*Contest Following the Interview*
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: Your Favorite Fiction” at Borders.com. 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.
Julie, I was so thrilled to be at the ACFW conference in 2009 when you won the Debut Author Award. Congratulations again! Tell us about your journey to becoming an award-winning author.
Thanks, Sharon! For me, the journey began at the age of 12 after reading Gone With the Wind, which is when I first penned 150 pages of what today is my debut novel A Passion Most Pure. Fast forward almost forty years later to July 2001 when I was sitting in a beauty parlor reading a Newsweek magazine cover article that 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 the next month, finally selling it to Revell 4-1/2 years and 45 rejections later.
And “Award-winning author”? Gosh, that sounds nice, doesn’t’ it? As a published author, I’ve received several awards, but I have to say that the American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Book of the Year award for A Passion Most Pure left me speechless … literally!
I mean, have you ever had an ice-cream brain freeze? You know, the kind that starts in your head and slides down your body like a bone-chilling avalanche? Well, trust me, I did when the ACFW MC announced the winning book by reading its first few lines. All I heard was “Sisters are …” and cold shock rippled through me from head to toe before I went deaf. I seriously couldn’t hear anything after that—not my Seeker friends screaming at the table behind me nor applause. I stumbled up to the stage the wrong way and winged it through a speech I never wrote because I never expected to win. I told the audience that the last time I was up on the ACFW stage was when I won a booby prize (a lovely basket of books) for the most rejections in a year at the 2005 ACFW Conference. My rejections had climbed to 19 that year but eventually rose to a total of 45. So, all you aspiring writers out there—I hope and pray that inspires you!
I see you have a new book coming out in September 2010 titled A Hope Undaunted, which will start a new series. What is the book about and what are your plans for the series?
YES, and I gotta tell you, Sharon, that A Hope Undaunted is my favorite book so far of all the books I’ve written, not only because Katie O’Connor is such a sassy heroine but because Cluny McGee is hands-down the best hero I have had the privilege to write. Talk about chemistry and head-butting—WHOA, these two have it in spades, and trust me, if readers have as much fun reading it as I had writing it, we’re ALL in for a real good time!
And what an era! The wild and reckless Roaring 20s when the youth cut ties with past tradition to 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. And 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.
Here is the blurb for the book:
The 1920s are drawing to a close, and feisty Katie O’Connor is the epitome of the new woman—smart and sassy with goals for her future that include the perfect husband and a challenging career in law. Her boyfriend Jack fits all of her criteria for a husband—good-looking, well-connected, wealthy … and eating out of her hand. But when she is forced to spend the summer of 1929 with Cluny McGee, the bane of her childhood existence, Katie comes face to face with a choice. Will she follow her well-laid plans to marry Jack? Or will she fall for the man she swore to despise forever?
The series continues with Book 2, A Heart Revealed, which tells the forbidden love story of Sean O’Connor and Emma Malloy. Book 3, A Faith Restored (working title), will be Steven O’Connor’s story during the exciting era of Prohibition, speakeasies, dance marathons, gangsters, G-men and era criminals like Bonnie & Clyde and John Dillenger.
I love the cover for your book A Passion Most Pure. Where did the story idea come from? Also, when you wrote the book did you envision a series?
Well, the story idea for A Passion Most Pure originally came from that first book I wrote at the age of 12 after reading Gone With the Wind. I knew I wanted an Irish family (like the O’Hara’s in GWTW) and a war (didn’t have the nerve to follow after Margaret Mitchell and go for the Civil War, so I went with WWI), and I wanted to have a sister rivalry like I had with my own sister, Ellie, who was the “Charity” in my life. So I guess you could say the story just flowed from those few components, which makes sense for a “seat-of-the-pants” writer like myself.
As far as the cover, that’s an interesting story in itself. First off, my prayer partners and I prayed for one solid year for an anointed cover, and I think we got it. Then Revell’s artists extraordinaire, Cheryl Van Andel and Dan Thornberg, patiently worked with this very high-maintenance debut author to get the perfect look for Faith and Collin. Originally Faith’s hair was loose and down her back, but I told them it looked too “prairie romance,” so up it went. Then they had a shot of Collin that looked like some scared namby-pamby that literally made me cry. “Don’t you have any other shots of the male model?” I asked, scared to death they would tell me no. “Just one,” Cheryl said, but claimed that everybody at Revell thought he looked too angry in that shot, so they didn’t use it. “Can I see it?” I asked. So she sent it … and VOILA … the rest is history. I LOVED the smoldering look of anger on Collin’s face because he WAS angry! Angry that he wanted Faith and she didn’t want him, and angry that he couldn’t have her. WHEW! Talk about instant chemistry on a cover …
Tell us about your writing regimen. How long does it take you to crank out a book, and under what conditions do you work best?
Pretty boring stuff, I assure you, but I usually rise at about 6:30 or 7:00 AM, eat peach oatmeal and drink coffee while I check a few blogs (The Seekers, for one, at http://seekerville.blogspot.com/), then I listen to worship music on the treadmill for 30 minutes, followed by a few other exercises. Next, it’s Bible reading and prayer time, and then laundry, paperwork, etc. get my attention briefly before I dive into e-mails. When I write (I don’t write everyday like a good author should), I start about 10:30 or 11:00 AM and crank ALL day (usually without lunch) until I hear my husband’s stomach growl (we work in the same tiny office, back to back!), at which time I fix dinner.
How long does it take to crank out a book?
They’re all different, but the fastest was A Passion Redeemed, which I wrote in two months, working part-time at my day job. The rest of the books took me about eight or nine months a piece, and I work best at my computer with hazelnut coffee and a candle burning and bare feet—which go into a little foot warmer in the winter. Oh, and I constantly put on lip gloss and each and every time, I lean back and kiss my husband because he likes my lip gloss too. 🙂
What has been the hardest thing about being a writer?
Without question, the toughest thing 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.
One final question for you, Julie. When you think back on your writing journey, what stands out as a favorite memory?
A favorite memory on my journey to being published was when I got “the call” from my agent, Natasha Kern. I was in the middle of praying with my prayer partners when my cell phone rang. My heart dropped when I heard Natasha’s voice, but when she told me the pub board was unanimous in offering me a contract, I started crying. I repeated everything she said so my prayer partners could hear, and they were screaming and jumping up and down in the background. Believe me, after 45 rejections and another publisher giving me a slice-n-dice rejection the week before, this phone call was balm to my battered soul.
One of my favorite “reader” memories would be the following e-mail, which made me cry because THIS is the reason I write. The reader said: “I just wanted to write to let you know that in all my life, I’ve never before read a book that has inspired me to change my life as much as this one has. The desire to turn my life over to God has never been this strong. Thank you for making such a strong impact on both me and my family.”
Now I ask you—is there any better reason to write??
Thanks, Sharon, for allowing me to connect with your readers today and I pray God’s abundant blessings on them and on you!
And now for the contest! Julie has graciously offered to giveaway A Hope Undaunted to one very fortunate blog reader. To enter the drawing, leave a comment and your email address in the following format reader[at]blogsphere[dot]com. The contest winner will be announced June 22nd.
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