Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Monthly Archives: November 2014

Writer friends, I throw down the gauntlet and challenge you to a thought experiment!



So I’m currently working on two very different YA Contemporary novels simultaneously, which kind of does this to my head…

head shock

Both are dual POV with love stories—so two girl characters, two boy characters. Both touch on social issues like poverty, stereotypes, substance abuse, cultural differences, parent incarceration, exposure to trauma, and the idea of “good” and “bad” people. I like social issues, what can I say? Plus I feel like teens get into them, too, especially if they can relate those issues to their own world. They also feature characters striving to overcome barriers and make the most of their futures. Both novels are character-driven. I know all of their brains pretty well. Plus I just love all four of my characters so much.

So on the surface, both manuscripts have a lot in common, right? Theme-wise, yes, but they are worlds apart, geographically, culturally, and linguistically—Northern Irish/Belfast dialect as compared to Spanish.

Here’s brief synopses to set the stage for the experiment. Hooligans in Shining Amour is set in Belfast. Fiona, an American girl, is sent to live with her estranged Belfast family against her will; Danny, from Belfast, quit school to join Protestant paramilitary, basically a gang, to please his Dad. Danny finds out Fiona’s Catholic dad was in the Irish Republican Army, which…is a problem.

Rafa & Rose is about Rafa, a Mexican boy, moving to rural Wisconsin and meeting racist Rose, who has a meth head mom tearing her world apart. A love of art brings them together and they discover they have more in common than different. They try to help one another overcome the barriers to achieving the dream they both share–being the first in their families to go to college.

So moving on to the thought experiment…. Which probably will make NO SENSE because none of you have actually read either of the manuscripts, but here goes.

What if I took my four MCs and made them all college roommates?

Danny, the Belfast boy, would like everybody, but he’d just ask all kinds of weird, awkward questions because of his very limited life experiences. Danny’s never hung out with a person of color such as Rafa, so he’d probably ask about tacos and sombreros and why he calls himself a Latino or a Mexican when he’s from America. Though nice and well-meaning, Danny would definitely try Rafa’s patience, especially since Danny dropped out of school to join a gang. But Rafa has a big heart, so he’d probably start helping Danny to keep him from flunking out of college. And they’d share a love of soccer/football/fútbol. Danny would be confused by Rose’s dark paintings and scary music taste, but very curious. Rose and Fiona would not like each other; Rose would think Fiona is preppy and stuck-up and Fiona would think Rose is emo and kind of creepy. I think they’d have a hard time overcoming this, but the fact they both grew up in Wisconsin and like the Packers might help. Rafa and Rose would not be able to understand half of what Danny says at first because of his accent and dialect; when Danny realizes this, he might get shy and rely on Fiona to do most of the talking or “translate” what he’s trying to say.

ACTUALLY Rafa and Fiona would get along great. They’re both high achievers who love math and steer clear of trouble. Fiona also studies Spanish and has a lot more experience with people from different racial/cultural backgrounds than her own, so Rafa would probably feel very comfortable around her. And Rose would probably be intrigued by Danny, since he has a bad boy past. Both also have a touch of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and lot of family trauma that they’d both just sense about one other. Danny and Rose also have very little exposure to the world outside of their respective hometowns and will both be super-freaked out by the wide world of college.

Conclusion: Rafa and Fiona should get together, as should Danny and Rose. Not that that would happen…most likely. What does that say about the character archetypes I play with in my novels?

So yeah, this would make WAY more sense if you’d actually read either of the books, but it was just such a fun thought experiment I couldn’t help myself. Maybe someday if don’t have a writing project (ha, yeah right!) I’ll write a scene with the four of them. It’d be quite humorous and also a good way to learn about them as people. Hmmmmmm….

Now I challenge YOU!

1238064310_evilmonkeyHave you ever thought about throwing characters together cross-manuscript? What would happen if you brought your MCs together for tea or something?

Non-writers just don’t understand: When the body is weak….


brain body

Writer friends, I know this has happened to you. You have that block of time to write, protected from all the world save some kind of zombie and/or asteroid-crashing-to-earth Apocalypse. Spouse, children, dog, co-workers, whatever normal pesky real life (and I say that with all the love in the world, cuz we love them all) things normally get priority, they’re gone. It’s just you and your computer and all those ideas always popping into your head when you’re with all of the above mentioned. But…then…you just can’t.

Nooo You want to write, but your brain’s foggy and your eyes are droopy and your body’s just not cooperating with its master. Those precious protected minutes tick by and the blinking cursor and empty page space taunt you.

A non-writer friend might say, “Just take a nap.” NO!!! But, but it’s the only hour I have all weekend.

my-precious-oOr sometimes it’s the reverse. Like it’s seriously late, well past your bedtime and you have to do that whole real job thing tomorrow, but you’re on that writer’s high and your brain just won’t shut up and the ideas keep flowing and flowing. An amazing feeling…at the time…but not so much the next morning. I shall dub it “writer’s hangover.” Oh, there’s my next meme! So stay tuned for that one.

Writer friends, what do you do when you want to write, but your body doesn’t cooperate? Make some coffee? Try to power through? Just succumb to it and take a nap?

Friends who did NaNoWriMo, does this happen even more in November as you’re trying to crank out those 50,000 words?

Happy Thanksgiving from Singapore!


gif thanksHey America, hope you all have a great Thanksgiving! Those of you who don’t work in retail, enjoy your day off. Those of you who do work in retail and have Black Friday creeping into your Thanksgiving, I’m sorry. I truly am. I worked at Wal-Mart for three years. I’ve lived it. Oh, and Canada, I’m so sorry I forgot yours; my mom’s Canadian, so I even know it’s in early October. And if you’re not American or Canadian and receiving my belated “Happy Thanksgiving,” happy…um…almost December.

I got a reminder this week of my token-ness (i.e. being a token Yank that is). I was at a packed comedy club with my English friends. It was a diverse crowd. The MC did the whole, “Let me see where all the Singaporeans are!” Tons of cheers. “Indians!” Tons of cheers. “UK friends!” My whole table and some more. “French people!” Even they had a hearty cheer. He didn’t ask where all his Aussies were because I’m sure there was a ton of ’em 😛 Then came….

“The Americans!”

Crickets. Then my lowly “Wooo!” fist raised. LOL. Only one in a crowd of probably 200. To be fair, there was a lone German guy, too, and he and a Singaporean got to be the butt of a lot of jokes. I was actually surprised the US didn’t get picked on. There’s just so much ammo….

Anyway, Thanksgiving. Second most (North) American holiday behind 4th of July. I have to say, my non-American friends are generally pretty fascinated by Thanksgiving, both the food we eat and its purpose. “Why do you eat turkey? It’s stringy and dry,” I was asked at the previously-mentioned comedy club night.

It got me reflecting on what my family does for Thanksgiving–spend a lot of time prepping and eating food, watching football (oh, crap I need to set my fantasy football line-up!), maybe going out to a movie, planning out big Black Friday shopping spree, having a few drinks, maybe playing some games. It’s all about bringing family together, that’s the essence of Thanksgiving to me. Let’s just not get into the historical significance of it… Or kids dressing up in Native American headdresses at school….

Anyway. It’s always hard being on the opposite side of the world from your family, particularly on holidays. Particularly Thanksgiving/Christmas. Miss my family tons. But my husband and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving with a bunch of his other American co-workers on Saturday, potluck style. Last year, not gonna lie, we had better food at this Thanksgiving than at my parents (SORRY Mom and Dad, it was just more variety! :P).

So friends, I have two questions for you today! Feel free to answer one, both, or none 😛

1. Even if you’re not American. What are you thankful for? (For the record, no my family did not sit around the turkey and do this :P). Me personally, it’s having this last year and a half to focus almost exclusively on my writing. I have a fantastic husband!

2. If you were cursed and could pick only ONE Thanksgiving dish to eat, what would it be? (non-American friends, substitute Christmas for Thanksgiving 😛 Me? Not going to lie, it’d probably just be turkey. I mean you just can’t even have Thanksgiving without it.

Writer friends, can you see a story in this picture?


Okay, I want to try something new today, and it could be a TOTAL flop of a post, but cheers to experimentation, right?

I took this picture in a forest in Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria, Australia and I just love it. The way light and dark, dead and alive meld together to create an ominous, creepy image. I feel like there’s some kind of story in this picture; I don’t know what, like a girl riding a horse through it trying to escape from Ring Wraiths or something.

Here’s another one that feels similarly-themed:

P1180671With this one, I like the hazy quality to the light filtering through the spindly, crooked trees.

I thought I’d post this and see if it spoke to any of you, fellow writer friends.

Can you see a story in either of these picture? If so, what might it be? What characters, what action might you add to it?

Non-writers just don’t understand: Editing is…um…hard…



Hey, writer friends, what’s up? I was recently tweeting a fellow writer and she mentioned her latest editorial struggle (as depicted in above meme). This is totally me. I am a verbose person. Good for reaching the target word count, bad for keeping it under…. I try to set a goal of keeping my YA contemporary around 80,000 words. Which is almost impossible for me. So I start slashing words. A lot of words.


I go through my MS  line-by-line, word-by-word, slashing whatever is not absolutely necessary. …and while cutting things, I’ll realize I need to have more internal monologue or emotional reaction or non-verbals to really convey the impact of a particular scene or the character’s progress on an internal or external story arc. And–tada!–not only have I failed in my goal of cutting X number of words, I’ve actually added 2000. …which leads to another edit.

tumblr_inline_mqbuizV6Sb1qz4rgpBut I trust the process. In the end, my story will be better for it!

Writer friends, what is your focus when you edit? Too many words? Too few? Those pesky adverbs? Telling instead of showing? Commas and semi-colons?