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Julie Lessman Interview

by Julia M. Reffner

"I was a romance snob--one of those professional women who wouldn't be caught dead reading a romance novel because I didn't consider it “serious” reading." -- Julie Lessman

Julie Lessman is an award-winning author whose tagline of "Passion with a Purpose" underscores her intense passion for both God and romance. Winner of the 2009 ACFW Debut Author of the Year and Holt Medallion Awards of Merit for Best First Book and Long Inspirational, Julie is also the recipient of 13 Romance Writer's of America awards and was voted by readers as "Borders Best of 2009 So Far: Your Favorite Fiction." She resides in Missouri with her husband, daughter, son, and daughter-in-law and is the author of the Daughters of Boston series, which includes A Passion Most Pure, A Passion Redeemed, and A Passion Denied. You can contact Julie through her website.

Julia: Thank you so much for being here, Julie. I'm thrilled to have you visit. First of all, I wanted to let you know I love the cover of A Hope Undaunted. The gold and blue are gorgeous and I just love those 20s clothes. How did you choose the era of WWI to the Roaring 20s for your novels? Any favorite things about that particular era?

Julie Lessman: Thank you, Julia. I love this cover, too--Revell did an awesome job, as usual.

As far as choosing the time period of WWI through the Roaring 20s and Great Depression, there was a definite method to my madness. As you may already know, I started writing A Passion Most Pure at the age of twelve after reading Gone With the Wind and knew immediately I wanted an Irish family coping with a war (like GWTW), but didn't have the audacity to try another Civil War epic :). World War I seemed a good time period because it was 1) unique and seldom done, and 2) far enough from the Victorian era that it wouldn't restrict me romantically, but close enough to the Roaring Twenties that I could have a moral arena with a choice between being a good girl or bad girl.

To be honest with you, when I started writing A Passion Most Pure at the age of twelve and then finished it some 40 years later, I never really thought in terms of a continuing series, but as you know all too well, my characters are pretty stubborn and simply would not let me go, so I started book 2 A Passion Redeemed soon after. Which was a really good thing because my agent sold me a 3-book deal on A Passion Most Pure alone, and I had a leg up with the 2nd book newly completed. Then once the O'Connors were in place from book 1, each daughter's story just seemed to flow from one book to the next with little or no effort, taking me from 1916 to 1932.

And favorite things from that era? Oh, the clothing, of course--flapper dresses and long pearls in the 20s and more glamorous curvy, waist-fitted dresses for the 30s and Art Deco artwork, furniture and jewelry.

My favorite couple is still Patrick and Marcy. Do you have any great marriage tips to share for us newer (and sort-of-newer) marrieds? Also, what tips could you give for those who are single?

Oh, wow, do I have a tip for you!! One I learned the hard way, but paid off like a slot machine. :) Are you ready? Here it is: Take your eyes OFF your husband and put them on you!! What do I mean by that?

It's simple. In marriage, it's not about him, it's about you--are you following God's precepts as far as being the wife He has called you to be? Are you criticizing your husband because he's not what you want him to be, trying to change him and not respecting him as God has called you to do? Because I have a news flash for you--you can't change your husband one whit (I mean, he's a man, come on now!), but you can change yourself. And frankly, that's all you need to be concerned about--pleasing God by becoming the wife, mother, woman, friend, neighbor, whatever, that He has called you to be.

A Hope UndauntedNow I know that right now there are some of you out there reading this, thinking “this woman is nuts.” And, yeah, you're right, I am a lot of the time. But … not about this!! I have lived it, applied, and watched it take me from near-divorce to the most incredible marriage I have ever seen on this planet. When I tell you that my husband makes me feel like I'm living my own personal romance novel, I am not woofing you here!! BUT … it wasn't always that way. Application of God's precepts and obedience to HIM softened my husband's heart, softened mine and knit us together like nothing I have ever seen. Because God's Word works!

For instance, did you realize that when Eve sinned by tasting the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Adam was sitting RIGHT beside her? Yep, sat there like a bump on a log and abdicated his God-appointed responsibility as head of the garden, which is the moral equivalent of a mother letting her toddler drink Drano. Are you kidding me? Adam shirked his responsibility, and Eve took the lead, and let me tell you, ladies, women have been trying to take the lead and control men ever since.

But because fiction explains it best for me, here's a scene from A Passion Denied where the three O'Connor sisters, Faith, Charity and Lizzie, are talking about what I mean.

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Lizzie blew on her tea. “I know exactly what you mean. I'm not married to Brady, but he certainly tries to run my life as if I were.”

Faith sighed deeply, causing little Hope to shudder in her sleep. She gave her sisters a lop-sided smile. “I'm afraid they come by it naturally.”

“What do you mean, 'naturally'?” Charity huffed. “Unnaturally is more like it. It's not natural to be a bully.”

“That's exactly what I thought when Collin bullied me with the submission scripture the year before we were married.”

Charity's left brow cocked a full half inch. “Submission scripture? Come again?”

Faith drew in a deep breath, preparing for her sisters' reactions. “Ephesians 5:22--'Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.'”

Lizzie's eyes widened, accentuating their violet hue. “What does that mean?”

“You mean do whatever they say, without a fight?” Charity's tone was a near-shriek, disrupting Henry's sleep. He grunted and groaned, finally settling down when Charity patted his back, none too gently.

Faith chuckled. “I can see you're not thrilled with this particular part of the Bible, so let me tell you what Mrs. Gerson told me.” She took a deep breath. “'Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands,' only let's replace 'submit' with 'respect.'”

Charity's eyes narrowed. “And when does this get good?”

“In the Bible, God often underscores the importance of something by order of appearance. For instance, notice that after Ephesians 5:22, comes Ephesians 5:25--'Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church.' So, if you boil these two scriptures down in order of appearance, here's what you have:

Wives, respect your husbands.

Husbands, love your wives.A Passion Denied

Mrs. Gerson believes this is cause and effect. When a woman respects her husband, it automatically increases the husband's love for his wife. God addresses the women first because Eve was the one who sinned first, taking control away from Adam and robbing him of his authority and self-respect. If a wife respects her husband, then her respect restores his rightful authority and elevates him to be the man God intended him to be. When that happens, he feels good about himself, and the 'effect' is his love grows for the woman who made him feel that way.”

Charity squinted. “So, let me get this straight. Mitch will love me more if I submit--”

“Respect,” Faith corrected.

“Respect him more?”

Faith nodded. “It's a cause and effect like Mrs. Gerson says. God knew that what women want more than anything is to be cherished by the man they love.” Faith's lips curled into a thin smile. “Nobody's proven that more than you, Charity. And that's why Lizzie and other women have been reading romance novels for years. Yet men seldom do. Why? Because what a man needs most is to be 'respected' by the woman he loves. Bottom line? Women crave love and men crave respect. And in Ephesians 5:22-25, God gives us the perfect solution.”

Charity rubbed her head. “Goodness, that hurts just thinking about it.”

Faith took a sip of tea. “It does, doesn't it?”
=====

Yeah, it hurts … but NOT as much as NOT applying God's precepts to your marriage!!

As far as tips I would give singles? I can only tell them what I did as a single woman who didn't marry until I was 28 and quite frankly, never thought it would happen for me. I prayed my heart out for a man who would love God more than he would love me … but … there's a catch. It's called Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Which means, girls, that God must become your passion, your best friend, your comforter, your supporter, your confidence and as near and as vital as the breath in your lungs. Because when that happens, your desires become one with His, and He gladly gives them to you. And how do you do this, fall in love with God as passionately as you would with a man you love? You pray DAILY, HOURLY for passion and fervor for Him, reading His Word, seeking His face in worship and prayer, and not just in Church on Sundays, but every minute of every day. Then sit back and watch while the blessings flow from a Father in love.

Will you share with us how you got started in writing romance? (As a former "book snob" I just have to ask this one, Julie ;)

I owe it all to Margaret Mitchell, the woman I'd like to personally thank for writing Gone With the Wind, the novel that inspired me to be a romance writer at the age of twelve, even though I shirked the calling for many years because I was too blind to see what God had called me to do. Why? Because I was a romance snob--one of those professional women who wouldn't be caught dead reading a romance novel because I didn't consider it “serious” reading. And then nine years ago, God set me free from my bias when He dropped the bomb on me that the actual desire of my heart was to write romance for Him. What a shocker! Now I wouldn't be caught dead without a romance novel in my purse or powder room at ALL times! How's that for being “transformed by the renewing of your mind”???

A Passion RedeemedDo you have any writing rituals?

Julie Lessman: Ah, rituals. Is the sky blue? I'm quirky and crazy and just a wee bit off center, so I have a number of rituals with my writing such as the essentials--a constant cup of hazelnut decaf with Half 'n Half, lots of lip gloss, Kleenex (for the soggy scenes I write), and a mirror handy for those facial expressions I'm trying to capture on paper.

My biggest ritual, however, is ambiance. My family jokes that I am an “Ambiance Queen” because dim lighting with candles during dinner is a must, as well as a mainstay for my writing. During the summer months (basically May through October), I sit outside on my lower deck that runs the length of the house, overlooking a lush, green wooded area that has sunlight dappling through the trees. I have my feet up on this cushy lawn furniture we have at all times (like now!), and a fan gently blowing while I sit with my laptop on my ... where else? Lap!!

In the winter when I'm not in the hearth room with a crackling fire, I write in a tiny computer room that my artist husband and I share. It has a big window that lets in gobs of light and lots of fun distractions like chipmunks and deer. It's a pretty small room, though, so most of the time, we are back to back, which is kind of nice because I like to lean back and kiss him after I put lip gloss on, which is OFTEN! That would definitely qualify as one of my quirks--lipstick and lip gloss. I wear it everywhere, even to bed (the lip gloss, I mean). Also, I always have a candle lit next to a favorite picture of my husband and me before we were married. How's that for romantic inspiration? :) It sure works for me!

Do you have a favorite character from your books (or is that a bit like asking whether you have a favorite child)?

Grin … yeah, it is a bit like that because I do love ALL of my characters, but there are ones that are easier to write because I connect with them more. For instance, Faith is my spiritual self, so every single spiritual conversation or habit you see her do in the books are taken straight from how I live my life, right down to the anger at God on the ship in A Passion Most Pure. Faith felt like He had boxed her in and ruined her for the world because she had tasted His love and could never go back. That's EXACTLY how I felt at times when I was a single woman, so Faith comes by it honestly!

But as far as favorites, this is going to shock some people, I know, but Charity O'Connor is right up there. Don't get me wrong, I love Faith O'Connor, the heroine from book 1, A Passion Most Pure, but in all honesty, she is more like the woman I am today--heavily dependant on God, emotionally involved with Him and a person who prays at the drop of a hat, so I almost feel one with her. But Charity--goodness, my heart goes out to her and the woman I used to be--selfish, manipulative, lost. I think that's why she fascinates me so much, because I look at her (and women like her) in the same way I suspect God looked at me back then--with eyes full of love and hope that we all can become new creatures in Christ Jesus. And quite frankly, I think she is just downright funny and quirky and such a hoot that she makes me laugh, ESPECIALLY in the upcoming book, A Heart Revealed. I literally laugh out loud almost every time that woman is on the page--even in the serious scenes!!

As far as my favorite hero? Oh, don't get me started because they are all hunks in my opinion, with Mitch and Luke neck-in-neck at the top of the list.

Do you have a favorite Biblical character?A Passion Most Pure

Oh, GREAT question, Julia, and YES, I do! Three cheers for King David--a man of God who gives fallible people like me great hope. I have had more than my fair share of failures and shortcomings in my life, and it thrills me to no end that God loves me and forgives me despite them all, and it's King David that taught me that very valuable lesson.

You see, David was a man who loved God with such abandon that he didn't give a rip if he made a fool of himself doing it. King David had an emotional relationship with God that was as deep as any father-son relationship I know. He worshipped God with everything in him and loved Him deeply, and was always grief-stricken when he sinned against Him. That's what I want to be like--a real, down-to-earth, feet-of-clay woman who loves God with every fiber of my being and every word that I write. Like King David, a wo”man” after God's own heart--oh, God, let it be so!

What's coming up next for Julie fans?

You mean my “reader friends”? This may sound silly, but I'm not crazy about the word “fan” because to me it implies that one person is above the other, which is SO not how it is. We are all equal in God's eyes--just insecure human beings looking for a little kindness in life and someone who will love us and accept us with the love of Jesus. BUT … I digress.

As far as what I plan to write next, I'm hoping to write a prequel about Marcy and Patrick O'Connor before they were married as well as a new trilogy entitled “The Cousins McClare,” a poor-man, rich-man scenario among three cousins amid the Irish-political landscape of 1920s San Francisco, prohibition and the Barbary Coast. Think Little Women meets Dynasty.” And for those of you too young to remember the TV show Dynasty, think family wealth and poverty in a political setting.

To please my husband (who wants me to write for the market), the next series will be a lot shorter (yeah, good luck with that!) and less complicated, God willing! Which means the books will be about 400 pages rather than 500, and the plots will be two tier instead of 3- and 4-tier (i.e. less subplots than A Passion Denied and the “Winds of Change” series). There will be the story between the hero and heroine, of course, but also a second-tier love story between the older couple in the series, a godly widowed matriarch who butts heads with an ungodly brother-in-law with whom she used to be in love and who owns a vineyard during prohibition. And, of course, there will be LOTS of romantic tension between both couples.

Lastly, if we beg...will you give us readers a "snippet" that will whet our appetites to read A Hope Undaunted?

Grin … you don't know me very well because no “begging” need be involved. Since romantic scenes are among my favorites, I will give you one that has all the elements I like in a love scene--tenderness, passion, humor. In this scene, our hero Luke McGee has just learned that the feisty 8-year-old street orphan tomboy he's been trying to find a foster home for is being shipped out on an orphan train against her will (and Luke's). Our heroine Katie O'Connor, who works with him, interrupts his malaise.

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She hesitated. “Are you sure you don't need anything before I go? You look … tense.”

Tense? Because two people he loved were leaving his life forever? He blew out a sigh of frustration and wheeled in his chair to stare out the window. “No, Katie, go home. I'm just down about Gabe, that's all. Go on, get out of here and have fun this weekend.”

Go home to Jack, Katie Rose.

His stomach tightened at the sudden click of her heels, and shock expanded his eyes when she perched herself on the edge of his window. She crossed silky legs and leaned forward, palms flat on the sill and blue eyes sparkling with excitement. Her mouth twitched with a smile, as if a secret hovered behind those full, sensuous lips, and the tease of her proximity triggered his pulse till he thought he couldn't breathe. A gentle breeze from the window rustled her silk dress, and the scent of roses drifted in the air, warming his blood. “What's on your mind, Katie?” he asked, heat crawling up his neck at the realization of what was on his.

“The same thing that's on yours, apparently,” she said with a mysterious smile. “Gabe.”

His pulse slowed. “Gabe? What about her?”

Katie bit her lip and then grinned outright. “I have a foster family for her.”

He sat up straight in the chair, fingers gripped white on the arm. “W-what? W-where?” His words tripped over his tongue, moving faster than the hammering of his heart.

Her laughter floated in the air like the sound of hope. “A wonderful family, really--large, well-to-do, and so full of love that Gabe will think she died and went to heaven.”

He couldn't help it--tears stung his eyes. “Who?” he whispered.

Her gaze was tender as she studied him, the wetness in her eyes matching his own. “The O'Connors of Boston,” she said softly, then put a hand to her chest and blinked back her tears. “Goodness, you think she'll mind sharing a room?”

He stared, disbelief stealing the air from his lungs. And then in a jolt of comprehension, it whooshed back in, flooding his body with such joy and emotion, he thought he would faint. In one frantic clip of his heart, he swallowed Katie up in his arms and squeezed as if he would never let go, his deep laughter rumbling against her hair. “Woman, I could just kiss you,” he shouted, and then all at once his breathing stilled as he set her back down, suddenly aware of her body pressed against his, the burn of his hand on the small of her back.

Their gazes met, and heat traveled his bloodstream like alcohol, drowning all inhibition he may have felt. He saw the vulnerability in those wide blue eyes, heard the tremulous breathing drifting from those soft, parted lips, and all reason fled from his brain, disarming all good intent. In slow and careful motion, his hands cupped the sides of her face like a caress, eyes fixed on her mouth before shifting to lose himself in her eyes. He feathered her lips with the pad of his thumb. “Thank you, Katie Rose,” he whispered, “for giving me so much joy.”

He wanted to fight it, knew it should only be a kiss on the cheek, but his body seemed drugged with her. His eyelids weighted closed as he moved near like a man in a trance, compelled to graze his lips against hers. Upon touch, their shallow breathing became one as he nuzzled her mouth with his own. And then, in a ragged beat of his heart, she melted into him with a familiarity that destroyed all restraint. He clutched her body to his, deepening the kiss that just cost him a promise he'd made. “God help me, Katie, I want you--”

Somewhere in the recesses of their minds they heard it, that gruff clearing of a throat that seemed so very far away. And then harsh reality struck, and Katie jerked violently from his arms as if he had thrust her away.

“I knocked, but I guess you didn't hear it.” Parker stood with arms crossed in the open door, voice rock hard and jaw even worse.

An unnatural shade of red bled up Katie's neck and face like a thermometer registering a fever of a 105. “P-Parker … Mr. Riley … it's not what it seems. L-luke was just thanking me …”

The hard line of Parker's mouth twisted as his eyes shifted to Luke with a penetrating look. “A simple 'thank you' wouldn't have been enough?”
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Thanks so much, Julie!! Its been such a joy to have you.

Julia ReffnerJulia M. Reffner is blessed to be a servant to the King, married to the love of her life, a busy homeschool mom of two young children, and owned by one shedding longhaired cat. She is enjoying working on a women’s fiction novel in her spare time. She is a reviewer for Historical Novels Review quarterly, a magazine of the Historical Novel Society. Julia can be found blogging about God, literature and life at Dark Glass Ponderings and about writing at the group blog, The Writer's Alley.