Author Spotlight: Meet Jessica Cantwell

One of my favorite fantasy reads this year was The Realm Saga by Jessica Cantwell. A beautifully crafted parallel world full of mythical creatures and people with supernatural abilities. Very likeable characters you easily get attached to. Adventure, action, romance–these books have it all.

Jessica Cantwell, the incredibly talented author of this amazing trilogy, has kindly agreed to answer some of my questions.

Hi Jessica,

Thank you so much for agreeing to answer my questions! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, please?

Hi Elena, 

Thank you so much for having me. My name is Jessica Cantwell and I’m the author of a young adult fantasy series titled The Realm Saga. I live in New York with my family and cats. I love being close to the water and have a passion for travel.

We have so much in common. I love being close to the water too. I even moved to a different country to live by the sea.

Have you always wanted to become a writer? What is the thing you enjoy most about writing?

No, writing was not something I really thought of. In school I had dreams of moving to Hollywood and becoming an actress. That was until one of my teachers told me I had no talent! I had a pretty troubled childhood and absolutely no guidance when it came to career goals. I didn’t know what to do, honestly. So, I did what came naturally, which was hair. I’ve been a licensed cosmetologist for over 26 years. I stumbled into writing after being a victim of gun violence when I was 17. Putting my experiences down on paper was very cathartic. It opened a whole new world into writing and the one thing I love most about it, is having the freedom to create whatever I want. It can be non-fiction or fantasy, a cozy mystery or a scary thriller. Writing is so versatile in what you write and how you choose to write it. After all, it can be a full time career or it can be just a fun hobby.

This is so terrible and I’m so sorry you had to go through that! But I guess the silver lining is that the world of writing was opened to you through that traumatic experience.

What, in your opinion, is the hardest part of being a writer? Also, what is the hardest part of being a self-published writer?

Oh goodness, I feel that there are quite a lot of obstacles when it comes to writing. For me, the hardest thing about the writing process is finding the time to do it. Balancing work, children, spouses and everything that life throws at me can be such a juggling act. I get stressed out easily and seeing others crank out book after book, when it takes me forever and a day to write one, is tough. I have to keep reminding myself to stay in my own lane! It’s a slow and steady process for sure. The hardest part of being a self-published author is exposure. Getting my name and books out into the world is tough business! REALLY tough business!

I can really relate to all that. Same struggles, same stresses. And as if the pressure from all the juggling wasn’t enough, we go ahead and put more pressure on ourselves!

There are always positives though. What do you think is the best part of being a self-published writer?

Full creative control, no deadlines and more profit. I think authors, like us, are very lucky to have the ability to self-publish. The icing on the cake is when a reader identifies with my work and becomes a fan. There is no better feeling!

Full creative control is why I chose this path too. And I am definitely a fan of your work!

Please tell us about your book series. How did you come up with the idea? How long did it take you to write the trilogy? Which characters are your favorite?

Years ago, when my children were little, I started writing screenplays. I even got as far as getting an agent and pitching the idea to movie studios. Except the script was for an animated children’s film and every studio, like Disney, said they have their own writers and that they weren’t interested. I knew then that I really wanted full control over what I wrote and a way to get it out into the world. Self-publishing on Amazon was fairly new at the time, only in e-book form, but I thought, what the hell? Twilight was very popular and I was so sick of reading about vampires! I had this idea to write a story that included Greek mythology, which is a favorite of mine, and thus, The Realm Saga was born. I wrote the first two novels and published them in e-book form in 2013. In 2014 I fell ill and, after a long few months of testing, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It was a very transitional time for me. I had a lot of changes and things to work through. Marketing my books took a back seat and because I had little to no sales, I unpublished. 

In 2020 when covid hit, I joined Instagram to follow Selma Blair, who was recently diagnosed with MS. I needed to find others with MS and be a part of a community. I was working from home with extra time on my hands so I decided to re-publish those first two books. I randomly posted about it and made a sale right away! In a matter of days I stumbled upon the writing community and met other amazing writers. It wasn’t the community I intended on joining but it is what motivated me to finally finish book three. 

So, the entire trilogy took over a decade to write and publish. The main character Lily, is a lot like myself. She doesn’t fit in and is quite lonely. I wanted to create a new world for her to escape to. One that accepted her for who she is and gave her the friends and family she deserves. Blaze was the first character I wrote for Lily. He’s strong, intelligent, and unique in the fact that he is a centaur. I wanted him to be a true gentleman and have all the characteristics of a chivalrous sentinel. Tracy was modeled after my husband, an irresistible, sexy, flirt, who is girl crazy. I am absolutely in love with Blaze and Tracy. Poppy shows another side of me – the short, petite, firecracker. Dmitry is the brother I always wanted. Alia takes after my spunky daughter and Sabeena is a breath of fresh air. I truly love all of the main characters that I have created. I feel like they are family!

I also fell in love with them, and with the beautiful world you created. When I was a kid, I used to be obsessed with Greek mythology, so I really liked all those references too.

Characters in your books possess some amazing superpowers. If you had a chance to choose, which one would you pick for yourself?

This is a discussion we have in my house more than I’d like to admit! Yes, we are those kinds of nerds!! I’m torn between the power of persuasion and teleporting. I have no patience, so being able to blip from place to place would be ideal. Then again, having the Jedi mind trick up my sleeve and persuading others to do what I wanted would be amazing. Imagine going to Disney or Paris and no one else is there because “Those are not the vacation spots you’re looking for?”

Love this! What an amazing idea. You’re a genius!

Teleporting is my dream too. I was also fascinated with the shapeshifting ability. That’s pretty awesome and could come in handy in many different situations.

Another thing you and I have in common is the passion for jewelry-making. And I know you make some amazing candles too! Could you please tell us a bit about that? How and when did it start? What do you enjoy about it the most?

I have this nagging pull to be creative in all forms. I bake and decorate cakes. I re-finish furniture. I paint and draw. But in 2020 when I quit a very toxic job, I knew I needed something to do, so, I started an Etsy shop where I sell candles and jewelry. I love the freedom of creating things, regardless of if it is jewelry, a candle or an imaginary world in my books. It’s beyond freeing. Sadly, I am going to close the Etsy shop down in the near future. I’m finding that I have too many fires going and need to clear my plate a bit. I will still make candles and jewelry for myself though!

That’s sad. But I understand about having too much on your plate. I stopped making jewelry when my younger son was born. There just wasn’t any space for it. Maybe things will change in the future and I’ll come back to it. So far, I’m creating worlds too, and it feels great.

The most important thing is that you’re still creating. Even if it’s for yourself. You’re absolutely right, it’s beyond freeing.

What are you currently working on, in terms of writing?

Right now I am writing a women’s literary fiction novel based on my life, the abuse I suffered as a child, and being a victim of gun violence. It is a complete 180 from my YA fantasy series and the few people that have read a sample say that it is my genre! That makes me feel great because I have a handful of women’s lit. projects that have been sitting on a shelf for a very long time. I’m about 1/3 of the way through this manuscript so maybe we will see a publication date in late fall, early winter? I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I’m also illustrating a children’s picture book series but that has been on the back burner while I get this newest story out of my head! I guess I should disclose that I read and write a wide variety of genres. I’ve considered publishing a few under a pen name but I’m very on the fence about it. As we all know, it is hard enough to market your own name/brand. I can’t imagine taking on a different persona and starting from scratch! I think I’m too old and exhausted for that!

I can’t wait to read it! I’ve been reading a lot of women’s fiction recently and have also been thinking of writing some. Maybe after I finish my series. So excited about your new project!

Also, I am truly amazed by your multiple talents (now I hear there’s illustrating, too!) and so sorry that you had to go through all those terrible things in your life.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Oh so much! Some of this I have learned the hard way so, here we go: 

Definitely stay in your own lane and write at your own pace. Join a writing community for tips, tricks and advice. Focus on quality over quantity. Cranking out books that lack in quality will get you nowhere. Write for yourself and write what makes you happy. Art is subjective so you can’t please everyone. Don’t read the reviews of your books. They aren’t posted for you. And if you do, don’t let them get you down. If you write for yourself, and write what makes you happy, it will show in your work. Fans will find you. EDIT, EDIT, EDIT! Don’t skip this process because you are “self-published.” If you can’t afford an editor, use editing and dictation software to help you find mistakes. Use proof-readers, beta-readers and arc-readers to help you put your best foot forward. Use formatting software because formatting is just as crucial as editing and cover art. Yes, people do judge a book by its cover so do your research on what is trending. Have fun and know at the end of the day, you did it. If only one sale. You’re a published author.  

Thank you so much for this, Jessica! It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know you better. Looking forward to reading your next creation!

You can find Jessica Cantwell here:

And here:

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