It was an amazing pleasure for me to interview author Jessica Cage. Listen to my interview via YouTube or Podcast (transcript below):
Jessica Cage’s Biography
Award-winning and USA Today Bestselling author, Jessica Cage was born and raised in Chicago, IL. Writing has always been a passion for her. She dabbles in artistic creations of all sorts but at the end of the day, it's the pen that her hand itches to hold. Jessica had never considered following her dream to be a writer because she was told far too often "There is no money in writing." So she chose the path most often traveled. During pregnancy, she asked herself an important question. How would she be able to inspire her unborn son to follow his dreams and reach for the stars, if she never had the guts to do it herself? Jessica decided to take a risk and unleash the plethora of characters and their crazy adventurous worlds that had previously existed only in her mind into the realm of readers. She did this with hopes to inspire not only her son but herself. Inviting the world to tag along on her journey to become the writer she has always wanted to be. She hopes to continue writing and bringing her signature Caged Fantasies to readers everywhere.
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Alicia: Hey everybody and welcome to my writing playground. This is episode number three of Diverse SciFi and Fantasy Stories Podcast. I'm your host Alicia McCalla. Thanks for tuning in. This podcast is all about me honoring my son's legacy by sharing my diverse science fiction and fantasy stories with the world. Today, I have the wonderful opportunity to share the works of another author who also writes diverse science fiction and fantasy. Let me tell you about Jessica Cage.
Award-winning and USA Today bestselling author Jessica Cage was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Writing has always been a passion for her. She dabbles in artistic creations of all sorts, but at the end of the day it's the pen that her hand itches to hold. Jessica had never considered following her dream to be a writer because she was told far too often "there is no money in writing." So she chose the path most often traveled. During pregnancy, she asked herself an important question how would she be able to inspire her unborn son to follow his dreams and reach for the stars if she never had the guts to do it herself? Jessica decided to take a risk, and unleash the plethora of characters and their crazy adventurous worlds that had previously existed only in her mind into the realm of readers. She did this with the hopes to inspire not only her son, but herself, inviting the world to tag along on her journey to become the writer she has always wanted to be. She hopes to continue writing and bringing her signature Caged fantasies to readers everywhere.
Okay. Hey and welcome, Jessica! It's great to finally meet up with you and for this interview. How's it going?
Jessica: It's going good, you know, it's a little bit early in the morning but I'm happy to be here. I tried to get up a little earlier to depuff my face, but you know… [laughing] But I'm so excited to be here speaking with you.
Alicia: You look marvelous. All right, let's start with our questions. So tell us about the project that you'd like to share today. What's the genre, and is this a part of a book or series?
Jessica: I'm so I'll be sharing a bit from one of the books for the Djinn Rebellion series that is an urban fiction and post-apocalyptic series that follows a cast of characters who are magical beings living on earth three hundred years after a magical apocalypse. So, in our modern times humans find out that magic really does exist and they decide that they're going to go to war with magic and they lose that war. So now we're in the future where the world is now run by those supernatural powerful beings and we're focusing on a group of friends who are basically trying to stop the second coming apocalypse.
Alicia: Gotcha. I love this world I'm excited about it. Okay, so you need to tell me why are you the person to tell this story or write this story or this series and what makes this story unique to you?
Jessica: So, this story started as a young girl's wondering about the genie from Aladdin. So the main characters in the series are Djinn, which are genies, and I'm always the one who's like wondering about the character that's not so focused on in a movie or story and I always wonder what happened to Genie after Aladdin dies. Like he's this immortal being like his life doesn't end when Aladdin's off the scene. And I've been thinking about that since I was a little girl and finally, this story line just kind of came to me and I feel like ideas, our energy that passes from one person to the next. And if you don't grab hold of it when you get that idea, that energy will leave you and then will go on to the next person. It's kind of like have you ever seen something on TV and you're like I thought about that a few years ago… you know what I mean?
Jessica: I'm here like yeah that energy, that idea was given to you and you didn't grab hold of it. So when I get hit with that powerful moment of like energy and I'm like okay I have to write this this is meant for me. I don't want to wake up you know five or six years from now and see someone else has like written this story that I was dreaming of.
Alicia: Well I love the djinn. When I saw it I immediately thought of I Dream of Jeannie or black genies but you know I might be a little older than you are. [laughing] But Aladdin is good. It's interesting.
Jessica: One of the characters is actually she's very I Dream of Jeannie right she does but she wears all of the you know the bells and whistles. She's very genie-like. I think she loves all the attention it brings.
Alicia: That's neat. Okay so you kind of gave me a little bit of inspiration but did you want to talk a little bit about your reason for writing this book or the series that you've written?
Jessica: So I think it's kind of the reason I write everything I write. I grew up loving these stories of like fantasy and magic and paranormal and sci-fi. All of it I love it so much, but I never saw myself reflected in those characters you know and if I did see a little black girl she wasn't on the scene for very long or you know most of the black characters were either very minor or they died.
Jessica: I wanted to start writing stories that were about characters who I could see myself reflected in and not just for me but for everybody. I mean All the little girls of color, I mean that's my inspiration. Most of my stories center around women of strength and Jinn is a little different it starts off with the guy but as we progress you get to see more of the characters and I think it becomes more female focused, but that's my inspiration. This story has been in my head forever and when I feel connected to the characters and I feel like I have a duty to tell their story and because they're I mean recently I've seen so many more authors of color writing in this genre and I'm so excited because it was so hard to find us you know, even just a few years ago. I'm like I don't know where you guys are, but I know you exist. I can't be the only one. So it's so amazing to see this explosion of just colors. When I say characters of color, I don't just mean black people you know I had this conversation with one of my characters doesn't look black enough and I'm like okay that's not the point of this. It's just so that more than just you know Caucasian readers can see themselves reflected. My world did not look like any of the books I read. It was all shapes colors sizes and that's what I wanted to reflect in this story. And with Jinn I feel like the story was meant for me to write it because I would go to sleep at night and I would dream about this character. I would think about this character. And it was something that started when I was young. I mean, I've been thinking about this particular character since I was a little girl and I feel like in the recent years I finally felt capable of writing the story…
Alicia: Confident. Mm-hmmm.
Jessica: … in the way that it deserved to be written.
Alicia: Yes, yes. I love it, I love it. So, is there a theme that you generally like to impart to your readers and if so what might that theme be?
Jessica: The theme of this particular series is understanding. try to be more caring and conscientious of the other people around us. I feel like in this series they deal with a lot of struggles because they thought that by putting humans out, the world was gonna be this amazing like well-run, you know issue-less place and then they come to find out like we're not that much better than humans. Like there's a lot of issues with class-ism and just people aren't being treated equally across the world. And as great as they thought they were doing, it's like we often get in our bubbles and we become blinded to everything outside of us and I think a strong theme throughout this series is think about the person next to you think about the person across the street across the world. it's so easy to get comfortable in your own skin and in your own your own space and forget that not everybody has that. So I really hope that when people read this book they see that you know you really do need to consider outside of yourself and I think that's where we start to make progress you know as a human race.
Alicia: Right, right. So this theme of understanding, is this something that you've personally experienced or is there something about it that fascinates you? What's kind of the inspiration behind this theme?
Jessica: So this is really when I first started writing this book it was really when right at the beginning of like Black Lives Matter and I think we were all being kind of force fed just how you know unfair and prejudiced and racist and… that was like the running you know the running narrative for my life everywhere you looked you were seeing it. It was constant. It was videos and Facebook posts and news casts and it's just insane and I started writing this story like maybe a month I would say before everything kinda like exploded in front of you and then that hit and I took a step back and it was like I didn't want to write it. I didn't want to bring that into my story because I tend not to go that deep but you know the social political messaging in my book. But then the story was like "no, this is the time for you to write it. This is why you're feeling this now. It needs to be represented And I gotta force myself to do that and I think it was therapeutic for me to write the scenes and to think about those messages inside of the book for myself, so it was kind of like me writing this book was me getting me through a kind of a really traumatic time in my life.
Alicia: Yeah, a very charged time. Yes.
Alicia: Okay so tell us about your what you want to tell potential readers about the diversity in your story because you've already kind of talked about that but I mean what you've already discussed what your team is incredible. But in general, if someone was approaching your stories as a reader and they were looking for diversity, why should they give your stories a shot? What's in it for them for that?
Jessica: So when I say diversity and diverse characters, I try to write my characters is across the board because I think people see black people in like a one dimensional kind of way and I don't see that. I have my you know my super sophisticated friends, I have my [??] friends, I have you know my ivy league friends, and so across the board we're like fancy, we're like, I'm the more comfy, like stay home friend you know so I try to bring all of those personalities that I see day in and day out into my stories because I think it's important not to write these characters that just fit one narrative of what personal color is you know. Just because someone's Latin, doesn't mean they're doing salsa through every scene. I mean, like, I have Latin friends that are like way more like black than I am, you know what I mean, if you want to go by the stereotypes. So I try to bring in characters who are well you know fleshed out and have a deep understanding of who they are and I feel like you see them growing throughout the series. You see them facing, you know, like really facing the demons of their past and so I try to write character driven stories so yes it's fantasy it's like you know dragons flying around and you know you see all that, but it's really focused on the growth and the development of these characters because they think they're all good. I think we all get to the point where we're like, yeah, I'm good in my life I know what I'm doing and then like tomorrow it's like, no, you don't, and slap you right back down. So I try to bring that into the characters. I don't want it to seem like every character is the same I want them all to be so different. They have different backgrounds they have different, you know, where as one character grew up you know in the suburbs and another one grew up in the city but they're best friends. I feel like that is that the kind of diversity I mean yeah they're you know most of my characters are of color. None of my main characters are not a character of color in any of my books it just doesn't happen. And I have been asked about them, like why are none of my may characters white, and I'm like why do they need to be? [laughing]
Alicia: Okay I gotta stop you there. They don't need to be. You write what you write.
Jessica: Yes. Exactly. I feel like I represent you know who I see in my life and I just want to bring some depth and you know multi dimensional characters to the forefront.
Alicia: I like it. Okay so you do have we you know you said you're right African American characters and I'm thinking. So tell us about your diverse protagonists. Do you have two of them a hero and a heroine or you know who are they and what's at stake for them in your story?
Jessica: So the hero in Jinn is our main character. His name is Jinn and it's a joke in the book that his name is Jinn and he was turned into a jinn; he started off as a warlock and someone very evil changed him into what he is. So there is a running joke in the book, like, "ah, they turned you into a jinn, ha ha." But he is this neutral person. He doesn't want to be in it he's like I'm here whatever, I'm minding my business. But then like I said there are some issues in the world as it has been built, as it's structured. And this is brought to him time and time again like can you help us fix this? You're one of the most powerful beings around. If you stepped up we could fix this. But he's like I'm neutral I said I wasn't getting in it, I'm not getting in it. But then a friend comes to him and says that the wife that he thought had died is actually still alive and she's been held captive and if he's willing to help them you know make some changes then they will help him get his wife. So they kind of put him in a bind--you need to help us if you want to find her, and that first book really focuses around his struggles with the guilt he feels because his actions led to their lives being changed. They were living this nice simple little life, and then because he couldn't mind his business like she wanted him to, they were captured and changed into jinn so he's dealing with this guilt like I don't even know she's gonna want to see me, it's been hundreds of years since I'd last seen her but she's in trouble and I need to help her. And then our heroine of the story is this little bookworms she's a fae and she's you know she seems like she's not going to do much and then at the end of it she's the one that you know pulls all the punches and gets the job done. She's smart and funny and eats a lot of steak. I love her so much. And she's one of the like, all of my readers are like I love [name] she's so amazing. I feel like, as a book nerd, it's nice to see the book nerd kind of pop out of the library and save the day.
Alicia: Right. Well you know I originally started as a librarian. I was a librarian for twenty years so I love the book worm, too. All right Jessica are you ready to share your story with us?
Jessica: Yes, yes I am.
Alicia: Okay go for it.
Jessica: Okay, so I'm gonna be reading from book six, actually. I just read this in my reading group and they loved it so I said I figured I would do it here. It's a scene from the beginning of the book and it talks about Nitara and Jinn and on where they are in a life. Nitara is now expecting a child and they're just kind of discussing how that's going to change the aspect of their lives. Okay.
Nitara sat on the couch of their humble little suburban home that felt out of place in the New World. She drank her tea and rubbed her belly anxiously. She hadn't even known that she was pregnant until [name]'s announcement just a few days earlier. Yet now she had a bump that lifted her shirt and pants to expose the bottom of her stomach.
"This is happening, isn't it?" She looked at her husband, who still wore an expression that told her he was once again reliving the moment of desperation when they were told their lives would change forever.
"I guess it is, yes." Jinn held the glass of whiskey-spiked tea and stared at her hand, which moved in small circles over her belly. "A child. You don't want this, do you?"
Nitara tucked her shirt down to cover herself and her disappointment. "I understand this wasn't expected. We didn't even know this was something we could do."
"No. I mean yes, of course, I want this." He joined her on the couch and cringed at the [unknown] of doubt he inspired his wife. "I want it more than anything I've ever wanted in my life. You have to understand that I put the idea of having children out of my mind so long ago. We always wanted this. To have a family together. But I had to accept that because of my actions that was no longer something that I thought was possible for us. I'm still processing this and I guess that it's taking a lot longer than it should be."
"I get it Jinn. I gave up on that dream too, not to mention that I can't remember my age at this point in my life. I just assumed that all of that reproduction stuff had long since been deactivated. I don't even have my menstrual anymore. I haven't since I turned." She lowered her voice and dropped her eyes to her stomach. "If you don't want this, Jinn, tell me now. I can handle it. I mean, it'll suck, but I can handle it."
"Nitara." Jinn took the tea cup from her and placed it on the coffee table alongside his. "Despite the fact that I just told you I want this, I want you to forget about me for a moment. Forget about everything that was told to us. How do you feel about this? The child?"
She sighed [inaudible].
"Yes, I need to know."
She looked down to her stomach and back to him. "I'm terrified, Jinn, and yet still somehow I'm excited for the possibility. I still long for that dream of having a family. The one we always talked about. A part of me has always longed for that which was stolen from us. I know that this isn't how we saw this happening. It's not the little farm we built together, but it's happening and it seems like a cruel joke that this is given to us and yet threatened at the same time."
"Nothing is ever easy, is it?" Jinn laughed and pressed his hand against her stomach. "This is really happening."
"I know the word easy isn't an adjective I would say is often applied to the description of our lives." She lifted her hand to touch his face. "Despite that, I want this. I want our child and our family."
"You will have it all, Nitara." His lips pressed against the open palm of her hand. "I will do everything in my power to make sure you have whatever your heart desires. I owe you that and so much more."
"Daegal." She choked out the name of the man who had been responsible for every disruption to their lives she could remember. "He wants our child. He wants to take our baby away, Jinn."
"That is never going to happen, Nitara. There is no way in hell I would allow it."
"What he did to Rosie? I couldn't imagine living through that. The pain she must feel every day." She wiped the tears that formed in her eyes. It was after the revelation of Nitara's pregnancy that Rosie finally opened up about her past. She told them how Daegal had taken the lives of her three children to grant himself immortality before he turned her into a jinn, as well. I'm so worried about her."
"Why?" Jinn hadn't considered anyone or anything outside of the well-being of his wife, and his mind was consumed by her and their child.
"She has been suffering all this time and she finally felt free. You heard how she spoke. She finally felt the weight of his darkness lift from her soul and now it's happening all over again." She shook her head and wiped away the tears. "Can you imagine what she must be going through? The fear that I feel now must be nothing in comparison to her pain."
"I keep telling you that I'm okay." Rosie's voice whispered before she appeared around the corner from the hall. The curvy woman had abandoned her usually vibrant attire for a more homey look of jeans and a sweater with a wide neck and hung on one shoulder. "Sorry. I swear I wasn't trying to eavesdrop. I just caught the tail end of that."
"I'm so sorry." Nitara stood from the couch and wrapped her arms around his friend.
"Why the hell are you sorry?" Rosie coughed and tapped Nitara's arm with her hand asking as she loosened her grip around her throat. "You've done nothing wrong, Nitara."
"It feels terrible to have even a glimpse of happiness in this situation knowing that you've suffered so much." Nitara let her friend go and wiped her eyes again. "And to be facing this situation again, I just, I can't…"
Rosie pressed her finger against Nitara's full lips to stop her string of unnecessary apologies. "You need to enjoy this. I'll say this once more and hopefully you'll hear me this time: I'm okay. Or at least I will be when all of this is over. Your being miserable won't make my pain any easier to bear, trust me." She led her back to the couch and positioned her between the two of them. Rosie moved Nitara's left hand to place it in Jinn's and took her right hand into her own. "That baby is ours. That beautiful bundle of life that is growing inside of you is a part of every one of us. We will protect it and you at all costs. What happened to my sweet little angels will not happen to yours. That is what I came here to tell you."
"You're amazing," Nitara whispered.
"Really. I'm just a momma who couldn't protect her own babies. Because of that trauma we understand the threat that's coming for yours." Rosie wiped away her own tears. "It actually helps me to know that what happened to them may prevent the same thing happening to this little one. It means that they didn't die in vain."
That's it. That's the scene.
Alicia: Wow. [clapping] Oh my goodness. Ooh, I have chills.
Jessica: Thank you. It's one of my favorite scenes.
Alicia: Yes, and thank you so much for sharing that and thank you so much for hanging out with me. I love your work. It's riveting. Okay, so tell the readers where they can go and find your work.
Jessica: Of course my work is available on my website, it's JessicaCage.com; my name dot com. No relation to Luke cage by the way. [laughs]. You can always find me on Amazon, a couple of my books are available [unknown] in Barnes & Noble, and all the other outlets that are skipping my mind right now. But you can always find me through my website and I am @JCageAuthor on all social media platforms so feel free to connect.
Alicia: All right all right. So I also love to hear what readers think about Jessica's stories so feel free to post a comment on my blog, either me or Jessica will respond. All right everybody, I'm author Alicia McCalla and I write science fiction and fantasy stories for readers who want diverse protagonists and unique storylines. If you enjoyed this episode and want to support me or donate to my Cup of tea fund, just head over to my blog on my website, find this post, and click on the donate button at the bottom. If you're not one of my subscribers and want to join my League of Heroes go to www.aliciamccalla.com to sign up for my newsletter to get updates, learn about my latest projects, and purchase my diverse scifi and fantasy stories. If you're already one of my subscribers, thank you so much. Please feel free to share this podcast with anyone you think might enjoy it. Okay, until next time. I've never done this on YouTube, but I'll say, "live long and prosper" and thanks for listening! Thanks, Jessica.