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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

2020 New Releases for SWW Authors #4

Joseph Badal, Sarah H. Baker, Neill McKee, Jodi Lea Stewart, and several authors in the Corrales Writing Group represent the diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW) with new 2020 books published in a variety of genres. The releases in this post couldn’t fit into this year’s interview schedule, but look for interviews or updates for most of these authors in 2021.

At the end of this post, you’ll find a list of interviewed SWW authors for books published in 2020.

Joseph Badal’s 2020 release, Payback (Suspense Publishing), is his newest standalone novel. When Bruno Pedace learns that his investment banking partners are setting him up to take the fall for their own corrupt practices, he does what he has always done — run away. But the documents he takes with him put a target on his back. He changes his name and, for nine years, goes underground, until an assassin tracks him down in California and badly injures him. Befriended by Janet Jenkins, a courageous woman who works in a battered women’s shelter, Bruno, for the first time in his life, with Janet’s help, fights back. He constructs an ingenious financial scheme to get payback for the crimes perpetrated by his former partners.

Visit Joe’s website at and his Amazon author page.

After publishing more than 20 novels, Sarah H. Baker has released the first in a speculative fiction series, Promise Me Tomorrow: Book 1: The Prisoner (August 2020). More than three generations after the collapse of civilization and decades of Utopian peace, New Village is suddenly attacked. Villagers are killed and precious supplies are stolen, but one of the injured bandits is left behind. Kole, Protector of New Village, can’t turn her out; she won’t survive. If he allows her to stay, will he be able to keep his children and the other villagers safe? All her life, Shylah has fought for everything: scratch, cover, her very life. But in this strange place, marks work together, and they even take care of their mutts. Won’t Bryce be pleased when he comes back to get her? Now she knows their secrets. They won’t survive a day.

Visit Sarah’s website at Promise Me Tomorrow can be found on Amazon.

In Guns and Gods in My Genes (December 2020), Neill McKee takes the reader through 400 years and 15,000 miles of an on-the-road adventure, discovering stories of his Scots-Irish ancestors in Canada and a trail that heads south and west into the United States. Much to his surprise, McKee finds his American ancestors were involved in every major conflict on North American soil: the Civil War, the American Revolution, and the French and Indian War. In the last chapters, he reveals his Pilgrim ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower, landing at Plymouth in 1620, and their Puritan descendants who fought in the early Indian Wars of New England. With the help of professional genealogical research, he tracks down and tells the stories of the heroes, villains, rascals, as well as, the godly and ordinary folk in his genes, discovering many facts and exposing myths.

Guns and Gods in My Genes can be ordered from Albuquerque bookstores (such as Organic Books and Bookworks), as well as from Neill’s website at and Amazon.

Jodi Lea Stewart published her sixth book, TRIUMPH: a Novel of the Human Spirit, in September 2020. 1903: Deep in the Louisiana swamps, five-year-old Willy is kidnapped by a Vodou Priestess. One day, he will fight bloody battles in France and come face-to-face with the horrors of Vodou. In bustling New Orleans, bachelor Jack — a former Texas Ranger — has an encounter with a young beauty hiding in his hotel room. What she wants and needs will change his life forever. 1958: St. Louis, two girls of different races, Mercy and Annie, meet in the fifth grade. Together, they secretly explore St. Louis via bus and streetcar, encountering cultural prejudices at every turn — including from within one girl’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. In a saga spanning from 1903 to 1968, compelling characters navigate the stormy paths of life in New Orleans, St. Louis, and Texas until they all collide in a startling and dramatic way.

Visit Jodi’s Amazon author page.

Kale is a Four Letter Word (Artemesia Publishing, September 2020) is the sixth anthology published by the Corrales Writing Group (members Chris Allen, Maureen Cooke, Sandi Hoover, James John Tritten, and Patricia Walkow). Kale has invaded our culture as the go-to food for healthy living, appearing everywhere on restaurant menus, in grocery stores, and in beauty products like soaps and scrubs. For some, the vitamin load and beneficial fiber cannot outweigh the bitterness and texture of this member of the cabbage family. For those people, kale has ignited a passionate response, often reflected in internet memes and T-shirt slogans. This collection of short stories shows kale in a new light. A couple of tales are horror stories about kale’s effect on a life; another one describes a speculative history of kale; one is a murder mystery where kale plays an unusual role; and one is a fantasy about kale’s rivalry with cauliflower. This book also features delicious kale recipes.

Visit Corrales Writing Group’s Amazon author page.

SWW Author Interviews: 2020 Releases

Connie Flores
Our Fascinating Life: The Totally Accidental Trip 1979
Sue Houser
BR Kingsolver
Knights Magica
Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin
How My Brain Works: A Guide to Understanding It Better and Keeping It Healthy
Manfred Leuthard
Broken Arrow: A Nuke Goes Missing
Shirley Raye Redmond
Courageous World Changers: 50 True Stories of Daring Women of God
J.R. Seeger
A Graveyard for Spies
Lynne Sturtevant
Hometown: Writing a Local History or Travel Guide and The Collaboration Kit
Patricia Walkow
New Mexico Remembers 9/11

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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