Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Monthly Archives: August 2014

On Being the Token Yank: Fantasy Football Fail


nflSo being the Token Yank has made me more excited about my American heritage, which is why I’m in not one, but two, NFL fantasy football leagues. And to spread the joy, I’ve recruited one of my British friends into one, which should be fun. I’ve been a Packers fan since I was born (my Dad’s from Green Bay) and this is my third year doing fantasy football. Now let me be real with you, I am no expert at football or fantasy football. I don’t research players before the draft and pretty much just pick the top-ranked players each round (starting with QB, RB, and WR) and people I’ve actually heard of. I DO remember to check my line-up every week and occasionally do more than swap players who have injuries or bye weeks.

Yesterday was my second draft. Tragedy struck. Really, I blame the time difference. So Singapore time, the draft was at 6 a.m. and I didn’t quite wake up by then lol, so auto-draft FTW…or not quite. I believe the graphic above explains the outcome and directly below how I feel.

disappointed-oMy QB is Aaron Rodgers and one of my WR is Jordy Nelson, so that’s awesome. Maybe someone in my league will trade me a good WR for Russell Wilson… Though perhaps all of this just fits well with my team name:

lowered expectationsWhoever plays me in Week 9, consider this your birthday present.

Pics from the Land of the Merlion: Some of my favorite Singapore shots from the last few months


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One of the many, many (did I say many?) lessons I’ve learned by writing a lot: Over-explanation and KISS


kissbandNo, not that KISS…

I pretty much never post on the craft of writing. I’m no expert by any means, but over the past few days, I’ve been doing a lot of critiques for fellow writers on #writeoncon and #pitchwars. I’ve noticed a trend: over-explanation. Now I’m not referring to a J.R.R. Tolkien-esque, two-page description of setting, because obviously there are plenty of places for that, like Lord of the Rings or probably Game of Thrones (which I couldn’t get my YA brain to read, not going to lie).

lotrI’m talking about explaining something in several sentences, in slightly different ways, when really the point could be made with one example and one sentence. I think this is usually done to drive an important point home, but over-explanation just waters down.

I’ve picked a terrifying example from my first attempt at writing a novel. I started it at 17 and worked on it for a decade before I finally just set it aside. You must promise PROMISE not to judge. Check out this nugget of gold from my very first page…


Ari walked across the small, cramped room that was the Douglas-Mac­Clan­nough family living space, her Companion tucked under her arm. She joined the rest of her family at the table for breakfast and set Max on her lap; she couldn’t forget to bring it to school again or her instruction autom might fry her. Her father glanced up from rocking her baby brother, Ryan, his eyebrows furrowed in feigned annoyance,

“We’ve been waiting for you for five minutes now,” he stated, doing his best to sound stern as he tenderly cradled Ryan in his arms.

“Sorry,” she muttered distantly as she stared drearily at the cold silvery tabletop her stomach weighed down with leaden worry. “I didn’t sleep well last night. Besides, breakfast isn’t here yet anyway.” She shrugged flatly. It was a lame excuse on her part, but it was true. After all, it was kind of hard for a girl to sleep knowing that it was her last night in her own bed with her family only a few feet away—when in a mere twenty-three Earth hours, she would be on a journey that would take her nearly four hundred million miles away. Her eyes fell to her lap, to her white-knuckled, clenched fists. Fear rumbled around in her stomach again, making her whole body feel weak and numb. Butterflies were what most people would call them, and Ari would too—if she had known what they were, that was. Ari swallowed, trying to force the burning sensation in her throat to go away. She wasn’t ready to leave her mom and dad! To leave the only place she’d ever known….

Her older brother David, being his stupid and immature self as usual, snickered. “True dat! I think we best be filin’ a complaint to the administrator’s office ‘bout how the food management and distribution units always be late when they deliver, the food’s always cold, and man, the taste! Whew! What’s this stuff jeebin’ on? I mean, I know it ain’t organic, but can’t they at least make an effort to make it taste real, or taste like anything at all for that matter? It’s crap!” He ranted, throwing in an English word to spice it up. At least his whining would get their dad off her case. “What is—”



THE-MORTIFIED-PUNTER1OH MY GOD!!! Could you even get through all that? I bet you skimmed 😛  I had to force myself to actually read it. So many adverbs!!! So much body-part directing. And an exclamation point in narration? Not only did I over-explain, my over-explanation interrupted dialogue. That explains why that document has…wait for it…227,000 words!!!scared1My analogy: it’s like writing with a dull pencil versus a sharp (COPYRIGHT). You can read what was written by a dull pencil, but it’s not as clear or as neat. Sharp pencil is better; it’s clean and to the point. No need to say: Her eyes fell to her lap, to her white-knuckled, clenched fists. Fear rumbled around in her stomach again, making her whole body feel weak and numb. Butterflies were what most people would call them, and Ari would too—if she had known what they were, that was. Just say: her stomach churned or something. Pick the one sentence or example that expresses it best and use that. KISS: Keep It Simple Silly (I’ll never call my writer friends stupid). Not only does it make it more clear, it can make what you’re trying to say more powerful. It’ll jump off the page.

Here is my quick and dirty re-write:


Ari joined her family at the table. She set Max, her Companion on her lap. If she forgot it again, the instructor autom might fry her.

“We’ve been waiting for you for five minutes,” Dad said as he rocked baby Ryan, forced sternness in his voice.

“Sorry,” Ari muttered as she stared at the dent in the metal tabletop. “Breakfast hasn’t been delivered yet anyway.”

“Do you have butterflies again?” Mom asked.

Ari rolled her eyes. What were butterflies anyway? “I’m fine,” she lied.

It was hard to sleep knowing that, in a mere twenty-three Earth hours, she’d be on a ship headed four hundred million kilometers from home.

“I think we should file a complaint with Colony Admin,” David, her older brother, snorted. “Food Dist is always late, the food’s cold, and they don’t even try to make it taste real. It’s crap!” He threw in an English word to spice it up.


This re-write gets all the jobs done of the original: reveals genre, introduces the characters, establishes they live in a colony that doesn’t have butterflies, shows English isn’t the main language, and hints at Ari’s inciting incident and how she feels about it. I also think the fact that she doesn’t know what butterflies are/is going millions of miles away strikes the reader more because those sentences aren’t buried in crap. When you throw in the English thing, the reader can piece together that she’s a human but not living on Earth. I don’t come out and TELL the reader that on purpose, I SHOW them with clues and let them reach that conclusion on their own while leaving them curious as to why and where she does live so they’ll keep reading.

So that rough re-write: 153 words. Original: 385 words. If that’s a representative sample for the rest of my novel, I could easily half if and get it to a still-not-reasonable length. Pop over to my last post to see what helped me get to where I am today with my writing.

That was actually pretty fun to do. Maybe I’ll go back to that story someday.

Anyway… Sharpen those pencils and KISS, writer friends!

To read my most recent, much, much better (I swear!) work, click here.

What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about the craft of writing since you wrote that first page of your first novel?

Writers, do you ever feel this way? For me, it is absolute truth….


village1I’d still be writing 200,000-word monstrosities with marginal plot if I hadn’t found the courage to let others read and critique my writing. Terrifying at first, to be sure, but I cannot quantify how much I’ve learned from other writers, critique groups, and writing classes since then. It’s made me the writer I am today. If I ever get Hooligans published, I’ll be thanking at least 17 people (and counting) by name in my Afterward for making my novel what it is today. I just don’t even want to imagine what my novel would have been without them. I got feedback on multiple occasions that made me go back and pretty much re-write the entire thing, but each time it got better and better. I made some people read various first chapters at least three times. Without all my writer friends, it would have been sad. Just sad.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but harnessing the skill and knowledge of other writers is what makes my novels happen. I’m constantly amazed by the generosity and thoughtfulness that my writer friends devote to work that isn’t even theirs.

If you have to give an Oscars speech thanking the people who helped make your novel, what might you say? Who would you thank?

Hey there Young Adult writer friends (or anyone really)… Would you do high school again if given the chance?


HATE-HS-GIF(Okay I didn’t feel THAT strongly about high school, but…)

Writing YA brings back so many…memories of high school. I’m getting back into the swing of  writing after my two month Southeast Asian travel extravaganza. After finishing up my novel set in Belfast, I’ve decided stick close to home for my new one. And by close to home, I mean exactly home. Rafa and Rose (title tentative) is set in my hometown and at my high school. I’m super-excited about it. First because I’ve been living in Singapore for the past year and I’m missing all things Wisconsin. Second because it gives me a chance to unpack and remember that part of my life in rural Wisconsin–setting, culture, and personal experiences. Not going to lie, I wish I would have thought to bring my yearbooks to Singapore haha.

38-tragically-awkward-prom-photos1.jpg.pagespeed.ce.eYRUu6KBWeSo for this novel, instead of spending hours and days and weeks and months researching setting, dialect, history, culture, etc., I’m delving into my own brain. It’s an interesting psychological journey, traveling back to a place and people that I’ve left far, far, far behind. And not always pleasant. My fellow YA writers, I’m sure you also tap your own memories of experiences and emotions from that part of your lives, too.

high school 1All this has got me thinking…. If given the chance, would I subject myself to high school again? The peer pressure, paranoia, fear of rejection, lovesickness, anxiety over grades and ACTs and college admissions, the drama, self-consciousness, cliquiness. It’s such a strange microcosm of existence. And then biologically, if you look at what’s going in your brain with hormones and frontal lobe development and emotions.

hs doesnt matter(Doesn’t feel like it at the time, does it? Everything matters, is life or death :P)

On top of that, the American “high school experience” is glamorized, sensationalized, dramatized so much in the media; it  sets these expectations of what it should be like. Just a recipe for disaster.

I wouldn’t do it again as the person I was then. If I had the confidence and extroversion I’ve sprouted since college, then I probably would be game. Lots of things I would have done differently.

Anyway next time I’m back in the good ol’ USA, I think I’ll swing by my high school hometown.

What about you? Would you do high school over again? What might you do differently?

If you write YA, how do you harness your experiences growing up when you write?