Jodi Lea Stewart

Loving and Writing About the Southwest and the South

Painting Museum-Quality Art with Words by Jodi Lea Stewart


Painting Museum-Quality Art with Words

Why is the journey through a historical novel so different from regular reading?

Because for that brief time, YOU ARE THERE!

In the 1950s and 1960s, CBS featured Walter Cronkite narrating a history series that teachers especially fell in love with. Dramatic presentations of historical events put the listener or viewer into the scene as it happened. Before becoming a television series, the programs were heard on the radio.

What made the series brilliant and endlessly interesting was how Cronkite gave a short introduction, an announcer gave the date and the event, and then that loud proclamation, “You are there!” was heard by the audience.


Historical events such as signing the Constitution, Joan of Arc’s dilemma, the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, the death of Cleopatra, famous fights, and legendary tragedies were dramatically reenacted.

Cronkite noted the type of day it was when the incident occurred, what else was going on in and around the famous happening, even what the weather was like. Thusly, he immersed the viewer in the tone and feeling of that particular time and event. He orally painted the picture for the audience.

Historical fiction writers paint more than pictures with their words

All writers must paint pictures with words, but historical writers have to paint museum-quality art with their words. They must depict the look, feel, smell, and concurrent events of the time era around their amazing plot. The more skillful the writer is in employing the five senses without bogging down the reader, the more successful he is at kidnapping the reader for an unforgettable journey into the past.

How do you do it? Make readers smell that apple pie cooling on a window ledge. Make them feel the rain spattering on the protagonist’s silk, drop-shoulder hoop dress as she runs for shelter. Let them see the brilliant sunset beginning to bleed behind your main character as he tells his finance he is going off to war. Make readers hear that lonesome train’s whistle as clouds of steam permeate the still, frosty night.

A fine line

There are joys and pitfalls to writing historical fiction. It’s gloriously fun to delve into other time periods and share your findings along with your plot and characters. It can be so much fun, there is a tendency to overdo. Think about the stomachache you got from eating too much candy when you were a kid. Yikes! Too much of a good thing!

It’s the same with overdoing historical facts and trivia as you write your story. It’s a fine line. With so much relevant and irrelevant research the author uncovers while delving into a particular historical time and subject, he or she must not forget that the reader does not care about every detail of every piece of furniture, of every room, of every old car, of every battle, and so on.

Don’t kill on-fire interest with trivia that pulls the reader off the main road and onto a hundred divergent trails. Use what you have garnered in research to flavor your story. Learn to “paint” a setting in a few words. Find clever ways to insert facts or feelings that work toward ushering readers into the world you are painting.

If the writer stays in the moment, so will the reader. Don’t go too crazy with details, keep the facts pure *or you’ll be found out*, and love every moment of creating something that will take readers to places they never dreamed they could go.

Then, YOU will be the one declaring, “You are there!”


Jodi Lea Stewart was born in Texas to an “Okie” mom and a Texan dad. Her younger years were spent in Texas and Oklahoma; hence, she knows all about biscuits and gravy, blackberry picking, chiggers, and snipe hunting. At the age of eight, she moved to a vast cattle ranch in the White Mountains of Arizona. As a teen, she left her studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson to move to San Francisco, where she learned about peace, love, and exactly what she DIDN’T want to do with her life. Since then, Jodi graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business Management, raised three children, worked as an electro-mechanical drafter, penned humor columns for a college periodical, wrote regional western articles, and served as managing editor of a Fortune 500 corporate newsletter.

She is the author of a contemporary trilogy set in the Navajo Nation featuring a Navajo protagonist, as well as two historical novels. Her current novels are Blackberry Road and The Accidental Road. She currently resides in Arizona with her husband, her delightful 90+-year-old mother, a crazy Standard poodle named Jazz, two rescue cats, and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants.

1956 . . .


– Historical Fiction

It’s 1956, and teenager Kat and her mother escape an abusive situation only to stumble into the epicenter of crime peddlers invading Arizona and Nevada in the 1950s. Kat is a serious girl who buries herself in novels and movies and tries to be as inconspicuous as possible. Fading into the background is impossible, however, with a beautiful social butterfly of a mother who just happens to resemble Marilyn Monroe. It’s embarrassing, and the unwanted attention her mother garners could be the downfall of their plan to take Route 66 to the freedom of a new life.

Print and eBook available on Amazon.

1934 . . .


– Historical Fiction

Trouble sneaks in one Oklahoma afternoon in 1934 like an oily twister. A beloved neighbor is murdered, and a single piece of evidence sends the sheriff to arrest a black man that a sharecropper’s daughter knows is innocent. Hauntingly terrifying sounds seeping from the woods lead Biddy into even deeper mysteries and despair and finally into the shocking truths of that fateful summer.

Audible, Print, and eBook available on Amazon, etc.


A beautiful display of culture . . . I thoroughly enjoyed Silki, The Girl of Many Scarves. As a Middle School Spanish teacher, I am always excited to find culturally and linguistically relevant literature for our youth. You will fall in love with the characters, and appreciate how authentically the Navajo language and traditions are conveyed. This trilogy is a must read! ~ Tara Moore

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