Tag Archives: Author

Writing Romantic Comedy Set Against Atlanta’s Tennis Scene

 

MJ Pullen has a new romantic comedic novel out August 7th that combines two things I love — tennis and girlfriends.

Set against a fictional Atlanta enclave of Sugar Mills, Sugar Street takes you into the lives of four married Atlanta friends, who decide to take drastic steps to rekindle their marriages — hiring the hot local tennis pro who isn’t just good at backhands and serves to make their hubbies jealous. As you might expect, things don’t go as expected.

In the Q&A below, MJ shares her inspiration for Sugar Street, including the setting in tennis-obsessed suburban Atlanta, as well as her tips on how to stand out in this incredibly popular writing genre.

I highly recommend this novel, her fourth, which Kirkus describes as a “glitzy romp that features suburban wives making unconventional – and haphazardly disastrous – attempts to break out of the safe patterns of their lives.”

Q. What was the inspiration for Sugar Street?

MJ: Like many suburban moms—especially ones who are typically late for the bus—I’ve spent many hours of my life sitting in carpool. At my kids’ school, I noticed that one of the police officers directing traffic was, well… pretty easy on the eyes (he also happened to be the most efficient at keeping crazy carpool parents in line, so that helps!). I had a thought one day as he waved me into the carpool lane: as a parent, how embarrassing would it be to get arrested in your local town and have the safety officer from your kids’ school see you in jail? I pictured this awkward moment where the supercilious PTA mom is being led through the police station in handcuffs, and reminds the cop that she’s the one who bakes him cookies every year at the holidays. The whole idea of a crime ring in affluent suburbia grew from there. That seed of an idea later became the jail scene (with Maizy Henriksson and her cookies). The other three main characters and the super-hot tennis pro fell into place shortly thereafter!

Q. The setting of your book is Atlanta’s tennis scene — did you find it easy to make that your setting given how vibrant tennis is here?

MJ: You know, I didn’t know much about tennis when I started this novel: just that many of my friends and neighbors are really into it. (I’m more of a softball/Jazzercise girl myself). Tennis made a great backdrop for the story of four women desperate to rekindle the spark in their marriages… but the more I’ve learned about the Atlanta tennis scene, the more fascinated I’ve become. I now realize I could’ve included much more about tennis in this novel; there are whole books begging to be written about the tennis scene itself. It’s a world of its own!

Q. I really enjoyed the story and the vivid characters — women in mid-life crises who take a crazy risk to breathe passion back into their marriages. Which character in the book do you most identify with?

MJ: This is such a writer thing to say, but in some way or another, I see myself in every character I write. If I don’t relate to a character on some level, it’s hard for me to write genuinely about her motivations and behavior. If I had to choose, I guess Jess is the character I related to most while writing this novel – the book is slightly skewed toward her point of view, and while there are no direct parallels, her relationship dynamic with Tom is probably most similar to my own marriage.

Q. As a writer, how do you make these women so full-dimensional and “real?”

MJ: Honestly? I’m a people addict; I find all our flaws and foibles (as well as our capacity for goodness and redemption) endlessly fascinating. This may be why I became a psychotherapist, and it’s certainly one of the main reasons I write. While it’s rare for me to base a character on a real person, I do try to reflect the complexities I see in myself and real-life friends and family in my characters. That’s how I love my characters as a reader, and I’m not sure I could write any other way!

Q. What do you hope readers get out of this story?

MJ: First and foremost, I hope they enjoy it! There’s a very specific half-laugh, half-cringe experience I try to elicit with every book I write. I also hope readers will find at least one character or situation to which they can relate – whether they have a friend who’s always selling something like Delia, or they relate to Maizy’s desperation to find a place in the social circle. The need to belong doesn’t end when you graduate from high school or college, and “real life” can sometimes be just as isolating and frustrating for adults. I guess I’m trying to normalize that for myself and others.

Q. The genre you write for is a pretty crowded place – chick lit / romantic comedy. How do you stand out in this space? What advice would you give new writers seeking to make their mark in romantic comedy?

MJ: The market may be crowded in this genre, but I believe we need all the romantic comedies and funny, light fiction we can get right now. Whether it sells or not, I need to write it, because it gives me hope and serves a reminder of what’s worth fighting for: love, humanity, acceptance, friendship. So, I guess that’s my advice for writers in any genre: write the book you want to read, and readers will find you. You might be on your seventh revision of your fourth novel when they find you, but eventually they will! (Also, watch your posture. The struggle is real.)

About the Author

M.J. (Manda) Pullen is the author of playful women’s fiction and quirky romantic comedies, including the bestselling MARRIAGE PACT trilogy and the forthcoming SUGAR STREET series. She has also worked as a non-profit fundraiser, corporate trainer, psychotherapist and mom of two young boys. Each of these jobs has eroded her sanity and contributed to her writing equally.

Manda loves cheap wine, expensive beer, and coffee at any price. She lives in Roswell, Georgia, with her husband, two young boys and Zelda and Zora the Wonderpups. You can connect with Manda on her author page and blog, The Distracted Writer, or on Twitter (@MJPullen) and Facebook.

 

Carol Dunlop Shares the Secret to ‘Un-Marketing’ in her New Book for Entrepreneurs

Today on The Writing Well I am delighted to introduce Carol Dunlop, a savvy marketer, master networker and author of UN-Market Your Business: 10 Ways for Savvy Entrepreneurs to Stand Out, Stop Struggling, and Start Profiting.

Carol and I both have book titles with a similar play on words. My book, Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide, was featured last March on the author podcast, Write Books that Sell Now, that Carol hosts with two other dynamic Atlanta book marketing pros, Anita Henderson and Candice Davis.

In the Q&A below, Carol shares some secrets that every entrepreneur can employ to get noticed and win new clients. I heartily recommend her book, which is available on Kindle Unlimited for free for the next five days only.  Let us know what you think about her insights!

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Q. What made you decide to write UN-Market Your Business: 10 Ways for Savvy Entrepreneurs to Stand Out, Stop Struggling, and Start Profiting?  

Carol: The main reason I decided to write this book is that I wanted to kickstart my speaking career. I know it’s not an absolute requirement to have a book, but it puts me ahead of the other people who don’t have a book. Plus, having written a book gives me instant credibility and authority.

Q. The title of your book is a bit of a twist — You are saying that it’s better to “un-market” your business than market it in a traditional sense. What do you mean by that? 

Carol: Yes indeed, UN-Marketing is how you take advantage of this new, exciting, and ever-changing digital economy to market your business successfully. It’s a way of using out-of-the-box, UN-thought-about, strategies that are simple and easy for you to make your own to turn friends, fans, and followers into paying clients.

Q. What are a few surprising takeaways in your book that may surprise business owners? 

Carol: The overarching theme of the book is that marketing your business doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg and doesn’t have to be a big scary thing. In actuality, all the strategies in this book are low- or no-cost, but they do require some time, on the business-owner’s part to put into place. I made sure I broke down the strategies into simple steps and included the reasoning as to why you are doing each one, what you can expect to get out of it, along with the best way to implement. Plus, I have lots and lots of extras, examples, and resources to help you with each step.

Another takeaway is that you can use any or all the strategies authentically, meaning you can cater them to how you are, how you present your business, and how you want to be perceived. All the strategies are customizable so you can be true to who you really are and be successful doing it.

Q. What was the most challenging and most rewarding part of researching and writing this book?  

Carol: The most challenging part wasn’t really the writing, it was after the writing; putting everything together. I did have an author coach, who helped me tremendously to get my thoughts and words across as I had envisioned, but putting the entire book together with the pictures, pull quotes, and how to do the things you don’t think about, like citing previous work, was quite challenging. As for research, the thing that helped me out the most was creating an outline first. It helped me to put my thoughts in order and in writing everything out. Once I created the outline, it was easy to write, because everything in the book was what I knew about or had previously done. The most rewarding part happened when I did research certain parts of the book and the research echoed what I had written or was about to write. It was kind of a “YEAH, you got this!” type of feeling.

Q. Many authors say that writing a book is one-third of the work; the rest is marketing it. How are you promoting your book? 

Carol: My promotion strategy is based on involving my tribe and social media followers to help me. When I originally started thinking about writing the book, I wanted to get input from my peers, colleagues, and peeps to infuse into the content. I also wanted to show readers that I actually use the strategies that I talk about in the book, so they can see that these strategies really work. For instance, in Part 3, I went to HARO (which is the Strategy showcased in Chapter 12) and submitted a query to business leaders on what’s going to happen next in marketing in this new, digital economy. The responses are in Part 3, Chapter 15: What’s Next. I received the most awesome and intriguing responses. Not only is this great content, but I emailed all the contributors to let them know the book is complete and will be launching soon. This alerts them to the fact that other people will be seeing their comments and contact information and since people love to see themselves in print, will lead them to purchase the book and share it.

Q. Any promotion best practices you can share with other business leaders thinking about becoming authors?

Carol: Of course, I am going to utilize my blog and social media platforms, but I also created a podcast of the same name, UN-Market Your Business, where I share insights from the book and interview other business owners who exhibit UN-Marketing characteristics in their business. The thing is to get the concept out there, in front of people over and over again, in a way that “tickles the palette” and makes people think about their marketing strategies in a whole new way. That is UN-Marketing. When you are writing your book, think of a concept that you can make bigger than your book and infuse into the thoughts of others and you will have a success on your hands.

Q. What other books have you written and what makes this book different than what you’ve crafted before? 

Carol: This is my second book, but my first solo book. In, my first book, Write Books That Sell Now, I was a co-author, but this time, it’s all me. It is very different to be a solo author instead of a co-author. In the first book, I didn’t do a lot, I submitted a couple blog posts, answered a couple questions, and wrote a few paragraphs. The editing and overall feel of the book was handled by someone else. But in this book, everything was me. Even though I had an author coach who helped me to stay succinct and relevant in my writing, because I tend to go off on tangents, it was still my writing. I made sure that throughout the book, my authentic voice, along with all my quirks, were showcased, even if that meant totally ignoring something my author coach, editor, or beta reader suggested.

About the Author

Carol Dunlop – The Savvy Entrepreneur’s Online WOW! Strategist

An energetic and personable networker, Carol J. Dunlop is among the elite in her field, her clients refer to her as an online marketing phenom, she is known as “The Online WOW! Strategist.” She is VP of Marketing and Communications at CSI Corporation, the company she founded more than twenty-three years ago with her husband Alvin. And is also currently serving as the VP of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships for ProWIN, a women’s business networking group in Atlanta. Carol also co-founded and formerly served as the marketing mastermind behind Write Books That Sell Now, an organization that helps aspiring authors to write, publish, and market their business-building book.

Carol currently speaks to business owners about how “UN-Market” their business and convert their website into their business hub. She also shows them how to get the conversation started, grow brand awareness, build trust, and ultimately convert their fans, friends, and followers into paying clients through the strategies she’s used in her book, UN-Market Your Business; 10 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Stand Out, Stop Struggling, and Start Profiting.

Fun facts about Carol:

  • She is a former Bodybuilder, Fitness and CrossFit competitor
  • She has two grown children and five grandchildren
  • She and her husband have been married and partners in business for 23 years

How to Connect with Carol:

  • Tune in to her weekly podcast, UN-Market Your Business, airing Thursdays at 1 p.m. EST.   www.csicoporation.com/podcast
  • Follow her on Twitter: @csicorporation

Talking Story with Flight of Dreams Author on the Anniversary of the Hindenburg Disaster

Flight of Dreams

By Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Seventy-nine years ago today the German passenger airship the Hindenburg disintegrated in a fiery crash in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

The disaster killed 36 passengers and 61 crewmen, and became the stuff of legend due to gripping newsreel coverage, photographs, and Herbert Morrison’s radio eyewitness reports from the landing field.

But, it’s Ariel Lawhon’s 2016 re-imagining of the doomed airship that has put a fresh lens on the story and with good reason: Lawhon knows how to blend real events into a compelling tale of what might have caused the explosion. It kept me turning pages well into the early morning hours.

Flight of Dreams tells the story of the Hindenburg from the vantage point of three actual crewmembers — a navigator, stewardess and cabin boy — and two passengers –a journalist and businessman. “At every page a guilty secret bobs up; at every page Lawhon keeps us guessing. Who will bring down the Hindenburg? And how?” writes The New York Times Book Review, while People Magazine described Flight of Dreams as “an enthralling nail-biter…[E]verything points to the inevitable disaster – but you’re still on the edge of your seat.”

Below, Ariel shares her journey recreating the last moments on board the Hindenburg, her love of history, and the one thing every aspiring writer needs to do.


Anne: As a lover of historical fiction, I am a big fan of the subject matter for both your first book, The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress, and Flight of Dreams. What is it about historical events that appeals to you as a storyteller?

 

Ariel: Oh thank you so much! I’m always glad to find another fan of historical fiction. I think that The Wife the Maid The MistressI’m drawn to those moments in history that remain unsolved. Whether it’s a missing judge as in my first book, or a disaster like the Hindenburg. I’m looking for those moments that have settled in the public consciousness but still have lingering questions. I enjoy exploring those events and coming up with my own theories as to what really happened.

 

Anne: What research sources did you draw upon to give your story authenticity and to put people in the time period of the Nazi Reich’s rise in the 1930s and to feel as though they were on board the Hindenburg?

 

Ariel: I primarily looked to survivor accounts (almost all of the people who survived that crash Hindenburg An Illustrated Historywent on to write about it at some point in their lives), biographies like HINDENBURG: An Illustrated History, and hundreds of pages of biographical information about the passengers and crewmembers. With a project like this, the key is to immerse yourself fully in the subject as you work. I have to become a short-term expert. The good thing is that I love this type of work. I love to learn about different time periods and moments in history.

 

Anne: Point of view and characters are really critical components of telling a powerful story. Which character (and point of view) do you think is the most compelling in Flight of Dreams and why?

 

Ariel: That’s a great question! And while I don’t think any of the five points of view in Flight of Dreams is more important than another—I put them all there for a reason and they each have a purpose in the story—I can say that I related most to Gertrud Adelt. She was a bright, young, brash journalist who had just lost her press card. She was a mother. She was scared. She was madly in love with her husband. I understand all of these things and developed a deep affinity for her in particular.

 

Anne: In a previous Writing Well interview, you talked about plot and pacing, saying that the key to effective story pacing is to ask a question and as soon as you answer it, ask another so the story doesn’t sag and the reader will be motivated to keep reading. You also said that the little questions also have to support the “big” question. Do you think you did a good job following that approach with Flight of Dreams? What is the big question thatHindenburg_burning underscores your story?

 

Ariel: What a great memory you have! The central question to Flight of Dreams, the question asked on the very first page is “What caused the disaster?” Every scene in the entire book builds to answering that question. Was it sabotage? Was it accident? Was it simply a tragic mistake? I want the reader to ask that question over and over in different ways as they read the novel. And I have to admit that I’m very satisfied with how I answered that question in the end.

 

Anne: How was Flight of Dreams easier/more difficult/different than your first book?

 

Ariel: Every book is so different. But I can say that this was the first novel I wrote under contract. And somehow knowing that the book would be published gave me a confidence that I didn’t have with my first novel and I do think that shows on the page. That said, writing under contract also brings a great deal of pressure and if you don’t learn to set that aside in the morning when you sit down to work it can stomp out your creativity. Also, this subject is so well documented that the research was easier.

 

Anne: The buzz for your book has been phenomenal. Are you getting interest from Hollywood to option your book for film? 

 

Ariel: Flight of Dreams has been shopped widely in Hollywood but so far no one is interested in making it into a film. To me the reasons behind the disinterest are fascinating. I wrote a novel about the people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. But producers have universally rejected the idea because they want no part of telling the story of an infamous German airship. Even though, in reality, the story is not about an airship at all. It’s about the people who were caught up in one of history’s most well known tragedies. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

 

Anne: What advice do you have for other authors, who are looking to tackle larger-than-life historical events in their novels? Any advice?

 

Ariel: The same advice I always give. Write the book. There is no agent without the book. There is no editor without the book. There is no career without the book. I find that most people get caught up in the small things like research or plot questions or an agent search. In reality all of those things sort themselves out. Having a finished book that has been revised and edited and rewritten countless times until it sparkles is the only important thing.

 

Anne: What’s next on the horizon for you — next book or other creative projects? Are you still blogging?

 

Ariel: I blog when I can. But with four children and a very busy life I often skip the blogging in favor of working on my next book. Which, in this case, is a novel tentatively called, I Was Anastasia. It’s a dual narrative about the last days of Anastasia Romanov and the woman who became her most famous imposter.


About the Author

Ariel Lawhon2Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She’s the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (Doubleday, 2014) and the upcoming FLIGHT OF DREAMS (February, 2016). She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus) and a black lab who is, thankfully, a girl.  Follow her on Twitter @ArielLawhon or on Facebook.

Read her tips on premise, plot and pacing on The Writing Well shared at the 2013 Decatur Book Festival Writers Conference.