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 (Daughters of Boston, Book 1), A Passion Redeemed (The Daughters of Boston, Book 2) (Bk. 2), and A Passion Denied (The Daughters of Boston, Book 3).
Q. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
Probably more than I should! There’s definitely a part of my personality in each of the three sisters in “The Daughters of Boston” series. Faith, the sister heroine of A Passion Most Pure, is my spiritual self. Faith has an intimate relationship with God—she talks and prays to Him as naturally as if He is her best friend, but she gets angry with Him too. You might say she (and I) are emotionally engaged with the God of the Universe—we laugh with Him, tear up at His goodness to us, and worship Him with all of our hearts.
Charity, the sister heroine of Book 2 A Passion Redeemed, is my rebellious and “passionate” self, before I came to the Lord. I was a wild child of the seventies, you know, like so many of us. Thank heavens that Jesus got a hold of me (as he does Charity in Book 2)!
Lizzie (or Beth), the sister heroine of Book 3 A Passion Denied, is my dreamer self. Lizzie is a bookworm bent on fairytale romance, just like I used to be as a little girl, sneaking downstairs to watch romantic movies after my parents went to bed. In her story, Lizzie has to learn (just like I did) that true romance, the kind that really satisfies, comes from following God’s precepts, not the world’s.
In book 1 of my new “Winds of Change” series, A Hope Undaunted, Katie O’Connor is actually based on my 22-year-old daughter Amy rather than myself. In the book, Katie is in law school just like my Amy, both have sharp and witty tongues, and Katie is very list-oriented to the point of having a “list” for what she wants in a husband, just like my Amy!
There are, however, a number of my own personal experiences in A Hope Undaunted. For instance, Katie O’Connor broke out with a skin rash in kindergarten and was totally mortified when a crotchety, old nun asks her if she has leprosy in front of the whole class. She then wore knee socks and sweaters to school even when it was hot outside, just to hide the rash. Of course all the kids in the class made fun of her, which is exactly what happened to me in the 2nd grade. It’s this incident that makes Katie a champion for the underdog, just like it did for me. Also, there’s a memory scene where Cluny McGee teases an 11-year-old Katie with the phrase, “What’s new in the dog world?” Again, that happened to my best friend while we were walking to school one day and that memory has always stayed with me.
Q. What led you to the career choice of becoming a writer?
Four life-altering words: Gone With the Wind. When I read that novel at the age of twelve, I was swept away into the world of romance for the very first time. It captured me like no other book had done, and I immediately set out to write (along with thousands of other love-struck young girls, I’m sure), what I hoped would be “the great American novel.” Obviously my dreams of grandeur didn’t go anywhere (grin), but I did write 150 pages of a story that became the basis for my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure. The final version of that novel actually began some forty years later when I was sitting in a beauty shop reading a Newsweek magazine 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, “Now is the time to finish your book.” I started a month later, finally selling it to Revell 4-1/2 years and 45 rejections later.
Q.What were some of the steps you took along the publication road?
Since I get asked that a lot, here is a list I compiled of the things I did to get published:
1.) Join ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), FHL (Faith, Hope & Love) and RWA (Romance Writers of America), both to get connected with other like-minded writers and to learn a lot about your craft.
2.) Take a fiction-writing class or attend a writing seminar or conference.
3.) Join a critique group (you can do that through ACFW).
4.) Purchase and study writing books such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King or Writing the Breakout Novelby Donald Maas, AND invest in a great thesaurus such as The Synonym Finder by Rodale Press (my writer’s bible!!).
5.) Enter contests for invaluable feedback, growth, confidence, networking opportunities and to get your name out there.
6.) Frequent websites/blogs that deal with writing, such as The Seekers, a group blog that I belong to whose theme is “On the road to publication. Writing, contests, publication and everything in between.”
7.) Go for an agent first, publisher second.
8.) Then pray your heart out and put it in God’s hands.
Q. What three things do you know now about the publishing world that you wish you knew when you first started?
First, I wish I had known to go for an agent first, publisher second. I wasted two years and a ton of rejections on unagented queries to publishers, some of which took as long as three years to reply. In fact, within six months of signing with my agent, I sold to a publisher who … are you ready for this?? … STILL had the original unagented proposal she requested from me at a conference two years prior, only it was buried somewhere in a very deep slush pile in the corner of her office!
Secondly, I wish I’d known what an emotional roller-coaster it was going to be AFTER I got published. Like a lot of unpublished writers, I thought all the anxiety and self-doubt would dissipate after I signed on the dotted line. I mean that would validate me, right? Give me confidence as a writer? But I discovered (AGAIN!) that true confidence is not in accolades from your editor or a really good review, but instead in where your heart is with God. HE is my confidence when my sales rankings on Amazon.com are high or low, which is why I CLING to the following Scripture from 2 Corinthians ll:3, praying it almost every day: Do not let my mind “be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”
Thirdly, I wish I had known to establish more of a database a year before my book was released. My agent says you only have one shot at a debut novel, so you have to give it your all—via a loaded Web site, blogs, newsletters, etc., none of which I had until about three months prior to my launch. I attended an ACFW seminar where the teacher said you need to work on this at least 1-1/2 to 2 years prior to a book launch, which, of course, I didn’t!
Q. What has been the hardest part of writing your latest book and how did you overcome it?
The hardest part about writing A Hope Undaunted was the turmoil I encountered after I spent nine months writing the book only to discover that my editor wanted to delete most of the subplots and change my main plot point, possibly necessitating a total rewrite. Let me tell you, there were some MAJOR stress and tears in the Lessman household that week, for sure!
But, I did what I always do when I encounter ANY problem whatsoever, be it a traffic jam on the highway or a total rewrite—I threw myself into God’s arms, crying out for His help. And as I say in A Hope Undaunted when Katie’s father hugs her after a particularly nasty confrontation—“as always, his arms did not disappoint.” As a result, through some very fancy footwork on both my and my editor’s part, the revisions ended up being pretty minimal and we ended up publishing a much stronger book.
Q. What do you write besides books?
Grin … not a lot because I’m really a pretty boring girl! Actually, I am part of The Seekers blog, a group blog devoted to encouraging and helping aspiring writers. We started out about three years ago as 15 contest divas who kept butting heads in contests. We knew each other’s names, but not each other, so we decided to join forces to help ourselves and others on the writing and publication journey. When we started, only one of us had a contract, now 14 of us are published and the 15th is very close, so we must be doing something right!
The only other writing I do is a feature on my website I call “Journal Jots” (http://www.julielessman.com/journal-jots/), which basically takes the place of a blog for me and is a kind of short daily journal to my reader friends that keeps them in the loop on me and my books, on giveaways or even a devotional that impacted me that day. It’s been a lot of fun and I hope to incorporate an “open mic” day once a month for reader friends to ask questions, make comments or just talk about whatever they want and maybe win a signed book, critique or gift card in the process.
Q. What movie most impacted you as a kid? Why?
Are you kidding??? Gone With the Wind! In fact, I was so hooked on romance after reading GWTW, that when I was in high school, I actually dressed up as a nun to go to a free showing of GWTW for the local religious and clergy. One of my friends had a sister in the convent, so she loaned us novice habits and off we went! I sat there mesmerized, shoving free popcorn into my mouth as I watched the tug-o-war between Rhett and Scarlett. It was one of the most fun times of my teens … until we ran into the nuns from our high school! Whew, we got into trouble … but it was soooo worth it (at least at the time!). Today, I like to think that not only are Margaret Mitchell’s fingerprints are all over me in my religious devotion to passion, but God’s as well—merging my passion for romance with my passion for Him.
Q. What can you tell authors who have been receiving only rejections from publishers?
Focus on the three “P”s—pray, practice and persevere!! Anyone who attended the 2005 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference will remember me as the poor slob who waved her hands wildly in the back of the room when Brandilyn Collins asked who had the most rejections in a year. I won hands-down with 19 (at that time) and went on to garner 45 (both agent and publisher rejections, including three received AFTER I signed a 3-book contract with Revell Publishing!). Even my fabulous agent Natasha Kern blanched a bit when she first signed me, realizing after the ink was dry just how many times I’d been rejected. I believe the word she used was “daunting.” But apparently not too daunting for her amazing skills as an agent because she landed a 3-book contract for me within six months. And you know what? I’d say the title of my latest book pretty much sums it up: A Hope Undaunted!
Q. If you could recommend only one ‘How To Writing Book’ what would it be?
That’s easy—Donald Maas’s Writing the Breakout Novel, which in my opinion, helped to take my manuscript for A Passion Most Pure (Daughters of Boston, Book 1) up to the next level.
Q. Tell us about your story. Give us, first, the best thirty-word description, then the longer paragraph version.
Well, how about I give you the jacket blurb, which has the “30-word description” in the header followed by a longer paragraph version. Here we go:
What happens when the boy she loved to hate ... becomes the man she hates to love?
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—smart, 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?
Q. Introduce your story with the first page.
Gladly! Now keep in mind that this is the first page of my galleys, which always have more copy than the final printed page.
A Hope Undaunted
Julie LessmanBoston, Massachusetts, May 1929
Now this is how love should be—nice and neat. Katie O’Connor sucked the last of her Coca-Cola through a straw in Robinson’s Diner and studied her steady beau Jack Worthington with a secret smile. No, siree, no dime-novel notions of love for her. Love requires a focused plan, she thought to herself with certainty. Cool, calm, rational thinking, not a moment in time where one lovesick glance seals your fate. With a loud, hollow noise, she drained her soda and pushed the glass away, assessing Jack through approving eyes. Her lips slanted. Love at first sight, my foot.
She noted the dimple that deepened on his chiseled face as he delivered a punch line with a boyish grin, and a satisfied smile tilted the corners of her mouth. Falling in love was for fools—blind fools, she reflected with all the mature assurance of her eighteen years. Let other girls “fall” in love with their eyes closed, but not her. No, she preferred to be in control and walk—not fall, thank you very much—into true love. And if she had her way—which she fully intended to have—it would be with a man who was everything on her carefully crafted list.
Laughter disrupted her thoughts, and she found herself grinning along with the two couples sharing their booth as they roared at the finish of Jack’s joke. As usual, Jack’s buddies made a ruckus whooping and pounding their fists on the table in glee, and Katie couldn’t help but sigh with contentment. Good sense of humor. She mentally checked a box on her list and quickly scanned the cozy shop with its black-and-white-checked décor, grateful they had it to themselves at this late hour. Jack and his friends tended to get a bit rowdy, but they certainly knew how to have a good time. She settled back against the red-leather, high-backed booth and shot a glance at the marble counter where a lone soda jerk polished chrome mixers to a gleam.
“For crying out loud, Katydid, you inhaled that soda! And I bet I’ll have to buy you another, won’t I? I’m not made of money, you know.” Jack draped a sturdy arm across her shoulder and pulled her close to his handsome face. The glimmer in his dark eyes matched that of his deep brown hair, stylishly slicked back with Brilliantine. “Or maybe I am,” he teased.
Wealthy and attractive. Check, check. She drew in a deep breath and gave him a patient smile. “Nobody likes a braggart, Jack, but if you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is, I believe I’d like a hamburger. I’m starved.”
“No, you can’t be!” Genevieve Townsend said with a moan. “How can you possibly be hungry? We just had dinner before the picture show.”
Katie shrugged her shoulders. “That was over two hours ago, Gen.” She wrinkled her nose and teased with a ghost of a smile. “Besides, Valentino makes me hungry.”
Jack leaned in to plant a kiss at the nape of her neck. “Mmm … not only for food, I hope.”
Thank you, A.J., for hosting me on your blog. It’s been fun! And I LOVE to hear from readers, so they can contact me through my Web site at www.julielessman.com, either by sending an e-mail via my site or by signing up for my newsletter at http://www.julielessman.com/sign-up-for-newsletter/. My newsletter is chock-full of fun info on my books and there’s always a contest featuring signed book giveaways. Also, I invite your readers to visit The Seekers, a group blog devoted to encouraging and helping aspiring writers on the road to publication as I previously mentioned, so drop by. Thanks again, A.J., and God bless!
Julie, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing with us. To have the possibility to receive a copy of A Hope Undaunted leave a comment with your email (name at domain name dot com). Giveaway closes Sunday, October 19, 2010 at midnight (CST). Only US postal codes.
A special treat awaits you at Julie's web site, the chance to win a Kindle! (9/20-10/6)