Updated: May 16
This Writer Wednesday, the spotlight shines on adult fantasy author Jessica Cantwell!
Jessica has quite an epic story to tell, both in her series The Realm Saga and in her real life. Her bravery and strength to overcome intense physical and emotional trauma have changed her as a writer, and I am profoundly inspired by her!
TRIGGER WARNING: If reading about a traumatic physical attack causes you discomfort, please scroll past the very first interview question.
A quick note:
During this interview, you might note that many of the questions include the word “we” as if “we” asked them. Well, we did. This detail is meant to include you, my dear reader, and I do hope you enjoy each interview published to this blog!
Additionally, please note that each interview answer is the author's own words and the interviews in The Intuitive Storyteller blog are intended for informational and educational purposes only.
Jessica Cantwell is the indie author of The Realm Saga, a set of young adult epic fantasy novels. She resides in New York with her family and cats. When she's not writing you can find Jessica reading, yard-sale rummaging, drawing, painting, or refinishing furniture. Jessica has a passion for baking (eating everything she bakes) and travel. You may find her biting bitterballen in Amsterdam, popping pirogues in Krakow, or munching on meat pies in London.
About Realm: Battle for the Throne
In the dark depths of the Melting Pot, an expanse of land where the King banishes the discriminated, a secret uprising is budding. Lead by a moth-man named Bera, members of this revolution manage to swarm the castle undetected while the King was preoccupied with Jaasin’s escape and the search to find him.
The moth-man insists he is the next successor to the throne. He plans on punishing King Theothantanos for killing his parents by overthrowing his reign and taking over as Ruler. Quickly, Bera’s vengeful ways and evil rebellion begin to wreak havoc on the innocent citizens of the domain.
Realm is in peril, and the success of the kingdom weighs on Lily as she tries to find the one true heir; the princess who vanished in nineteen fifty-four. It is a quest that leads her back through a portal to Earth. Lily’s new adventure unites the team just in time for good versus evil to battle it out for the throne.
Jessica’s book Realm: Battle for the Throne, and the rest of the Saga titles are available now!
And now, the interview:
Jessica, when did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always been a dreamer and artist, writing stories as early as age five. I grew up with a single mother, having a turbulent childhood. I didn't realize I had option. By the time I left high school I still didn't KNOW what I wanted to be and settled on getting my cosmetology license because that is all I knew (my mother owned a salon).
Two weeks after graduating high school, I was beaten and shot by my boyfriend’s father. I began writing as a way to get over the trauma. Initially, it was just a few journal entries. Years later, I decided to string those entries together and ended up compiling enough scenes to create a screenplay. At that point in time I didn’t think I was—or wanted to be —a writer. The process was very cathartic and just naturally morphed into an open door to the writing world. One screenplay turned into three. Three screenplays opened another door, where I began writing a full length novel, and thus, The Realm Saga was born.
For 27 years that screenplay, based on my life, sat on a shelf. After reading The Scars We Choose, which was very similar to some of the things I experienced growing up, I knew I needed to dust it off and turn it into a book. So, thank you, Mandy, for the inspiration. My new WIP, titled Rebuilding Jennifer, about my abusive childhood and being a victim of gun violence, is almost complete.
You know that saying, turn lemons into lemonade? That is what I take away from my experiences. I may not have set out with the idea or want to become a writer but I am so thankful that I did.
Tell us about the person(s) or event(s) that inspired you to write your latest work.
I was sick of reading books about vampires. Being a fan of Greek mythology, I wanted to see a more diverse group of mythological creatures in books. From that, The Realm Saga was born.
What is your favorite genre to write and why do these types of stories appeal to you?
Fantasy because it is nice to dream and escape reality. You can literally create whatever world you want to live in.
Do you have a furry familiar? Tell us about them!
Cats, always cats!
Tell us about your writing schedule and/or a ritual that is necessary for establishing and sustaining your writing mood and endurance.
There is no Monday—Friday, 9-5 in my house. My husband is an essential worker and works rotating shifts, so my schedule rotates along with his. I try to write on days when he is working day shifts and the kids are in school. I illustrate on days he and the kids are home (it is easier to do and I can walk away when distracted) and I read when he works nights and the house is quiet.
Why do you write? How does the act of storytelling affect you?
I am a daydreamer and I have a rather obnoxious inner monologue. Writing and storytelling clears my mind. It's like my form of meditation!
Think about yourself back when you first started writing. If you could travel back in time, what would you say to that version of you (about the writing process, publishing, the world, etc.) that might help prepare them for today?
Like everything else, you will continue to improve as you go. Don’t beat yourself up about the small things and there is no such thing as a mistake. They are just lessons learned.
What are your recommendations for fueling your writing energy and promoting inspiration?
Believe in yourself. Write for yourself. Do what makes you happy. When you focus on that, everything else will fall into place.
How intuitive are you and does your intuition affect your writing?
Intuition is my sixth sense and has guided my through many sticky situations. I’m a “write what you know” kind of person, so intuition definitely plays a small role in my creative process.
Tell us about your long-term writing and publishing goals.
I am currently illustrating a children’s picture book series. Then, I am going to switch gears and write a few adult novels under a pen name. One of those stories will be based on my turbulent childhood and the brutal attack I experienced when I was seventeen.
For what or whom are you most grateful right now and why?
I am always most grateful for my husband and our two beautiful children. They are my biggest support system, my inspiration and my motivation.
Besides writing, what activities bring you joy?
I love to bake, refinish furniture, paint, draw, and travel. Though, travel has not happened recently!
Which book are you reading right now?
Royal Decoy by Heather Frost
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?
Oh so many, but yours, Mandy, is one of them! [Aww, thank you, Jessica! Readers, Jessica is referring to The Scars We Choose duology]
Fill in the blank: Magic is...
Magic is like chocolate. Must haves in my life!
Stay connected with Jessica! Here’s where you can find her:
At the end of this month, my next interview will be with the lovely Leia Faiga!
In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of upmarket, literary, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.
Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. Although she earned a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, she has yet to figure out her family, much less herself.
When she’s not writing, Mandy loves going to the movies, theater, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, margarita-making, and binge-watching The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to promote wellness and enhance creativity. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four boys, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at haintbluecreative.com and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.