Hey everyone! So if you remember, I said in my bookish intents for this year that I wanted to do more author interviews (do you get the title reference? lol) and I definitely wanted to make good on that! This week was perfect because on 1/11/22, the sequel to Wings Of Ebony (mentioned in my Five Favs I Haven’t Featured post), Ashes Of Gold by J.Elle came out (mentioned in my Sequels Are Super Stressful post)! So I thought, what better way to celebrate this sequel’s launch than to feature a chat with J.Elle here! Thankfully she agreed!
As a heads up, J.Elle and I chatted like old friends so there was some book talk but also talk about other stuff too…it was a hodgepodge and I enjoyed every moment of it! I didn’t include everything (sorry y’all) but I think you will enjoy what is shared (and I will include gifs as well, so don’t worry)! So heeeeeeere we go!
L: Thank you for doing this & wanting to hang out with me! I’m going to ask a few warm up questions. I wrote down questions but to be honest with you, I’m a very fly by the seat of my pants type so we gon’ let this conversation go where it wants to go as long as it stays out of spoiler territory.
L: Do you have a pre-writing routine?
J: Do you mean like before I start writing a book?
L: Before you start writing, do you light candles, put out some snacks, like what’s your thing?
J: My daily writing routine is… Well, first of all, I have kids so my day starts with getting other people ready for their day. Once I’m alone, I usually start with a walk outside and during that walk, I like to do an editorial call. I like to call it an editorial call but it’s more of a writing craft obsessive chat with one of my best girlfriends who’s also a writer. And so we talk for about an hour, we talk through things we noticed, things we’re excited about. A lot of times, the night before, we’ve read each other’s latest chapters so we’ll talk through the things we loved and that energy is so contagious because when I spit out something, I’m like ‘oh my God, this is the worst, this is trash’ then I send it her. She does the same thing and we read them and then when we get on the phone, she’s gushing about all the things she loved in mine and I’m gushing about all the things I loved in hers. It’s like this rev up kind of feeling.
J: So when I finish my walk, I always get water, usually something crunchy. I’m not a big fan of salt so like maybe almonds but not the salted ones-roasted or roasted pecans. I literally just got this from the store *holds up 3/4 full blueberry container* and I end up eating them by the hand full.
J: They’re just blueberries. So something like that. I sit down with my water with lemon. I usually have lemon water unless it’s cold. If it’s cold, I like to do lemon and honey in water cause I can’t have caffeine. I can’t do tea so I fool my brain to think it’s tea by putting it in a coffee mug and pretend it’s tea.
J: Then I write and I don’t look up or break until I finish that chapter or scene because I kind of like to get it all out. And then I switch devices and I read it through immediately. I open it on my phone… There is something about reading words on my computer versus on my phone, I see them differently, it’s very strange. I usually take a short break but I read through on my phone and make little changes cause I’ll find little things that I missed. I’m dyslexic so I miss all kinds of things so when I’m reading on my phone, I catch them better.
*For resources on dyslexia, you can click here*
J: Once I feel that’s solid, I send that to my critique partner, like ‘ hey, fresh vomit, dumpster fire trash, enjoooooy’ and then we talk about it the next day. I also summarize my chapters but I don’t always do that right at the beginning of my writing session. Most of the time, I already summarized it a week ago or a few days ago if I’m really behind but when I sit down, I have a really clear picture of what I need to turn into a scene.
L: So do you color code too? Does that help with the dyslexia?
J: I don’t. Sometimes I do comic sans font or I will widen the space between lines or if its really muddled in my head, I will go in and color code sentences to help with the flow of information. I’ve gotten really good at not struggling with switching immediate words and letters. I’ve got really good strategies I’ve been working on since elementary school. Where I get tripped up is I twist the order of sentences. Like I would literally be reading a scene and [will put] at the end of a paragraph [what is meant to be] the first first paragraph with the description of a setting. In my head, I’ve set it at the beginning of the paragraph and I don’t notice until my CP is like ‘move this up, you meant to put this at the start.’ At the start of a scene, you want to know where you’re at. In my head, I did that but I see it differently. So reading it out loud, sometimes color coding, space between the lines, distance…sometimes leaving it alone cause I swear the longer you look at it, the more the words turn into gobbley goop.
J: So just space helps.
L: Yeah, that helps. I’m not diagnosed dyslexic but normally after a point in time, I do have to walk away. So when I write my blog post(s), I usually do them the night before and I have to step away from them at some point. I used to be able to do them in one shot but now its just like ‘okay, I gotta walk away’.
J: Same. Like my eyes have to look at and focus on something else, my brain too. I have to be able to focus on something else so I can come back so I can see it properly. It’s really crazy how our minds do that.
L: Yeah and like with emotional content, you need more time to step away which we might talk about a little bit later. So you mentioned on the snack thing, are you a snacker or drinker or a combo of both?
J: I always drink water…*personal story that will remain b/t J.Elle & Latesha* so 99.9% of the time, I’m just drinking lemon water or lemon honey “tea”, which is more water. So for me, it’s always snacks. I love fruits, I like crunchy things but again, I’m not big on salt. I feel a lot of snacks are salty so I’ll do roasted almonds, roasted pecans…I’ll just do cherry tomatoes! I’ll pop those like popcorn. I’ll do popcorn, I like that…freshly popped so I can make it the way I like. Ummm blueberries, blackberries, carrots. I usually graze over my breakfast. There’s something about chewing and thinking… I couldn’t just sit there and eat nothing, I have to eat something.
J: If I’m towards the end of a books where I’m really dragging, since I go through phases where I’m motivated and into it then I go through points where in the book when I’m like ‘I want this over!’…in THAT phase, I’m eating reese’s pieces by the hand full.
L: Hahaha! I understand that. I mean, sweets tend to aide! *Shares a late night sweet eating story.* I’m a late night snacker too so it’ll be like 3 o’clock in the morning and I’m reading while eating popcorners.
J: I love it!
L: Kettle corn is my favorite.
J: Kettle corn is a drug, I think. The best…they’re not all created equal, the best kettle corn is double good! Have you had that?
L: No, I haven’t. I haven’t even heard of that.
J: Ma’am. Listen. Write this down. Take a picture, put it in a book so you do not forget. Highlight, post it note. Double good, they do school fundraisers. If you ever get an invitation to a double good fundraiser, make it your absolute priority to participate. *Goes on to talk about how her love for them started & that its only open for 6 days as well as this brand can’t be found anywhere else.*
L: That’s like Girl Scout cookies for me!
L: I always order like 6, 7, 8 boxes.
J: Oh yeah.
L: So next question. Do you like to write in silence or with background noise like music?
J: It depends. I can do both. I do have a spotify for my next project. Sometimes, when I’m struggling to feel motivated, I will put on music to get in the head space for it. It really just depends.
J: This book I’m finishing now, which is by far Latesha, the best thing I’ve ever written…it was a very intimidating undertaking. I was like ‘do I really want to try this or try try something I know?’ and it scares me but I’m gonna try it.
*J.Elle speaks briefly on word/page count but I’m going to let you all find out about it when it’s announced.*
J: The amount of stamina it takes to stay invested in the story… I like my stories to be pacey, I like pages turning ‘let’s go!’ So the mental fortitude it takes to go through all those pages is a lot. I usually start really energetic but at a certain point, I’m running out of fumes. So between the reese’s pieces and whatever else I’m munching on, I need [them because] there are some scenes I do not think I could execute without my spotify playlist because I had nothing else to pull from. You know how music can get you in a zone, in a mood. I needed that to get into that mood and music will do it when I couldn’t.
L: That’s how I normally write my blog posts, listening to some sort of music. The music has to match the energy of the book, if I’m writing about a specific book. *Gives examples of books and music pairings for past posts.* So the spotify playlist, is that the type of vibes you want people to get into when they read Wings Of Ebony, Ashes Of Gold and this new project you can’t talk too much about yet?
J: I can send you the spotify link if your you’re curious. It’s like this wild mix of things, you’re gonna be like ‘what is this mash up?’ It’s the Downtown Abby soundtrack, Drake…Etta James is in there, the Beyonce version from Cadillac Records. Um, there’s some Ed Sheeran! But yeah, I think the vibe helps. I think what the reader takes away from the book, the eyes they read it with and the mood/energy they get from it really are subjective. I think that really belongs to the reader.
J: I always hope they get the vibe that I’m going for.
L: And is the vibe very connected to the neighborhood you based Ashes in?
J: Yes and no because there are parts in Ashes that are completely make believe. I mean, yes cause it’s fantasy but what I mean is there are parts to that story that are made up not from my own inspiration, not from real life but from things I would like to happen or to experience. So sometimes, I’m infusing those playlists with vibes I wish were a part of the story.
L: When you were writing Wings and even like with Ashes, did you go back to your neighborhood frequently to draw that inspiration?
J: So when I was writing Wings, my partner was in the military and I had left home at 17. I hadn’t been home so writing Wings was like a balm to my soul cause it was like me visiting my home in my words. I couldn’t go cause we were like living in the desert at the time on the border of California and Arizona. Then when I wrote Ashes, it was Summer 2020 and we just parted ways with the military. We literally were driving with all our stuff in tow to move back from the West Coast to where my family is. I was writing in the car, the hotel so I didn’t have the ability to go back during that writing process.
J: But my family still lives there and I’m in Houston now. We live a little bit further than where I grew up but home is home. My sisters are still there, my mommy, my grandma, my friends who I went to middle school and high school with are still there. It is very much a place I still visit. I took some editorial photos in preparation for the launch of Wings Of Ebony and I took all of those except one, which was on a roof top so you could see the skyline of the city. All the others, I took in my neighborhood to capture the beauty and stuff there.
L: When it came to writing this fantasy world, how did you come across this form of Ghizon in your head?
J: You know, it’s very interesting. Ghizon was always very dystopian to me but it felt like publishing didn’t have an appetite for dystopian because 10 years ago, we were all dystopian’ed out. It was too concentrated so I leaned into it as much as I could. I didn’t want to get too immersed. Originally, the book is about Rue and East Row so I didn’t want to glorify the version of Ghizon that was in existence because the version of Ghizon that was in existence was one that basically buried it’s history and rewrote it.
J: I felt like this odd sense of imbalance when I tried to focus too hard on the existing Ghizon because all of that thought was underguarded with ‘but okay, I hate all these people’ and then you find out that [redacted] because they [redacted]. Gosh, if I could go back and write a book about that world [the before]… Which is why the prologue [in Ashes] to me was so important because the Ghizon that Rue met when she got to the island is not the true Ghizon. It was important for me to keep it dystopic and not ideal or something people coveted. I didn’t want the world to think [this] world can be the allure. I didn’t want [this] world to be the allure. I wanted this to be Rue’s story and the people’s story. So I tried to give those characters sort of pedestals and let the world take a back burner.
J: In this series, I tried to make sure it felt a little dystopian since people have a working understanding of that a dystopian society is since we’ve read so many over the last decade. So I was really inspired by that aesthetic but I knew I couldn’t lean into it too hard because publishing was not a fan of dystopian at the time.
*J.Elle speaks more on WOE but I’mma not share in case you haven’t read it for some reason.*
J: It felt right starting it and focusing it in East Row first because so much of East Row is who Rue is and so much of her opening up to embrace her full identity. She could not be who she needed to be in Ghizon until she embraced who she was which is part Ghizoni.
L: And I think striking a balance with Wings taking part a little bit more in East Row whereas in Ashes, it feels like it’s a lot more in Ghizon. It felt like it kinda needed to happen because there’s so much growth and learning to do in both places. It felt like there was a big lean on history. Was that intentional too?
J: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I try to sneak it in because I feel like some readers are like ‘this is historically inspired? oh no thanks.’ so I just try to jump into the story like ‘here’s a character to love’ and once you get to a certain point, you’re like ‘okay, I’m gonna follow her wherever she goes’. Then I’m like ‘here’s a little teaching moment *points*, here’s a teaching moment *points* and here’s a parallel to history *weaving hand motion*.’ So I try to make it a little more educational and insightful in that way. That definitely was intentional. Do you want to talk about specific scenes or just in general?
L: Just in general *goes into talking about how I write the blog & reference the book matchmaking post as well as the importance of these books and my Godchildren as well as the Magical Black Kids Book Club.*
J + L: *Ends up talking about her new MG series.*
J: *about her MG book* this is a fun book. It has important things but this a book you laugh out loud reading.
L: Since it’s “Park Row Magic“, is it connected at all to Ashes at all?
J: It’s not but the community is a lot like East Row. I didn’t zoom into the grittier parts. I kept it very light. *Speaks about some other aspects about the book.*
J + L: *Goes on to talk about other books by different authors.*
J: *Shares that Park Row Magic is out in August 2022.*
We didn’t have a recorded salutation because I stopped recording so we could talk about things that cannot be mentioned yet but I had the best time with J.Elle! It felt like talking to a homegirl the entire time! I’m beyond grateful to J.Elle for taking time out of her extremely busy schedule (this woman stay hustling & I respect that about her) to talk to me and kick off this “Chillin’ With The Author” endeavor!
While we didn’t get into specifics about WOE or AOG, know that both are out now! This is a duology so you don’t have to worry about a third installment and I promise it’s worth your time (you may need tissues doe). It’s a fantasy that could easily be connected to and that so many kids, especially Black kids, can see themselves in.
Have you read Wings Of Ebony yet? Did you get your copy of Ashes Of Gold?! If not to either, what are you waiting for? If you have, what were some things you enjoyed about this series? Let me know in the comments or on Social media! As usual, you can find & follow me on Instagram @bookishgirlmagic, Twitter @bookishgrlmagic and Clubhouse @bookishgrlmagic where you can find me mostly in book centered clubs/rooms (primarily on Tuesdays and Fridays). You can also follow J.Elle on IG @authorjelle, Twitter @AuthorJElle and tiktok @authorjelle. Also subscribe to this blog if you haven’t already because it makes me feel like you’ve read books I’ve recommended and told me! Sending y’all bookish love and wishing you happy reading! Peace Fam!