Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Monthly Archives: April 2014

What my non-writer friends don’t understand…


ImageConfession: for the past few days, I’ve been a stalker. I’ve been obsessively going through my Reader looking for new writer friends, reading what people are up to, commenting on posts. I SWEAR I’m not a creeper or a serial killer. Anyway, I read a lot about people on the quest to publication, both self-publishing and embarking on the arduous, dangerous, gutting quest of the traditional route. I saw this meme character and BAM! Here it is for your enjoyment.

Okay, now I need to get back to my 2,495,456th revision on my perpetually nearly finished novel….  Just got amazing feedback from my fellow members of the Singapore Writers Group. Happy writing!

My Writing Process Blog Hop


Thanks to Natacha (from Science Fiction, Transmedia, & Fandom ) for tagging me in this writing process blog hop!

What Am I Working On?

I am on the umpteenth draft of my latest novel, Hooligans in Shining Armour (working title). My “high concept” logline is: Romeo and Juliet in Belfast. Special thanks to a friend in my writer’s group for that. I spent months and months researching the Troubles, current events, dialect, issues facing youth living on the peace lines, paramilitary, etc. I wrote the first draft in September and since then I’ve reworking it and having members from my Singapore Writer’s Group tear it apart. I’m sending it for development editing by a professional editor in Belfast in a few weeks—so excited for feedback.

Right now I have to sit on my hands and NOT work on Hooligans, so I’ve been focusing on the business end of writing. I’ve put together my query letter and synopsis and started researching agents in the US. I’ve been hardcore working on building my social media platform, which has turned out to be really fun. I’ve met so many supportive writers—a great reminder of how spectacular fellow writers are!

How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

I write Young Adult. Obviously, the market is flooded with YA. What makes mine unique? For my current novel, I think it’s the setting. I’d wager most Americans don’t even know that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom. They have no clue about the sectarianism and tribalism that still divides, that peace walls still separate Catholic working class estates from Protestant fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement ended The Troubles.

Here’s a one picture from my trip to Belfast that stuck with me…


One section of a half-mile-long, forty-foot-tall wall dividing a Loyalist/Protestant neighborhood from a Republican/Catholic neighborhood. Someone painted over the mural meant to beatify the wall: “It’s time to kill all Republicans.”  Picture taken July 2011.

Professionally, I am a school psychologist. I have training and experience in working with kids and teens that have been traumatized by community violence, domestic violence, and substance-abusing parents. I have also worked with gang-involved youths.

Why Do I Write What I Write?

I’ve been writing since elementary school. I still have my first “published” work in a box in my parents’ attic from a 4th grade writing contest. I’ve actually written five manuscripts. The first three will never see the light of day. One is a 200,000 word monstrosity! Eek! I’ve learned so much from those first attempts.

Why YA? There’s just something fascinating and magical about the threshold between childhood and adulthood; an almost infinite number of paths lie ahead of you. You start making choices for yourself and those choices close off paths while opening others. There’s this beauty and innocence and intensity and emotionality that exists during this ephemeral period of life, lost as we morph into adults. Plus, I love working with kids and teens; it’s what I do. I hope my characters will inspire the kids I work with to persevere, make good choices, resist peer pressure, and think for themselves.

So why did some crazy American write a book set in Belfast? I traveled there in July of 2011 over the Twelfth, which is an especially contentious time of year. I won’t go into detail here; visit my Hooligans In Shining Armour page for links to my YouTube channel and my photo album of the trip . Let’s just say I was blown away and needed to understand. Out of my research came the inspiration for Hooligans. You can read a 9 page, double-spaced excerpt on that page as well. Let me know what you think!

Here’s one more picture I took…

ImageParamilitary mural on the Shankill, July 2011

How Does Your Writing Process Work?

I’ve learned so much about how to write over the past few years. The best teaching experiences have been letting writing friends and critique groups read my work and rip it apart. I’ve also used professional critique services. It was scary at first, but got easier with each go. Now I just hand my MS to fellow writers and tell them to tear into it—and I listen to what they say, all of it. Most times, they’re right.

Character, plot and setting ideas pop into my head at the most random times, running, shopping, riding the bus, doing dishes, etc. Our subconscious keeps working on things even when we’re not aware. I stop right there and type it in my notepad app.

I’ve found that, in order to write a tight, fast-paced story, I need to force myself to plot before I even start. I’ve been loosely basing my plot on the Hero’s Journey from The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. I fill out an excel spreadsheet with all major plot points. I also have a character development structure I use that really forces me to get into my characters’ heads.

After all that pre-work is done, I hammer out a first draft. My characters and plot morph as I go. Then I re-draft. I discuss my story and characters with my writer friends; their suggestions have completely changed my novel for the better. Then more re-writing and editing. After I feel my story’s in a good place both structurally and grammatically, I’ll have trusted readers read it and give feedback. More re-drafting. More readers. And the cycle continues until there’s an epiphany. I’m quite close to that right now. It’s more like sculpting that writing.

Tag People!  (Sorry, I don’t know how! Tried and failed to figure it out.)


Graffiti hunting in Singapore, land of the Merlion



(Taken near Arab Street, Singapore)

A just question and very fitting for this blog post!

When I told people back in Wisconsin that my husband and I were renting out our house, I was quitting my job, and we were moving to Singapore, I usually got some variation on these four questions:

1)  Is that is China? No, it’s off the tip of Malaysia but most of the country is ethnically Chinese so half a gold star.

2)  Why? Most people thought we were kind of crazy for completely uprooting our lives and moving across the world, especially since I’d never even been to Singapore. Okay, so it actually does sound kind of crazy but YOLO, right? Ew, that’s so 8 months ago, so I’ll go with carpe diem instead.

3)  You can’t chew gum there right? This is true. No gum allowed!

4)  Isn’t that where those American guys got caned for spraying graffiti? Yes, yes it is.

The Singapore government likes to keep things both safe and clean and they succeed at both. I walk around at 3 a.m. by myself with no fear. So anyway, when I discover graffiti in Singapore, I’m intrigued. Here are a few examples (apologies for the bad language; I swear I did not graffiti it!).


This one’s so elaborate I can’t help but wonder if it was commissioned and therefore not true graffiti.Image

That is NOT AT ALL a Singaporean way of thinking!  School is life in Singapore and test scores are everything.Image.

I’ll share more as I find it!

Apsara, the dancing girls


Apsara, the dancing girls

One of my favorite pictures from the many temples in around Angkor Wat, Camboria. Taken a little after dawn at Ta Prohm Temple (AKA the Tomb Raider Temple).

iTunes Playlist Challenge!

Image(image from

One of my biggest creative writing fuels is music. I need to have music all.the.time. Riding Singapore’s amazing public transportation system, washing dishes, running, writing, shopping at the grocery store— music all the time. I create my own soundtracks for my books, with songs for different characters and events and setting. It helps me connect with the world I’m creating. This morning I conducted an experiment. I put my iTunes on shuffle and wrote down the first ten songs that came up. I did not let myself skip any.

Here they are in all their glory:

  1. “Terrible Lie (Sympathetic Mix),” Nine Inch Nails
  2. “Hey Brother,” Avicii
  3. “Marry Me,” Jason Derulo
  4. “Party Hard,” Andrew W.K.
  5. “Body Movin,’” Beastie Boys
  6. “Sister of Night,” Depeche Mode
  7. “Searle Finds the Crew of Icarus/Floating Free/Searle’s Last Blast,” Underworld & John Murphy (Music from the motion picture Sunshine)
  8. “No Sleep,” Wiz Khalifa
  9. “Always,” Blink 182
  10. “Big Sur Moon,” Buckethead

That actually was not as random as expected. Plus I rediscovered some songs I forgot I even had. Bonus! Guess I’ll have to do it again sometime. Maybe I’ll make it a weekly thing, so if you’d like a peek into my thousands of songs (and my random psyche) follow me and wait with bated breath!

Try it for yourself and see what happens. Post your results here!