Wednesday, February 10, 2016


"You should be kissed and often
 and by someone who knows how."

—Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara

in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind

Oh, honey, can I hear a big AMEN to that???

Julie here, and as a die-hard romance writer and reader, I thought we should talk about “kisses” in honor of Valentine’s Day. Why? Because on the subject of kisses, I am sooooo in agreement with my most flirtatious heroine, Charity O’Connor who said in A Passion Redeemed:
 “You have to be tough and focus on the end result—getting Brady to admit he’s in love with you.”

“But how do I do that?” Lizzie chewed on her thumbnail.

Leaning back in her chair, Charity placed her hands over her pregnant stomach, lips pursed in a satisfied smile. “With the most deadly weapon in a women’s arsenal.”

Both Faith and Lizzie stopped breathing. They leaned forward. “And what’s that?” Lizzie whispered.

Charity paused, tone hushed with reverence.“The kiss.”                                     A Passion Denied by Julie Lessman

Ah, yes, “the kiss”!

The very subject people have been talking about for centuries, immortalizing “the kiss” in every medium possible:
❤️ IN BOOKS ❤️
The kiss itself is immortal.
It travels from lip to lip, century to century,
 from age to age.  Men and women garner these kisses,
 offer them to others and then die in turn.

—Guy de Maupassant

“A kiss may not be the truth,
but it is what we wish were true.” 
—Steve Martin in L.A. Story (1991)

This Kiss
by Faith Hill 
A kiss is a secret told to the mouth instead of the ear;
kisses are the messengers of love and tenderness. 
—Ingrid Bergman 
Make me immortal with a kiss.

—Christopher Marlowe


Well, it’s either kiss me or kill me,
 that’s how I see it.

—Tom Waits 
Julie and Keith sitting in a tree,
First comes love, then comes marriage,
Then comes Julie with the baby carriage.

So … I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the favorite kisses I’ve written and analyze WHY they appeal to me so much. Well, fun for me, at least … and the other kissaholics out there, maybe!

But first—a caveat. Some in the Christian market have called me “The Kissing Queen,” so it’s no secret I like my kisses way more hot than sweet. You see, before I came to Christ, I was one of the huge majority of women who read secular romance, so for me, romantic passion is key. However, as some of us know from judging Rita books, most of the secular market is prettttttttty passionate/graphic, which is why I don’t read secular books anymore except when judging the Ritas.

So … when I started reading Christian romance over forty years ago, it was like going from five-alarm hot tamales to pabulum, the final straw being a book I read by a top-name author when I was in my fifties, where the hero kissed the heroine on the last page in front of seven people after he asked her to marry him.

Uh, no.

That was the moment I decided to write my own Christian romance for women like me— “hot tamales” who love God with all of their heart and want to honor Him in their reading and writing.

That said, when I combed all the love scenes in my books—and those who have read my books know there are plenty—I only found a few kissing scenes that were “sweet” vs. hot.

Yeah, pathetic, I know.

Therefore … if you like your kisses “sweet” (i.e. almost kisses, non-kisses, mental kisses, all of which you can find on my KISSES, KISSES, KISSES tab of my website) rather than “hot,” then you might want to stop reading after point  #1 below, which is one of the sweetest kisses I have ever written. Shall we begin?


Now a soft kiss—aye, by that kiss,
I vow an endless bliss.
—John Keats

This is a scene from A Love Surrendered, where the hero, Steven O’Connor, is railroaded by his family to take the heroine, Annie Kennedy, and her five-year-old sister home. When he walks them to the door, the little girl, Glory, is in her sister’s arms and gives Steven a kiss goodnight on the lips, then insists he kiss her sister as well.

Heart thudding, he did the only thing he knew to do. He kissed Annie right on the tip of her nose. Clearing his throat, he stepped back. “Well, good night, ladies.”
“No, silly,” Glory said, “like this . . .” She demonstrated with a sweet little peck on her sister’s lips as if he were too stupid to understand, then tilted her head. “See? It’s easy.”
Too easy, he thought with a trip of his pulse. Way, way too easy . . .
“Stop it, Glory, Steven doesn’t want to—”
“Sure I do,” he whispered, his words shocking him as much as Annie. Gaze holding hers, he slowly leaned in, close enough to see the long sweep of her lashes, the pale gold in eyes so green, he felt like he was in Oz, about to be granted a wish. He heard the soft hitch of her breath when she stopped breathing because it coincided with the halt of air in his own lungs. Cupping her face in his hand, his eyelids sheathed closed at the touch of her lips—soft, supple, and just a hint of peppermint from the candy she’d offered him in the car. It was meant to be no more than a peck like Glory had given him, but somehow his mouth wanted to linger and explore . . .
He stepped in close, body grazing hers and Glory’s till they were one. A little-girl giggle broke the trance, and Annie’s lips curved beneath his.
“His whiskers are itchy, aren’t they, Annie?” Glory asked, patting his face. “Kind a makes you wiggly all over, doesn’t it?”
Annie’s eyes glowed as she caressed her own cheek. “Very wiggly,” she whispered.

To me, what makes this kiss so romantic are the following things:

   MALE POV: Too easy, he thought with a trip of his pulse. Way, way too
 easy . . .
    FIVE SENSES:  Sight—close enough to see the long sweep of her lashes, the pale gold in eyes so green; Hearing—He heard the soft hitch of her breath; Smell and Taste— a hint of peppermint; Touch— the touch of her lips—soft, supple.
    RESTRAINED PASSION: Believe it or not, I DO like restrained passion, which a lot of my heroes employ as you’ll see in the next scene, because it thuds the pulse without steaming the glasses. ;)

Okay, all you “sweet” kiss lovers out there—thank you for joining us and we bid you farewell as we continue on with anyone who likes a litttttle bit more heat …


Never ask a woman if you may kiss her.
Instead, learn to read body language.
—Neil Strauss

In A Hope Undaunted, while hero Luke McGee is comforting heroine Katie O’Connor, he is shocked to sense her attraction to him despite her prior disdain, a dream come true for the boy who’s had a crush on her since she was eleven. When he kisses her, his suspicions are confirmed, escalating the romantic tension … and “the kiss.”

As if under a spell, his gaze was drawn to her lips, parted and full, and the sound of her shallow breathing filled him with a fierce longing. “Oh, Katie,” he whispered, no power over the pull he was suddenly feeling. In slow motion, he bent toward her, closing his eyes to caress her mouth with his own.
A weak gasp escaped her as she stiffened, but he couldn’t relent. The taste of her lips was far more than he bargained for, and he drew her close with a raspy groan. With a fierce hold, he cupped the back of her neck and kissed her deeply, gently, possessive in his touch. His fingers twined in her hair, desperate to explore.
And then all at once, beyond his comprehension, her body melded to his with an answering groan, and he was shocked when her mouth rivaled his with equal demand. Desire licked through him, searing his body and then his conscience. With a heated shudder, he gripped her arms and pushed her back, his breathing ragged as he held her at bay.
“We can’t do this,” he whispered. He dropped his hold and exhaled, gouging shaky fingers through disheveled hair. His gaze returned, capturing hers and riddled with regret. “Believe me, Katie, as much as I want to, I’ve learned the hard way to take things slow. I should have never started this, and I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

To me, what makes this kiss so romantic are the following things:

   AGAIN, MALE POV: He was shocked when her mouth rivaled his with equal demand.
    FIVE SENSES:  Sight— his gaze was drawn to her lips, parted and full; Hearing— the sound of her shallow breathing; Taste—The taste of her lips; Touch—His fingers twined in her hair.
    RESTRAINED PASSION: Once again, longing vs. restraint is very attractive in a Inspy hero.
   OPPOSITES ATTRACT: Not just with characters, but with words too, combining opposite phrases such as “he cupped the back of her neck” (implying gentleness) with “he kissed her deeply (implying passion) and “gently” with “possessive in his touch.”
   TRIGGER PHRASES: I’m sorry, but I LOVE trigger phrases like: “raspy groan” or “ragged breathing” because I can hear it and almost feel what he’s feeling.


A kiss, and all was said.
—Victor Hugo

Later in the same scene from above, Katie slaps Luke silly despite her obvious attraction to him, unleashing his anger toward the girl who’s mocked him since he was a boy. This ramps his earlier tender attraction all the way to wounded ego, resulting in an angry kiss to not only prove she's lying when she says she's not attracted to him, but to spurn her like she did to him.

She tried to shove him out of the way. “I’m going home.”
“Not yet,” he whispered, blocking her in with a push to the wall. “You can turn your nose up at me all you want, Katydid, but we both know that slap wasn’t so much about an innocent kiss . . .” He bent close, his eyes on fire and the scent of peppermint hot against her face. “As how it made you feel. To you I’ll always be riffraff, something vulgar and crude. Well, welcome to my world, Miss O’Connor. And, please, let me show you how we do it on the ‘streets.’”
In a catch of her breath, he took her mouth by force, his late-day beard rough against her skin. A faint moan escaped her lips and all resistance fled, burned away by the heat of his touch, leaving her weak and wanting. His mouth roamed at will, no longer gentle as he devoured her, ravenous against the smooth curve of her throat, the soft flesh of her ear. With a guttural groan, he jerked her close with powerful arms, consuming her mouth with a kiss surely driven by the sheer will to ravage.

What makes this kiss so romantic for me is the following:

   WIDE RANGE OF EMOTION: Both of the above scene clips from #2 and #3 are from the same scene in A Hope Undaunted (WHICH, by the way, is not only my favorite book I've ever written, but will be available for FREE DOWNLOAD beginning March 1st, so mark your calendars and take advantage!), creating a roller-coaster effect of emotions from caring and concern on the hero’s part in the very beginning … to shock, attraction, and passion during the first kiss … then shock and anger over Katie’s rejection, culminating in revenge and retribution with a kiss that creates hurt and regret for both characters. In my opinion, this roller-coaster effect of emotions not only heightens the tension in the plot, but the romantic tension as well.  

      NOTE: You can read this scene in its entirety on the  FAVE KISSING SCENES tab of my website.  AND GUESS WHAT??? A Hope Undaunted will be available for FREE DOWNLOAD beginning March 1st, so put it on your Amazon Wish List and download it then because it is my MOST FAVORITE book of all the books I've written! And if you don't think so too, I'll give you a money-back guarantee beginning March 1st! ;)
   POWERFUL WORDS: I love, Love, LOVE the use of emotionally charged words such as devour, consume, guttural, ravage, each further enhancing the drama of an already tense situation, ratcheting up the romantic tension I so love.


He kisses like he’s dying of thirst, and I’m water.

—Jennifer L. Armentrout

In this scene from A Passion Denied, heroine Lizzie O’Connor has been in love with hero John Brady since she was fourteen, but he only sees her as a little girl … until she tricks him with a surprise—and forbiddenkiss.

A fraction of a second became eons as she awaited his rejection. His body was stiff with shock, but no resistance came. And in a sharp catch of her breath, he drew her to him with such force, she gasped, the sound silenced by the weight of his mouth against hers. He groaned and clutched the back of her head as if to delve in her soul, a man possessed. His lips broke free to wander her throat, and shivers of heat coursed through her veins. In ragged harmony, their shallow breathing billowed into the night while his arms possessed her, molding her body to his.
“Oh, Brady, I’m so in love with you,” she whispered.
Her words severed his hold as neatly as the blade of a guillotine. He staggered to his feet, and icy cold replaced the warmth of his arms. Opening her eyes, she saw pain in his and grabbed his arm. “Brady, can’t you see? You love me too … not as a friend or a sister, but as a woman.”
“God help me, Beth, I can’t love you that way.” He stared like a zombie, chest heaving with jagged breaths that swirled into the cool night air, drifting away.
Just like her dreams.

To me, what makes this kiss so romantic are the following things:

   EXPOSING FORBIDDEN DESIRE: John Brady is attracted to Lizzie, but he refuses to act on it due to secret sins and pains from his past. To me, few things are more romantically passionate and tense than exposing desire in a hero who works so hard to hide it.
   RESTRAINED PASSION: From this kiss on, “restrained passion” is the hallmark of John Brady (a Billy-Graham-type hero) in the rest of the book, thus the title—A Passion Denied!


A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature
to stop speech when words become superfluous.

Okay, I’ll admit it—I have never written a cowboy kiss before, but I can still see Mary Connealy’s cowboy kiss in my mind from Sharpshooter in Petticoats, which practically gave me heatstroke. 

AND … because I love it SO much, I am posting Mary’s “no-nonsense cowboy kiss” first, then following up with my first cowboy kiss ever, which Mary inspired from her book, Sharpshooter in Petticoats:

“The one thing you don’t seem to know, woman,” Tom surged to his feet, “is that you can’t stop me.”
His arm whipped out quick as a striking rattler and he yanked her hard against his body. “You’re mine.”
He grabbed a hank of her hair. “You’ve been mine since the day we met. You were mine when you were married to another man. You were mine when you were giving birth to someone else’s child. You’re mine, and I’m through waiting for you.”
He sank his heavy hand deeper into her hair and tilted her head back. “We’re married. I will protect you. I will die for you.”
He kissed her until her knees went weak and her arms wrapped around his neck to keep from falling. Long moments later he raised his head, his blue eyes burning into hers.
“Better than that. I will live for you. That’s all you need to understand.” He swooped his head down.

Quick—somebody give me a fan—please! Okay, I’ll end today’s blog with my own version of the “no-nonsense cowboy” from my upcoming spring Seeker novella, “For Love of Liberty”:

           “No, ma’am, I’m tired of your yammering and I mean to go home, so I’m not going to tell you again, Liberty Bell—move that fancy dress of yours out of my way, or I’m going to move it for you.”
“You wouldn’t!” Those full pink lips parted in shock, and he mentally grazed them in his mind, tasting their softness.
“Try me.” He singed her with a glare as hot as the fire she’d lit in his belly.
Sparks and words continued to fly while that beautiful mouth just jabbered away, but the only thing he heard was the violent thud of his own pulse and the sound of those lips calling him home ...
“So there, Finn McShane!” she said with a stomp of her foot, “I will not get out of your way, and you can’t make me!”
He sighed. Poor, misguided little rich girl.
“Yeah?” He pushed the brim of his hat up. “Watch me.” Hurling his satchel to the floor, he heard the catch of her breath when he struck like lightning with an arm to her waist, jerking her close to kiss the daylights out of her while her boots dangled in the air.
Unfortunately, the moment he tasted those soft lips parted in surprise, he was struck by a little lightning of her own, electrifying every nerve in his body while his blood simmered to a dangerous boil. When a soft telltale mew escaped her, he was helpless to contain the low moan that scraped past his throat. Butting her to the door, he cradled her face in his hands, longing pumping through his veins as he claimed the sweetest lips he’d ever known, completely disarmed by the scent of her skin, the soft flesh of her ear. He’d dreamed of kissing Liberty O’Shea for as long as could remember, but he never expected this—a kiss that could surely tame his taste for all other woman.
The very thought bucked like a thorn-saddled bull, and with a shiver of sleet through his veins, he dropped her to the floor like he’d been bit by a rattler. She teetered precariously—along with his heart—eyes glazed and mouth still open in shock. Mustering all the calm he owned—a mite short at the moment—he yanked his hat down low and reached for the knob.
She bolted away so fast, Finn had to stifle a chuckle, tossing her a wink as he opened the door. “Told you.”

To me, what makes both of these kisses so romantic is the following:

   NO-NONSENSE MALE: I’m sorry, but as a reader (ahem … and a writer), I am a “wall-pusher” from way back, beginning with books/movies like Gone With the Wind and McClintock all the way up to The Notebook, so for me, that’s what makes this scene. I realize a lot of women take offense to this type of action in a romance novels due to evils such as abuse and sexual harassment found in today's society. Please note that this is merely romance in the same vein as the old Hollywood movies (or newer ones like The Notebook) with one exception—in my books, such behavior is always addressed throughout the course of the novel when the hero finally learns the error of his ways.

Okay, that’s it for today, and if you’d like to read some of my favorite kissing scenes in their entirety, be sure to check out the KISSES, KISSES, KISSES page of my website.

Now I'd like to hear from you all—name or post your favorite kiss you’ve ever written or read, and I’ll enter you to win both my new contemporary, Isle of Hope, or it’s brand-new prequel, A Glimmer of Hope. And if you already have IOH, I’ll substitute with the Seeker spring novella, so either way, it’s win-win!

I have a TON of sales/giveaways going on right now, so check out my weekly JOURNAL JOTS BLOG for details and links.

This is your chance to get my latest book, Isle of Hope, at the lowest price yet! It has a five-star rating on Amazon with 108 reviews, so I hope you’ll check them out soon because this sale ends at midnight on Valentine's Day!  ORDER ISLE OF HOPE HERE!
Yes, it's true -- this is your chance to get the prequel to Isle of Hope at the lowest price, so here's the link! PRE-ORDER A GLIMMER OF HOPE HERE!

Julie Lessman is an award-winning author whose tagline of “Passion With a Purpose” underscores her intense passion for both God and romance. A lover of all things Irish, she enjoys writing close-knit Irish family sagas that evolve into 3-D love stories: the hero, the heroine, and the God that brings them together.
Award-winning author of The Daughters of Boston, Winds of Change, and Heart of San Francisco series with Revell Publishing, Julie Lessman was named American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and has garnered 17 Romance Writers of America and other awards. Voted #1 Romance Author of the year in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards, Julie was also named on Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction and Borders Best Fiction list. Her latest novel, Surprised by Love, appeared on Family Fiction magazine’s list of Top Ten Novels of 2014, and her independent novel A Light in the Window is an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers' Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner. Julie has also written a self-help workbook for writers entitled Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Sweet and Inspirational Markets. You can contact Julie through her website and read excerpts from each of her books at

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

From Identity to Essence in the Christian Romance

Myra Johnson
On Wednesday evenings my husband and I attend the pastor’s class at our church, and for the past few weeks the topic has been marriage. (Yes, even after nearly 43 years together, we’re still learning!) The basis for the class is a series of recorded sermons by Timothy Keller. I’ve also been reading Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage, which underscores and expands upon the sermon topics.

The thing about being a writer is that I’m not just reading or listening as a wife. Even as I’m thinking about how to apply the concepts to my real-life marriage, my writer’s brain is also filing everything away for use with my fictional characters and their relationships.

Which brings me to today’s topic: how our approach to character growth from identity to essence sets the Christian romance novel apart.

If the “identity to essence” concept is new to you, it’s borrowed from author and screenwriting consultant Michael Hauge. Simply put, the character’s identity is the persona he/she has adopted as a means of dealing with fear and hiding from a wounded past. As the story develops, the character begins to glimpse how much richer his/her life could be without this self-protective mask. The character arc is the gradual stripping away of the mask and overcoming fear so that the character finally accepts and lives in his/her essence or true self. (For a more detailed explanation, see this article on Hauge’s website.)

Wondering how “identity to essence” relates to a class on marriage? Let me tie them together with a quote from Tim Keller’s book:
“What, then, is marriage for? It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.”
Doesn’t that sound a lot like the journey from identity to essence? 

One of the primary differences between Christian romance novels and many secular romances concerns the characters’ initial attraction to each other. In secular romances, those first encounters tend to focus heavily on the characters’ physical attributes—the heroine’s curvy figure, limpid eyes, and lustrous long hair; the hero’s trim waist, muscled biceps, and broad shoulders. The relationship may then jump quickly to the bedroom, short-circuiting the “getting to know you” phase during which a meaningful friendship should be developing. And according to Tim Keller, friendship—our spouse as our very best friend—is crucial to a solid marriage relationship.

In Christian romance, there’s still some interest in physical attributes—we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t take at least passing note of appearances the first time we meet someone—but even more important are those little glimpses into not only who these characters are at the outset, but who they have the potential of becoming once the masks are tossed aside. This is where friendship begins, when someone else sees not only our flaws and faults but our best selves and is not only willing but committed to sticking it out with us even when that “best self” retreats.

To give you an example of how these concepts play out in a story, I’m going back to one of my earliest published novels (and still one dearest to my heart), Autumn Rains. Here’s ex-con Healy Ferguson’s first meeting with Valerie Bishop, the widow of the friend who had encouraged and supported Healy during his prison years.

Healy’s first glimpse of the slender woman took his breath away. Her gray eyes sparkled with a brightness to rival the summer sunshine. She wore her pale blond hair pulled back from her face in a fancy clip. Long strands shimmered across the shoulders of her blue-flowered dress. 

Obviously, the first thing Healy notices about Valerie is her beauty. However, he already knows a little about her inner beauty as described in his late friend’s letters. Then in this next excerpt, he quickly senses Valerie’s apprehension, an outer sign of the PTSD she struggles with as a result of her husband’s tragic death. This is her identity, her mask of self-protection. Healy’s thoughts also reveal his own identity, his self-doubt, insecurity, and hopelessness about his chances for a happy future.

Her kind, honey-soft voice belied the uncertainty Healy read in her posture and expression. Even with a fresh change of clothes, Healy knew he still must look like a down-and-out drifter. He swallowed and met her gaze. “I don’t need much, ma’am, and I know how to work hard. If you give me a chance, I promise I won’t let you down.” 

And Valerie responds this way, revealing aspects of her true self that Healy will fall in love with all too soon:

She swept him with an appraising glance, and her gray eyes softened. “Pastor Henke seems to think you’re just the man for the job, Mr. Ferguson, and he’s never given me reason to question his judgment.” 

So the interest, if not full-on attraction (on Valerie’s part, anyway), is evident, and it isn’t based so much on appearances as on what each sees in the other’s potential.

As their friendship deepens through the course of the story, Valerie’s belief in Healy will restore his confidence and enable him to find success and fulfillment as a free man. In turn, Healy draws Valerie out of her self-protective shell and helps her to live a full and vibrant life again. Their growing love and concern for each other takes them on a shared journey from identity to essence.

There’s so much more about writing the Christian romance that I could tie in to Tim Keller’s teachings on marriage. Instead, I’ll offer you a chance to win your choice of Tim Keller’s book OR an autographed copy of my novel Autumn Rains. Just mention in a comment if you’d like to be included in either or both of the drawings, and I’ll toss your name into the rose petal basket (in honor of Valentine’s Day next Sunday). Winners announced in the Weekend Edition!

Let’s talk! Writers, how do you see the identity-to-essence journey playing out in your work-in-progress? Can you see friendship as part of the equation? Readers, same questions for you, but talk about the characters in a novel you’ve read recently.

Autumn Rains. Healy knows all about prisons, both the physical one he’s been released from and the emotional one he keeps himself trapped in. 

Valerie is caught up in post-traumatic stress disorder. Shadowy moments from a night she can’t fully remember bombard her without warning, keeping her trapped between the painful past and a future that seems hopeless.

But God promises to repay the years that have been lost; for those who trust in Him, He promises refreshing, life-giving rain. Will Val and Healy trust to see God’s perfect plan, or will they choose the chains that hold them back?

Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. Myra is a two-time finalist for the prestigious ACFW Carol Awards, and her Heartsong Presents romance Autumn Rains (November 2009) won RWA’s 2005 Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript.  Myra and her husband are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters who, along with their godly husbands, have huge hearts for ministry. Seven grandchildren take up another big chunk of Myra’s heart. Originally from Texas, the Johnsons moved to the Carolinas in 2011. They love the climate and scenery, but they may never get used to the pulled pork Carolinians call “barbecue”! The Johnsons share their home with two very pampered doggies who don’t always understand the meaning of “Mom’s trying to write.”

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