Over the last
five years Julie Lessman has made her mark on historical fiction. Her novels
take place in exciting places during interesting times and chronicle the loves
and losses of her engaging characters. Her latest novel concludes her Heart of
San Francisco series. Julie sat down with us to discuss her big finale,
Surprised by Love (Revell).
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
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
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
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
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
Can you tell us what your research
process looks like? Do you research everything before beginning or as you
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
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