Julie Lessman --- whose latest novel, A LOVE SURRENDERED, concludes her Winds of Change series --- talks about how a book that impacts your life the way GONE WITH THE WIND did hers is the true definition of “a gift that keeps on giving.” She illustrates how her passion for God combined with the passion for romance that the Margaret Mitchell classic ignited in her inspired her to become a romance writer.
You know, there are just some things that say Christmas to me --- egg nog sprinkled with cinnamon, spritz cookies, a nativity scene, the scent of pine needles, glowing candles, twinkle lights, Christmas carols. And, oh yes, the heady scent of a crisp, new book I’ve been longing to read!
From the time I was a little girl, books have always been a joyous part of my holidays --- whether it was the Lifesaver Candy books or Golden Books I’d always stuff in my children’s Christmas stockings…or the family Bible, from which we always read the Christmas story before we opened presents. So it’s no surprise to me that the one gift that has had a deeper, more powerful, more life-changing impact on my life than any other, except the Bible, of course, would be a gray hardback copy of GONE WITH THE WIND.
Goodness, the moment Scarlett seared Rhett with a look on the winding staircase of Twelve Oaks, I was a goner, my brain irrevocably branded with the burning desire for romance. Heaven help me, I was only 12, but that novel captured me like no other work of fiction had done, instilling in me a desire to embark on my own romance-writing career. And so, I immediately sat down to write a 150-page, single-spaced manuscript that eventually became --- some 40 years later --- the basis for my debut novel, A PASSION MOST PURE. And to think it all started with the gift of a book! Today, I like to think that not only are Margaret Mitchell’s fingerprints all over me in my religious devotion to romance, but God’s as well --- merging my passion for romance with my passion for Him.
Speaking of religiously devoted, I may well be one of the few GONE WITH THE WIND fans whose obsession became a habit --- a religious habit, to be exact, of the “nun” variety. Although I had read the book at the age of 12 (and reread it a gazillion times since then), I never saw the movie until I turned 16. Way back then, GONE WITH THE WIND was only re-released every seven years. So when I found out that a theatre in my city was sponsoring a free premiere for the local religious and clergy, I actually dressed up as a nun to go. One of my friends had a sister in the convent who loaned us novice habits and off we went! I sat there mesmerized, shoving free popcorn into my mouth as I watched the emotional tug-o-war between Rhett and Scarlett. It was one of the most thrilling times of my teens…until we ran into the nuns from our high school. Boy, did we get in trouble! But I must have looked pretty convincing in the novice garb, I guess, because one of our nuns started talking to me about a religious vocation. Are you kidding? A nun who writes romance? Uh, no!
Fast forward almost 40 years later --- I’m sitting in a beauty parlor reading a Newsweek magazine July 2001 cover article about Christian entertainment that stated Christian books, movies and music were on the threshold of exploding. My heart jumped, and something in my spirit said, “Now’s the time to finish your book,” so I started it the next month. Hard to believe that almost 40 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!
Now I don’t know about all those umpteen gifts of fruitcakes, ties and Christmas sweaters that are given away each and every year, but to me, a book that impacts your life the way GONE WITH THE WIND did mine is the true definition of a Christmas gift that keeps on giving!