Q&A: Julie Lessman Concludes Her Heart of San Francisco Series
Can you give us a little synopsis of the series?
From the glitter and glamour of San Francisco’s Nob Hill and Napa wine country, to the seedy dance halls and gambling dens of the Barbary Coast, The Heart of San Francisco series is a study in contrasts between the haves and have-nots and barriers between rich and poor that only faith can transcend.
This is the story of the McClares, a wealthy political family in 1902 San Francisco, that not only highlights the struggles of faith and heart of three cousins, but of the matriarch of the family as well. A widow of strong faith and beauty, Caitlyn McClare butts heads and hearts with her handsome brother-in-law Logan McClare, the fiancé who betrayed her before she married his brother.
In a breathtaking city where the Irish were predominant in the early 1900s and wielding power in both politics and wealth, The Heart of San Francisco series tells the love stories of three Irish cousins. In book one, Love at Any Cost, Cassidy McClare is a spunky heiress without a fortune who falls in love with a handsome pauper looking to marry well. In book two, Dare to Love Again, Allison McClare is a sassy socialite burned by love who goes head to head (and heart to heart) with a jaded cop burned by the upper class. And finally in book three, Surprised by Love, we have the age-old tale of the ugly duckling who blossoms into a swan when Megan McClare returns home after a year in Paris, only to capture the heart of a boy who once spurned her, with the help of the best friend who steals her heart.
What was your inspiration for choosing the city of San Francisco? Did you get to travel there for research?
Well, I have always loved San Francisco, so when I started brainstorming a new series after the O’Connor Irish family saga—seven books that take place in Boston—it only made sense to not only switch up cities, but coasts as well, so San Francisco immediately came to mind. I love its beauty ... its charm, and when I delved into its history, I was thrilled to discover that it had a huge Irish contingent as well in the early 1900s (30% of the population at one point).
Although I didn’t actually travel there for research, I had visited before and completely fell in love with the city. Of course, it certainly didn’t hurt to discover that my editor grew up there, so that forced me to research this book more than any of my others. Because, you see, I knew first and foremost that I would have to faithfully bring San Francisco alive for her before I could bring it alive for my readers
The beginning of your plot for Surprised by Love with your main character, Megan, sounds a bit like the old Audrey Hepburn movie Sabrina. I have to ask if you have seen the film or perhaps the version with Julia Ormand and Harrison Ford?
Oh, yes, Yes, YES!! I absolutely love Sabrina, both versions, although my favorite is the older film with Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden, but then I’m a Baby Boomer, so what do you expect? But I love the most recent version as well with Julia Ormand, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear, which is wonderful too!
You know, I never really put the two together, but the plot of Surprised by Love is a wee bit like Sabrina, I suppose, in that Megan McClare is a shy and pudgy bookworm who returns from a year in Paris so completely transformed that even her own family doesn’t recognize her. But where Sabrina turns the heads of two brothers who didn’t even know she existed before, Meg turns the heads of two men who were very well aware of her presence—one as a nemesis in school who bitterly mocked her, and the other a best friend/mentor who had been a big brother and hero to her from the age of seven.
Can you tell us what your research process looks like? Do you research everything before beginning or as you write?
Well, I’m no Bodie Thoene, but then she’s married to a historian, so she’s got an advantage! I do some research prior to writing, but most comes into play while I’m writing the book, as needed. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without the Internet, because that accounts for 95% of my research, with another 5% in books and travel. I have to be honest, though, my passion is more character- and plot-driven than historical, although I am keenly aware that historical accuracy is key in winning the confidence of historical fiction readers. Fortunately, one of my prayer partners is exceptional at historical details that I may miss—like my reference to chocolate chip cookies in a 1916 scene when chocolate chips weren’t invented until the 1930s. Whoops!
My publisher, Revell, is also excellent at keeping me honest in research, from time-appropriate phraseology and words (I have seven on-line dictionaries I use, two of which are etymology dictionaries) to the historical feasibility of key plot points (my editor is married to an Irish historian—what are the odds!). Like most writers, I have a number of ways I research, many of which can be found in a blog I wrote on research entitled, “Digging Deep: Unearthing Story Ideas From Your Own Backyard,” which lists TONS of ways I research and general research ideas.
What was the most challenging part about writing this novel particularly?
Oh, without question, incorporating a surprise-twist ending like I do in all of my books because by book three in any series, people are on to you and the way you think, so it’s difficult to pull one over on them.
Also, I was shocked to discover that Meg’s story in Surprised by Love was a real bear to write, I guess because I expected it be a breeze since I loved the idea of an ugly duckling becoming a swan who turns the head of a former nemesis. And with a first line like I hope you’re hungry, Mr. Caldwell, because I’m serving up crow, I figured the fun and sass of it would cause it to flow, especially with the groundwork already laid for a quirky but lovable family and ongoing romance/friendship between the widowed matriarch and her brother-in-law.
But, as usually happens in my books, the characters dictate to me how the story is going to go, so Meg threw me a curve. Instead of exacting revenge on Devin Caldwell, I realized she is just too sweet and kind and gentle to ever do that to anyone, so that shifted the story for me to a much more serious vein, throwing me for a loop. It took a lot of prayer and time to get to the end, but I finally did, and I actually like it a lot.
How is this series different from your previous projects?
This series is a bit of a departure for me because it’s lighter, funnier, less passionate—both romantically and spiritually—and a lot shorter and less complicated than my O’Connor saga.
Also, instead of a happily married mother and father such as we had in The Daughters of Boston and Winds of Change series, Caitlyn McClare is a godly widowed matriarch who is at romantic and spiritual odds with her rogue brother-in-law Logan McClare, with whom she was once in love. Engaged to Logan at a very young age, Cait broke if off when she discovered Logan’s infidelity, resulting in her marrying Logan’s brother instead. Now, 27 years down the road, Cait is a widow and Logan is determined to win her back, so the romantic tension between these two undergirds the romantic tension between the main hero and heroine in each book.
How can readers connect with you?
I love to hear from reader friends, so if they like, they can contact me through my website at http://www.julielessman.com, through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or Pinterest, and by signing up for my newsletter at http://www.julielessman.com/sign-up-for-newsletter/.
Also, I have a cool blog feature on my website called “Journal Jots” at http://www.julielessman.com/journal-jots1/, which is a very laid-back journal to my reader friends that will give your readers an idea as to my relaxed style of writing. Or readers can check out my favorite romantic and spiritual scenes from each of my books on the “Excerpts” tab of my website at http://www.julielessman.com/excerpts/.
Of course I can be found daily at The Seekers, a group blog of 13 published authors that inspires, encourages, teaches, and informs aspiring writers on the road to publication and beyond. Although Seekerville has been listed on Writers Digest 2013 and 2014 “Best 101 Websites for Writers,” it is also a blog devoted to readers as well, without whom none of us would even be here.