Monday, June 02, 2008

An Interview With Julie Lessman and Book Give-Away

My good friend, critique partner and conference buddy, Julie Lessman, has written a sweeping novel in the spirit of Gone With the Wind. I've had the privilege to see it grow up from rough drafts sent via email to a breath-taking trip back into history through the pages of a published book. To say I'm excited for Julie is an understatement. She is one of the most talented people I know and I couldn't be happier for her success. She's a funny, high-energy lady who is passionate about what she writes.
If you’d like to be eligible to win a copy of A Passion Most Pure, please post a comment and leave your email info (without the "@" and "dot." Example: jcary at gmail dot com) to avoid those bad guys glomming on to your email address!
And now, it is my honor to interview her here and hopefully introduce her to more readers.

Welcome Julie!
Hi, Jenny!
Since we do know each other, I wanted to try to come up with questions you might not have heard yet, ones where I don't already know the answers. Here we go:

When did you first know you wanted to write?

Oh, that’s easy—at the age of twelve after reading Gone With the Wind. That novel so impacted me that I immediately began writing my own romance novel—a 150-page, single-spaced ms. entitled When Tomorrow Comes, which, by the way, is now a Janette Oke title! But that initial manuscript is actually the basis for my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure. I used to read it to my little sister, Katie, before we went to bed and she loved it. But then adolescence hit, and I soon abandoned paper romance for the real thing as a teenager.

Fast forward almost forty years later—I was sitting in a beauty parlor reading a Newsweek magazine July 16, 2001 cover article about Christian entertainment. It said Christian books, movies and music were on the threshold of exploding. My heart jumped, and something in my spirit said, “It’s time to finish your book.” I started writing A Passion Most Pure one month later, finally selling it to Revell after 4-1/2 years and a total of 45 rejections.

Wow! I didn't realize there had been so many rejections. You are up there as a success story with Dr. Seuss!
So then what was the catalyst that put you on the path of edgy inspirational romance writing?

Gosh, Jenny, I’ve never been asked that question before, which is saying something after more than 35 interviews! I would have to say my driving need for love (I used to sneak downstairs at night when I was kid and watch romance movies on the TV when my parents were sleeping) and my very dramatic and emotional nature (I LOVE strong romantic tension, ala Gone With the Wind) were the main catalysts for writing passionate romance. Add to that my driving need for God after I became a born-again Christian, and the only direction I felt I could go was “edgy” inspirational romance.
I longed to write a book for women like me—those looking for more relevancy to their own lives, both in a passionate love story and the struggles encountered between God’s morality and the world’s. The American Religious Identification Survey conducted by the Barna Group states, “nine out of ten women nationwide consider themselves to be Christian.” Yet most of these women purchase secular books depicting more passion than is currently found in Inspirational novels. They crave a great love story without the gratuitous sex, and in the case of women like me, long for compelling novels with strong romantic tension that are also threaded with God’s precepts. So basically I wrote what I wanted to read!

Who is your toughest critic whose opinion you respect the most (besides me;-)
Oh, wow, another great question! I would have to say my 20-year-old daughter because she does NOT read (no matter how many books I read to her as a child!!). It’s so bad, in fact, that I actually had to PAY her $20 to read the first chapter of A Passion Most Pure!! Fortunately, I’m happy to say, the rest of the book didn’t cost me a dime (grin). In fact, she actually loved it so much that she immediately read the next two manuscripts—for free!

Maybe that's what I need to do, pay my kids to read my work. Ha!
Next question: Where do you go for inspiration?

To my treadmill. I don’t know what it is about it, but I put my headset on and crank up the worship CD and start singing my heart out to the Lord (or wailing, as my daughter calls it!). And before I know it, I’ve got plot ideas and scenes popping into my head faster than I can jog on that silly machine.

Seeing that I first read your rough drafts for A Passion Most Pure nearly five years ago, where do you see yourself, writing wise, in five years?
God-willing, I see myself wrapping up what I hope will be a total of seven books on the O’Connor Clan. My publisher prefers 3-book series, but there are four Daughters of Boston, so I plan to incorporate the youngest daughter’s story, Katie (who is a pistol that comes of age in the Roaring Twenties) in a second 3-book series along with separate sequels for each of the two O’Connor brothers, Sean and Steven. After that, I have had some good writer friends (who have read all three books in the Daughters of Boston series) suggest I write a stand-alone prequel for the parents, Marcy and Patrick, which I would very much like to do.

I know from previous interviews and from our own sharing that you credit contests for helping you to sharpen your writing and make needed connections. Was there anything you did in this writing journey that you would caution others not to try?
The only thing I would caution aspiring writers “not to try” is going the publication route alone—focus on getting an agent first! I learned this the hard way (three years and 39 rejections on my own) before I finally hooked up with my agent who sold my book in a 3-book deal after only six months. Many of the publishers I queried on my own took as long as three years to reply simply because they are SO busy and SO inundated with manuscripts. Ironically, after I got published, I discovered that the unagented proposal I sent two years prior to my current publisher (following an ACFW conference appt.) was STILL in the publisher slush pile!! If it hadn't been for my agent (who my editor respected and trusted), I honestly believe I would not be published today, but still in that deep and dusty pile.

What are you reading right now? Who is your all-time favorite writer (besides, me or any other member of Crit 19;-)?
I just finished up both Cheryl Wyatt’s A Soldier’s Family and Amber Miller’s Promises, Promises (excellent, both!!) because they were the May selections for the ACFW Book Club. And, yes, Jenny, I remember your stories from our ACFW Crit 19 group as well, especially The Huguenot, which I loved!
The check is in the mail, sweetie;-)
Right now I am reading Vickie McDonough’s Spinning Out of Control (also excellent!), followed by Jamie Carie’s Snow Angel, which I heard is wonderful.
My all-time favorite writer? Clearly for me, Margaret Mitchell because Gone With the Wind is the greatest historical novel I’ve ever read, not only for the rich and sweeping Civil War tapestry that Margaret Mitchell created, but for the wonderful impact her haunting love story had on me at a very young age.

If you weren't writing historical romance, what genre do you think you would be writing? Why?
Probably contemporary romance because romance is my passion over and above anything else. I am more of a “Calgon, take me away,” type of gal rather than “slice-of-life,” so I don’t read a ton of Women’s Fiction or nonfiction, mostly lovely, uplifting, heart-pounding romance. The bigger the book, the better, in my opinion (which explains the … ahem … length of my own novels!). Turn my head with romance and nail me with God’s precepts in the process—that’s my kind of book! Like Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love or Liz Curtis Higgs’ Scottish trilogy—Wow, “pure” enjoyment!

I agree--you know I'm a big fan of Liz!
Moving on: You've touched on this a bit already but, once this series is through (and we know there are still two more books coming in the Daughters of Boston series--can't wait!) where will your next series take you (and your readers)?

Well, once I finish off the O’Connor clan, which I hope will take me through seven books, I have contemplated another series about the O’Connor nieces, which would take place during WWII, so that could be fun and still incorporate the original O’Connor family that I love.

Chocolate—dark, milk or white?
Grin. Best question of all! Milk, with white a close 2nd!! And put them together, and you WILL hear moaning. 

Any parting words?
Well, first I want to thank you, Jenny, for allowing me this time to connect with you and your readership. In closing, I’d like to share a really cool quote I found that some have attributed to Maya Angelou: “A woman’s heart should be so hidden in Christ that a man should have to seek Him first to find her.” I absolutely LOVE this quote because it is the total essence of what A Passion Most Pure is all about, and I hope and pray this message will resonate with every person who picks up my book.

Also, I LOVE to hear from readers, so they can contact me through my Web site at, either by sending an e-mail via my site or by signing up for my newsletter. Currently in my newsletter, I am having a contest to win a signed author copy of Book 2, A Passion Redeemed, before it even hits the stores! Also, I invite your readers to visit The Seekers, a group blog of which I am a part that talks about “The road to publication. Writing, contests, publication and everything in between.” You can find it at Thanks again, Jenny, and God bless!

Thank you, Julie! I am so proud of you and honored to call you friend.
To you and to all our readers,
Abundant blessings!