Exclusive Interview with
Jodi Lea Stewart
When did you start writing?
I wrote a terrible poem when I was seven years old because I was a little jealous of my older brother writing one. My poem had "happy" rhyming with "sappy." Yeah. I read incessantly as a child living on a remote ranch in Arizona, and I came to adore essay questions at school. There was never enough paper room for my wordy answers. Going into the business world, I continued my love for words in a non-fiction corporate setting with writing, interviews, and features. I went back to college to finish my degree as an adult and stumbled into journalism. Talk about life changing! I learned how to write concisely and how to grab a reader on the first line. I use my journalism to this day to hook readers in the first line, first paragraph, first page of the novels I write . . . and I keep doing that until the book is finished.
What makes writing your passion?
If you have a love of words, you will know it early in life. I'm the person who always has vocabulary word texts with her on vacation. The way words flow and what is conveyed by them was the bait for my life-long passion of writing. Currently, unless I am researching and writing a new novel, I feel empty.
How long have you been writing?
I have been writing fiction for nine years. Before that, I wrote Western regional magazine articles, business materials, and managed a Fortune 500 corporate newsletter as a feature writer and interviewer. However, writers always write. Before writing publicly, I wrote in diaries and composed Christmas letters and personal essays. My letters I wrote to friends and relatives were compared to epistles, lol!
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
When I held my first published novel in my hand, it was a feeling akin to a "deep, relieved sigh” in my spirit. It was a road I had dreamed of traveling my whole life, and here now, before my very eyes, was a symbol of a destination reached. Even greater than that was the feeling of going to Barnes and Nobel and seeing my actual novel on the shelf. That was almost indescribable, but most certainly, pure joy flooded my being.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
My first three novels are an adventure-mystery YA trilogy set in the Navajo Nation and featuring a sassy protagonist, Silki Begay, with an addiction to scarves and a penchant for predicaments. I lived next door to the Navajo and Apache tribes as a youngster, went to school with many of those kids, and it was natural for me to choose such a character as Silki. The next three novels are historical and have a plethora of characters with similarities to friends, family, and people I have known or never known. I make them jump off the page with realistic characteristics that come from human behavior. I love doing that, and my readers love it, too.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
What annoys me the most in pursuing a writing career is that it has evolved into a money market in which traditional publishers throw authors out, literally, if they don't generate enough money immediately or don't fit the current trends in writing. The entire world of writing has become a marketing blitz and a call to become "carnival barkers" hawking our wares. It's really quite disgusting. I know that I could have written more than six novels in nine years if only I didn't have to continually market them at every turn. Even with all the marketing, with Amazon pumping out 70K to 90K written and digital offerings a month, an author becomes a mere drop of water in a churning, turbulent ocean of publications.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
I am new to writer's block and am experiencing a touch of it right now. I know what caused it. It was the tremendous flush of marketing I did with a small team for my latest novel, TRIUMPH, a Novel of the Human Spirit, which launched September 2020. One's brain gets so fired up with the business of writing and how to generate sales that the creative side decides to go away. That happened. I am correcting it by reading a few fiction books, trying to be patient with myself, and writing something else. For example, I felt great relief and satisfaction entering a Writer's Digest personal essay contest the other day. It felt good to write anything. So that's my remedy . . . read, write something else, and calm the heck down.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
I keep going because I am not happy without a writing project in my life. It's my blood. Life is too dull for me without it. The advice I give to new authors is DO EVERYTHING TO IMPROVE YOUR CRAFT. I have written several blogs about this, such as "Upon learning the Splendid Craft of Writing" by Jodi Lea Stewart, and I post them in the newbie author pages on Facebook . . . to no avail. They don't even check them out. It's sad that new authors think they can achieve excellent skills without reading, participating in seminars and classes, and without the sweat equity we have all put in to achieve the level at which we find ourselves.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
I would tell myself to carry on and don't worry about getting too ancient to become an author. I didn't try to write books until I had so much life experience under my belt I truly understood the human spirit and its condition. My kids were grown and gone, I had lived and experienced life in all its fury and pleasure and shock. When I see some of the shallow writings and observations being offered today, I think perhaps the author hasn't lived long and hard enough or else she/he didn't put in the years of studying the written word and how it has such power to reveal or convince or evoke. Read some of the cringe-worthy questions the newbies ask to see what I'm talking about. They don't want to dig for truth and research. Instead they ask what's a good name for their main character, or can they write a romance novel when they have never been in love. Is it okay if I accidentally switched POV halfway through my book, or can I get a publisher if I can't spell "too good?" I see these questions and groan.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
Naturally I read my book reviews. What bothers me is how many people read my books but won't write a line or two or more for a review. Amazon doesn't like it when a zillion people don't review your book. Again, we're talking about a world now in which we must consider ourselves used-car salesmen hawking our books and trying to get reviews. It's a shame.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
As would any author, I smile from ear to ear and feel gratified and deeply grateful when I receive a great review. How I wish I could put the pre-reviewers reviews on Amazon (not allowed) because some of them almost make me cry with their astute observations of my characters and the plot twists.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
I do that continually. I don't think there are any authors in this world who haven’t infused their life experiences, emotions, and passions into their work.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
All of them in a small or huge way. We are all connected as humans and share our own versions of the human condition.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
The book cover, a gatekeeper, is the first big step toward selling a book to a customer. The blurb on the back and the reviews are next in importance as sentinels beguiling the audience. An enticing cover, however, means nothing if the story inside is not up to par and is not presented properly with grammar, spelling, and syntax. After the initial gatekeepers get the reader inside the fence, the author must have that incredible plot, unforgettable characters, and make the reader want to turn the next page, and the next page until the story ends.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
I would love to do this more. I recently conducted a live launch of my latest novel, TRIUMPH, via Zoom. It was full of gaffs and laffs, but I loved it, and those who participated did, as well. I am open to much more of that, but I have been a bit timid about it in the past. I am evolving, lol!
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
I feel wonderfully satisfied when my work is appreciated.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
I grew up loving Charles Dickens, though his work would never make it now with all those descriptions and the wordiness I happen to love. I am a fan of all the classics and don't have a lot of current favorites. Dean Koontz is pretty awesome, as is Frank Peretti, whom I consider a plot-genius. I start reading a lot of books and don't finish them anymore. That was a "sin" in my youth, but I can't read books that are poorly written or full of errors.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
My dream is to be the best ME as an author I can be. I am not a spring chicken, but I am a seasoned woman who has lived a full life and who is fully cognizant about herself and those around her. Therefore, I am my own unique self. Frankly, that's good enough.