J. Elle on ASHES OF GOLD and What’s Next
Houston’s own YA superstar J. Elle returns to the shelves this month with Ashes of Gold, the epic finale of her bestelling Wings of Ebony duology. Friends, the book is going to knock your socks off, and we can’t wait to share it with you soon — in fact, we’re lucky enough to be hosting a virtual event with the author on January 12 to help celebrate its publication. J. Elle appear in conversation with fellow YA author Brigid Kemmerer, and we’ve been looking forward to it for months. There’s more exciting news, too: If you buy your copy of Ashes of Gold with us before January 7, it will be signed and personalized by the author — who’s also kicking in an exclusive bookmark!
We had the chance to catch up with J. Elle before our event and ask her a few questions about the new book, writing Houston, and what’s next. Check out our conversation below — and we’ll see you on the 12th!
Congratulations on Ashes of Gold! Without spoiling too much, can you share a little about what’s in store for Rue?
If Wings of Ebony is about Rue embracing her true identity to step into the confidence of who she is, Ashes of Gold is about Rue stepping up to a level of challenge that shakes that confident ground she stands on. She is a fierce protagonist, so it was important for me to show that despite how powerful she is, at her core there is still vulnerability. I think readers will be shocked at the challenges she finds herself in in the first several pages of the novel and hungrily keep reading to see if, and how, Rue will come through the end.
In Ashes of Gold, readers will also find themselves steeped in the magical island of Ghizon for most of the book. So there’s lots more magic, more about her Ghizoni people, and lots of twists and turns that are sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats. There’s also more romance!
After years of hosting author events, we know that book ideas can come from anywhere. Where did the germ for this duology come from?
Rue came to me as an image one morning of a girl standing over a body on the pavement. She was really grieved about the loss of this person and yet felt powerless to stop it. With the Wings of Ebony duology I set out to write a story that put the power in that girl's hands, that challenged her sense of what she was capable of, who she was, and what all she is worthy of.
It’s always so fun to read books set in Houston. How did you go about balancing real Houston details with the fantasy world building you did for Ghizon?
I kept East Row, the fictional neighborhood in this duology, pretty closely modeled to where I grew up in the Third Ward of Houston. But I made sure that the conflict in Ghizon (the magical island) had implications in East Row. This was more so to ensure that the book didn’t feel segmented. That while we’re on the magical island, the things we are experiencing feels intimately connected with Rue’s ultimate focus–her home. But, while in Ghizon I allowed myself to worldbuild with boundless imagination. I wanted Ghizon to feel different enough from the real world that readers longed to be whisked there to explore more. Wings of Ebony takes place about half the time in the contemporary setting and half the time on the magical island, but I’m super excited for readers to do a deep dive into Ghizon in Ashes of Gold and really get to immerse in its magic, its history, and its deep dark secrets.
We think YA books and the YA community are pretty magical. What's your favorite thing about writing for teens?
Oh gosh, everything! Ha ha, I love the posture of optimism teens have. They see the world as something they can dive into and change for the better–as they should. There’s a contagious energy to that zealous ambition. And I feel incredibly fortunate that I get to tell stories that show teens different ways to look at the world than they might have seen. Ultimately, I write to inspire and teens are the future changemakers and glass shatterers of this world. It’s a distinct privilege, to have the opportunity to put stories in front of them.
Your first book was an instant New York Times bestseller, and we're so excited to be celebrating Ashes of Gold. What's next for you in your writing career?
I’m so thrilled for Blue Willow’s support. I can’t wait to share more about what’s coming down the pipeline. The next book you’ll see from me is a middle grade: A Taste of Magic, which is the first in a series about an inner city magic school in the back of a hair salon. It’s absolutely delightful and full, laughter, joy, self-affirmation, and magic! I can’t wait for readers to discover this one. And while it's a middle grade title, I fully expect this one to be one of those rare gems that families can read together because teens will love it too. It’s just hilarious. Reading it feels like eating a warm chocolate chip cookie and milk. But your milk occasionally shoots out of your nose, ha ha. And who doesn’t love that?
In terms of YA, I have a few projects in the works I cannot say a lot about yet. But hopefully I can announce more soon. I can at least share that my next YA books will be a contemporary fantasy trilogy. If I had to describe them in three words they would be: lush, dark, and romantic.
We love hearing recommendations from our favorite authors. What books are you excited for that are coming in 2022?
There are so many! But here are a handful:
The Undead Truth of Us by Britney S. Lewis: This is the YA horror-lite novel of your dreams. First of all I don’t read horror or zombies but this one sucked me in from line one with its literary voice and sensibility. I’m only halfway done with it, but it doesn't leave my purse. I’m obsessed.
Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye: Talk about poignant real world parallels. WOW. This YA fantasy is perfect for fans of An Ember In The Ashes and The Gilded Ones. I’d also suggest readers who don’t think like hard fantasy because of the often dense worldbuilding give this one a try. The world is very grounded like WIngs of Ebony and the story is just as thrilling. You can jump right in and not feel lost.
The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton: This middle grade is absolutely imaginative. Readers are going to crave getting lost in the rich, inclusive world Clayton created. It’s a worldbuilding masterpiece.
In the “thrilling…masterful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) 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 b