Thursday, March 30, 2017

PICTURE PERFECT - Emily C Reynolds - One Free Book

Bio: I grew up in a small town in southern Maine and had a childhood that was wonderful in all the ways that matter. My parents were in fulltime Christian ministry, so we didn’t have a lot of “extras” growing up, but we saw firsthand what it means to invest in things of eternal significance. I’m so grateful that God gave me humble, loving, self-sacrificing parents who taught us to love God and put Him first, above all else.

I graduated from Gordon College in Massachusetts with degrees in English Language and Literature as well as Biblical Studies. I’ve earned my living as a professional wedding photographer, high school English teacher, newspaper copy editor, piano teacher, and women’s self-defense instructor.

And now I can officially add author to that list! My first book, Picture Perfect, released March 2 from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. A dream come true!

The best thing that ever happened to me was walking into a coffee shop one morning and walking out, leaving my heart with the fine-looking barrista working behind the counter. My husband Jason is the inspiration for my storybook heroes and my biggest cheerleader on this writing journey. We are blessed with a teenage son, two cats, and a dog named Boomer.

Welcome, Emily. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
A ton! So many people give writers the advice “write what you know,” and I think it’s natural for our passions to flow into our stories in some form or another.

A perfect example in Picture Perfect is the scenes relating to martial arts. Micah, the hero in the story, practices jujitsu. Lily, the heroine, studies boxing. One of the underlying currents of the story is the concept of self-defense and safety.

Having grown up in a Christian “bubble,” as a teen I was anxious about leaving for college. It didn’t help that the first college I attended was on the outskirts of New York City. The summer before freshman year, I asked a family friend (a police detective) if he would teach me self-defense. We got together and he showed me a few tactics, but I remember at the end of the evening feeling more worried, because as he showed me scenarios, my mind started to run. I realized how little I knew, and how many different ways a person could attack another person. (To be clear, it wasn’t his fault. He taught me simple techniques to use in an emergency. In retrospect, what I wanted was training and that’s not something that happens in one night!)

In college, I took an 8-week course that was an intro to martial arts. Again, nothing wrong with the instructor or the class. But it was about precision of strikes, blocks, and kicks, and step-by-step attack/defense sequences. It was not “down and dirty” self-defense. (It wasn’t designed to be, but in my ignorance, I equated “martial arts” with “women’s self-defense” and left feeling frustrated and vulnerable.)

Fast forward a few years. Not long after meeting my husband, I learned he studied jujitsu (a soft-style martial art). He asked if I wanted to learn. I said no. I wasn’t interested in jujitsu. I wanted to learn self-defense. So he invited me to meet his instructor, who was excited to teach me techniques geared for women. I started coming early, before jujitsu class, to learn. I learned about women’s areas of strength, awareness and alertness, and the physics of the human body. I practiced palm strikes and knees to the groin until I developed muscle memory and instinct and earned the nickname “Lethal Knees.”

Then my session would end, and jujitsu class would begin. It didn’t take long before I was joining them on the mat. J

I love teaching self-defense because I've seen wonderful things happen when a woman learns she really can protect herself physically. We have a vested interest in our physical and sexual safety and should not leave it up to chance or assume it's someone else's responsibility.

Learning self-defense helps develop confidence, which has far-reaching effects—women discover inner strengths they never knew they had and become "stronger" on different playing fields of life, whether it be work, relationships, communication, setting boundaries, the list goes on.

What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Tried to put diesel in my Nissan Sentra. The nozzle didn’t fit (of course) and I got frustrated. I tried dribbling fuel into the reservoir, and the guy in the gas station gave me a weird look. I dribbled about 17 cents worth in the tank before I gave up, all huffy about “this stupid gas station,” and went in to pay. Except I’d forgotten my wallet. The gas station attendant was not impressed. 

When did you first discover you were a writer?
I’ve always loved reading but never thought I’d be able to write a whole story. That sounded daunting. I wrote a short story in high school and poetry in college, but that was it until about seven years ago when I started a story. Then I realized I needed to learn the craft and mechanics of story-building, so I joined American Christian Fiction Writers. I got connected to other writers, critique groups, and a storehouse of publishing information that I soaked up, realizing how little I really knew!

Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I read everything except Sci-Fi, and I haven’t read much fantasy. I grew up devouring every mystery I could find and still love everything from cozies to political thrillers. In high school, it was Russian lit, where I learned about symbolism and first discovered the power of using words to show rather than tell. In college, it was every other lit—Irish, British, women’s… Now I read a good deal of Christian publishing, and again it’s a wide range. If it’s good writing, count me in!

How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
The easiest escape is to tie on my sneakers and take my dog Boomer for a run through the nearby trails. It clears my head, releases stresses, and puts me in a good mood. I also have several hobbies, so when I start getting “burned out” with one, I shift attention to something else for a while—piano, photography, writing. Housework hasn’t managed to find its way on the list. ;)

How do you choose your characters’ names?
I choose names randomly, often from people I know or names I like. But when I choose a name of someone I know, the personality and physical description don’t come along for the ride. It’s just the name.

As my characters develop, they become very real to me. Probably too real. While I was writing Picture Perfect, one of the funniest things occurred one morning during my devotions. I use index cards to list prayer requests, friends’ names, or praises. Flipping through cards helps me stay focused when I’m praying, because my mind often wanders.

Well, I’d been working the night before on some scenes where Lily was feeling defensive and bitter toward Micah. The next morning as I pulled out my prayer cards and settled in, I started with couples on my prayer list, saying their names and praying for specific needs. “Lord, please be with Sarah and Shawn and their financial need… Please be with Mary and Aaron that they’d grow closer to you, that their marriage would be strong… And, Lord, please help Lily forgive Micah for the grudge she’s harboring, and help Micah as—”

And I burst out laughing. I’d just prayed for my imaginary characters.

What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Well, it’s not something I can take credit for. Nine years ago we adopted a four-year-old boy from China. It was the biggest unknown we’d ever faced. It was frightening and daunting, but amid all the questions was an overriding peace. It was in God’s hands. True, there was no way to know the outcome. Every step was faith.

During the adoption journey, I read Zech 4:10 and wrote this on our blog: Our job is to take that first step and let God do His part by seeing us through. We're learning that we can't leap ahead and plan it all NOW. God meets us one step at a time.

When people hear about us adopting they often say, “Wow! He is so blessed!” And we shake our heads and smile, because inside we know we’re the ones who are so blessed.

I love this quote from The Voice of Adventure in which Max Lucado says, “There is a rawness and a wonder to life. Pursue it. Hunt for it. Sell out to get it. Jesus says the options are clear. On one side there is the voice of safety. You can build a fire in the hearth, stay inside, and stay warm and dry and safe. Or you can hear the voice of adventure—God’s adventure … Follow God’s impulses. Adopt the child. Move overseas. Teach the class. Change careers. Run for office. Make a difference. Don’t listen to the whines of those who have settled for a second-rate life and want you to do the same so they won’t feel guilty. Your goal is not to live long; it’s to live. Sure it isn’t safe, but what is?”

What is your favorite food?    

What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge on my path to publication was twofold—not giving up and, well, not giving up. By that I mean not giving up on the dream of one day seeing my book in print, but also not giving up the fun of writing. Don’t let anyone fool you. Writing is hard. Many people don’t realize the years of labor involved. I had no idea what I was doing when I first started writing, so Picture Perfect got completely revamped multiple times. Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes! I loved learning how to plot a good story, and I absolutely love the result. But it took seven years to get to this point.

I also had to learn to accept who I am as an author. I’m not a particularly fast writer. The story doesn’t unfold in a straightforward manner for me. I’m much more seat-of-the-pants than plotter. So I have to constantly remind myself that it’s okay that the course is not charted; that’s part of the fun for me (I get to be surprised when a character says or does something). Only it’s not always fun! Sometimes it’s downright awful. It means the story doesn’t journey in a straight line from start to finish. There will be detours and dead ends and “wasted” time. But that’s just how it works for me. I can choose to get frustrated and think I’m less of a “real writer” because of it, or I can choose to accept that it’s just one of the weird ways I work.

Tell us about the featured book.
Picture Perfect is a light-hearted, hope-filled humorous romance. In this story, a photographer and a martial artist partnered for swing dance lessons also become unknowingly pitted against each other in a real estate tug-of-war. As romance heats up, secrets from the past close in. Agendas collide, and when the truth comes out, one wrong move could trip them up for good. 

Here’s the back cover copy:
Professional photographer Lily Caswell has one goal in mind—opening her own photography studio in her charming New England town. Too many months of working odd jobs has taken its toll, and Lily is determined to earn the coveted studio space in the heart of the downtown district. With the help of her friends and support of her church community, Lily sets out to make her dreams of Picture Perfect come true.

Micah Wyland is used to taking punches—just not in the usual way. He returns to his hometown with the intention of opening his own martial arts studio, but putting his past behind him proves harder than anticipated when Lily Caswell comes back into his life.

When they get thrown together for swing dance lessons, romance heats up on—and off—the dance floor. As Lily gets to know Micah, she believes he’s changed. But forgetting the past isn’t easy, especially when she discovers they’ve both set their sights on the same piece of real estate. And a dark secret from Micah’s past is quickly catching up ...

Please give us the first page of the book.
The critter had gulped its last breath in church, surrounded by coffee and donuts.

Not a bad way to go.

Lily Caswell stood in the muggy fellowship hall and stared into the wastebasket, frowning at the bat. It lay squashed between a chocolate glazed donut and a half-eaten bagel, its delicate webbed toes curled around a Styrofoam cup from Sunday’s fellowship time.

When had pest control become part of her job description as part-time janitor?

She bent closer and scrunched her nose. Gross. Hitching a shoulder to catch the sweat trickling down the side of her face, she contemplated the not-so-dearly departed.

You can do this. Tip the canister and dump everything into the plastic bag. Lily screwed her eyes closed. Despite the June heat, she shivered. Then she straightened her shoulders. It’s not hard. Come on.

She grabbed the wastebasket, keeping it at arm’s length, and upended it.

The dead thing moved.

But it didn’t slide into the bag with the rest of the trash. Defying gravity, the creature bolted straight for her face.

Lily’s scalp prickled. She shrieked and ducked, covering her head. Blood pounded up her neck, filling her ears with a whooshing noise. Almost as quickly, the roar in her ears faded, and she heard only her fast breathing.

And a few final thip-thip-thips as the bat flapped away.

Then blessed silence.

Except for the random creak from the back corner as a floorboard or joist in the ancient building settled. After several years, she should be used to hearing sounds she couldn’t trace, but at times, especially as light began to fade, being alone here still creeped her out.

Lily peeked between her crossed arms. The furry brown thing had folded itself into a corner of the rafters and nestled in.

Ugh. She stood, knees spongy, then grabbed the vacuum and fled. She backed out of the room and slammed the door. She tried to scratch away the prickly feeling on the back of her neck. But being alone in a 200-year-old New England church amplified the spook factor, especially with creepy little heavenly hosts flapping around, the echo of batwings still reverberating in the silence.

I love your writing style. How can readers find you on the Internet?
I love to connect with readers! Find me on Facebook under Emily C Reynolds or at my web site. My web site is:

Picture Perfect is also available through Lighthouse Publishing here:

Readers leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book. You must follow these instructions to be in the drawing. Please tell us where you live, at least the state or territory or country if outside North America. (Comments containing links may be subject to removal by blog owner.)

Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.

The only notification you’ll receive is the winner post on this blog. So be sure to check back a week from Saturday to see if you won. You will have 4 weeks from the posting of the winners to claim your book.

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Sylvia said...

I am from North Carolina. This is such a wonderfully beautiful and creative cover! I love it. Photography is sort of a hobby for me, so reading about this being a part of the plot makes it special. I am glad to see more contemporary romance also.


Emily C Reynolds said...

I know, Sylvia! I was so excited when I first got a peek at the cover design! The team at Lighthouse Publishing did such a great job. Photography is a huge passion of mine, so I think you'll find a lot of Lily's thoughts will resonate with how we see and feel things as artists. If you get the chance to read the story, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for joining us!

Amanda J. said...

I loved reading Emily's journey as a writer. I also picked up some good ideas: index cards for praying and the value of women's self defense! Picture Perfect sounds really fun, and I would love to be entered into the drawing. Thanks! ~Amanda J. from Florida

Emily C Reynolds said...

Thanks, Amanda! I really do like using note cards to help me organize my thoughts. Plus, I can easily add new cards whenever I want to mix things up or whatever. And I loved learning (and later teaching) self defense. Very empowering! Good luck in the drawing!

Melanie Backus said...

Sounds like a good one!

Melanie Backus, TX

Connie said...

Emily, congratulations on the publication of your first book. The story sounds lovely and the cover is very appealing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for offering someone your book.
Connie from KY

Tiffany Hall said...

Sounds like a good book!
Tiffany from LA

emily c reynolds said...

Thanks, Melanie! I really enjoyed writing it, and I think that comes across for the reader. Best wishes on the drawing! Would love to hear your feedback if you have a chance to read it!

Emily C Reynolds said...

You're welcome, Connie! It's truly my pleasure to share this story! Thanks for stopping by. Best wishes!

Emily C Reynolds said...

Thanks, Tiffany! I enjoyed incorporating some of my favorite things--photography, self defense, snappy dialogue between Micah and Lily... Best wishes!

Winnie Thomas said...

Thanks for the fun interview, Lena and Emily. Emily, your book looks and sounds terrific. I enjoyed reading about you and your writing journey.

Winnie T from Utah

Emily C Reynolds said...

Thanks so much, Winnie! So kind of you to say! I really enjoyed sharing a little of my writing journey, and Lena's questions were a lot of fun. If you'd like to stay in touch, feel free to like my Facebook author page. I love staying connected to readers!

Loraine Nunley said...

Emily is a new to me author and I find the premise of this book interesting. I really like that you put your passion for the martial arts into the story. Thanks for the interview and the giveaway.

Loraine in Texas

Sharon Richmond Bryant said...

Enter me!!
Conway SC.

rubynreba said...

Congratulations on your first book! Love to read it!
Beth from IA

Pam Graber said...

This book sounds fun! Would love to read it!

Pam in OH