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 https://authorjelle.com and https://www.wingsofebony.com.
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 www.authorjelle.com.
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
“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”
*Available for download here
*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.
*Available for download here
*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.
Publisher’s Weekly – Interview/Feature
NPR – Book Lists
The Root/The GlowUp – Guest Article
MPIBA Newsletter – Spotlight
Ms. Magazine – Book List
Click2Houston / KPRC News 2 – Feature
The Houston Chronicle – Full Page Print + Digital Feature
Texas Observer – Feature + Review
Books Make A Difference – Interview
Southern Distinction – Spotlight
NBC News – Interview/Spotlight
Houston Life TV (KPRC) – Featured Guest
Houstonia – Feature + Book List
The Clay Cane Show / SiriusXM – Interview
Essence – Book List
Dropping In / Radio – Interview
Lone Star Literary – Interview
Teen Librarian Toolbox – Guest Article + Roundup
Medium – Review
NanoWriMo – Guest Article
Bitter Southerner – Interview + Review
The Alcalde Alumni Magazine – Spotlight
Teen Ink Magazine – Interview
A former award-winning journalist with national exposure, Marissa now oversees the day-to-day operation of the Books Forward author branding and book marketing firm, along with our indie publishing support sister company Books Fluent.
Born and bred in Louisiana, currently living in New Orleans, she has lived and developed a strong base for our company and authors in Chicago and Nashville. Her journalism work has appeared in USA Today, National Geographic and other major publications. She is now interviewed by media on best practices for book marketing.