WRITING A NEW STORY
Fantastical. Magical. Super. Powerful.
We’re not just describing fantasy fiction, we’re also describing our guest, Jessica Cage!
As an author, Jessica is changing the script in the fantasy genre. No more redheaded mermaids that are voiceless and white. No more dragons stuck in a dungeon, controlled by a white knight saving a princess. No more fair skinned, foolish fairies. No more white vampires sucking the life out of that same narrative!
In a plot twist, Jessica does not whitewash the fact that she wants her characters to be diverse. Her work intentionally showcases those same mystical creatures as characters of color, empowered women, and victorious vixens. Her characters have integrity and purpose; they are fighting to tell the world a new story about what heroes and heroines can look like. They CAN be black bravehearts saving the world from an apocalypse to golden Goddesses with good hearted goals!
Jessica’s books take us into different worlds and they are out of this world!
MEET THE AUTHOR
Who is Jessica Cage?
I am an International Award Winning and USA Today Best Selling Author. Born and raised in Chicago, IL, writing has always been a passion for me. I dabble in artistic creations of all sorts but at the end of the day, it’s the pen that my hand itches to hold. I had never considered following my dream to be a writer because I was told far too often, “There is no money in writing.” So, I chose the path most often traveled. During pregnancy, I asked myself an important question,
“How would I be able to inspire my unborn son to follow his dreams and reach for the stars, if I never had the guts to do it myself?”
I decided to take a risk and unleash the plethora of characters and their crazy adventurous worlds that had previously existed only in my mind, into the realm of readers. I did this with hopes to inspire not only my son but myself, inviting the world to tag along on my journey to become the writer I have always wanted to be. I hope to continue writing and bringing my signature Caged Fantasies to readers everywhere!
Urban fantasy. Why did you choose this genre as a black woman?
I grew up loving this genre. I found fantasy and sci-fi through film and television. We used to have sci-fi Saturday with my mom. She would bring home pizza and junk food and we would sit in front of the TV to watch aliens, vampires, and all these fantastical things!
My passion for books came from my grandmother. She was the biggest book nerd! We had a huge wall-to-wall, double-sided bookshelf. It was full of books and I used to read them. I thought,
“One day I am going to write something so great that it will be on my grandmother’s bookshelf!”
That was my goal. She was the first person to hand me the pen and paper. I was talking her ear off about this story I had and she was like, “Well, write it down and I’ll read it later.” So, that’s how I started writing for my grandmother, and I was inspired by the fantasy from my mom.
These 2 matriarchal energies came together inside of me and that’s where my work comes from. That’s why there are a lot of important mothers, grandmothers, and aunties in my storylines!
Was it difficult for you to find black authors or characters in the fantasy genre before your work? How was that experience for you and how important is representation to you?
In those movies I would watch with my mom on sci-fi Saturdays, there were very few people of color and then by act 2, we were gone! As I got older and started reading fantasy more and seeking it out more, I didn’t find a lot of authors of color or characters. When I did, by chapter 6 or 7 that character was either out of the storyline or they were really going through it! They were the scapegoat or the token or taking all of this psychological damage from their white counterpart. I didn’t like it. I wanted to see me at the forefront, as the main character. Just like when I was growing up and wanting to see that, I know there are children now who also want to see that.
Representation is extremely important to me. This all started with me wanting to present people of color. I grew up in Chicago and it’s so diverse. It can be segregated in some ways but my mother made sure that I got into those diverse areas, like Houston.
I wanted my books to represent the world that I grew up in. I see everyone; it’s not all one race or all one body type.
As I started developing my characters, I didn’t want them all to be cis, hetero men and women, I wanted to add LGBTQ representation! Now, after being on Tik Tok, I want to create non-binary or neurodivergent characters too! I am expanding and learning. I like to talk to the people! I want to learn how they would respond. As an author, I can imagine it, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. I don’t know how a person who is trans would react in this situation, so let me talk to a person who is trans and find out! I feel like we all deserve to see ourselves in the works that we love. This stuff is what feeds us!
My moment as a kid was watching Storm! When X-Men came on and Storm hit the screen, everyone needed to hush up in that house! But I didn’t want to have to wait for Storm every week. I wanted to see that everywhere I looked just like anyone else could. That became my message.
Also, when I started writing, it was when Twilight was at its peak. I’m a Twi-Hard… #teamedward! But, I wanted to represent a different version of this story. I wanted to give my younger cousins characters of color to look up to but I also wanted young women to come into their power without men guiding them. That always bothered me in those storylines. I had watched my mom, my grandmother, and my auntie doing their thing! The men were there, they were supportive, but they weren’t telling them how to get it done. I had never seen that in my life.
So, I decided to write a story about girl power with girl vampires of color! Then, I twisted it by throwing aliens in there for my mom. It centers around five women at different stages of their power.
We don’t just wake up and we are in our power and we are Super Woman. We have to grow. We have to take some hits and learn ourselves.
I wanted to represent that in a way that my cousins who were deeply into vampires could relate to. And that’s where my journey in publishing started.
How does one go about writing fantasy? It’s one thing to watch it, but to write it is another! When you’re writing some of these storylines, do you ever get scared?
I don’t think a lot of my stories tap on the scary side, but there are some that tap on the darker storylines. That’s because I am a chicken! I don’t watch horror movies. My mom and brother would do it, but I would be up with Looney Tunes for like 6 hours after watching any type of scary movie! So, typically, I don’t go that far into that realm of writing.
But, yes, there was a moment with one of my books!
It was called Last Stop and it was about a woman responsible for ushering souls into the afterlife. Some of the imagery in that was a little difficult to have in my head on some of those nights; I had to turn the lights on and turn the cartoons on so I could sleep!
But honestly, with writing fantasy, you immerse yourself in the world and I like to focus more on the character’s journey.
A lot of readers actually say my books are like gateway drugs because they kind of ease you into it.
In other words, you know there are going to be vampires, dragons, and these huge supernatural debates happening, but you’re so connected to the character that you become more focused on what’s happening with them. I think that’s the balance we need to find as writers. We have to give our readers enough about the character to care about them so that they aren’t swayed by the scarier parts of the story.
Also, writing fantasy is like anything else- you have to do your research. If you’re going to be playing with lore that already exists, then you have to go to whatever resources you can get such as getting into a forum to talk to readers and reading the material that you are trying to write. A lot of people think, “Oh, but it’s fantasy, you make it up!”
Yeaaaaaa… but NO!
There is a level of respect you have to pay to what has come before you. And even though you are making it all up, it still has to be relatable and it still needs to make sense. For example, if someone thinks something happened because of magic, I still need to explain that magic; what’s the system, what’s the structure, how did the character use that magic?
There’s a lot that goes into it! I’ve had these conversations before, where people say, “It’s just fantasy. Make it up.” And I’m like, “Ok, well YOU make it up then and see how it goes.”
They come back and say, “You’re right. You were right! It’s way more than that.” It’s a lot of work and it can be intense. But, it’s my passion and it comes naturally to me now.
One of my favorite things about you is the joy that you get out of creating. You can see it on your face every time you are on a Tik Tok live! It’s so breathtaking to see, especially in the times we are in because a lot of people don’t have that. Tell us a little about that feeling for you.
I am a creator. That’s nature for me. I love to draw, paint, work with clay- all the things. My mom was so supportive when I was young. I don’t know how she didn’t lose all of her hair trying to support my mini creative endeavors.
At one point, she brought home a mannequin and fabric because I was going to be a fashion designing lawyer.
I don’t know where the combo came from but that was going to be me when I was older! And my mom was just like, “Ok, here you go!” And now, I do that with my own son.
If you feed that creativity, it changes a kid’s world. It opened my own mind to say, “I can do this, I can share my stories and people can love them!”
I still have my career in corporate America, but this is what feeds my soul. As long as I can do this and have fun doing it, I am all for it!
One of the things you share is that a lot of people told you not to put black people as the lead on your covers. But you still chose to do it. YESSSSS for that. Plus, it sells out and is successful. YESSSSSS for that too!
What gave you the courage to say, “As a black woman, I am choosing to put black people on the covers of my fantasy books” anyway?
That came from my grandmother. When I was very young, I was definitely different from other kids and I got bullied. One day, my grandmother sat me down and she said,
“Everyone is not going to love what you do and they’re not going to like who you are. But as long as you stay true to yourself, what they say can never dull your shine.”
My grandmother was very adamant about staying true to myself and I’ve done that through every part of my life. I am not going to modify my dream or my vision to appease the greater masses. I felt like, yeah, maybe people aren’t looking for this now, but one day people will. It’s coming. People are going to open up their eyes and I’m going to be sitting right here ready for them.
When Black Panther hit, it changed! People came looking and I was like, “Well, here I go! I have all this material ready for you!” I stayed true to myself and it was like the universe saying, “Alright, here it comes! Here is your reward for doing what you said you were going to do!”
What’s one of the most shocking, fun, or exhilarating interactions you have had with a fan that always puts you in a good place thinking about it?
There are so many! I love getting emails and messages from people or seeing people at book signings. Recently though, someone cast played my character. This was one of my bucket list items. It was a goal of mine! And it was for one of the most difficult characters that I have- a siren!
She got a tail custom-made! My mind was blown. I was literally crying! It was like watching my baby walk for the first time. I was a mess! I couldn’t believe that I had impacted someone so much that she had a whole tail made and was swimming with it through the ocean taking photos!
It just filled me with so much happiness and there are so many moments like that. Knowing that I am creating something that makes someone smile- even if it is just for a moment in their day- fills me up. I am meant to do this, this is who I am. So, it’s the best feeling to see other people enjoying it!
Do you have a goal to see any of your books played on the big screens?
Absolutely! I feel like the book side of it was for my grandmother. The film side is for my mom.
The moment I get to sit down in front of a screen featuring my story with my mom then I’ve done it! I’VE DONE IT!!!
My mom wasn’t the reader. She is a reader now because she reads my books and has graduated to reading other books now too. It just warms my heart to see it. But all this came from her being the super supportive parent that she has always been. When I get to sit with her in a movie theater, I’ll be a mess! We’ll be crying at first, but then I know we will be all smiles and celebrating!
For someone who has never read fantasy before, which 3 books of yours should they start with?
Start with “The Siren Series.” The character in that book, Syrinada, a red-tailed siren, has brought me so many readers!
They were like, “I have never read fantasy, and I read this one, and I’m not stopping! I was all up in those pages!”
It’s like a gateway book. I think it’s because of the style of writing I used. It’s more like a cinematic approach to literature so it puts an image in the reader’s mind.
Second, I would say “The Djinn Rebellion Series.” It’s my re-imagining of what happened to the genie in Aladdin. You have that relatability to the story before starting and then can see where I take it…300 years into the future in a post-apocalyptic world!
Thirdly, I would suggest “The Rise of The Elites.” This will introduce you to my material, but I invited other authors to write for it in order to elevate their work as well. So, you come in through my book but then you’re like, “Oh, wait! I love their work too,” and then go off to more of theirs!
In this collection, there is a parallel world to earth called Penumbra. It’s all supernatural creatures, humans do not dwell there. They are picking new elites which are their leaders who are supposed to keep the balance of light and dark. Half of the authors wrote about dark elites, and the other half wrote about light elites. You’ll have to read them to find out if they win, if they survive, and if they can keep the balance together! It was such an amazing project to work on!
Tell everyone where they can find you, how they can reach out to you, and where they can buy those books so we can keep you in the best sellers?
Thank you so much. I’ve had a wonderful journey! It’s still so insane to me that people are enjoying my work as much as they are. My inner child is so happy! You can find out more about me and my books on my website: jessicacage.com
I am @jcageauthor on all other platforms including Tik Tok, Facebook, and Twitter.
Writing about the supernatural comes super natural to Jessica. Though she writes fiction, her humility despite her success, is so REAL!
While she has written a lot of endings, we know that this is just the beginning for all the wonderful things that are booking it her way! And we’re so excited to witness her next chapter…literally and metaphorically!
If you could give personality or physical traits, mystical powers, or special characteristics to a new character in a fantasy novel, what would they be? Leave it below and maybe- just maybe– you might see them in a new Jessica Cage book!