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Author Update: Jodi Lea Stewart

Jodi Lea Stewart is the author of four historical fiction novels for adults as well as an award-winning contemporary young adult trilogy (Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves). The Gold Rose (Progressive Rising Phoenix Press, February 2023) is her newest historical fiction release. You’ll find Jodi Lea on her website and her blog, on her Facebook pages at jodi.lea.stewart and AuthorJodiLeaStewart, and on Instagram and LinkedIn. Read more about her writing in her 2021 interview, visit her YouTube channel, and go to her Amazon author page for all her books.

The Gold Rose “is an international, clandestine rescue agency that operates under the auspices of a special group of people dedicated to fighting oppression wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.” What sparked the story idea for this novel that is classified (according to Amazon) as Crime Action & Adventure, War & Military Action, and International Mystery & Crime?
Since The Gold Rose is historical fiction, and because I wanted to place my characters in numerous places around the globe in the late 1930s through the early 1950s, I had no choice but to include what was happening politically and militarily during those years. Strangely enough, I was not a lover of history, especially war history, when I was younger. Now, because of the type of novels I love to write, I immerse myself in the history of wherever I place my characters. You might say I’ve been on my own personal journey of character development, proving that one must always be receptive to change. Winning a first-place award for War Fiction recently almost blew my mind, to be truthful.

Whose story did you find more enjoyable to write, that of Pinkie, of Babe, or of Charlotte, the agent tasked with saving the other two? Was one plotline more challenging to write than the others?
Honestly, I lived out every minute detail about Pinkie, Babe, and Charlotte. My desire was to show female characters defying the odds of whatever life throws at them. To make their journeys even more remarkable, I placed each of them in unusually susceptible positions.

For Pinkie, what can scream vulnerability more than a little two-year-old alone on an old country road during a storm, in shock, escaping a tragic scene? Who would find her? What lay ahead? I wasn’t going to let her trials end with the good people who found her that fateful night; she was going on to suffer a plethora of other people’s bad intentions. Bottom line… she would survive with dignity. I was going to make certain of that.

Babe was the strongest of all of them in that she would learn early in life that one’s comfortable circumstances might collapse at any time. Living in China during the Japanese takeover and the ensuing civil war presented her with a catastrophic life decision: was she going to crumble as she had after viewing a devastating tragedy and lose her voice for more than a year, or was she going to seek actual remedy from the behavior of people weak in mind or character? She decides to fight back, to never be a victim, and as she says, “Now, come and get me. I’ll be waiting!”

Charlotte had a wonderful childhood until her mother died and her father hired a surreptitiously evil nanny companion for her while he traveled constantly for his business. What she went through during the rest of her childhood made her realize later that those awful experiences “… shot me into the adult world with an over-developed sense of guilt, which when properly channeled, has the potential of becoming a burning desire to see justice fulfilled.” She became, from her sad childhood, a perfect candidate to be a ROSE agent.

To finish answering the question, no particular plotline was harder to write than the next one. The strings of the plot began to braid themselves into cohesion at some point in their creation, and I really don’t know how else to explain it.

The novel begins in Texas and takes readers to Mexico, Argentina, China, and Italy. With several storylines and multiple settings, how long did it take to plot and write such a complicated book?
I had the general idea of my main characters and of Charlotte being the “umbrella character” reflecting on her experiences as a ROSE agent, especially those memories pertaining to two of her favorite assignments, Pinkie and Babe. Charlotte had the honor of becoming the uniting force for this novel with her remembrances, her growth as a person on that long, cold night in Bangor, Maine, and eventually as the “older sister” type to the younger women.

A lot of my plots occur to me as I write the story and get better acquainted with the characters. I read about five or six books on subjects I’ll be covering before really writing much more than ideas for the book. That’s where I am right now with my ideas for novel number eight. After I begin writing for real, I use research books and the books I have already read until everything begins to fall into place. It took me a little over a year to finalize the entire plot for The Gold Rose to my satisfaction. I claim to be more of a rewriter than a writer because of my very strict inner editor.

What do you like most about each of your main characters?
In Babe, Pinkie, and Charlotte, it is strength and endurance; their ability to survive horrendous circumstances without bitterness or ruination of their later lives and personalities. It was important that each one kept her sense of humor, and they did.

I loved Luka and his crazy, youthful humor as he “pays back” his terrible tetka for stealing Pinkie. No matter how many times I read it, I double over laughing at his antics while driving his aunt through Mexico when she is nursing a horrible hangover. Clint and Cruz are combinations of every rancher, cowboy, and vaquero I ever knew. I understand them and gave them plenty to work through. Bonzini, the circus owner, is a father figure, first to Pinkie, and later to Luka because that is who he is. He is gifted as one of those men in life who bring peace, hope, and change when they are around.

At its heart, what is The Gold Rose about? When readers turn the last page, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
The Gold Rose is a mystery-drama about an international rescue agency operating in the 1940s that has, at its heart, people who desire to save those who cannot save themselves. Pinkie and Babe truly needed to be saved, but what lurks in the hidden recesses of us all? Do we need saving of one type or another? It is a story of secrets, deception, and dogged survival. It is a treatise of fighting back the bullies of our lives.

I hope readers will take away a renewed sense of their own personal power to use tenacity, grit, and humor to tackle any circumstances. I want readers to care deeply about overcoming adversity and never allowing adversity to overcome or define them for the rest of their lives.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am working on another international historical novel that features two women and a man on a quest to seek certain people around the globe to find missing stones that unlock an amazing and hidden door in Germany. They will be traveling to the Amazon, to Ireland, diving for freshwater pearls, and going down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on mules to seek a Havasupai Native American. It’s going to be quite an adventure!

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Jodi Lea Stewart

Jodi Lea Stewart is the author of three historical fiction novels for adults as well as a contemporary young adult trilogy (Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves). TRIUMPH: A Novel of the Human Spirit (September 2020) is her newest historical fiction release. You’ll find Jodi Lea on, on her Facebook pages at jodi.lea.stewart and AuthorJodiLeaStewart, and on Twitter. Visit her Amazon author page for all her titles.

What would you like readers to know about Triumph?
People read novels for entertainment, escape, or education. If I am being bold, I might dare to believe TRIUMPH, a Novel of the Human Spirit hits all three categories. Let me explain.

Entertainment when reading a novel comes from a compelling and sensible plot with colorful characters the reader comes to greatly care about. With every page and chapter written for TRIUMPH, my desire was for the story to stay exciting enough to compel the reader to eagerly turn the page. My background in journalism aids me endlessly in striving to achieve that goal, and whether I succeeded or not is up to my readers to decide.

Escapism takes many forms in novel writing. One form is transporting the reader to exotic locations. Spanning from 1903 to 1968, the settings for TRIUMPH include a spooky Louisiana swamp at night, a Texas ranch, New Orleans, and a bustling St. Louis in the 1950s—a city that, after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, became a frontline city ending segregation in public schools.

Educationally, the story spins on the theme that regardless of our socioeconomic level, our race, age, or creed, we all have merit. We all desire to be appreciated and accepted. By my readers getting to know and care about the characters in TRIUMPH, I hoped they and I could use them as models of how we can all transcend prejudices and limits that keep us stagnated in preconceived ideas.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Celebrating our human differences is exhilarating. What a boring world it would be if we were all alike. Further, no matter where you come from or where you are going, regardless of how much money you have or don’t have, no matter your color…you have merit.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
TRIUMPH is my first novel with different points of view and different timelines. I like to metaphorically say that during the writing process, I became a mad scientist in a white coat, coke-bottle glasses, beakers bubbling behind me on the Bunsen burners. I was mixing formulas, testing data, researching, and spilling my concoctions all over the Louisiana wetlands and beyond. I was also juggling timelines, points of view, four strong storylines, dialects, and accents. Also, I constantly, had to be an introspective analyzer of my own filters and stay aware of any possible prejudices that I might not know I had. I found the process beautifully exhausting!

Who are your main characters?
ANNIE is from what many people call a broken home. In other words, her momma is divorced and works herself to exhaustion but is barely able to support her four kids. Annie’s grammar is backwoods, to say the least. Mercy’s correction of Annie’s poor grammar amazes her, but Mercy is a beautiful fascination to Annie from the moment they meet on the schoolyard the first day of fifth grade. Annie allows Mercy to lead her, correct her, and reshape her in every possible way.

MERCY is from an affluent Black family living in the Ville, an upper crust section of St. Louis. Already sophisticated beyond her age, she finds Annie’s invisible blond eyelashes and eyebrows intriguing. The girls feel a strong bond the first time they meet. Together, they secretly explore St. Louis via bus and streetcar, encountering cultural prejudices at every turn—including from within Annie’s own family. The turbulent times and the Civil Rights Movement will test the girls’ loyalty and affect their choices on the way to adulthood.

WILLIE is a young boy stolen by a Vodou priestess when he is five. In an attempt to save him, he is stolen again by ISABELLE, who takes them on a hair-raising trek through the swamps at night and over the terrifying Suicide Bridge. One day, Willie will fight bloody battles in France, come face-to-face with the horrors of Vodou, and seek the answers to his mysterious life.

In bustling New Orleans, 1903, JACK, a former Texas Ranger, has an encounter with a young beauty, SELENE, hiding in his hotel room. What she wants and needs will change both of their lives forever and set in motion a dynasty that remains sealed until the end of the story.

You use several settings/time periods in the book. What makes them important to the telling of the story?
I wanted my readers to experience the journey of several key characters, whether through their heritage or their personal lives, as they live inside the mores of the early twentieth century, past the mid-century mark, and into the 1960s. The sweeping differences in our culture during that time period in this country, and how those differences permeated and affected individuals and society as a whole, provides an intricate and colorful backdrop to highlight changes in the characters’ personal prejudices as they become enlightened to the dignity and spark of life in every individual.

How did the book came together?
I wrote TRIUMPH in less than a year, and the editing process took a few months to complete. The hardest part for me is setting up the launch for any novel. It can get quite exhausting, and the one for TRIUMPH actually gave me my first case of writer’s block for a few months. I shifted my energy from creativity and editing to getting my latest creation “out there” and it changed my brain for a little while. Strange but true, but I overcame it and wrote another novel right away. The story for TRIUMPH began with my sitting down at the computer one day, and out of the blue, I wrote a scene of a Vodou priestess stealing a child. My husband said, “Oh, this sounds evil,” when he read it. I said, “Yeah, it does, and I’m going to write a whole book starting with that scene,” and I did.

Some of my own background fueled aspects of this novel because my mother had us briefly in St. Louis when I was very young. Single and with three children, she worked three waitress jobs for fifty cents an hour and managed to keep us all afloat. I had my first experience with prejudice there, and it vividly imprinted on my mind as unfair. It seems all my friends in the schoolyard were mostly African American, and I didn’t even realize it until the principal called my mother to “tell on me.” I think that experience created in me a fierce loyalty to all races from that time forward.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Triumph?
The most rewarding aspect was getting to share my heart on the issues of prejudice in whatever form they take.

What are the challenges of writing for the historical fiction market?
Accuracy is the biggest challenge in writing historical fiction. The research is exhaustive, as it must be, to dare place a story and characters inside a time period in which the author has not personally lived. I suggest books, interviews, and family stories to add authenticity. Check your facts many, many times.

Which do you prefer: the creating, editing or researching aspect of a writing project?
I struggle as most writers do through the first pass when I am creating something from nothing and making all the plot points meet and work. That’s when I do ninety percent of my research, but I actually research and double check throughout the entire process. After the first completed pass, I sail a zillion times through the rereads, rewrites, and edits as happy as an oyster with a new pearl.

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your work?
The message that recurs in all my novels is triumph over adversity. I didn’t realize it until an online writing coach said everyone should name all of our favorite movies from the beginning of time to find what their life theme is. My favorites were Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, and Secretariat. Those choices showed me the theme of my life also runs through my written work. Overcoming adversity and good over evil prevail in my novels no matter what story, adventure, or mystery I wrap them in. How ironic that I named my most recently published work TRIUMPH, a Novel of the Human Spirit before I came to this conclusion.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My newest historical fiction novel, which I can’t share the title of yet, was completed in nine months and is my first international novel. Right now, I’m working on sending the foreign words/phrases to my word advisors for accuracy. I don’t speak all those languages in this novel (Spanish, Chinese, Italian, and Croatian), but I sprinkle words and sentences in for authenticity and spice. This latest work is about a clandestine international agency that rescues lost people, most of them children. It features three strong women, and has, like TRIUMPH, different timelines and different points of view. It begins in Texas for all the main characters, but PINKIE winds up in Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. BABE is born in Texas and is taken to China and then Hong Kong. The background features the invasion of China in 1937 and their ensuing civil war, and also takes place during World War II. The timespan is 1937 to 1959. Honestly, I’m very excited about this novel. Look for it in mid-2022.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
TRIUMPH is an adult book, 18+ target age, mostly because there are descriptions of long-ago Vodou ceremonies that are quite fearsome. It is for readers who enjoy high-concept historical fiction written with a literary pen, unfolding inside an interwoven plot. It should appeal to readers who enjoy a Southern theme with racial issues shown in a positive light. Though it sounds a bit supercilious of me to say, I truly believe the same audience that loved To Kill a Mockingbird would love this novel.

There is a bit of a Huckleberry Finn (without the racial slurs and terminology, of course) feel to TRIUMPH. It is slightly reminiscent of the vintage movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, played out by two girls of different races who merely want to be best friends. I think anyone who enjoyed the novels Where the Crawdads Sing and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café would enjoy the heck out of TRIUMPH.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

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