Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Monthly Archives: September 2014

Non-Writers Just Don’t Understand: The brain gymnastics it takes to work on two completely different manuscripts at once


ci6co(side note: it’s kind of sad how long I spent finding the image for this meme. Time that could have been spend working on said manuscripts)

Both of my manuscripts are first person POV, with two characters each. So here’s me, trying to edit a story set in Northern Ireland with a character from Belfast like basically. Then switchin’ to a WIP set in rural Wisconsin starring a girl from a poor, white trashy background and a Latino boy. For Chrissake, it’s mental gymnastics, so it is! Crap, why do I do this to myself? This is kind of what it’s doing to my brain.

bunny-catapult¡Gracias a Dios! for my Latina co-writer, who’s handling language and culture for the Wisconsin WIP, but I still have to get myself into the head of Latino boy fighting to overcome racism and all kinds of barriers to get to college. Which is a wee bit different from my Belfast paramilitary hooligan with a heart of gold.

The girls are a bit easier at least, as their brains are more in line with my own. But still, I’ve got a highly motivated, straight-laced girl who’s involved at school contrasted with an underachieving loner in an unhealthy relationship with a scrubby older guy and a meth head mother. So there’s that. At least the setting for the Wisconsin one is easy for me and fun to explore from Singapore. Though I did have to face down a few inner baddies… And slay them 😀

622788__safe_twilight+sparkle_animated_screencap_princess+twilight_magic_hub+logo_flying_angry_fightI love both my manuscripts. Life will be easier when i finally finalize Hooligans (it is SO close, I swear), and I’ll have Rafa & Rose to focus on while I query.

Have you ever found yourself working on two completely different manuscripts at once? What was that experience like?

Writer friends, where do you like to write when you cannot sit at your desk/table/couch/bed/wherever for one second longer without losing your brain??


i heart writingSo I spend a lot of time with at my dining room table typing away. Thank God for my understanding husband that doesn’t get too bothered by all my writing crap spread all over it. Here’s my view…

photo-14 (2)It’s not a bad view by any means, but after you know like 8+ hours a day, everyday, writing, I start to feel like this….

Dexter-GIFs-14(I love you Dexter and I miss you. Maybe I should read the books….)

Yeah, sometimes I absolutely need a change of scenery or I just might lose it lol. It’s amazing how just the bus ride over can refresh my brain, the forced break from writing. Plus I can people watch. Lately, I’ve been spying on young couples engaging in PDA on the bus.

Peeking 2NOT BEING CREEPY I swear!!! Just looking to incorporate more body language into my teen lovey WIP.

Anyway, being in a new setting shifts my mental state and gives me a creative boost. It refreshes me so I can keep going. Sometimes I meet with other writer friends and we write together, hopefully without too much chatting. I’ve found a few coffee shops in Singapore that have become my go-to escape from my dining room table. One even knows my order! Yay! It’s Blue Orange Mocha, which tastes like those chocolate orange things wrapped in orange foil that you can get a Christmas in the U.S.. It is kind of amazing.

Do you have a favorite place to escape and write in when your brain’s about to leak out of your ears? What about it helps you write?

My English friend just took the piss out of the NFL so hilariously I can’t even….



(I’m blue text bubbles, he’s gray)

So my husband and I have been teaching our English friend the ways of NFL Fantasy Football, which is apparently is much more complicated than like English Premiere League Fantasy Football. He’s come a long way since he auto-drafted, after which I sat him down and said, “Friend, you don’t need four defenses and two kickers.” That Englishman is 3-0! I should really stop helping him, especially since I’m 0-3 :(….


I feel like a disgrace to America. And the Packers lost last week, so it was a rough, rough week for SJC in the world of football. But my good, good English friend sent me this to cheer me up, which really does help a lot (though I hope it wasn’t a serious injury, I am a nice person, I swear).

JadedNaiveAndeancockoftherockSo anyway, this Facebook message exchange was prompted by my reminder to check his line-up since regular season Bye weeks start this week. Please excuse my ignorance about the actual reason for Bye weeks, lol, I googled it and apparently it’s done to extend the regular season. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

It was just so hilarious, I had to share. It’s so fun teaching our friend the very, very complicated ways of the NFL.

Some of my favorite Fall photos from Wisconsin


554277_10100116767958605_703079777_n 557168_10100111065895585_2043205287_n - Copy 156478_10100127016919605_222995051_n 314213_10100127013087285_1663191494_n 374790_10100127015552345_1743722318_n 377463_10100127013691075_2049228633_n-1 385010_10100116768043435_148799644_n 522211_10100116767988545_1809568839_n 528593_10100116768761995_1644268726_n-1 541355_10100127015277895_1819303998_n 550427_10100127016739965_623063212_n 644102_10100116769091335_1085190008_n

Gettin’ all nostalgic about rural Wisconsin culture while brainsplosion-writing my new novel


644084_10100125594230685_535874386_nSo I pull up on this pick-up and there are four–FOUR–calves just hanging out back there keeping it real. I’ve lived in Wisconsin since I was three (oh, and excluding this past year). That was a first. I guess you gotta get your cows around somehow and maybe this guy didn’t have a cattle trailer thing. Oh, Wisconsin, I miss you.

So I pounded out 40,000 words on my new YA novel! Eek! Yeah, I’ve really been getting into it. I set this novel in Sparta, Wisconsin,self-proclaimed “Bicycling Capitol of America” because it’s at the junction of two big bicycling trails. Sparta’s a town of almost 10,000 tucked in Western Wisconsin’s rolling hills, ridges and coulees, created by the Mississippi River. I wanted to explore the people, the culture, the life of this area of Wisconsin. I am also exploring the mindset, which can be hard and personal at times. (side note: I drop a bunch of g’s in -ing words in this post because that’s how people talk in at least parts of Wisconsin. Heck, I have to consciously THINK about not dropping g’s).

A lot of people I knew and worked with and hung out with in Sparta had a much smaller view of the world than I had at the time and much, much smaller than I have now. But to them, their world felt big, and the little events around town felt exciting. For a lot of them, Sparta was pretty much their world. Vacation was going to the Dells, Twin Cities, Chicago, maybe Florida. But there’s a simplicity to the life that has a certain beauty, which I can now appreciate. Everyone knows everyone. You go to Wal-Mart or Piggly Wiggly and run into people you know and catch up. My favorite part of the Sparta newspaper is “Local and Society,” where you can read about who came home to visit, people’s trips to the Twin Cities to catch a show, family vacations to Orlando. Maybe goin’ fishin’ up at the cabin (if you got one) or goin’ campin’. Oh, and I also like to read the “Arrested” column and Divorce/Marriage certificates, just to see if I know anyone 😛

Butterfest and 4th of July and Homecoming parades and baseball games down at Memorial Park.Walking down to Memorial Park for the 4th of July, Weddings at the bowling alley, Club 16, or the VFW (cuz that pretty much exhausts your options for wedding venues in Sparta). The big summer concert sponsored by Fort McCoy’s MWR. Butterfest, bar-sponsored baseball games transitioning to high school football games when the leaves change.


(The flea market and craft fair at the annual Sparta Butterfest. Um… You know you live in the North, right?)

Most people from Western Wisconsin’s ancestors came from (southern?) Germany and Norway and places like that a few generations back. Wisconsin’s only been a state since 1848 and Sparta was settled later than that. Ninety-five percent of Wisconsinites have at least some German ancestory. This impacts how we talk and drink and other parts of our culture, like our general stalwartness (not a word, I know, but it fits). Wisconsinites are tough. You have to be with our crazy winters. I mean, two feet of snow and we may still have school the next day? School doesn’t get cancelled unless it drops like ten degrees below zero Fahrenheit (not including wind chill). And when you make eye contact, people smile and may throw in a “How’s it goin’?” To which you respond with ONLY “good” or “fine”, nothing more. Or maybe, “oh she’s goin’.” Or perhaps they might greet you with “How ’bout them Packers?”

Walking down Water Street in Sparta, you’ll find pretty much every other shop being a bar, alternating between second-hand stores and restaurants and other little stores that turned over pretty quickly. And then there would be the one you hoped stayed open, like Ginny’s Cupboard, a cute little coffee shop that had good mochas for Sparta.

007Goin’ out on the weekends and always seeing pretty much the same people.In high school. Stay tuned for my upcoming post on the bars of rural/semi-rural Wisconsin. In high school, it was Friday and Saturday nights at the bowling alley or the movie theater, maybe driving around in the country. Maybe going to parties or deer shining or mudding or ‘coon bashing (that means RACOON, let me be clear. Oh, and I didn’t do anything in that sentence). Future Farmers of America and Drive Your Tractor/Snowmobile to School Day.

Weekly summer concerts at Evans-Bossard featuring local acts. Christmas lights in December.


Cranfest over in Warrens that last weekend in September, a town of like 400 invaded by hundreds of thousands of people on the hunt for crafts and bargain buys from the flea markets and random things like snake oil to promote virility or something like that. Hoards of women wearing silly hats and dressing up for the occasion in matching sweatshirts they may have made special just for the weekend, arriving at the crack of dawn to get the best stuff, bringing strollers and trolleys and wagons just to haul around their treasures. Walking tacos, brats, corn on the cob, funnel cake, cheese curds, cranberry cream puffs. Carnival rides and food trucks tucked between houses. A massive parade that lasts for hours; local high school and middle school marching bands compete to win first place; Miss Cranfest, Miss Sparta, Miss every local own around sit  on own floats wearing pretty dresses with jackets over their shoulders, smiling and waving. And, without fail, the bagpipe band from La Crosse.

264289_10100111243334995_73563588_nMen (and women) vacating the town that last week of November for gun deer hunting season. A noticeable drop in attendance at school the three days before Thanksgiving. Excitement over deer carcasses hauled into town in the backs of trucks to be processed. Pride while sharing that you got a (insert number here) point buck, or disappointment if you SEEN one (“I seen”, not “I saw”) but it got away before you brought it down. Driving through the country those days, seeing blaze orange speckling the empty farm fields and bare-branch forests. Advertisements in the paper and Wal-Mart and local bars for ladies’ bar specials or shopping trips or church dinners for while their men are away huntin’.

1554632_10100402889214315_1580560717_n(Oh, the things I see in the backs of trucks while driving through Wisconsin)

Knowing when the Packers are playing because the streets and Wal-Mart and Piggly Wiggly and McDonalds and Taco Bell are empty. Ghost town. Now the bars on the other hand… 😛 Go, Pack, Go!

plates-great-LD - Copy(oh, and da Bears still suck, and don’t get me started on da Vi-queens)

Once winter rolls in, obviously more Packers, but also and shovlin’ and snow blowin’ all that snow (and helping the neighbors), doing donuts in the parking lot and goin’ ice fishin’ and snowmobilin,’ sometimes up to the Kwik Trip…or the bar, lol. Then when it finally gets about 40 degrees Fahrenheit in, I don’t know, maybe March…shorts! That snow won’t be all gone until April anyway. And there could always be that freak snowstorm in May. Cookouts featuring beer-boiled brats with sauerkraut, washing it down with Spotted Cow or a Leinie’s Summer Shandy while playin’ yard games like Cornhole, testicle toss, and washers.

251698_10100104861883475_1794185342_nRiding a bar-sponsored school bus down to the big city of Milwaukee, drinkin’ beer all the way, tailgatin’ before the Brewers games. Cuz, you know, driving in Milwaukee tends to be terrifying for small-town folk (and I can say that officially because I was a small-town folk who moved to the MKE), and then you couldn’t drink…as much.

311692_979156056985_1692694693_n(The racing sausages, my favorite part of Brewer’s games besides tailgating because I know pretty much nothing about baseball. All my sports-understanding-capacity is taken up by football)

When I finally got out of Sparta, it felt like I’d escaped a prison. Since then I can say with all humility that I’ve seen quite a lot of the world compared to your average American. I can think of maybe one person I went to high school with that has traveled more than me. Now that I’ve been living in the concrete and glass jungle of Singapore for a year, I can say in all honesty that I really do miss he smalless and simplicity, the sense of community. The beauty of the bluffs and leaves changing and winter and watching a hometown parade. Hearing the Wisconsin accent while people talk about the Packers.

Wow, so that was a deep post, Sarah! 😛 And it started off so funny. This novel’s really dredging up a lot of stuff for me, good and bad, but mostly good. I guess that’s a sign that it’s important for me to write, if not just for myself.