The Marriage Pact (2011), Regrets Only (2012), and Baggage Check (2013)
M.J. (Manda) Pullen studied English Literature and Business at the University of Georgia in Athens, and later Professional Counseling at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She practiced psychotherapy for five years before taking time off for writing and raising her two young boys. Since high school, she has also been an executive assistant, cashier, telemarketer, professional fundraiser, marketing guru, magazine writer, grant-writer, waitress, box-packer, HR person, and casual drifter.
She reads and writes across many genres, and learns something from everything she does. No matter what she’s writing, M.J. believes that love is the greatest adventure there is, and that hopeless romantics are never really hopeless.
She loves to hear from readers and other writers – so drop her a line!
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Guest Blog by M.J. Pullen: What a Writer Learned in Acting Class
Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a terrible actress. I can’t even cry my way out of a traffic ticket. But I have taken several acting classes, for fun, over the course of my life and career: in college and afterward through community theater and continuing education. And I have to tell you, the experience not only helped me get more comfortable talking to groups, it improved my writing. Here are a few things I’ve learned to apply from stage to page.
Blocking: Actors always have instructions about where they are supposed to be on the stage, and what to do with their bodies. Every gesture, position and prop has significance and conveys feeling. Does she face him or turn away when she tells him she’s pregnant? When the villain is angry, does he pace back and forth or strain to contain himself? Are the characters close to one another, or separated by the distance of the stage? These same questions must be answered when you’re writing a scene in a story, so that the reader can create a scene in her mind with the important details, just as though she were watching it on the stage.
Motivation: “What’s my motivation?” It’s a question we’ve all heard actors ask, and it’s something your characters should ask you, too. For a scene to have believability and emotional investment, both reader and writer must understand why a character does what he does. Not only must character behavior make sense logically (as in, plausible and possible given the circumstances), it must make sense for the character’s personality, temperament and state of emotion. As a reader, almost nothing turns me off more than a character who does something incongruent or irrational just to move the plot forward. People who keep secrets, fail to report crimes, go blindly into danger, avoid telling loved ones how they feel – these are all valid behaviors if their motivation is clear, but are confusing when there is no reason for the character to work against themselves.
Suspension of Disbelief: Whether it’s Shakespeare in the Park on a simple wooden stage, or a CGI-enhanced blockbuster with an explosion every three minutes, plays and films are designed to transport us to a different world. Actors facilitate this by creating Suspension of Disbelief: which means they create an experience so emotionally compelling that we set aside our cognitive knowledge of reality and accept the world being created before our eyes, at least temporarily. Writers do this not only through emotional connection with the characters, but through the details we choose to include. In books, we can construct any reality we like, but we must give the reader enough information to follow us down our chosen path – along with the emotional incentive to stay with us on the journey.
One set of autographed paperback copies of the Marriage Pact trilogy (winner can choose a custom inscription for the first book). US Only, Ebook International
The Marriage Pact
Book Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Flourish Publications (Self)
Release Date: June 2011
- Amazon Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/The-Marriage-Pact-M-J-Pullen/dp/1463600682/
- Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Marriage-Pact-M-J-Pullen-ebook/dp/B0055LH79Q
- Apple iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/x/id723193295
- Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/362781
- Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-marriage-pact-2
Marci Thompson always knew what life would be like by her 30th birthday. A large but cozy suburban home shared with a charming husband and two brilliant children. A celebrated career as an established writer, complete with wall-to-wall mahogany shelves and a summer book tour. A life full of adventure with her friends and family by her side.
Instead, Marci lives alone in 480 square feet of converted motel space next to a punk rock band, hundreds of miles from her friends and family. She works in a temporary accounting assignment that has somehow stretched from two weeks into nine months. And the only bright spot in her life, not to mention the only sex she’s had in two years, is an illicit affair with her married boss, Doug. Thirty is not at all what it is cracked up to be.
Then the reappearance of a cocktail napkin she hasn’t seen in a decade opens a long-forgotten door, and Marci’s life gets complicated, fast. The lines between right and wrong, fantasy and reality, heartache and happiness are all about to get very blurry, as Marci faces the most difficult choices of her life.
In her mind, she had ended it a thousand times. She would spend hours rehearsing three versions of the parting speech:
“Doug, I can’t do this anymore. Neither of us intended this to happen, but it has to stop. I love you [should she say that?], but I can’t be responsible for breaking up a marriage, however unhappy it might be. I deserve better than this. I need someone free to make a life with me, and you are not. I know in my heart that part of you still loves Cathy, and I think you should return to her and really invest in your marriage.”
Magnanimous and melodramatic:
“Listen, Doug. This has been wonderful; it really has. But it’s wrong and it’s been wrong from the start. It’s tearing me apart. I am not an adulteress; I deserve to be more than ‘the other woman.’ I can’t live with myself for another day this way, and I can’t let you do it, either. Go back to your wife, your home, the life that you chose all those years ago. I will treasure our time together and you have my word that I will never tell anyone about us.”
Jealous and generally pissed off:
“Doug, your little weekend getaway with your wife gave me time to get clarity and realize that I am better than this situation, and better than you. If you loved me, you would no longer be married. If you loved your wife, you would not be with me. You act like this is torture for you, but really you’re just a typical cheating sleazebag who wants to have his cake and eat it, too. I want you out of my life forever. If you try to speak to me again, I will call Cathy and tell her everything. Get out.”
This last version was the most emotionally satisfying. She would march into work armed with these words, confident, resolute and ready to take back her life.
Until she saw him. She’d find a sticky note on her keyboard: “It was awful. I missed you.” Or he would pick her up at lunch, and instead of going back to her place, they would drive to the top of Mount Bonnell and look over the Texas hill country and talk. She would feebly threaten to end it, crying pathetically and remembering none of her kickass speeches.
So they limped along in a relationship netherworld—not together, not apart, each day full of the twin possibilities of limitless passion or goodbye forever. With stacks of invoices and mindless tasks in front of her each day, Marci had entirely too much time to contemplate both ends of the spectrum.
Today was no different, except for the fact that she was officially no longer wasting her late twenties in a hopeless relationship. Thirty had arrived, and a new decade was waiting. And there was an e-mail from Jake.
Book Genre: Women’s Fiction/Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Flourish Publications (Self)
Release Date: July 2012
- Amazon Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Regrets-Only-Sequel-Marriage-Pact/dp/1478362111/
- Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Regrets-Only-ebook/dp/B008QD09P4/
- Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/regrets-only-mj-pullen/1113648443
- Apple iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/x/id722559258
- Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/362801
- Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/regrets-only-1
At thirty-three, Suzanne Hamilton has it all. A successful party-planning business with an elite client list. A swank condo in a hot Atlanta neighborhood and a close group of friends – especially her longtime best friend Marci. A list of men a mile long who have tried to win her heart and failed. Plus, she’s just landed the event that will take her career and social status to the next level. What could she possibly have to regret?
Then a freak accident changes everything, and Suzanne discovers that her near-perfect life is just a few steps away from total disaster. She is humiliated and at risk of losing it all… except the surprising support of her newest celebrity client. With nothing else to go on, Suzanne follows him into an unexpected job and unfamiliar territory. Soon she will question everything – her career, her past, her friendships, and even her own dating rules.
But when her catalog of past relationships turns into a list of criminal suspects, she is faced with the horrifying possibility that she may not live to regret any of it…
She smiled broadly at him, remembering to show her teeth the way she’d been instructed before beauty pageants as a child. She could almost taste the Vaseline her mother made her rub on her top teeth to ensure they didn’t get smudged with lipstick. Smile. Be open.
Rick returned the smile with warmth. He also seemed to notice he’d been talking about himself for too long. “So tell me how you got started in the party planning business.”
Suzanne recounted briefly how she had been an art history major at the University of Georgia, desperately wanted to work as a museum curator, and how she’d taken the job on the event staff at the High Museum right after college. “Originally, I hoped the foot in the door at the museum would land me a job in procurement or something, but it never happened.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Rick said sympathetically.
Suzanne shrugged. It turned out she had a knack for event planning. Something about the combination of creativity and crisis response. After a couple of years at the High, she had been hired away by a large event planning agency. She stayed there for a few years before creating her own boutique agency. Now she had one of the most successful, prestigious agencies in the city. People were often shocked to discover she and Chad were the only permanent staff. “We actually won an award last year,” she told Rick.
“Sounds like you are quite the little rock star in the event planning world,” he said. “Or do you just plan events for rock stars?”
Normally very discreet about her clients, Suzanne couldn’t resist the opportunity to brag a little. “Actually, I am doing a benefit in a couple of weeks for Dylan Burke. Of course, he’s more a country star…”
“Seriously? I was kidding about the whole rock star thing.”
A Southern lady is always modest, her mother’s voice chided her. “Well, it’s not that big of a deal,” Suzanne hedged. “It’s at my old stomping grounds at the High, which is probably why I got the job.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Rick countered enthusiastically. “That’s awesome. He’s totally famous.”
She waved away the words with a manicured hand, but Rick was undeterred. “Seriously, you should be really proud of yourself. That’s a huge deal. Obviously you’ve earned quite a reputation for someone like Dylan Burke to choose you.”
His eyes held hers sincerely. Okay, Rick, ease up. We’ve already slept together. You can dial it down a tad.
“Really, his manager chose me. I haven’t actually met him yet. We’ll see how it turns out,” she said, and pretended to be engrossed in the highlights of spring training on the TV over the bar. “How do you think the Braves will do this year?”
Book Genre: Women’s Fiction/Romance
Publisher: Flourish Publications (Self)
Release Date: November 2013
- Amazon Paperback: www.amazon.com/Baggage-Check-Marriage-Pact-Volume/dp/1493697439/
- Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Baggage-Check-The-Marriage-Pact-ebook/dp/B00GS8HSSA
- Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/baggage-check-mj-pullen/1117442130
- Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/377701
At thirty-five, Rebecca Williamson is surrounded by happy endings. Her friends Suzanne and Marci are living out their own personal fairy tales in Atlanta, Georgia. But despite Rebecca’s best efforts four years ago, her adorable college friend Jake Stillwell has officially slipped through her fingers and broken her heart. Even though her job as a flight attendant fits perfectly with her orderly nature, and brings her into contact with lots of eligible men, she can’t seem to find a man who is Jake’s equal.
Then a frantic phone call from her mother in Oreville, Alabama turns Rebecca’s structured life on its ear. She will find herself back in the tiny town she worked so hard to leave behind, and thrown together with Deputy Alex Chen, a face from the past who’s made it clear he thinks of Rebecca as more than just an old friend’s kid sister.
But Alex is nothing like what Rebecca had in mind; and in the meantime, she has other battles to fight, including her painful family history. Can she navigate the chaos and get her life back to normal? Will Alex prove himself to be the friend she's always needed? Or will she discover that the door to Jake is not as tightly closed as she thought?