Thursday, May 21, 2009

Interview with Julie Lessman, Author of A Passion Denied

I'm so excited to have Julie stop by for another interview! I really really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions, Julie! Remember everyone, by leaving a relevant comment you can be entered into this week's contest!

A few months ago you told me you had to make changes from the original version of the story because your publisher felt it was too dark for Christian fiction. What changes did you make and how did you feel about that process? Do you think you were able to keep your vision and message of the story intact?

Well, you see, John Brady was such a godly Billy Graham-type character that I strongly felt I needed to give him an equally bad past. So I had things like pornography and child molestation with his step-sister (which never really happened, mind you, but he was accused of it nonetheless and did time in a New York reformatory) IN ADDITION TO the shocking past he has in the story. But my editor said those subjects were way too dark for an Inspirational novel. So even though I felt that the sister connection was something I needed in order to explain WHY Brady could not “love” Lizzie (the girl he saw as a “sister” despite his attraction to her), my editor asked me to revise it. And in hindsight, I now see that my publisher was right, and the story is not near as heavy and dark as it was before I made those changes.

I have to be honest, though, and tell you that initially, when my agent told me the components I mentioned above were “too dark” for Christian romance, I didn’t agree. I was dead certain that I needed a strong “sister” connection to realistically explain Brady’s reluctance to love Lizzie. And, quite frankly, I was going for the shock factor as well, because I felt Lizzie needed to be shocked enough to “deny” her love for Brady in addition to Brady needing enough shock factor to not forgive himself. So after only slightly toning down some of the disturbing elements (there were tons more, including incest between Helena and Michael, abortion, etc. … okay, okay, I tend to be a drama queen!), I overruled my agent (a very stupid and naïve thing to do, I am learning) and sent the original ms. to my editor. Of course, my editor said the same thing as my agent (sigh, I have SO much to learn about this business!), so most of the “dark” components had to come out, which they did. And now? Well, now I get down on my knees and thank God every day for giving me such a wise and patient agent and editor.

And, yes, I personally do think I was able to keep the vision and message of the story intact after cutting out most of the “shock factors,” but I have to tell you, writing/rewriting this book was a learning/humbling experience I will NEVER forget!

Brady loves God but has a hard time accepting grace. He feels unworthy of Lizzie even though she feels 100 percent committed to him. I have to admit her reaction to his past really bugged me. At this point of the story, do you feel Lizzie truly loved Brady or just her idea of who he was?

Okay, Amy, maybe my response to question one above helps you to understand Lizzie’s reaction to Brady’s past—it actually made sense when his past was as horrible as I originally wrote it, but I have to admit, not as much sense in the final version when I removed most of the “shock” factors. But … it is still believable, I think, given that Lizzie was a naïve, head-in-the-clouds (at least when it came to romance) type of gal. And, yes, I do believe Lizzie truly loved Brady. I think her initial reaction to his past was a mix of shock, hurt that he wasn’t open or honest with her about his past, keen disappointment that he was not the “perfect” man she thought him to be, and just plain, old-fashioned naiveté/immaturity.

I have to admit I wanted her to be more accepting! But Lizzie wasn't perfect either, moving onto another beloved couple, I'm not sure I feel that Faith and Collin's storyline was entirely tied up. Will we get to see more of them in your future novels?

Absolutely—you will be seeing LOTS more of every couple in this series, which I admit, may get a little hairy come book six (Stephen’s story) when I have six sub-stories going on in addition to the main story between the hero and heroine! YIKES! I used to be a seat-of-the-pants writer rather than a plotter, but trust me, I now have an age/birthday/anniversary chart that would boggle the mind.

And, no, Faith and Collin’s story was not tied up in book 3 because there is a thread of the same thing in book 4 (Katie’s story). Will all the stories be resolved by series end? You bet! I write “Calgon, take me away” stories, not “slice of life”! J

I like that style! I love the ongoing storylines! Lizzie is often teased and told by her family she only has a romance novel's version of love in her head. Do you perceive this to be a common problem for women? As a writer of romance yourself, how do you combat the stereotypes and work on portraying authentic relationships?

Well, it certainly was for me as a teen and young women, so I would venture to say it’s the same with young women today. I think all women long for that “happily ever after,” or at least I did and I know my independent 21-year-old daughter and her friends do too.

As a romance writer, I try to combat the stereotypes BY portraying authentic relationships. What I mean by that is, yes, I write romance, which means there will be the stereotypes of bad boys and good girls and the heroes will be hunky and the heroines pretty (remember, I don’t claim to write hardcore women’s fiction here, only uplifting romance that takes the reader away. And honestly, when’s the last time you read a romance where the hero wasn’t attractive in some way???). BUT … in the midst of my “romance stereotypes,” I try to portray realistic emotions and reactions based on my own personal experiences (so I KNOW they’re authentic) or those of my friends and family. The surface trappings of my books may seem stereotyped according to most romance novels (i.e. attractive characters, amorous men (and women), seemingly perfect marriages, etc.), but trust me, the way they respond to each other and God in their thoughts, words and actions are as authentic as if I were penning an autobiography.

The emotional honesty really comes through for me in your books and I thank you for that! I have often received visitors to my site who are looking for books with a comparable style to yours. Sadly, I don't know any. Do you have any recommendations for these readers?

Gosh, Amy, I’m not real sure what you mean when you say “comparable style,” but if you mean books that touch on romance in an edgier, more realistic and relatable way in today’s amoral society yet portray God and faith in a way that is, for me, as natural as breathing—then, no I do not know of many authors out there whose style is like mine. Which is pretty much why I wrote my own novels because I love passionate romance, but I refuse to read it unless it has God in the middle in a passionate way. And quite frankly, I couldn’t find these types of books in either the secular or Christian markets, so I wrote my own. When I tried to get A Passion Most Pure published, it was a catch 22—APMP was too “passionate” for the Christian market, but too spiritual for the secular. Fortunately for me, Revell took a chance on me, and I hope and pray that my books of deep passion for both God and romance are only the first of many to come in either market.

Although their styles are not exactly like mine, some of the authors who have won my heart in the Inspirational market as far as “edgier” and compelling romance are Francine Rivers with Redeeming Love and the Mark of the Lion trilogy, and Liz Curtis Higgs with her Scottish epic trilogy, Thorn in My Heart, How Fair is the Rose and Whence Came a Prince.

I love love love Francine Rivers, especially The Mark of the Lion Trilogy! I almost cried with disappointment when I saw that I have to wait until 2010 for the next book! Can you tell us a little bit about your vision for the new series? Will it have a unifying theme like the Daughters of Boston or "Passion" series as I call it?

Grin, Amy, I’m almost in tears myself! When I signed my contract for this next series, I actually sucked in a deep breath and promised to deliver Revell a book every six months (and more than likely a 500-page book, given my past book page counts and the complexity of the future plots). I did this because as a new author, I knew I needed to get another book out there as soon as possible so readers wouldn’t forget about me. But life got in the way, and I lost valuable writing time with surgery and a subsequent infection, delaying book 1 of the next series till June 2010. But the good news is that books 2 and 3 should follow on the heels of the first book more closely, or at least I hope they will.

My vision for this next series is simply to flesh out the O’Connor family and utilize their drama and … ahem, passion … to illustrate not only how relationships with God can vary within a family (or among people, in general), but also how vital a relationship with God is in the well-being of that family and its true happiness in life.

The themes of The Daughters of Boston and “passion” were themes Revell selected from tons of suggestions I gave them in the titling phase, after the first two books were already written. But for the new series, which I wanted to call The O’Connors of Boston (since two of the stories will be about the O’Connor brothers, Sean and Steven), my publisher doesn’t want any reference to Boston or the O’Connors due to marketing strategies. They feel a new series really has to be presented as a “new” series, even though in my mind it is a continuation of the O’Connor saga, which they had no problem with me writing. That said, I have not come up with a series title or theme yet, but it will probably be something tied to perseverance or hope due to the time era of The Roaring 20s/Great Depression.

I'm just glad you're okay, Julie...I remember that scare near Christmas!

Thank you SO much, Amy, for allowing me this time to connect with you and your readers. Anyone who would like to contact me can do so through my website at, either by sending an e-mail via my site or by signing up for my newsletter, in which I feature book giveaways. Finally, I invite your readers to visit The Seekers, a group blog to which I belong that talks about “The road to publication. Writing, contests, publication and everything in between.” You can find it at God bless!


Meghan said...

Great interview, Amy! I love what Julie has to say. I too love it when couples from previous books show up later in a series. It always ties them together very well. And I do agree that many teens/young women probably have a more romantic image of men in their heads than is out there. I know I did and only a long-term relationship, learning the reality of things, changed that.

Roseanna White said...

Hey, look at me, commenting early today!

First, I am SO looking forward to the ongoing saga, Julie! And praying you get awesome sales on it so that I can say, "Julie Lessman did it!" when I'm pitching my 20s novel at conference, lol. Not that it'll be out by then, but anyway.

Ah, glad to get the behind-the-scenes of A PASSION DENIED. I really thought there would be more "deep, dark" about the step-sister, and now I know why, lol. Definitely believable as is, but as someone who likes all that "too dark for CBA" stuff, I naturally assumed the worst;-)

As for romantic teens . . . sigh. I'm one of those weird types who counted on falling in love early and yet had no illusions. Seriously. I knew well when I fell in love (at 15) that he (now my husband of 8 years) was far from perfect, and that if we wanted to beat the odds and have a life that went into happily-ever-after, we'd have to work darn hard for it. And so we have. There were plenty of nay-sayers along the way, people who told us we were too young, too this, too that . . . but we knew ourselves, each other, and sought the Lord. Those are the key ingredients in a good relationship/marriage, not one's age. So I'm always glad to see young heroines who (eventually, lol) get it right!

Roseanna White said...

Oh, I forgot! (As if my previous wasn't long enough, right?) Another great book in a similarly-honest style, dealing with dark, realistic issues and yet miraculously CBA published is THE PASSION OF MARY-MARGARET by Lisa Samson. AWESOME book, especially for those who want to see both the very dark side of life and the brilliant light of Christ's salvation. You'd love this one, Julie, if you haven't read it yet!

Julie Lessman said...

Thanks, MEGHAN, for dropping in and leaving a comment and YES, I absolutely LOVE it when favorite hero/heroine characters don't just make a cameo appearance in the next book but have their own continuing sub-storyline because frankly, I'm not ready to say good-bye to them yet either. Which is why I stress that I don't write romance, I write Historical Family-Saga Romance. BIG difference!!

ROSEANNA, I'm so proud of you, girl, hitting the blogs early!! Of course, with little ones, I guess that's the only time you have to do it, right? And, yeah, I wondered how many readers would feel that the shock factor in the published version of Denied would not be enough. We are, after all, in the 21st century where reality shows and an in-your-face society makes us pretty unshockable. But, as my editor so wisely pointed out, maybe I could get away with it in a woman's fiction, but in a CBA romance? Not a chance. Readers are not looking for "dark" in CBA romance, they are looking for uplifting and inspirational. And the original plot was a little too heavy for that, although both my more secular friends and I loved it.

And you fell in love at 15???? Gosh, talk about having a history together!! I couldn't get a man to marry me until I was almost 28, and even then, threats were involved ... :)

Okay, ROSEANNA, you are the second person who has suggested this book to me, so I'd say that I need to take a look at it for sure, especially since I know your style of writing and love it. Thanks for the recommendation. I'm always looking for "edgy" in the Christian market ... :)


Care said...

Great interview - great comments!

ibeeeg said...

Great interview. I so love reading author's thoughts. I love really like it when couples from a previous book show up in the following books. That they continue on with their story even if it is a background story.

I have not read any books in this series. I certainly do want to read them now.


Anonymous said...

Great interview Amy! It's reminiscent of the recent discussion you hosted on what constitutes Christian fiction. Interesting too, about romance sterotypes having a basis in fact. Thanks for the posting!

Unknown said...

Wonderful interview, thank you so much for the great questions, Amy, and thanks to Julie for the terrific in-depth answers! I am planning on spending some time with the O'Connor family over the long weekend. :)

Gaby317 said...

I hadn't heard of Christian fiction/romances and it was interesting to read about it in your interview. Now that I think about it, it makes sense as a niche.

Thank you for the recommendation of another good author and books to look out for. Please do enter me in your contest!

gaby317nyc AT gmail DOT com

Renee (BlacknGoldGirlsBookSpot) said...

Wow I think this interview with Julie may have been the best one yet! Great questions Amy! I'm so happy I got to see more about the next series by Julie, I'm SUPER excited!!! I love to read big, thick books so keep the 450+ page books coming...whenever I see a book, believe it or not one of the first things I look at is length...seriously! I'm like, "Oh...this book's only 200 pages...too short!" I think I associate page length with (hopefully) good character development and a juicy plot! Julie's books certainly don't disappoint when it comes to that! I'm always sad when I see a good series come to an end but I'm happy that I haven't seen the last of the O'Connors for a while! :-)As for other edgy inspirational books I think Deeanne Gist's books definitely have that element and they're also really good, i just finished a Bride in the Bargain and...loved it! Thanks again for the great blog Amy and the terrific books Julie!!!!!!!!!


chey said...

Great interview,
I like series' where people you've previously met keep turning up. I can keep track of what's going on with them.

BurtonReview said...

What a great interview, I'll have to bookmark it and come back to it when I am done reading the books (hint hint to Amy)

CherylS22 said...

What a great interview! I'm glad that Julie Lessman was able to have her books published on her terms - that of a passion for God & for romance. In life, I feel there always has to be a balance between the spiritual & the secular and Ms. Lessman seems to have this balance in her books.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I love that I learn something new with every one of Julie's interviews. I must say that I am really looking forward to the authenticity in her books. Real feeling, real romance,sounds like my kind of book!

sherrinda(at)gmail(dot)com #WC OR books(didn't know if I needed to do this everytime or not! ;)

Julie Lessman said...

CARE, thanks for stopping by and for your sweet comment!

IBEEEG ... gosh, every time I say your name, I think of a little baby saying how big he/she is and it makes me smile. Is that what it means? And goodness, I certainly want you to read my books too -- thanks!!

RHAPSODYINBOOKS ... thanks for dropping in! And I appreciate your comment about my romance stereotypes having basis in fact. I have to admit, the only thing stereotype about my books is the fact that they are a romance (albeit a family-saga-style one) where the characters are pretty attractive. Beyond that, I don't think they are too stereotypical ... ESPECIALLY for romance!

RUTH!!! Thank YOU for spending time with the O'Connors this weekend ... give them my love, will ya? :)

GABY317 ... oh, I have to admit, my friend, that YOU are just the type of reader I am looking for ... someone who does NOT read Christian fiction/romance on a regular basis. When I can win someone like you over ... and I have, if the letters I receive are any measure ... it is extra sweet because "crossover" into the main market is every CBA writer's dream! Thanks for stopping by.

RENEE!!! Honey, I really need to put you on the payroll, girl! Thank you for all of your support. And I am SO excited because I just picked up A Bride in the Bargain last weekend!!!


Nise' said...

Enjoyed the interview. Its great to learn more about the book(s) and Julie. I am looking forward to reading A Passion Denied this weekend!

Amee said...

Wonderful interview! I love when an author interview makes me want to read their books even more because they just seem like such nice or cool people. :)

Anonymous said...

Great interview! These books sound really good and I like seeing a little edgier Christian romance since it's a nice middle ground from the too much information romances :)

Carole said...

There's always something new in Julie's interviews! That was funny about all that you wanted to include in order to make your book darker. Sometimes agents and editors do know what's best! I'm grateful they recognized your talent, Julie.

Francine Rivers and Liz Curtis Higgs, while different, are excellent choices. This has nothing to do with her books, but I've heard Liz speak, and she has an awesome testimony.

Thank you again for all these giveaways.

cjarvis [at] bellsouth [dot] net

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