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:

Why Do I Write?

There are many reasons. I’ve always wanted to write, and when I finally started, it felt so right that I almost regretted missing all those years. I’m saying ‘almost’ because I don’t really regret anything. The way my life went, the things I had to go through, and the lessons I learned, all of this has shaped me into the person I am today. And this is the person who is finally ready to tell stories.

Going back to the reasons for writing—there are plenty. But here’s one of the most important ones I want to focus on today.

I have two sons. 

I have a teenager who thinks he’s got life figured out. 

And I have a toddler who is only beginning to learn what this world is all about. And when he is the same age as his big brother is now, he’ll probably think the same.

It’s okay. They are learning. And I’m learning with them. 

But I’m also teaching them something too. 

I’m teaching them that it’s okay to follow your dreams. No… wrong wording. Following your dreams is the right way to go. It’s in fact the only way to go if you want to find yourself. And to stay true to yourself.

I’m teaching them that following your dreams can be hard. And scary. But it’s not a reason to give up.

I’m teaching them that it’s never too late to start. 

My teenage son is reading my book now. It’s not his preferred genre. And there’s a great chance  he won’t like it. But every time he picks it up, he’s holding physical proof of the fact that anything is possible. That it’s possible to start writing when you’re 40 years old, when you are raising a baby, when you hardly have any time or energy, but counteract it with enough stubbornness to type on your phone in the middle of the night. To type words in the language that is foreign to you. 

So maybe he’ll feel more hopeful.

He learns that if you don’t know how to do something, it’s possible to research and learn. For example, you can learn all you need to know about self-publishing your book. And while doing that, you can meet so many people on that journey. You can also genuinely connect with those people from all parts of the world. You can read their stories, support them, learn from them, and call them your friends. 

So maybe he’ll feel less lonely.

He learns that you can pour your heart out on the paper (or screen), wrapping it gently in words, linking those words together and making phrases, using those phrases to build stories. Stories based on your thoughts, your feelings, your imagination, your dreams, your joy, and your pain. 

So maybe he’ll learn to open his heart. 

And as for my little one, he is really obsessed with my book cover. Every time he sees my book, he needs to hold it. Well, I can’t blame him, the cover is absolutely stunning. But seriously, do you know why I think he’s drawn to it? Because he can feel what it means to his mom. He can feel what I invested in that book. And I’m not talking about the financial investment here, of course. He can feel the energy coming from a dream that came true. It’s pretty much like magic.

He’ll grow up and I’ll have many more books published. But I will tell him where it all started. How I decided to follow my dream when he was a little baby. How the chapters of that very first book were created while he was sleeping in my arms.

I’ll tell him this story and then I’ll say, “You see, son, anything is possible if you really want it. You need to be brave enough to start, and then you just keep going no matter how hard it gets. Don’t give up, don’t turn back, believe in yourself, and you’ll get there.”

These are the things I want to teach my kids. And what better way is there to teach than through leading by example?

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:

Author Spotlight: Julie Embleton

Today I would like to introduce Julie Embleton to you. Julie is a new adult fantasy author. She is also famous in the writing community for her extensive support to indie authors. And on top of all that, she’s just an amazing person who kindly agreed to answer some of my questions today.

Let’s dive in.

Hey, Julie! Thanks again for finding the time to do this. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, please?

I’m an Irish lass, and I live right beside the Irish Sea in north County Dublin. I lived abroad for many years, but always missed Ireland—yes, even the weather. 

I write paranormal fantasy for the New Adult genre, so readers will find vampires, werewolves, witches and all sort of other paranormal folk in my tales. I’ve also written short stories for two fairytale retelling anthologies.

When not crafting stories from the voices in my head, you’ll find me with my tarot cards. I’ve been working as a professional tarot reader for the last six years and will soon be launching my brand new tarot website: www.creativesoultarot.com. The occult fascinates me, and I’m looking forward to sharing this passion through my blog, while continuing to offer guidance with tarot.

My career background has hotel management and HR, but I’ve just been made redundant after eighteen years with the same company, and am now taking the next year to work for myself as both an author and tarot reader, so exciting times ahead! 

I’m a mum to a sassy teenager, and slave to two crazy cats.

You can find me www.julieembleton.com or @julieembletonauthor on Instagram

I just love it how you described the essence of the human-feline relationships! Have you always wanted to become a writer? Or were there any other dreams?

I never dreamed of being an author. I loved books as a kid and was an avid reader, but the idea of writing didn’t kick in until I was a teenager and we studied creative writing in school. From then on I wrote dozens of stories, but they were always just for me. 

As a kid, I wanted to be a nurse, but after a stay in hospital, I realised it involved dealing with puke, so I dropped that idea like a hot potato. I then fell in love with art, and soon settled on becoming a graphic designer which I now hold a degree in, but shame on me, I never followed it as a career. I fell into Hotel Management, then HR, but along the way, carried on scribbling my stories until I decided to brave independent publishing in 2013. I’m due to publish my eighth book in September 2021. 

Oh, wow, this is amazing! Eighth book! Congratulations! What is the thing you enjoy most about writing?

The escapism. It’s daydreaming on a grand scale, and I get paid for it too! For me, there’s nothing more addictive than the creative flow where plots, characters and dialogue pour onto the page. When I’m in that zone, reality fades into the background. Time stops too. That in-between place makes me feel like I’m living in a different dimension and sometimes it’s hard to come back to reality.     

I know what you mean. Love that feeling! What, in your opinion, is the hardest part of being a writer?

The marketing. I think for the most part that authors are an introverted lot, so putting ourselves out there and shouting for attention is as unpleasant as a hot needle to the eyeball. The self-publishing industry has changed so much since I first began, and keeping on top of trends, skills and technology is a full time job in itself. Over the next year I’m planning deep dives into Amazon ads and other marketing tools. A lot of my fellow authors are as mystified about these strategies as I am, so I’m hoping to blog about my findings!

Amazon ads. 🙈 Still dreading the thought of diving into that. I’ll be looking forward to reading about your experience! But back to your writing — please tell us more about your book series!

The Voyager Chronicles series is a trilogy that flips between the modern and medieval, with realm-hopping, sorcery shenanigans, despicable villains, gutsy heroes and heroines, and a sprinkle of romance.

In order, the titles are: The Dawning, The Veiling, The Claiming. 

The Turning Moon series is centred around two werewolf packs and the paranormal threats they face from demons, fellow werewolves and even vampires. While my books are not classed as romance, there’s always romantic suspense within the plot, as I love a good happy ever after and can’t resist playing matchmaker with my characters. My next release, Torn, is book four of the Turning Moon, and book five is already under way!  In order, the titles are: Bound, Released, Haunted, Torn (due September 2021) 

Congrats again on the upcoming release! The series sound absolutely awesome! Here’s another thing I wanted to ask you: you are known in the Instagram writing community for the support you provide to indie authors. Can you tell us a bit more about that? When and why did you decide to start doing it? How did the famous #selfpromotesunday come into existence?

Following a conversation with a fellow author who worried she was being pushy when she self-promoted, (there’s that pesky fear of marketing again) I started the tag so indie authors could come together to share their work, with the emphasis on their post being a shameless self-promote. With a dedicated weekly tag, I wanted to give authors the opportunity to shout about their work, but also have a place to meet new friends, offer support and encouragement, ask for advice, and of course, add even more titles to heaving To Be Read piles. I didn’t think it would become as popular as it is. Even now, I get authors messaging me to say it’s the only time they promote and feel like they have the ‘right’ to because they’re using the tag. I’ve met dozens of my author friends through #selfpromotesunday and have discovered some of my favourite indie books through it too. When I first started, there were only two posts that had ever used the tag, now there are over 5000! As the host, I do my best to comment on every post, and I also share many posts on my stories, just to spread the bookish goodness even farther. 

5000 posts! Julie, this is incredible! Thank you again for everything you do for indie authors! I remember that your account was blocked by Instagram, and you had to start from scratch again. That was so amazing! Not the fact that you lost your account, of course. You know what I mean. 😅 My sincere admiration to you! Why do you think it happened? Any advice on how to prevent it? Where did you find the strength and patience to do it all over again? By the way, you’re an absolute star! ⭐️

Ah, Instagram. The platform I love to hate. In January of 2021 I did unfortunately get locked out of my @julie_embleton account. Two years before then, I had downloaded a follow/unfollow app which I used a few times, found useless and forgot all about. I came across a warning on another platform about Instagram cracking down on accounts using third party apps like Later, Repost, Follow/Unfollow apps etc, and as I never used the follow app, I decided to delete it. I opened the app to see what steps I needed to take before deleting it, but because I hadn’t used it in so long, and had gained almost 2.3k followers since I’d last opened it, my guess is that it connected to Instagram and they flagged it as a phising attempt. Now when I try to log in to my old account I’m told I need to request a security code to prove it’s me accessing my account. I’ve requested it over and over since January, but the email never arrives (even though they can still email the same address with reminders of what I’ve missed since I last logged on to the account. Go figure, eh?) 

From what I’ve heard, I’ll never get the account back which is disappointing. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s been tough starting from scratch all over again. I had almost 2.5k followers, but thankfully, within days of opening my new account, @julieembletonauthor lots of my Instagram friends immediately followed so I wasn’t left in the wilderness. I still use Later and Repost with my new account, but will definitely stay away from the follow/unfollow apps. I’d encourage users to do research into any apps that link to Instagram. I know lots of people who’ve been locked out and all are still out in the cold like me with years of work lost. There’s no direct customer service in Instagram, so pleas and request for help fall on deaf ears. I now have an account on MeWe and Vero, but Instagram is my main platform, even though I’d punch it in the throat if I could.  

Oh, goodness, I’m glad that I have no idea how to use those apps – I guess it’s safer this way. 😅 And yes, if I were you, I’d definitely want to punch it in the throat too. 🙈 Here’s another question. Considering how much kindness and support you’re giving out to others, I really hope you’re getting it back too! Are you?

Yes, most definitely, but I don’t keep score! When I get excited about a book, I have to shout about it, it’s as simple as that. And I really enjoy sharing the Self Promote Sunday posts because I know for some authors, it’s not easy to put themselves out there, so a share here and there is simply spreading the love. 

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?  

Read, write, read, write, read, write. The more you read, the more technical skill you’ll develop and employ. The more your write, the stronger your unique voice will become. 

Dream big, believe in yourself, and don’t let anyone talk you down. 

I think finding your tribe is vital, too. When you gather with people who are on your wavelength and aspiring for similar goals, there’s no ladder with ‘top and bottom’ achievers, it’s just everyone walking hand in hand, helping each other along the way. Your tribe are also the people who’ll nudge you out of your comfort zone and help you take bigger, braver steps that you mightn’t have taken on your own. But most importantly, they’re the people who’ll champion you and be there for your wins and fails!

Thank you for the brilliant advice, Julie! I couldn’t agree more about the importance of finding your tribe. I’m forever grateful for all the support I have received (and keep receiving) from the writing community. And I try to do my best to pay it forward. Once again, thank you for everything and I’m wishing you tremendous success in everything you do!