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:

Writing For An Anthology

I was invited by one of my author friends to participate in an anthology. It’s coming out this Halloween, and I’m really excited about it. This will be my second published work this year (following the release of my debut novel, “Follow the Hummingbird”, in July), and it means so much to me, since I only started writing last year. 

I saw a lot of authors participate in different anthologies, and have always thought that it must be a great experience. You’re writing your own story, but at the same time you’re part of a team. It’s a challenge because there is a certain topic/theme/genre your story needs to be in. Besides, there is a deadline, which makes it even trickier. 

In my case, the deadline felt tight. I learned about the anthology on August 22nd, and at that point I didn’t have a story that would be a fit for the project. I needed to create it. I needed to come up with an idea, and then have it written, professionally edited and proofread within less than two months – because the release date is October 31st, and of course, the stories have to be submitted in advance. 

So yes, this was definitely a challenge. I know that some other authors had stories that were already completed, but others, like me, had to write them from scratch. 

The wordcount range was from 5K to 35K.

As someone with very limited time for writing, I had my doubts. I really wanted to take part in the project, but I wasn’t sure I could make it. I had nothing at that point. I had started to work on two other writing projects by that time, so I’d have to put them aside and focus on the third one instead. I am a toddler mom, so most of my writing happens late at night, if I have any energy left after chasing my super active 2-year-old the whole day. Sometimes I sneak in some writing during his naps in the day. But I don’t have the type of schedule where I can make or keep firm commitments. 

But I thought, maybe I can manage to write 5000 words in a month. (The second month I intended to use for editing). I was nervous, a bit overwhelmed and excited all at once.

So I decided to accept the offer and take part in the project. I paid the anthology buy-in straightaway, before I could change my mind, and started thinking of the story.

I didn’t have to wait for inspiration. The story idea just came to me that same evening. I couldn’t sleep until 2 a.m. and kept thinking about it and writing down all the ideas in the notes on my phone. And then I decided to start writing. So I wrote a little bit of the opening scene. Then I woke up early the next morning, and while my little hurricane was still asleep, I continued writing. By the time my son woke up, I had 2,000 words of the new story written. 

In just a few days, I finished the story, having written 11,000 words in total. All that time I couldn’t think about anything else except the new world I had created and the characters and their adventures. 

My husband read the story and thought it was great. He even commented on how the story could easily be expanded into a novel. 

Then I heard the same from my editor. 

I am now thinking that I could expand this novelette into a novella and make it a prequel to a bigger story, or maybe even a series. 

I know for sure that this story has great potential. I can feel it. And I’m so grateful that it just came to me, exactly when I needed it.

I’m looking back now and thinking that a couple of months ago it wasn’t even in my plans. I had just released my debut novel, and started working on book 2 of the series, making peace with the fact that I wouldn’t release anything any time soon. 

Now, I have a whole new story that will be available to readers in a couple weeks. 

Isn’t this amazing?

Another beautiful thing about taking part in an anthology is working as a team with other writers. I have met some wonderful people there. Besides, spreading the word about your new release is so much easier when you join forces with other authors! 

Thanks to this anthology, I’ve been in Halloween mood since the end of August. And of course, while writing a story about a witch, I just had to buy a witch hat!

I’m finishing the edits this week and sending out my story, “The Secret Spell”, to the organizers. It will be formatted along with the other stories, and at the end of this month we’ll be celebrating the release of our anthology, “The Season Of The Witch.” The cover has already been created, and the book is available for pre-order on Amazon.

So I can say that my first experience of writing for an anthology was very positive, inspiring and encouraging. It was a challenge, and it was great fun at the same time.

I’ll definitely be participating in other anthologies in the future. Although for the next few months my priority is writing the next novel in my series. I’ve even decided to try NaNoWriMo this year – but that’s a topic for a separate blog post. 

If you want to check out our awesome witchy anthology, you can find it here:

The Magic of Storytelling

I miss my story and my characters. 

“Follow the Hummingbird” is entering the final editing stage. I’m still receiving feedback from beta-readers, and it’s such a bitter-sweet feeling — I know I will go back to that world and tweak some things, but I miss the writing process. I miss creating those worlds. I miss characters reaching out to me and telling me what the next chapter would be about and where it would take place. 

It’s all been written now, they’re all there, they exist, they’ve gone on their journeys, they’ve had their adventures, they’ve laughed, they’ve cried, they’ve struggled. Well, actually, I believe that they continue doing all that somewhere, in some realm where all our story ideas and fictional characters come alive. 

It’s just that I miss creating them…

That’s why I enjoy feedback from my betas so much — when they talk about my characters or discuss certain scenes from the book, I dive back into that world happily. 

That’s also why I started working on a new project, although ”Follow the Hummingbird” is not fully completed and has yet to be published. 

Because I miss the writing process. And because the new characters are reaching out to me and asking me to tell their stories.

Considering that I am still working on my novel and it’s on my mind all the time, it kind of feels like cheating. I have to admit, I even get my characters’ names confused — in the story I wrote recently, I called my character Tina a couple times, using the name of the main character in my novel. 

But it feels so good to write, and I figured that I’ll sort these issues out when I edit, and for now I’ll just focus on the writing. 

The new project I’m working on is a collection of short stories called “The Town.” All the stories in it are happening in the same town, but they involve different characters and are not interrelated. The only thing they have in common is that they take place in the same town and the events that are happening in these stories are anything but ordinary. 

In fact, I am going to include a couple of them in the mini-book that I’m putting together now. It’s a small collection of short stories called “Planting Seashells,” and I will be giving it away for free to my subscribers. I’ll add two stories from “The Town” as a sneak peek of my new project. 

When I complete the mini-book, I’ll add a sign-up form here, so that you can subscribe to my monthly newsletter and receive the free mini-book. I’ll post about it additionally, so if you don’t want to miss it, you might want to consider subscribing to my blog updates. Or follow my posts/stories on Instagram. 

I’m very excited about this new project. I know I’ll have so much fun writing all those different stories about all those different characters. I also know I will have to put it aside for a while when I’m doing the final round of edits of “Follow the Hummingbird,” which will be happening in about 2-3 weeks from now. But as soon as my little ’hummingbird’ flies out of the nest into the big world, I’m heading straight back to “The Town.” 

When I’m there, I’ll find a cozy cafe with the best coffee in The Town, take a seat, look around, talk to its residents, and start writing down the stories they tell me.

I can’t wait. 

This is the best part of being a writer. It’s pretty much like traveling through time and space, if you think about it. You get to go places that nobody knew existed, you get to meet all kinds of people and learn their deepest secrets. You get to be a demiurge and create worlds. All that without the need to actually leave your house… (one of the few possible ways to travel nowadays, right?)

And then you get to see what other people think of the worlds you created. What they think of your characters. Some will understand them and see them the way you do, some will see them in a very different way. Somebody will dream of your worlds. Somebody will miss your characters after they finish reading the book – just like you’ll miss them when you finish writing it. 

It’s such a strange, unnerving, exciting and beautiful experience — to be sharing your stories with the world.