Jessica McGehee, writing as J.Elle, is an African-American YA Fantasy writer and active advocate for marginalized voices in both publishing and her community.
As a former teacher, Jess is equally passionate about writing and literacy. She regularly volunteers her time to support writers of color in their querying journey. Beyond working with current adult writers, Jess loves empowering future generations of writers. As the founder of Your Story Is Your Power, a creative writing workshop series for teens of color, Jess mentors youth on the craft of writing and the importance of sharing stories from their perspective.
Jess is from Houston, Texas and loves southern food as much as she loves her 3 children. Transplanted to the West Coast by her husband’s nomadic naval aviator career, she owns and operates a wedding photography business and online photography learning institute where she teaches creative entrepreneurs how to brand and market their businesses.
Fun fact–Jess recently won a national Barnes & Noble Short Story & Cookie Recipe contest. Her story was shared by B&N in February and the cookie itself will be sold in B&N cafes nationwide beginning in the 2019 Holiday season.
Jess’ most recent novel, Wings of Ebony, was pitched in #DVPit, an online contest that showcases stories from marginalized voices to publishing professionals across the country. Her pitch received 200+ likes and retweets as well as, submission requests from over 60 literary agents and 20+ editors at large publishing houses, indicating her story resonated with the market. Jess queried, received multiple offers for representation and eagerly accepted rep by Natalie Lakosil with Bradford Literary Agency.
Wings of Ebony is book one in a young adult fantasy duology about a Black teen from a 1- parent home in a drug-infested neighborhood that learns she’s half human, half-goddess. When she discovers racist gods flooding her block with violence and crime, she is challenged to tap into her heritage to unlock magic and destroy them. Wings of Ebony was pitched as The Hate U Give meets Wonder Woman with a heavy dose of fantasy. Jess wrote this story because of a “lack of heroines of color from urban settings in YA fantasy.” She said, “I want to see issues I faced growing up–issues kids where I’m from still face– on bookstore shelves.”
“Between pitching her debut novel at #DVPit and navigating the query process, Jess has a solid grasp on crafting pitches and story hooks that grab attention.
Outside of her own writing experience, Jess has a relentless devotion to volunteering her time to help aspiring writers of all ages, particularly those of color. She was a guest speaker at the CCA Youth Conference in Feb 2019, as well as a slated presenter for UCSD’s Young Writer’s Camp in July 2019. She also hosts #MondayMixer as opportunity for writers to get plugged in to the Twitter writing community. Jess has been a guest on The Doctor Will Show podcast where she discussed ‘where to start when pursuing writing as a woman of color.’
As a middle school creative writing teacher, Jess spent time mentoring students from marginalized perspectives to elevate their voices. She also busies her time supporting peers with complimentary manuscript critiques and mentorship through the querying process. Since DVPit alone she’s worked with 4 writers on detailed restructuring plans to revise their MS and prepare it for querying.
One of which went on to participate in #Pitmad and receive multiple offers of representation. When asked, what she would tell someone considering Jess as a mentor, she answered: “”Jess is excellent at pinpointing problem areas of a manuscript but also, suggesting ways to fix them. She’s a great motivator, a cheerleader, and a consummate professional. She doesn’t beat around the bush and is really upfront about how to make your story stronger, but she did it in a way that always made me feel empowered.””
Jess holds a Bachelors in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and a Masters in Educational Administration with an emphasis on curriculum development from George Washington University.
Why do I want to be a mentor? The short answer is I believe in your success.
Sometimes it takes someone else coming alongside us to remind us our dreams aren’t crazy. I want to walk through those treacherous revision waters with my mentee and help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s really cool when we realize what we’re capable of… when we pass through a torrential downpour and think WOW did I really just survive that?!
It’s empowering! It’s contagious! And I want you to feel that.
I’ve had fellow writers, published authors, even a NYT bestselling author, come alongside me on my journey to pour on uplifting encouragement and challenging feedback. It gave me such indestructible hope to know that others believed in my story. As a writer, sometimes that’s what we need—-to do that final lap WITH someone.
And I’m here for that.
The other thing is, frankly–if I can do ANYTHING to help a POC writer get their story into the world I’m going to.
There are not nearly enough books on shelves that reflect our diverse world. There are children of color all over our country–being shoved aside, judged by their socioeconomic status, forgotten as a credible audience, all around misunderstood– looking to connect with stories that reflect their reality; stories that show THEM as the hero. My sisters, ages 13 and 14 are two of them.
I want kids like me, my sisters, anyone from neighborhoods like mine to see their lives and the issues they face on shelves.
Kids need it.
Our world needs it.
So, all day, everyday–I’m here for it.
I’m looking for a writer with a hustler mentality who’s hungry and not afraid to do the work. I’m passionate and high-energy and take mentoring seriously. I’m looking to invest in your success with you, not just for this story, but all your stories–for your career.
#1 you gotta be series about this writing thing.
I’m not knocking anyone that’s dabbling in it. That’s wonderful and I’m rooting for you too, but in general I’m looking for someone with that relentless go-getter drive. You can work fast or slow, doesn’t matter. You can have a quiet story or one that’s bold and loud, doesn’t matter. I can work with either. But, what I really want is you to want it… and want it bad.
#2 you gotta be ready to put the time in.
Depending on where you are in your draft will determine how many revision passes we need to do. The program guarantees the 1 pass, but my mentee will get at least 2. It’s important that we both respect each other’s time. I’ll be setting aside time to root for you and pour hours upon hours into your MS, so you have to be equally interested in dedicating just as much time to your own work. I can’t want this to succeed more than you do.
#3 you gotta be open to feedback.
This is a big one and it sounds obvious, but really think hard about what you’re looking for with an AMM mentorship. I am really kind with my critiques, but also very honest. If you’re only looking for copy edits, I’m not your girl. <3 Like really, I suck at commas, seriously. *shrugs*
I like to start with a developmental look at the story and assess pacing, tension, character depth, look through plot threads, etc. Structural issues could mean reworking plot threads, slimming down the number of POVs, enhancing characters motivations, deepening the narrative distance, etc. Whatever my suggestions are, they are simply suggestions–but they’ll be honest, kindly phrased, yet frank. My goal is for your writing to grow through this process which brings me to my final point.
#4 your story has to need sizable help.
Some manuscripts just won’t need much help and I would be of better use to someone that needs a bit more support. I’m looking for a larger project, so I’m sure I’ll see some amazing stories that I have to pass on simply because they’re so close to ready.
- Magical Realism/Fabulism
- Urban/Contemporary Fantasy
My greatest strength is voice and holding tension in quicker paced stories. I also do really well with stories that have a strong emotional pull. Close narrative distance is another way to suck me into your writing. In terms of genre/trope preferences, I’m super flexible. I read widely. Ultimately, I just want to be sucked into a good story.
I WILL PROVIDE:
- Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
- Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
- Skype or phone call
I’d love to start with a phone call to get to know a bit more about my mentee and their manuscript. From there I’d like to share my goals for the mentorship and find out specifically what my mentee is wanting to get out of it. An edit letter will follow for first pass revisions. After a few days chewing on the letter, I’d like to do a call to go over anything in it that may have been confusing or didn’t sit well, so we can brainstorm and troubleshoot together. Once that pass is done, I’ll do at least one more pass w/ the final pass encompassing line edit suggestions via Google Docs.
I’m available by email and usually respond within 1-3 days. I can also schedule a phone calls time to time.
My ideal mentee is hard-working, eager and open. I’m looking for someone who is committed to writing and querying and not overly precious about their work. Our goal is the same– to make this story the best it can possibly be.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, just the things that occurred to me right off. Feel free to ask if you’re not sure about something on here. Here’s a list of things I’m generally drawn to in no particular order:
- Stories with a larger statement to make about the world we live in.
- Black girl magic
- Black boy joy
- World-building that mixes the familiar with fantastical
- Enemies to lovers
- Fiery badass MC’s
- Strong romance subplot (not a must, but it makes me swoon)
- Chosen one stories with POC protagonists
- Anything dystopian!!!!!
- Suspenseful plots
- Anything Jane Austen esque
- Ancient feuding families (think Game of Thrones)
- Anything Wakanda esque
- Descriptive setting detail makes me drool
- Greek mythology
- Lovable, well developed, wise grandma characters
- Simple practical magic in an otherwise “”normal”” world
- Stories that involve musical composition (random, I know.)
- I am *not* a romance writer, but I have a sweet spot for Black romcoms and I’ve critiqued the hell out of an adult romance MS that went on to get multiple agent offers so I’m down for something that’s more Teen Romance.
- Anything in the vein of Tiffany Jackson’s MONDAYS NOT COMING, Nic Stone’s DEAR MARTIN, Angie Thomas’ THE HATE YOU GIVE, Renee Watson’s PIECING ME TOGETHER makes me giddy excited.
DO NOT SEND ME:
- Hard Sci-Fi (Anything a bit lighter, in the vein of THE DISASTERS by MK England, I can do.)
I could literally list 50 in each category ha ha. Here are 12-15 for each to give you an idea of how varied my interests are.
- Gilmore Girls
- Separated At Birth
- Golden Girls
- Downton Abbey
- Game of Thrones
- American Gangster
- Harry Potter
- Black Panther
- Bad Moms
- Sound of Music
- Into the Spider verse
- Book of Eli
- Really, anything with Denzel 🙂
- The Kingdom
- Miami Vice
- Monday’s Not Coming
- The Selection Books 1-3
- Dear Martin
- The Hate U Give
- Uglies, Book 1
- Girls of Paper & Fire
- A Wrinkle In Time
- The Lightening Thief
- One Of Us Is Lying
- Pride & Prejudice
- City Of Brass
- How Long Til Black Future Month
- Divergent Series Books 1-2
- Song of Ice & Fire Series
- Red Rising
- The Giver
*in no particular order