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 Writers of America awards and was voted by readers as “Borders Best of 2009 So Far: 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 at www.julielessman.com.
Favorite Verse: Psalm 139:23-24—Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Visit Julie in our Writers' Corner!
Our Interview with Julie Lessman
What is your favorite Bible verse?
Psalm 139:23-24—Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Would you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a high-energy baby boomer married to a man who makes me feel like I’m living my own personal romance novel, and we have two wonderful kids and a daughter-in-law. Out of a family of thirteen, I was the drama queen and the one enamored with books and movies. In fact, I started writing my debut novel A Passion Most Pure when I was twelve years old after reading Gone With the Wind. But … it wasn’t until almost forty years later that God breathed new life into that early attempt and inspired me to finish my childhood novel of passion—only this time the “passion” would be for Him!
What inspired the concept for A Hope Undaunted?
In book 3 of The Daughters of Boston trilogy, I introduced a 14-year-old street orphan by the name of Cluny McGee who was only intended to be a walk-on character appearing in a couple of lines of one scene. But this endearing “street brat” with the puny body and bravado air won my heart so quickly, that I made him a major subordinate character who quickly becomes the bane of Katie O’Connor’s existence. When I began writing A Hope Undaunted, it just seemed a natural progression for a sassy and grownup Katie O’Connor to once again butt heads with this “pest from her past.”
Is any part of A Hope Undaunted factual?
Oh, you bet! You can’t write about a fascinating era like the Roaring 20s and not include the radical shift our country underwent both socially and morally. WWI left the youth with a desire to cut ties with past tradition and live for today, producing a “flapper mentality” where young women wore scandalous short skirts, cut their hair and indulged in smoking, drinking and promiscuous behavior. Add Prohibition to the mix, and you have a decade rife with flappers, gangsters and suffragettes forging the way in equal rights for women. Not only does Katie O’Connor aspire to further the woman’s cause by becoming a lawyer, but this rebellious era plays a major part in the drama that unfolds for the O’Connors when The Great Depression finally descends.
How closely is A Hope Undaunted based on your life experiences?
Very closely! Coming from a family of thirteen kids, I remember all too well the turmoil between my parents and me during the 1960s and 70s, an era very similar to the Roaring 20s. Not only did I draw upon my rebellion and that of my siblings for A Hope Undaunted, but I also was able to incorporate the dramatic and volatile dynamics of a large family during such a tumultuous time.
What inspired you to choose that era?
Grin … I’m afraid it chose me! Once I selected WWI as my setting for book 1, A Passion Most Pure, the years just piled up until Katie O’Connor came of age in the 1920s.
How did you choose the location for the setting?
Well, Boston was the setting I chose for A Passion Most Pure, so in A Hope Undaunted, naturally the O’Connors still live there. As mentioned prior, I started writing A Passion Most Pure at the age of twelve, and at that time, I loved Boston Baked Beans candy as well as anything Colonial (because of Disney’s Swamp Fox show). So I am guessing I originally picked Boston for those reasons. You can imagine my excitement when I wrote A Passion Most Pure forty years later and learned that Boston was considered the heart of Irish America due to a large contingent of immigrants after the potato famine. Very cool!
How long did A Hope Undaunted take you to complete?
Nine months to write and two months to edit.
What is the symbolism for the title A Hope Undaunted? And series title, “Winds of Change”?
A Hope Undaunted begins in June of 1929 when we see the last hurrah for the Roaring 20s. The Great Depression hits in October of that year, and suddenly “hope” becomes pretty hard to come by, not only for the country, but for Katie and the O’Connors. But it’s Katie’s eventual faith in God (and the faith of her family) that gives her “a hope undaunted” during the most perilous of times.
As far as the series title “Winds of Change,” Revell came up with that and I love it! My original series title for The Daughters of Boston was “The Wind of God” series where each book had a Scripture title with the word “wind” in it (i.e. A Passion Most Pure was A Chasing After the Wind from Ecclesiastes 2:26, A Passion Redeemed was Chaff before the Wind from Psalm 83:13-16, and A Passion Denied was On the Wings of the Wind, Psalm 104:1-4).
Originally I wanted all of my titles to be Scripture titles with that same Scripture theme woven throughout the book. Also, I was SO crazy about Gone With the Wind, that I wanted titles with the word “wind” in them, not only because of GWTW, but because of the symbolism of “wind” in representing the Holy Spirit.
Do you have a favorite character in A Hope Undaunted? Why?
Oh, hands-down, Cluny McGee! I love all my heroes, of course, but I have to say that Cluny McGee is my new favorite for a couple of reasons. Not only is he the charismatic street orphan I fell in love with from A Passion Denied who has an intense desire for family, but he is one of the most giving and loving characters I have ever written. He loves kids, the underdog, and his friends with so much passion and commitment, that for me, his love reflects the unconditional love that God gives to each of us.
And, ironically, my daughter-in-law who is not even a romance reader fell in love with A Hope Undaunted primarily because of Cluny McGee, stating that this story has such an intersect of love—unconditional, fraternal, romantic—that it left her stunned.
How much research did A Hope Undaunted take?
Quite a bit and definitely more than any of the books in “The Daughters of Boston” series. The reason for this is that one of the main settings is The Boston Children’s Aid Society, where Katie and Cluny McGee work together for the summer. I had to do major research to determine what this organization did (and its affiliate, The Boston Society for the Care of Girls) and how they fit into my story. Not only that, but Katie is bent on championing women’s causes during a time when women’s rights was in its infancy. The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, giving women the right to vote, and the Suffragettes proposed a Equal Rights Amendment for the first time in 1923, so there was lots going on that I needed to research.
What was the most interesting tidbit that you learned while writing A Hope Undaunted?
Oh, so many cool things like the last orphan train was in 1929, women were legally declared as “persons” in the famous 1929 Persons’ Case in Canada, and sunglasses were invented in 1929 when an entrepreneur named Foster Grant sold them on the boardwalk of Atlantic City.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Oh, gosh, tearing myself away from e-mails and other Internet-related activities that literally steal my time away from writing—that’s the first thing that comes to mind.
But I would have to say the toughest challenge has been staying grounded in what God wants for me versus what I want for me. Sure, I would love to be a bestselling author, but what does God want? I am learning (very painfully, I might add) that I must become less so that He can become more. But I will be the first to admit, that as a human being who thrives on the positive feedback of readers, this is a challenge that has taken me by surprise. My love for God has always been deeply passionate, but never have I encountered anything as difficult as this—staying focused on God rather than my books. One of my favorite Scriptures that I try to pray daily is 2nd Corinthians ll:3—“Do not let “my mind be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” Sigh. Easier said than done.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
The most? Oh, that’s a no-brainer—writing love scenes, of course! I like tension, lots and LOTS of romantic tension, so when I write those scenes, my keyboard is smoking because my fingers fly. In fact, one of my friends wanted to know why I couldn’t just write a nice, “sweet” love scene. Duh, because I would fall asleep! Even my husband noticed the fast and furious pace of my love scenes—he said he would be meandering along in a nice, easy passage and then, bam! A love scene would hit, and before he knew it, he was 20 pages down the road!
What was your favorite book (s) as a child?
Grin … Gone With the Wind.
What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants? Or somewhere in between?)
Oh, you can pretty much crown me a “Seat of the Pants” Queen! I’m a first-line freak, whether beginning a book or a chapter, so all it takes is a key line popping into my brain (while on the treadmill or in the middle of the night), and I’m off and running.
However, with two 3-book series that chronicle fourteen characters in the O’Connor family from 1916 to 1932, I was forced to become somewhat of a plotter as well, creating an age/birthday/anniversary chart that would boggle the mind. In addition, I have created incredibly detailed synopses to help me keep all the plots straight for both primary characters and subordinates, WHICH if the “pantster” in me has its way, may or may not end up in the final story.
Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?
Oh, absolutely! As a seat-of-the-pants writer, my characters generally take me where they want to go, not the other way around. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a scene or a character’s actions laid out in my brain, only to have that character take me a completely different direction, totally altering my story from the original synopsis. In all honesty, I like when that happens because the spontaneous plot twists are often the ones that end up being the best.
What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
I just finished book 2 of the “Winds of Change” series, A Heart Revealed, which is Emma Malloy and Sean O’Connor’s story. Then next I begin the final book in this series, working title A Faith Restored. This is Steven O’Connor’s story and the conclusion to the O’Connor saga. After that I hope to propose another 3-book series about three cousins with LOTS of family secrets.
Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?
Without question, Margaret Mitchell got it all started for me with her amazing novel, Gone With the Wind. That book instilled a love for romance in me at the age of twelve that I hope carries through into my novels today. And, of course, King Solomon who wrote the “Song of Solomon” in the Bible, which opened my eyes as to just how passionate God’s love is for each of us. As far as craft, the author who had the most influence on me would be Donald Maas and his masterful book, Writing the Breakout Novel.
What message would you like your readers to take from A Hope Undaunted?
The message I would most like to see readers take away is that when life goes sour for whatever reason, God is the only means of maintaining “a hope undaunted.”
What is your greatest achievement?
Since I have aspired to write a novel since I read Gone With the Wind at the age of twelve, I would have to say that getting published is my greatest personal achievement … uh, that and giving birth to my two wonderful kids in the face of infertility. Talk about “a hope undaunted”!!
What is your goal or mission as a writer?
My tagline is “Passion with a Purpose,” which means my books are a tad more passionate than the majority of Inspirational fiction in the Christian market today. According to the American Religious Identification Survey conducted by the Barna Group, “nine out of ten women nationwide consider themselves to be Christian.” The majority of these women fall into a category I would define as “Mainstream Christianity" —women who believe in God but may not always apply His precepts in their lives, especially in their sexuality. Many of these women want compelling novels with strong romantic tension and often turn to the secular market to satisfy this need. But wouldn't it be wonderful if they were drawn to a novel of passion and encountered God's ideas on sexuality along the way? I think so, too, and that is my mission as a writer.
What do you do to get away from it all?
I LOVE to go out to dinner, bike on the Katy Trail and watch romantic movies with my husband. Our latest “getaway” activity is watching the old TV show, JAG, on DVD. My husband got hooked on reruns of this show on the HD channel, so I bought him season one for Christmas, and now we watch an episode every night and sometimes two! We are up to season seven now out of ten, and to be honest, we don’t know what we’re going to do with ourselves once it’s over. Maybe NCIS or Magnum P.I.—who knows?