Julie Lessman is a debut author who has already garnered writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She is a commercial writer for Maritz Travel, a published poet and a Golden Heart Finalist. Julie has a heart to write “Mainstream Inspirational,” reaching the 21st-century woman with compelling love stories laced with God’s precepts. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. Her first book, A Passion Most Pure, was released January 2008. Visit her Web site at www.julielessman.com.
Julie was gracious enough to answer some questions for me! Enjoy :)
Why Christian fiction?
Because to me, romance is not romantic unless God is in the middle! For my tastes, there’s nothing “sexy” about sin in a romance novel or movie. I’ve had people tell me that Bridges of Madison County was one of the most romantic films they have ever seen. Are you kidding me??? Since when is adultery romantic, no matter the situation! Maybe that’s just me, but I personally can’t enjoy romance (in a movie or book) unless it is according to God’s precepts OR unless it uses sin to point the reader TO His precepts. That’s the reason I LOVE Inspirational Romance so much. And, yes, “faith” (or spiritual passion) is the key component in my novels … with romantic passion hot on its heels!
Writing is obviously in your blood - was there a particular person who encouraged you to nurture your gift??
First of all, Margaret Mitchell because Gone With the Wind inspired me to write in the first place at the age of 12 when I actually penned 150 pages of what is today my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure. But as far as people I love who initially encouraged me way back then, that would be my little sister, Kate. As the last two of thirteen children, we shared a room, and that golden-haired nine-year-old girl would lie on her bed, chin in hand and eyes wide as I read my “novel” to her night after night. Her interest, love and encouragement meant everything because I was not a favorite of my mother’s. God used Katie to channel His love and encouragement to me, and continues to do so today. Kate is the first person to read all of my books, and her input is invaluable. Her love has been like God’s love to me—unconditional and boundless, and I love her with all of my heart.
Tell us how you felt/what you did when you found out you had a contract for A Passion Most Pure (be honest now – LOL!)
Are you kidding? I started shaking and then crying. The “call” was almost surreal because I was in the middle of praying with my prayer partners when my cell phone rang. It was my agent, Natasha Kern, telling me wonderful things about how my book had kept several of the editors on the pub board up until the wee hours of the morning because they couldn’t put it down. I repeated everything she said so my prayer partners could hear, and they were screaming and jumping in the background. I felt dazed and humbled and delirious with gratitude for God’s hand in my life. Believe me, after 42 rejections and another publisher giving me a slice-n-dice rejection the week before, this phone call was balm to my battered soul.
On A Passion Most Pure
Please tell us the inspiration behind this novel and its sequels
Initially my inspiration was Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, because from the moment I read Gone With the Wind, I was hooked on romance. So much so, that 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, as I said earlier, write 150 single-spaced pages of a story that is actually the basis for my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure. And then, in 2001, I was sitting in a beauty shop reading a Newsweek cover article about how Christian books, movies and music were on the threshold of exploding. Something in my spirit said, “Now is the time to finish your book,” so I started it the next month. Hard to believe that almost forty years passed before 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!
Faith strives so hard to make her parents proud and obey God’s call on her life and accordingly struggles with her attraction and responses to Collin - how did you come to create such a genuine character?
Wow, Rel, thank you for asking this question, because it is very important and actually is the main reason I wanted to write this book. I hope Faith does come across as genuine because her relationship with God is based on something real and attainable and exhilarating – my own experience! And it’s what God wants for each of us! He is looking for men and women with a heart after Him, like David. Not perfect people, but sinners who are emotionally involved with the God of the Universe, just like He is a member of their family. You know – talk to Him, get mad at Him, tear up at His goodness and not make one move without Him!
For me (and for my main character, Faith), God’s close and intimate presence in our lives is as natural as breathing, just like the lyrics from this Michael W. Smith song –“This is the air I breathe, Your holy presence living in me.” So I truly hope A Passion Most Pure does come across as authentic because it is basically a love letter from me to my God, who took me from the darkness into His incredible light. Jesus Christ transformed a hard, cynical agnostic (like Charity, the rival sister in A Passion Most Pure) into a person of joy and hope and love (like Faith, the heroine). This is a story I will never tire of telling, and hope to continue to do so in all the books I am privileged to write.
What was your favourite scene to write?
Oh, wow, what a hard question! I mean I have TONS of favorite scenes—favorite romantic scenes that race my pulse, favorite spiritual scenes that make me cry, and favorite family scenes that remind me just how blessed I am to have God in my life. But, I know you don’t have all day (grin), so I will mention my favorite romantic scene (or one of them!).
It would have to be a scene in the kitchen between the heroine, Faith (a woman who is bent on marrying a man who loves God), and the bad-boy hero, Collin (who has a grudge against God). It’s a scene of strong romantic tension where Collin realizes he loves her but can never have her because God stands in the way. He slams a few chairs around and forces her to admit she loves him, which she does, but it doesn’t matter. She will not be unequally yoked, and the piercing knowledge of this crushes him. The scene is a riptide of swelling emotions—from humor and teasing to anger, passion and fear, finally ebbing to quiet acceptance when both realize the love they share can never be.
Your book has generated lots of “talk” in the Christian publishing arena due to, as Romantic Times described it, “Heightened adult emotions are described on the page.” You know my surprise at the extent of the discussion. Why do you think this has occurred?
Yeah, I had to laugh at that. Romantic Times kind of made it sound like Christian bookstores needed to keep it behind the counter in a brown paper wrapper and ask for an ID before selling it. J But honestly, it A Passion Most Pure IS different from the majority of Inspirational romance novels on the market today, so I do understand their comments. Bottom line, most Inspirational romances today describe a kiss in a one line or two, with very little emotional input. But I am a very emotional, passionate woman, both about God AND romance, so I like more of both in novels I read. I don’t want the first kiss to be described in just a line and occur at the end of the book, so I do incorporate a lot of love scenes that may go on for paragraphs or even pages. And, quite frankly, I also wanted to honestly relate the true-to-life struggle in applying God’s precepts in today’s amoral world.
Any ideas who you might cast in a movie of A Passion Most Pure?
Wait … first let me get my pajamas on, because that would really be a “dream” come true!! Gosh, that’s a tough one because I am not up on the latest movie stars, but the best I can do for my heroine, Faith, is Keira Knightly, who played the main role in the latest version of Pride & Prejudice. Except Keira would have to die her hair to auburn! But, otherwise, her sparkle and temper would fit Faith well. As far as Collin is concerned, I am at a total loss. Collin is a handsome womanizer who likes to tease and joke, but is also prone to occasional melancholy, revealing a deeply sentimental and emotional side. That’s a hard combination to come up with, although the model they chose for my cover comes as close as anything could—he has a moody, smoldering look about him that conveys both his desire for Faith and his frustration at not being able to have her.
What impact do you hope this book has upon the reader?
The MOST important thing I pray readers are impacted with is the reality of how natural and fulfilling an intimate relationship with God can and SHOULD be. Like breathing. This book may be fiction, but this is NOT a fairy tale here. It is possible to have a living, breathing relationship with the God of the Universe. He’s crazy about us, and if most people really understood that, their lives would turn on a dime and blessings would overtake them. And as I said before, I KNOW this firsthand—I used to be a hard, cynical, coarse human being before God pulled me up by the scruff of the neck and said, “Yo, Julie! Get a clue. You’re the apple of my eye!” J He’s been the love of my life ever since.
On Matters Personal
Grin. Gone With the Wind, of course. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Of course, as the eternal optimist, I choose to believe Rhett did “give a damn,” which is why I devoured the GWTW sequel, Scarlett, years ago as well.
Please share some of your faith journey...
Sure, but I guarantee you, you wouldn’t have liked me back then. I was a 23-year-old hardnosed agnostic from a devout but dysfunctional Catholic family of 13 kids. I was so angry at God that I actually used to say I wanted to burn Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms. As a wild child of the 60s and 70s, I tried everything to be happy—from astrology and tarot cards … to transcendental meditation and witchcraft—you name it. My vocabulary would have made a sailor blush. Suffice it to say that I was pretty angry at God. According to the world’s standards, I had everything going for me—a hunky boyfriend with a Corvette and a boat, a great job, my own apartment (at a time when other friends still lived at home), and I was acing an advanced writing course at Washington U., a prestigious college in St. Louis. But I wasn’t happy. I felt a lot like Peggy Lee singing, “Is that all there is?”
Then one day, this annoying gal at work approached me. She had a lesser job than me, was divorced with a kid and no boyfriend in sight. I hated her because she came in humming every day, happy as a lark while I was utterly miserable. And then it happened—one life-altering moment when she and I were alone—I looked up from my typewriter and said, “Just what in the heck (except my language was a bit saltier back then) makes you so happy all the time?” She said, “I’ve been praying you would ask.”
Oh, no, a Jesus freak, I thought to myself, but I found myself going to lunch with her, badgering her with questions and accusations. I don’t remember now if it was weeks or months, but either way, I met Jesus Christ through the remarkable patience of a God-sent angel by the name of Joy—pretty appropriate name, eh? Since then, my life has been a journey of “joy, because EVERYTHING with Jesus Christ at the center is pure joy—especially romance!
Some essential Aussie questions
When/if you make the trip Down Under what do you want to see first:~
Sorry, but there’s only ONE answer to that – Hillsong Church!!! I’m absolutely ga-ga over their music and would love to go to that church just once.
Any last words?
Well, first I want to thank you, Rel, for hosting this interview—it was a lot of fun! And one of my favorite ways to close an interview is to share this really cool quote I found that some people attribute 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 my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure, is all about, and I hope and pray this message will resonate with every person who picks up my book. God bless!
Thanks Julie - it has been a pleasure :)
Read my review of A Passion Most Pure, here!