🗣️Come listen to — or watch — Episode 12 of my podcast, 12 Minutes (or less!) with the Author. Jessica Cantwell’s latest book, Rebuilding Jennifer, was released on June 16, 2023. I’m so happy that Jessica was able to come on today’s show to talk about her book — a departure from her fantasy writing — and to tell us more about her experience and how that informed the writing of this contemporary literary fiction novel. Transcript and link to the Spotify podcast episode below. The podcast is also on YouTube (video below).
Episode 12, on Spotify: https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/7PZQwAaQxBb
This podcast episode is available on YouTube as well. Find it here: https://youtu.be/yZ5I265Dok4
My 5-star book review of Rebuilding Jennifer can be found here!
Find Jessica and Her Books:
All store links: https://www.jessicacantwellbooks.com/rebuildingjenniferpurchasepage
About Rebuilding Jennifer, by Jessica Cantwell
CAN YOUR MIND HEAL AFTER TRAUMA?
Jennifer Lee Black doesn’t remember a time when her mother held her, hugged her, kissed her, or said, ‘I love you.’ But she does remember every punch, kick, burn, and insult. For years Jennifer has suffered at the hands of others. From harrowing visits to the family physician at age seven to entering foster care at fifteen, she has experienced it all.
Physical and mental abuse has left Jennifer with an overabundance of scars – some visible, others not. It’s also left her with the desire to leave her mother’s household and build a life for herself that’s free from dysfunction. Even though Jennifer has sworn to be a better person, a series of unfortunate events and bad decisions start to turn her into the same monsters she’s battled for over a decade.
A crescendo of abuse and torment builds until the unthinkable happens. At that moment, Jennifer must decide if she should continue living the way she has been or make a change and rebuild.
Rebuilding Jennifer is a powerful story about self-perseverance and survival that will unearth your inner strength.
Welcome to 12 Minutes (or less!) with the Author. I’m your host, T.L. Brown, but you can call me Tracy. Let’s get started.
T.L. Brown: Hey there, welcome to another episode of 12 Minutes (or less!) with the Author. I’m over the moon because today we have author Jessica Cantwell on the show.
Jessica lives with her family and cats in a charming seaside town on the eastern end of Long Island. 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! Multiple Sclerosis may slow her down, but it will never stop her from living her best life.
Jessica is the author of the YA fantasy series — The Realm Saga — of which I am a BIG fan, and she just released her latest book, Rebuilding Jennifer, a contemporary fiction novel, which is the first installment of the Mind, Heart, and Soul Series.
You can learn more about Jessica at JessicaCantwellBooks.com, and that link can be found in the podcast description along with her socials.
Jessica, it is so nice to meet you after all this time of knowing you on Instagram. Welcome.
Jessica Cantwell: Thank you for having me. It is a pleasure.
T.L. Brown: Let’s get right to the meat of it, because your latest book, Rebuilding Jennifer, just came out. I’m so thrilled that you were able to come on the show today. So, tell us about this new novel, what it’s about, and what the readers can expect.
Jessica Cantwell: Rebuilding Jennifer is a women’s literary fiction novel, and it follows the main character who is Jennifer Lee Black, over the span of a decade, from age 7 to 17, and it documents her tumultuous childhood and how she copes with living in a dysfunctional household. Readers can expect an in-depth look into what abuse behind closed doors looks like and what it takes to survive that torment. Rebuilding Jennifer — it’s definitely recommended for mature audiences. It does contain themes, language, and scenes that can be trigger warnings for some. On the other hand, it travels through time between 1984 through 1995, and readers get a positive look at what it was like to grow up during that era.
T.L. Brown: It sounds fantastic. I know it’s a departure from your first series, which was fantasy based, but I’m very excited about this different side of your writing style as an author. Can you tell us why you wrote this book?
Jessica Cantwell: Yes. So, it is the polar opposite. Fans of The Realm Saga — it’s definitely not in that wheelhouse. It’s completely different. It is based on the true story of my life. This has been 28 years in the making; it includes the abuse I suffered in my adolescence and being a victim of gun violence when I was 17 years old. I began writing the story right after that traumatic event.
I had to walk away from it time and time and time again because it was just too difficult to write. I think the problem was that I was trying to write an autobiography, and that was something I didn’t want to do. It’s because I didn’t really want to call out my abusers. They know what they did; they know who they are. I think that they should be able to come to terms with that in private.
And then, last year, I finally decided to take myself and the actual characters from my life out of the situation completely and write it as fiction. So although it’s based on a true story, I think it’s important to say that it is not. Some of the storylines have been enhanced or made up to suit the convenience of the book. Obviously, all names, characters, places, and incidents are fictitious — except for the towns on the eastern end of Long Island. Those are real towns. They’re just used fictitiously in the story. I have added my stories that I remember to the best of my memory, and by doing that and creating that fictional element, I was able to actually get it down on paper and turn my ugly past into something beautiful.
T.L. Brown: That’s incredible, and there’s so much I didn’t know about you. I’m not talking about the book, but you — what you’ve shared personally about your life since I first met you on Instagram and found your series. I can see how your experiences — I mean, as authors, our experiences do inform what we write, but it doesn’t mean everything that we write happened. But I can see where this would be cathartic for you as well.
Jessica Cantwell: Very cathartic. And the reason why I think you have to enhance some situations is because there’s not always an explanation. In real life, things don’t always make sense. So, you have to fill in those gaps.
T.L. Brown: Things don’t always make sense, and things aren’t always cut and dry. I do want to ask you about — I believe, correct me if I’m wrong — that at first, this was going to be a standalone book, but then as you wrote it, you decided that you were going to make it a series, which is the Mind, Heart, and Soul series. Obviously, we’ve got future writing projects coming down the road because it’s a series. Can you tell us anything about that?
Jessica Cantwell: So, I did — I wanted to do a one-and-done, and it didn’t turn out that way. I actually posted on Instagram the story of how I met my husband, which is also funny. It’s hysterical, and everybody keeps saying, “you need to write that as a book.” That would make a book, and because Rebuilding Jennifer ends at a very pivotal moment in her life, her story can continue. So I thought, you know what? Why not? If I’m writing Rebuilding Jennifer based on elements of my life, why not continue and include that story? So, yes. I’m going to have book two — but then I created this one character that I absolutely fell in love with in book one, who I hope readers will fall in love with, too. It’s [the series] going to continue in book three, and then that character is going to get a spin-off. One book has turned into four. I have a lot of work cut out of me.
T.L. Brown: That’s yay! for all of us. I know it’s a lot of work for you, but yay for us. I have no doubt that people will fall in love with your characters. I know in the three books of The Realm Saga…well, you know whose team I’m on. 😉
Jessica Cantwell: Oh, yeah. Thank you.
T.L. Brown: For those who haven’t made the great decision to read Jennifer’s first series yet, The Realm Saga — there’s a character, and his name is Tracy. That’s not why I fell in love with him, but man, I thought: oh, I love this guy. I loved all the characters. You make them very rich. There is so much that you can just pull away the layers.
Jessica Cantwell: Thank you. He — Tracy — is actually inspired by my husband. That is his personality, and when he read the book, he’s like, well, I know who I am!
T.L. Brown: I love it. Well, again, I have no doubt about Rebuilding Jennifer and your series that’s coming and then the spin-off. Very exciting. I know what that’s like. I’m sure we’re all in for a real treat.
Well, thank you so much for coming on the 12 Minutes (or less!) with the Author today. I am so excited to tell the world about your latest book, Rebuilding Jennifer. Thank you for coming on the show.
Jessica Cantwell: Thank you for having me. This has been great. We need to chat off-screen.
T.L. Brown: I think we do! Let me give some important information to our listeners and watchers.
You can find all of Jessica’s books on Amazon and in other online retail outlets. Down below, you’re going to find some links to her website and Amazon. You’re also going to find links to all of her socials — Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Goodreads. You’ve got to follow her. She is just the nicest person and one of the first people who made me feel comfortable and welcome in the writing community on Instagram. And I think you know, Jessica, that we all think the world of you.
Jessica Cantwell: Thank you. I think the world of you, too.
T.L. Brown: All right. Well, that’s it for today, listeners. We’ll catch you again the next time. For now, this is Tracy signing off. Have a great day.
This has been 12 Minutes (or less!) with the Author. Thanks for listening to today’s episode. Hope you can join me for the next one. Until then, this is Tracy, AKA author T.L. Brown signing off.