M.J. Pullen's Blog

December 31, 2017

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. – Will Durant


I have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions. On the one hand, I’m the kind of girl who needs all the structure she can get. For those of us with disorganized brains, goals that are tied to concrete dates and numbers are easier to keep top of mind. They create that rush of external stimulation to fuel our interest and keep us motivated. In fact, maybe it’s not just those of us with ADHD. Maybe that’s part of why New Year’s Resolutions are so appealing. A clean slate for a new year, a launching place for us to become better, healthier, more like the best versions of ourselves.


On the other hand, we all probably know that the promises we make to ourselves in January are often broken by March (or, you know… January 5th). I’ll say I’m going to cut out sugar, and I do really well for a few days, getting all smug and self-important. And then, one morning I wake up face-down in an empty tub of ice cream I DON’T EVEN REMEMBER BUYING. I mean, that ice cream could have had a disease. It could have been a serial killer. What was I thinking?? That sense of failure that accompanies not living up to our ideal selves is discouraging, and can lead us toward even less healthy, productive behavior.


So this year, I do have a few concrete goals: fitness goals (at least 180 Jazzercise classes), publication goals (at least one full-length novel out this year, possibly two – more on that later!), writing goals (too extensive and complicated for a parenthetical). They’ve been in place for a while, and I’ve been working toward each of them for weeks or months already. January 1st is just another marker on the timeline for these things, a reminder of where I am and what I want to accomplish.


But I do also have some challenges to myself for this year. If you’re on my email list you know that starting January 1st, you will get to read my next Occupational Hazards novella as I’m writing it. And you’ll even get to have input — like deciding from the very beginning who our heroine will be. This is basically a writer’s version of doing live improv, and I will tell you the truth that it scares me a little. Which is also what’s so exciting. (Want to get in on the action? Sign up for my Distracted Reader emails and the Distracted Reader Facebook group. I’m giving away lots of mugs this year, too!)


On the personal front, I’m trying to get to the bottom of some health challenges, and very aware that eating less sugar and more anti-inflammatory foods would be helpful there. Soooo easy, right? If you were with me a few years ago during the previous sugar challenge, you know I handled it with all the grace and charm of a pissed-off grizzly bear tangled in Christmas lights. So now I’m trying to push myself to make healthy changes without making it an all-or-nothing proposition, and without terrorizing any neighboring parks. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. (Or just watch the news for attempted break-ins at the Toblerone factory.)


Psychologically, I’m trying to keep my filter a little stronger this year. Most creative people I’ve talked to in 2017 have been sharing the same struggle: trying to stay involved and informed about the world without letting frustration and despair keep us from creating. I am committed to reminding myself, forcefully if need be, that what I do (tiny as it is) is part of keeping hope alive through love and laughter and squirmy butterflies. Some days it’s hard to get to a “squirmy butterfly” kind of place, but I’m going to do better this year.


Beyond that…


I hope that my children (and Hubs) feel loved and valued every day. I hope I am quick to recognize injustice in the system, and slow to feel slighted or offended by individuals. I hope to spend more time living in the present and less time worrying about the future. And, yeah, the whole sunscreen thing.

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Published on December 31, 2017 09:48 • 3 views

December 13, 2017

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, which means months of planning, consideration and personal/religious reflection will culminate with my children saying, together, their sweet little voices unified in song: “Is this all you got me?”


May this be a season of love and light (and reading) for us all!



book menorah is complete!

we hope it brings light to our neighborhood all season long! pic.twitter.com/LtaYBnlPnS


— The Ripped Bodice (@TheRippedBodice) November 26, 2017



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Published on December 13, 2017 12:44 • 1 view

December 6, 2017

I’m putting together my 2018 Reading List on Goodreads! This year I am working on expanding my horizons and getting around to some books that have been on my TBR (to be read) pile for a while, waiting for me to get to them. These selections are in-process, of course, and reflect my desire to (a) read more by writers I’ve met and interacted with personally and (b) to read books by more authors from underrepresented groups (authors of color and LGBT authors). I’m also trying a few titles in genres I don’t normally read much in, like sci-fi and fantasy.


In the meantime, I’m still a few books behind on my 30-book challenge for this year… partly because (without the day job commute) I’ve spent less time in the car this year, and listening to audiobooks is one of my favorite, most consistent ways to read. Looks like I’m going to have to up my game for next year. I have 32 books on this list already and I get the feeling I’m not done yet!


What are you reading this year? Leave your suggestions in the comments and maybe I’ll add some of your choices to my list. If you need ideas, the NPR Book Concierge is a great place to start.


And, if you’re not already, connect with me on Goodreads. Happy Reading!


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Published on December 06, 2017 09:18 • 1 view

November 20, 2017

Turkey on the LaptopOh, sorry. Am I interrupting you?

I’m writing this on a chilly Georgia morning, the Monday before Thanksgiving, with my peppermint mocha coffee in hand. Like many of my American counterparts, my kids are off school this week and we are gearing up for family and turkey and major indigestion.


I have a deadline next week, which is why my kids are enjoying day camp with their friends today and this post will be pretty short! But it got me thinking about how a holiday week can impact those of us who write — either for a living, or for a hobby we hope will one day be a living. Sometimes it’s a boon: extra time away from the day job or perhaps a chance to hammer out a few words on an airplane or in the passenger seat next to a very understanding spouse. Other times, all the family time and change in schedule can really snap us out of our routine.


In either case, here are some suggestions about how to make the most of your holiday to keep your writing on track:



Write. Okay, I know this seems obvious, but if you can manage it, a holiday break can be a great time to squeeze in some extra words. Maybe it means getting up super early before the rest of your family to write, an/or taking full advantage of the post-turkey nap time. Maybe you’re just balancing your laptop on the counter while the turkey is roasting and everyone else is watching football. Maybe you offer to drive for the Black Friday shopping, and then sit in your car writing while your spouse wades into the shopping madness.

If you have a daily writing habit (especially if you’re still plugging away at #NaNoWriMo), try to stick to it as much as you can over the holidays, even if the distractions make it challenging. Go with quantity over quality when your schedule is a challenge – staying in touch with the words is the most important thing. If you don’t have a daily writing habit, the break can be a good time to try one on for size, and a great excuse to sneak away from some of the family drama. Go ahead, you have my permission!
Read, read, read. It’s true what they say that reading constantly is an important part of [image error]writing, and a book can sometimes fit into a holiday situation where a laptop isn’t convenient (e.g., under the table while your uncles are fighting about who knows better how to carve a turkey).

A holiday break is a great time to try something totally new — read in a different genre, pick up a classic you’ve only been pretending that you’ve read on online quizzes, or choose a craft book to improve your writing.

For craft, I recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life [image error], Ursula K. LaGuin’s Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the [image error]Sea of Story[image error] or the perennial favorite On Writing[image error] by Stephen King.*


[image error] Listen to a podcast. If you have a long drive or flight on the docket for this holiday, consider downloading a few episodes of a writing or publishing podcast to keep you aurally entertained (I almost wrote “aurally satisfied,” but that’s a bit much, even for me). Here’s a great list to choose from.

Writing Excuses has long been one of my favorites. It’s fast paced and funny and comes in short episodes (15-20 minutes each) so you can disconnect easily whenever you need and not have to wo [image error]rry about losing your place.  Start at the beginning of Season 10 and download several episodes at a time.
Talk to your family. What? Why? I’m becoming a writer so I can interact less with other humans! Well, of course, silly. I mean, talk to them about your writing.

Seriously, if you have a book on the market, or you’re submitting to agents/editors, be ready to answer questions about it at holiday gatherings with cheerful modesty. Distant family or friends who haven’t been in the trenches with you during the process of writing are also a great opportunity to practice and refine your elevator pitch. I don’t mean you should walk around handing out business cards at the holiday cocktail hour (please, please don’t). But when Aunt Selma says, “I heard you wrote a book! What is it about?” you should be ready to answer her, succinctly. If she asks for more information, great. If not, be a dear and pass the sweet potatoes.
Talk to your family, pre-published version. Maybe you don’t have a book coming out or in its final stages. Maybe you don’t have a book yet at all, but you’re just trying to figure out if this writing thing is something you want to pursue. Take the opportunity of having everyone together in one place to let your family know that writing is something you want to seriously explore. This is a tough gig — no matter how you slice it, and/or whether you stuff or dress it. If you want to get serious about being a writer, you’ll need full support from close friends and family: to give you time and space to write, to cheer you on when things are tough, to take you down a notch when things are going well and you’re becoming insufferable. The holidays are as good a time as any to express your love and gratitude to your people, and to let them know what they can do to support your writing career.
RELAX. Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves (and our writing) is to acknowledge that we need a break. So, yeah. You can follow my advice about squeezing in writing and keeping your eye on the ball. OR, if you’re happy with how your writing has been going, you don’t have deadlines, and/or you just know that need a break, take it. You’ve earned it. We only get one wild, wacky ride on this whole Life thing. Enjoy yours. Spend time with the people you love. Go for a walk amongst the fall leaves/December snow/sandy beach. Let your brain turn off, and know that all the ideas and rules and words will be there when you get back.

Happy Holidays!

MJ Signature

[image error]* PS – This may be a separate post for another day, but please note that while I strongly recommend all three of these books for their philosophies of writing and craft, I also suggest that any writer getting her start in today’s market take with a ginormous grain of salt any business- or publishing- related advice from long-established authors. They are geniuses, all three of them. But learning the business end of writing from someone whose success was fully established before 2010, is like taking city driving lessons from an 18th Century stagecoach driver. Many of the rules and realities that applied to their publishing journey are simply no longer in effect. They are still worth the read, though!


PPS – Want to get an update every time I post a writing-related blog? Simply visit mjpullen.com/newsletter/ and click “I’m a… Writer” and/or “Send me… Writing Tips.”


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Published on November 20, 2017 07:46

November 17, 2017

So, I’m not sure how this happened, because it was seriously July about 20 seconds ago, BUT… Thanksgiving is less than a week away!


Y’all. Seriously. How is it possible?


If you’re looking for a special way to say, “I know you like funny, romantic Women’s Fiction, and can also spell your name” to someone in your life this holiday, consider the gift of a signed book!


One option is to meet me at Bookmiser in Roswell on December 7th and get a hug with your purchase. OR, you can order directly from me and have your signed books delivered through the magic of the United States Postal Service. I have a limited supply of all three Marriage Pact books in very shelf-worthy hardback, as well as Every Other Saturday in paperback. If you would like to order books for the holidays, complete the Google form below (I know, we can talk about my luddite, technophobe shopping system later), I’ll send you a PayPal invoice, and viola! Bookish magic!


Orders placed by December 12 should arrive in the contiguous U.S. by December 24th. Rush orders (December 13 – 18) will cost you a little extra. And there’s a 50/50 chance I will call you to chat while I’m waiting in line at the post office!


I also can’t guarantee how long supplies of each title will last, so order today and make someone’s holiday a little funnier. A little sexier. A little more Jake/Dylan/Alex/Dave…


Wait. What were we talking about?


Ho, Ho, Ho!!

Loading…


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Published on November 17, 2017 14:30

 


Event Promo GraphicShop the Shelves with Author Elves!

If you are in the Atlanta area and hate mall shopping as much as I do, please join me and three amazing fellow authors on December 9th from 7:00 to 9:00 at Bookmiser in Roswell (Sandy Plains & 92). We’ll be signing our own books and recommending other favorites, to suit all the readers on your holiday list!


For more information or to RSVP, you can visit the Facebook event page or get the details here on my events page.


Hope to see you there!

MJ Signature


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Published on November 17, 2017 12:09 • 1 view

November 1, 2017

Hi, writing friends —


If you’re busy starting on NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this week, close this browser and go get to work! You can watch this in December!


If you’re not currently doing NaNoWriMo, have you considered it? Maybe heard the fuss and wondered whether it would really help you with your writing? Check out my take on NaNo and other intense, aggressive short-term writing sprints. [Spoiler alert: I’m in favor of them, for many reasons].


I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year; my writing schedule has me mid-project at the moment. But I am in the middle of drafting a 90,000 word novel in a short period (seven weeks and change), so you could say I’m getting into the spirit.


This is the first of what I hope will be semi-regular DW videos, in which I share my take on how to power through obstacles and take your writing to the next level. That sounds like an ad for fitness equipment, doesn’t it?


Okay: in which I explain the many, many ways I have fallen on my face while pursuing this career, and a little of what I am learning in the process. I hope you’ll find these videos helpful – my goal is to keep them fun, informative, and (most importantly) under 10 minutes.


If you have suggestions for topics you’d like me to address, or questions you want me to attempt to answer while you point and laugh from the comfort of your living room, hit me up with them in the comments or contact me at mj AT mjpullen DOT com.


Thanks for watching. Enjoy!



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Published on November 01, 2017 18:18 • 1 view

October 9, 2017

[image error][image error]If you’re one of the many readers who follows my Facebook page, you probably already know that I have a new novella coming out on Tuesday, October 10, called City of Yes. (It’s already available for pre-order in some formats – just $1.99 – follow the link to grab yours!)


What is a Novella?

Novellas are longer than short stories, but shorter than full length novels (generally between 7500 and 40,000 words). City of Yes is about 32,000 words, compared to the usual 85-90,000 for each full-length novel I’ve written so far. I hope you’ll find it a welcome distraction from these hard times, and that it will allow you to escape for an evening, or a couple of relaxing lunch breaks (we all need those!).


This book is the first in a series called Occupational Hazards, shorter romances in which the story stems from, or takes place in, the heroine’s workplace. You’ll be able to read these books in any order you like, knowing you’ll get a fun, slightly-steamy story you can consume in one or two sittings.


The Story & Setting
A picture of the author in front of one of the Hearts in San Francisco sculptures - a large navy blue heart with vivid yellow flowersThis is one of my favorites of the Hearts in San Francisco sculptures. Pictured here in the spring of 2016 in Union Square.

City of Yes follows the story of Charlotte Bates, a top-notch marriage proposal planner–yes, that is a real job!–when she finds out that her newest client is Jared Kunitz, a close college friend she hasn’t seen since she rejected him seven years earlier. Needless to say, hilarity, awkwardness and romantic sparks ensue…


As you may be able to guess from the title and the cover image, the city of San Francisco is more than a setting in the book – it’s a secondary character. You’ll get to see a few of the sights that make SFO such a unique and beautiful city as you read.


A Note from Me

The passage copied here is actually from the Author’s Note/Acknowledgements section of the new book. I thought you might be interested in a little of what I’ve been working on lately, and about my history with San Francisco.


Those of you who follow this blog and Facebook page will already know that the past couple of years have brought me adventures, a few trials, and one or two small triumphs. Since the publication of Every Other Saturday in August 2015, I’ve been juggling transitions in and out of the full-time work force, the re-publication of The Marriage Pact series by St. Martin’s Press, and the ordinary hassles and joys of raising two small kids in a busy, messy house. Believe it or not, I have also been working on a couple of bigger (read: more ambitious) projects that I hope will one day see the light of… well, day. In the meantime, my friends and fans who have been kind enough to tell me they enjoy my work and would like to hear more from me have been patiently waiting and re-reading. (And sometimes emailing to remind me how patiently you are waiting and re-reading.) I love you guys. You inspire me not only to work hard, but to try to make every story I write better than the ones that came before.


During my adventures of the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to make it out to San Francisco a few times, and to be reminded that while I only lived there for half a minute (two months, to be precise, in my early 20s), there’s a reason it always feels like a second home to me. Despite being a girl with deep Southern roots, I was born in San Jose, California, while my parents lived there in the mid-1970s. Even though we were back in Georgia before I was five, I like to think there’s a little West Coast in my DNA. Whatever it is, the air in San Francisco feels right in my lungs. Know what I mean? It’s a beautiful city with amazing culture and public art (look for the Hearts in San Francisco sculptures and other landmarks in this story). Of course, I haven’t remotely done the city justice in this little novella, and I took a bit of artistic license where necessary. (I’m sorry to report that the Little Blue Shack is entirely made up, as is the hillside hiker’s restaurant on the IHRT). But I hope the story transports you there for a few minutes as you follow Charlotte and Jared around the City by the Bay. Whoa-oooh-oh-oh-oh…


As always, thanks so much for reading. If you do buy and read City of Yes, and you enjoy it, I’d be very grateful if you took a few minutes to post a review on the City of Yes Amazon product page[image error] or Goodreads. Thank you!

[image error][image error]


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Published on October 09, 2017 14:54 • 1 view

October 7, 2017

[image error][image error]If you’re one of the many readers who follows my Facebook page, you probably already know that I have a new novella coming out on Tuesday, October 10, called City of Yes. (It’s already available for pre-order in some formats – just $1.99 – follow the link to grab yours!)


What is a Novella?

Novellas are longer than short stories, but shorter than full length novels (generally between 7500 and 40,000 words). City of Yes is about 32,000 words, compared to the usual 85-90,000 for each full-length novel I’ve written so far. I hope you’ll find it a welcome distraction from these hard times, and that it will allow you to escape for an evening, or a couple of relaxing lunch breaks (we all need those!).


This book is the first in a series called Occupational Hazards, shorter romances in which the story stems from, or takes place in, the heroine’s workplace. You’ll be able to read these books in any order you like, knowing you’ll get a fun, slightly-steamy story you can consume in one or two sittings.


The Story & Setting
A picture of the author in front of one of the Hearts in San Francisco sculptures - a large navy blue heart with vivid yellow flowersThis is one of my favorites of the Hearts in San Francisco sculptures. Pictured here in the spring of 2016 in Union Square.

City of Yes follows the story of Charlotte Bates, a top-notch marriage proposal planner–yes, that is a real job!–when she finds out that her newest client is Jared Kunitz, a close college friend she hasn’t seen since she rejected him seven years earlier. Needless to say, hilarity, awkwardness and romantic sparks ensue…


As you may be able to guess from the title and the cover image, the city of San Francisco is more than a setting in the book – it’s a secondary character. You’ll get to see a few of the sights that make SFO such a unique and beautiful city as you read.


A Note from Me

The passage copied here is actually from the Author’s Note/Acknowledgements section of the new book. I thought you might be interested in a little of what I’ve been working on lately, and about my history with San Francisco.


Those of you who follow this blog and Facebook page will already know that the past couple of years have brought me adventures, a few trials, and one or two small triumphs. Since the publication of Every Other Saturday in August 2015, I’ve been juggling transitions in and out of the full-time work force, the re-publication of The Marriage Pact series by St. Martin’s Press, and the ordinary hassles and joys of raising two small kids in a busy, messy house. Believe it or not, I have also been working on a couple of bigger (read: more ambitious) projects that I hope will one day see the light of… well, day. In the meantime, my friends and fans who have been kind enough to tell me they enjoy my work and would like to hear more from me have been patiently waiting and re-reading. (And sometimes emailing to remind me how patiently you are waiting and re-reading.) I love you guys. You inspire me not only to work hard, but to try to make every story I write better than the ones that came before.


During my adventures of the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to make it out to San Francisco a few times, and to be reminded that while I only lived there for half a minute (two months, to be precise, in my early 20s), there’s a reason it always feels like a second home to me. Despite being a girl with deep Southern roots, I was born in San Jose, California, while my parents lived there in the mid-1970s. Even though we were back in Georgia before I was five, I like to think there’s a little West Coast in my DNA. Whatever it is, the air in San Francisco feels right in my lungs. Know what I mean? It’s a beautiful city with amazing culture and public art (look for the Hearts in San Francisco sculptures and other landmarks in this story). Of course, I haven’t remotely done the city justice in this little novella, and I took a bit of artistic license where necessary. (I’m sorry to report that the Little Blue Shack is entirely made up, as is the hillside hiker’s restaurant on the IHRT). But I hope the story transports you there for a few minutes as you follow Charlotte and Jared around the City by the Bay. Whoa-oooh-oh-oh-oh…


As always, thanks so much for reading. If you do buy and read City of Yes, and you enjoy it, I’d be very grateful if you took a few minutes to post a review on the City of Yes Amazon product page[image error] or Goodreads. Thank you!

[image error][image error]


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Published on October 07, 2017 05:00 • 2 views

September 19, 2017

My electric kettle, my friendMy electric kettle, my friend

Any other early risers out there? Can I get a shout out? (Or maybe a whisper so we don’t wake everyone else)?





Last year, when I had a full-time day job, I got up every morning around 4:30 a.m. to start my writing day (okay, sometimes it was more like 4:38 after the snooze button). I’d work until 6:00, when I would get ready for work while my husband tried to pry the kids out of bed for school.

It was a tough gig, I’m not going to lie, especially at first. But I eventually mastered the art of going to bed (read: collapsing) before 10 p.m. so I could peel myself out of bed before 5 a.m. I put a kettle and instant coffee in my office, and I have a small light on a timer, so that I’m not blindly bumbling into everything and waking the whole household.

After a couple of weeks of staring blankly at the screen and drooling until time for work, I began to find that the quiet hour-plus before my family woke up was a very productive time for me. I often got 800-1200 words written in the quiet of the morning. Eventually, the hardest part became stopping at six to get ready!


When I lost my job in January, I thought maybe I’d try to keep the habit of rising early, even though I had more hours to myself while the kids were at school. But within a few weeks, especially once I decided not to look for another day job right away, human nature kicked in. I found that I’d lost my motivation to get up earlier than necessary.

I have all day, I’d think as I pounded the alarm clock with my fist for the seventh or eighth time. What difference does this hour make? So I did the sensible thing and quit setting an alarm to go off when I was NOT going to get up anyway, and went back to what most people would think of as a normal, human schedule. It gave me more time to watch TV with my husband in the evenings and made getting up in the morning far less painful.

But then something else happened. In the same way that water always finds its level, when your days are “free,” the universe will fill them for you. Without my steady paycheck, we no longer had the budget to hire a housekeeper,* and we cut back on the kids’ after school care. Where my husband and I had been scrambling together to accomplish household chores, pay bills, and make administrative phone calls with our matching workdays — these things fell back into my court more and more often.

*Let’s be clear: our house is NOWHERE near as clean as it was when we had help keeping it that way. I don’t clean regularly. But when things get to a particular level of grossness, it’s usually me who finally whips out the bleach and scrub brush to keep our house from becoming a giant petri dish.

It makes sense, too. I am at home. Technically, I have time. I don’t have to find an empty conference room to make a private phone call or pay a medical bill. When the kids get sick, it’s far more sensible for the person who works on her laptop, with long-ranging and generally flexible deadlines, to stay home with them. I don’t have to worry that my boss will judge me for cutting out early to pick up the kids. I am the boss, and I judge myself for lots of other stuff instead.

Over time, however, all these little things add up and began to eat away at my workday. When you add that writing is a profession about wrangling creative energy, little household and family tasks can be big procrastination tools, too. If I’m not careful, the wide open space of a day at home can sometimes produce less than I used to write for 30 minutes on my lunch break.

So this week I decided to re-start my early morning habit. Like it or not, I work best when my writing is the first thing I think about every morning — before the conversations and complications of the day begin. Before I’ve checked Facebook or listened to the radio or fought with anyone about whether their shirt and shorts match or if they absolutely have to wear socks to school today. [Answers: no and yes. Giving in on the first one, standing firm against foot fungus.]


For me, it’s not just about the hours I have available to write. It’s about making my writing a priority, and that sometimes starts before I do!





This is the first post in a series of my personal tips for other writers and creative professionals who have trouble keeping their busy brains focused (and those who don’t).

Stay tuned for more! And, if you would like to be notified whenever I post a new blog for writers, simply subscribe to my newsletter and check the box for “I’m a… WRITER.”

Happy creating!


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Published on September 19, 2017 07:31 • 2 views