of the most magical parts of my upbringing.

Also, Rue is an enigmatic mix of kids teachers see in inner-city classrooms, kids I’ve taught, best friends I’ve had—the kid with a hard exterior that reads like a chip is on their shoulder. That chip is necessary armor, and what’s beneath is ridiculously powerful love. I hope this book helps those kids feel more seen, more capable, and opens their eyes to their own magic; but also, I hope it helps others think twice the next time they roll through my hood, see one of these “hoodie-wearing-kids” walking down the street, or have a particularly stubborn kid in their classroom—I hope “Wings of Ebony” challenges them to see what’s beneath.

15. What message(s) do you want Rue’s story to send to readers (of any age)?

You are capable. You are power. You are strength.
A’laya nah ick e’bah.
Yes, you’ll have to read the book to find out what that means.


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Whimsical fantasy series featuring tiny magical beings returns with a new spellbinding adventure

Kauai, HI –The author of the KIRINS trilogy returns with a fourth novel to continue the epic tale of tiny, magical beings who live throughout Earth today. Introducing: KIRINS: The Seer of Serone. (Beaver’s Pond Press, January 18, 2022).

Author James Priest created a race of tiny magical beings called kirins that live on Earth today. Due to ancient frictions, kirins have magically concealed themselves from humans for millennia.

In the fourth installment of this action-packed fantasy series, a disgruntled kirin high magician interrupts the global invisibility spell and kirins everywhere are momentarily visible to humans. Exploiting this breach, a vicious Alaskan fishing boat captain, Jeremy Bailey, captures a kirin named Till and, under threat of torture, exploits Till’s magical abilities for Bailey’s benefit.

A kirin party fights back to deliver Bailey to The Seer of Serone, an esteemed kirin wizard who brings the infamous human to trial. Peering into Bailey’s mind, The Seer will show mercy only if Bailey is a truly changed man.

This lovingly crafted story in the classic fantasy tradition explores the power of empathy, friendship, and forgiveness to heal the rifts that divide.

“KIRINS: The Seer of Serone”
James Priest | January 18, 2022 | Beaver’s Pond Press | Fantasy
Paperback | 978-1-59298-724-5 | $16.95
Ebook | B07CW1XX8Y | $6.99

“This is a very detailed and well imagined world.”
– Netgalley user

“…a whimsical fantasy novel about the power of friendship and tradition.”
– Foreword reviews

James D. Priest, M.D., majored in English at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. He studied English in the masters program and received a Doctor of Medicine degree at the University of Minnesota. He spent three years in Japan as a physician in the Army of the United States caring for casualties from Vietnam, and four years in orthopedic residency at Stanford University. He practiced orthopedics in Minneapolis for twenty-one years. He has authored or co-authored approximately thirty medical articles, and received the Minnesota Medicine Outstanding Writing Award.

Follow James on social media:
Goodreads: James Priest | Twitter: @KIRINS_Author | Website: KirinBooks

In an interview, James can discuss:

  • Why he chose to explore empathy and forgiveness in his novels
  • Balancing practicing medicine full-time while writing his series
  • What inspired him to build an elaborate fantasy world set in modern-day Earth
  • Why he explores the challenges of reuniting kirins and humans, who had been co-existing but living entirely separately for millenia
  • His inspiration for the unique cast of characters, both kirin and human
  • How he has persisted in continuing the series over the span of 40 years

An Interview with James Priest

1. How did you first find inspiration for “KIRINS: The Seer Of Serone”?

The Seer of Serone is the sequel to my KIRINS trilogy but I wrote it to be enjoyed as a standalone adventure, too. I made the characters and their world small because as a child I loved and collected miniatures, and I have always loved fantasy and science fiction. I set out to write a fantasy in the classic tradition: epic storyline, an immersive, all-new world, great characters, powerful and mysterious magic, action, plot twists, an immediate threat, romance, and heroism. And the books are suitable for readers 10 to 110. No vampires, zombies, gore, drugs, or post-apocalyptic landscapes. No obscenities or erotica. No superheroes, just heroes.

2. Why did you decide to have this fantasy series take place on modern day Earth?

Most fantasies are set in a mythical world or in the past or future. I wanted to challenge myself to write a fantasy set in today’s world.

3. When writing a series with a unique, fictional civilization, how did you create the backstory and details for this world?

To set the series in today’s world, I had to create a backstory that would explain how a rich, unrevealed fantasy world could exist all around us on present-day earth. My writing nook overlooked a serene lake and woodland. I visualized a fantasy civilization that might populate that landscape, living joyfully just beyond the reach of human senses. I imagined that those creatures—kirins—were once friendly with humans. But humans, being human, came to treat kirins cruelly. Kirins dissociated and intentionally concealed themselves from humans using magic that both races once shared but humans have long forgotten. Still, there has been a persistent longing within many kirins to reunite with their old allies, human beings, while ancient memories of kirins persist in every human culture through myths about magical little people—faeries, leprechauns, menehune, and the like.

4. What inspired you to stay committed to creating this series over the span of many years?

I love writing and creating, and when you love doing something you never want to stop. But most importantly, I wanted to see my stories come to a satisfying ending.

5. You were working full time when you began this series and describe writing as “a second career”. How did you balance these careers?

I was practicing medicine full-time when I wrote the original trilogy, and it took four years to complete. I wrote early in the morning, at night, on weekends, and on holidays. I was never happier than during those four years when I was writing, having a busy, fulfilling medical practice, and spending time with my family. Someone once asked my wife how many hours a week I wrote. Her answer surprised even me: forty, she said. I never kept track of the time because it never felt like work.

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Written for kids who feel like they don’t quite fit in, ‘Birdfish’ encourages a celebration of differences

WALCHWIL, Switzerland – Feeling like a fish out of water is nothing new for Katsura Suzuki, a Japanese woman working in the financial industry in Switzerland. In her new children’s book, The Birdfish and The Secret of Crystal Island (Berry Powell Press, Dec. 4, 2022), Suzuki hopes to help kids feel confident and discover that being different is what makes them powerful. With this story, she hopes to promote self-acceptance and encourage children to create belonging and harmony for communities that are divided.

More about The Birdfish and The Secret of Crystal Island: Being half bird and half fish, Staraku has never fit in. But when she leaves her home in search of a place to belong, a mysterious crystal island and a strange new guide show her that what makes her different makes her more powerful than she ever imagined.

When Staraku learns her island is on the brink of destruction, she must make a choice. Will she let the birds and fish who rejected her fend for themselves? Or will she use her new power to try to save them and bridge an impossible divide?

“The Birdfish and the Secret of Crystal Island”
Katsura Suzuki | Dec. 4, 2021 | Berry Powell Press | Middle Grade Fiction
Paperback | 978-1-7363953-4-9 | $9.99
Ebook | 978-1-7363953-5-6 | $4.99


Having lived in both the East and West, Katsura Suzuki, MBA, DBA, has over thirty years of experience in Swiss-based consulting and wealth management business plus thirteen years of formal training in Japanese meditative arts.

Katsura revolutionizes the field of global leadership development by introducing a science-based, results-oriented mindfulness method called The Invisible Gift. Her unique and timely message empowers adults and children to thrive in an increasingly globalized world through her children’s book, The Birdfish and the Secret of Crystal Island and her adult book, The Invisible Gift. Learn more at

In an interview, Katsura can discuss:

  • Her experience as a Japanese woman doing international financial business independently in Switzerland and how that plays into her writing
  • How her multicultural background impacted the themes of Birdfish
  • How this book can help kids coping with feelings of rejection or bullying
  • Helping kids find self-acceptance and value in their differences
  • Why respecting nature and the world around us is so important and how kids can incorporate this into their lives

An Interview with Katsura Suzuki

1. Who is The Birdfish written for?

The Birdfish is primarily for kids who don’t quite fit the mold—like me. Perhaps they’re from a multiethnic background, they’ve moved around a lot, or there’s some other reason they just feel a bit different. I think everyone can relate to this in some way. In an increasingly globalized world, we all find ourselves wondering, “Who am I?” and “Where do I fit in?” at some point.

The Birdfish exists to help those kids find their freedom and purpose in being exactly who they are. Rather than covering up their differences, this book is meant to reveal their quirks and differences as the source of their strength.

2. How do you relate to Staraku in The Birdfish?

​​The story of The Birdfish is incredibly personal to me. In fact, it’s my story.

I am an only child, born and raised in Japan. Growing up, everyone knew me as “the tea ceremony master’s daughter” and assumed I would follow in my mother’s footsteps to become a master myself. So, at the age of five, I started my training. I sat still and quiet for hours at a time learning the ritual of making and serving tea. While I was supposed to be meditating, I actually spent most of those hours wishing I were anywhere else. I never quite fit the mold.

As soon as I could, I left Japan on a mission to find my own purpose. I moved to the US and eventually Switzerland, where I started my family and spent the next thirty-five years in Swiss-based financial advisory services. Both my kids are both biracial and bicultural. My work, my family, my life—it was all a blend of East and West. But at work, I was a Japanese woman constantly surrounded by Swiss men. And in Japan, I was the one who had left rather than becoming an esteemed tea ceremony master like my mother. In both East and West, I never fully felt like I belonged.

It wasn’t until I hit a crisis that I started having these vivid dreams. In them was a half-bird, half-fish creature with a funny little mentor who helped her find her power. Seeing her made me feel like I finally understood myself. I woke up and started writing. Those dreams became the basis for this book.

These dreams prompted me to start meditating again—this time for myself, not to please my parents. In meditation, I remembered the lost lessons of my childhood. Having cast them aside long ago, I asked those lessons to guide me again.

It was only then, when I began to embrace both parts of myself, that I began to feel whole.

The same is true of Staraku. Only when she fully embraces both parts of herself does she unlock her greatest power—to create her own sense of belonging, and to create belonging for others around her.

3. What are the major lessons Staraku learns from her mentor in the story that can apply to kids reading this book?

The major lessons Staraku learns from her mentor are based on the four principles of the Japanese tea ceremony: tranquility, purity, respect, and harmony.

  1. Tranquility: When others target you for being different, you can place boundaries around yourself that allow you to create your own sense of safety and calm.
  2. Purity: When we’re hurt, we can hurt others without realizing it. When we’re honest enough to recognize the ways we’ve hurt others too, we have purity of heart.
  3. Respect: Rather than being afraid of others’ differences, we must recognize their differences are what make them special and give them their unique purpose.
  4. Harmony: When we live into our purpose, we create a safe, welcoming space where everyone can belong, no matter how different they are.

Staraku learns all of this with the help of her new friends. Ultimately, these lessons allow her to embrace her uniqueness and turn her island into a place of harmony rather than conflict. When kids embrace these lessons, they also create harmony in the diverse world around them.

If anything, I felt more lost than before. For every country I spent time in, I took a piece of it with me. Rather than finding my home, my life became more globalized and complex until I surely didn’t fit in anywhere.

However, I learned so much from each culture I spent time in. I used to resent the challenges of being a global citizen, but my global worldview turned out to be my secret power. In work and in my personal life, when I embraced all different parts of myself, I was able to create a bridge between different worlds.

My writing melds Eastern and Western ways of thinking as well. While the Birdfish is written in English for a mostly Western audience, it’s rooted in the principles of the Japanese tea ceremony, and the name of the mentor figure has German roots. I think kids from around the world will each find something from The Birdfish they can see in their own story.

5. The theme of feeling like you are different is prevalent in this book. What are some challenges you face as a woman in the male-dominated financial world?

Being a Japanese woman in a heavily male-dominated financial world, I’ve often felt like a TV that’s constantly changing channels. I’ve spent so much of my life “changing channels” in order to make myself fit in. The higher up you go in the food chain, the more intense the feeling is.

I’ve had to change the way I communicate to be seen as authoritative. I’ve downplayed my Japanese roots to avoid being seen as exotic. I’ve had to learn how not to be taken advantage of just because I’m open and kind. I’ve had to become very, very flexible, bending this way and that to fit in every situation.

While using so much energy just to fit in, I forgot who I was as a result. It’s taken me a long time to rediscover who I really am. After decades of struggle, I’ve learned to embrace my differences again. I’ve learned to use my differences as a competitive advantage. But I feel the pain of those still “changing channels,” and I teach others with similar stories to turn their disadvantages into their strengths.