Milspouse Jess, who uses the pen name J. Elle, wrote her Young Adult (YA) book “Wings of Ebony” in 35 days. It was her first novel. The book grabbed the attention of multiple editors and publishing companies, and was picked up with a six-figure offer. Now J. Elle’s book will be the Simon & Schuster featured title in the Spring 2021 season.
Her editor, Denene Millner, explained why this manuscript stood out:
“The story Jess crafted is so fresh and exciting. It’s all-at-once familiar and something I’ve never seen; it honors the beauty and challenges one finds in the black community, but also creates an ideal world where black people literally are gods. Not since ‘Black Panther’ have I been this excited about a story that reimagines black people in this way, without clinging to stereotypes.”
J. Elle described her book as, “a YA fantasy about a teenage black girl growing up in the hood, and she is magical. It is all influenced by my family and where I grew up. The scenes and rhetoric are very timely for the experience of being a black person in America today. It digs into so many things from my childhood, and it is really my heart that gushed out of me while I was waiting on the results of another writing contest.”
J. Elle wrote the original manuscript of “Wings of Ebony” in 35 days. She had previously submitted an adult fantasy book to a writing contest and was waiting for the results. For distraction, she poured herself into a new project, which became her YA novel.
“It was night and day better than the book I had just finished. The experience of writing helped me write better — that and reading so much from other authors in the YA genre. The new story is the book of my heart.”
She didn’t win the initial contest, but she walked away with a greater prize: a story worth sharing.
But J. Elle was not always an accomplished writer with publishing houses scrambling for her title. As a military spouse who has moved nine times in 11 years, she left a teaching job behind years ago, and described much of her military spouse life as being “lovingly lost in motherhood.” For years, she focused on her children, without any time to write or even read her favorite books.
When asked about the struggle to maintain her passion for writing and her identity as a military spouse, J. Elle said,
“You keep the family together to allow your partner to go away and serve their country. We often put things on the back shelf and tell ourselves we’ll get to it later, and meanwhile our talents and interests can collect dust.”
Like many stay-at-home moms, J. Elle didn’t always have time to pursue her own interests.
“The longer you have been a spouse, the harder it is to remember who you are and to keep sight of your own passions and skills. I had to decide to remember who I was other than a wife and a mom. After diapers and car seats, I wanted to rediscover what I used to love doing. I had enjoyed blogging, but had never written a real story. I just started devouring books and rededicating a portion of my life to something that I loved, reconnecting to the things I cared about.”
When J. Elle began writing, it was because of her passion for young kids growing up in poor neighborhoods like hers. She chose the YA genre because it reflected her love of teaching and education and allowed her to focus on giving back to kids. She said, “I wanted to pour my energy back into (youth), and give to something that will last longer than the Marine Corps.”
Her editor said this passion for teens is one reason J. Elle’s book is so appealing.
“Jess is magnetic and knows kids. You can see it in her storytelling and especially in the voice of her main character, a teenage girl who is the heroine. Young adult readers need authenticity in the stories they read, so that’s a huge plus.”
Fitting a writing career into military life is difficult, but it is a flexible job that can work for military spouses. J. Elle said, “I live my life on a Semper Gumby mentality. That means writing before my husband wakes up, scheduling meetings during his lunch breaks, and getting support when he’s gone. I do a lot of work from my phone, which is useful when we are PCSing.”
For J. Elle and her Marine husband, both their careers are important. She knows she is lucky to have a service member who supports her interests.
“Trying to support each other makes a stronger relationship. The joy that writing brings me spills over into my home life and my children, and it helps us shape our conversations about life post-military. For a family that has spent so many years apart, it is incredibly gratifying to discuss life after the military with a pursuit of everyone’s passions.”
What does the traditional publishing process look like? Here’s what J. Elle told us:
Start writing. Once you begin writing, you are a writer.Connect with other writers, especially on Twitter. You will learn more about the industry, meet beta readers, learn about contests, etc.
Complete your manuscript. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be ready to show to agents.
Get an agent. This can take years, but the agent will work for you for free until an editor accepts your manuscript. They will help you edit the manuscript and decide which editors to pitch it to.
Acquisition. Wait to hear back from an editor. A manuscript may spend four to 10 months in a publisher’s hands because they need to present it to the sales team, marketing team, and senior editors.
Getting an offer. An editor will call the agent with a proposed offer, which the agent will present to the author. Sometimes there is a negotiation process if they are waiting for replies from other editors.
Accepting an offer. The agent helps the author choose an editor or offer that is the best fit for their book. The publishing company buys the rights to edit, print, and distribute the book. Marketing and publication often takes over a year.
You can expect to see “Wings of Ebony” in the Young Adult section of bookstores around the country in Spring 2021. It will also be available on the website GoodReads, where you can already add the title to your “To Read” list. In the meantime, learn more about “Wings of Ebony” here or on Twitter at @AuthorJ_Elle.
This has been a great year for Jess! Taste her award-winning cookie at Barnes and Nobles cafés during this holiday season. Find her recipe, that reflects the various duty stations where her family has lived, in our April 2019 issue. http://bit.do/msm_april19