Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Monthly Archives: February 2015

Sitting on my hands while two manuscripts are off limits


jAYnA6y…is hard for me. I’m kind of a writing addict. LOL. My agent is re-reading and preparing feedback on Hooligans. For Rafa and Rose, my collaborator and I are re-plotting the entire thing, based on suggestions from my fabulous agent. We picked a new inciting incident for both characters, which changed the external problem for each MC and the whole story line. We also cut a subplot which is leading to major chapter restructuring and cutting. So I’ve lost track of how many hours we’ve spent skyping and brainstorming to work through this. Probably at least twenty, but likely way more–time well spent though! We’re still not done, but we’re getting close. I can’t start re-working anything until we get through the whole novel, but I know it will be 100X better for it. Plus we’re working on setting up interviews with police officers and possibly lawyers to ensure we get the legal stuff created by the inciting incident right. So I can’t work on that.

What to do, what to do? I’m playing around with another WIP, so maybe I’ll go back to that. What can I say? I’m kind of a writing addict.

iron-man-waitingI’ll also continue reading Elements of Fiction: Beginnings, Middles, and Endings, by Nancy Kress. My agent recommended it and another plotting book. Follow me on twitter if you want to see my sporadic tweets of interesting quotes from it. I’ve got a lot of YA books waiting to be read on my Kindle. Though I could also enjoy the perks of American cable and Redbox.

Anyway, time to sit on my hands ๐Ÿ˜›

How do you occupy yourself when you can’t work on your WIP? Any YA books to recommend?

My most recent “Proud to be American” moment


For the past year and a half, I’ve lived in Singapore, writing up a storm, exploring Southeast Asia, making friends from all over (but mostly England, as random as that is). I haven’t been around many Americans. I moved home to Wisconsin last week.

Living abroad has given me a new appreciation of what it means to be American. it’s helped me recognize our unique culture and subcultures. It’s given me the chance to see my country–the ugly, crazy, and beautiful parts–through the eyes of non-Americans, who are fascinated by us. While I was in Singapore, the United States went through the government shutdown (which was SO hard to explain), major gun rights and Affordable Care Act debates, Ferguson, President Obama’s executive order on immigration, ISIS, Ukraine/Russia conflict, and the spread of marijuana legalization and gay marriage recognition (to name a few things). I’m not here to pontificate, but that’s a lot of intense stuff. I also missed a gubernatorial election and I couldn’t absentee vote; that was upsetting. I have to say, prior to living abroad, I didn’t feel particularly proud to be American. NOT living in the U.S. changed that some.

Something really moved when I returned home in October (after eight months away) and again last week when I moved back. My plane landed in Minneapolis (Detroit in October). As I waited in the U.S. Citizen immigration line, looking around at my fellow Americans, it hit me both times. The people in line with me came from many different racial/ethnic backgrounds: African American, white, Latino, a variety of Asian ethnic groups. You can’t identify an American based on their skin color, facial features, or even the language they are speaking.We look different, but we are ALL American. We are the same People.


“E Plurbus Unum”…one from many. There are very, very few countries that would have citizen immigration lines that are as diverse as ours.

It made me proud to be American.


So…I’m moving from Singapore back to Wisconsin in less than twenty-four hours


…and this is me:

14-melissa-mccarthy-dancing-gifI feel like this should be a post about all the wonderful things I’ve learned about myself and the world, the new perspectives I have on what it means to be American or a Wisconsinite, or my plans for dealing with reverse culture shock and reintegration into Wisconsin life…or something deep like that.That’s all coming, I’m sure, but as I’m trying to cram my life into suitcases (yes, suitcases, because we’re not shipping anything back), I just don’t have the cognitive energy to reflect on all that yet. Especially with the whirlwind of goodbyes the last few days has been.

It’s been a good run, this year and a half in Singapore. I’ve written and edited a novel, and just gotten an agent for it. I’m well into the first draft for another. I’ve visited: Australia, Cambodia, Indonesia (Bali and Bintan), Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Oh, and Singapore. I may have broken my face a lil bit in Cambodia–just one of many interesting travel stories I now have. I’ve frolicked with elephants. Seen kangaroos, koalas, and kookaburras in the wild. Done extensive field research into vocabulary and spelling differences between American and British English. Made lots of friends from around the world–even converted one English friend into a Packers fan. Got into the Singapore schools a little bit, to teach a creative writing course to local 4th graders and also teach a Saturday enrichment class to local five-year-olds. Spent a year and a half relying solely on public transportation which, thankfully, is pretty great in Singapore. Ended up stopping at at least 47 out of 113 MRT stations (Singapore’s subway). Yes, I was keeping track ๐Ÿ˜› Lived being the minority, an Ang Moh, which I think everyone should experience. There’s another post I’ll write some day; it does help you appreciate different aspects of white privilege to be sure. And I could go on and on.

I’ve NOT been as food-venturous as I should have, I’ll admit that. I have this thing about fish. And mayonnaise. And sketchy-looking chicken. And meat on bones. So…that’s my bad. I’ll miss satay and prata and iced Milo (and flat whites, though those are Aussie). I wish I would have explored more of Singapore, as in the Heartlands and parts where expats don’t go. I did a little bit while working in the schools (Pasir Ris and Alljunied areas), but I wish I would have learned more about Singlish and local cultures. I’m sure as I’m plugging back into my old life, there will be many more things I regret as well.

I’m excited to get back to my family and the niece and goddaughter I barely know. I can’t wait to go back to working in the schools and trying to make a difference in the lives of children and families. I’m excited for cheese curds and good, cheap microbrews and snow! Yes, snow! I cannot wait for seasons and cold and being able to run in the middle of the day. And a car. I cannot wait to have a car again. Can I still have one and not pay thousands of dollars a year for it? Not having to make car payments or pay for insurance or gas or repairs has been amazing.

After the dust settles and I’ve wrapped my brain around plugging back into my old life, I’ll write those posts on what being American means to me and Midwest culture and how living abroad changed my entire worldview and self-view. But for now I think I’ll go make some cookies or something ๐Ÿ˜› Or maybe I’ll stop by the coffee shop in Chip Bee Gardens that knows my order one last time. It’s a blue orange mocha by the way.

1623390_10100702177044105_1832868065462732496_nSome of my favorite pictures from Singapore:

photo 1-13 photo 1-14 photo 2-13 (2) 10255684_10100468249721335_7048744116581598285_n 10344798_10100503656096675_313119749541113872_n photo-210441254_10100521329953125_6840986756202703445_n 10454305_10100521330027975_5910598115609363128_n photo (6) photo-1 (5)ย  photo-3 (6) photo-3 (10) photo-5 (3) photo-5 photo-7 photo-10 P1190738 P1190742 P1190617 P1190580 photo 1 (4)photo 1-11 (4)photo 2-1photo 1-12 (2)photo 2-13 (4)photo 4-710256652_10100472610562175_862716297238446126_o

To this:

Downtown Sparta 1472931_10100396258013295_1544796563_n 945408_10100396323586885_1528026072_n 1551746_10100402888435875_978291620_n 1509810_10100406851698465_1346135851_n 1509211_10100407359475875_1718564115_n 1476445_10100399083236525_620240967_n 1506736_10100397524984275_644816372_n 1476281_10100397525807625_1962971806_n 1499504_10100402888336075_2082870151_n289056_808394788935_1998542658_o 532166_978935833315_519093868_n314213_10100127013087285_1663191494_nย  557168_10100111065895585_2043205287_nphoto 3

Digging my WIP out of the plot hole (AKA lack of plot)


ha5di…I think… (see previous post about WIP existential crisis). I’m sure my plot will keep evolving as I undertake this re-write, but–fingers crossed–I BELIEVE I’ve at least got a solid idea for my inciting incident.

Backstory: I always like to make things hard for myself by choosing to do things like write first person, dual POVs that involve a character from a different cultural background from my own. So this means lots of research (that’s a whole different topic of conversation) and also that each character needs an inciting incident. I also write contemporary YA without an obvious antagonist, like a dragon to slay or something. My MCs have to do battle against themselves and their parents and poverty and school, all in the context of legal proceedings they have no control over but threatens almost everything in their lives.

oh my my mySo plotting this novel is no small task (for my brain, at least)….

I felt strongly that, in this WIP, the characters’ inciting incidents needed to be at least loosely connected without putting the characters and their families at odds. While majorly disrupting each characters’ lives and setting the mirroring plots in motion. The plot then should just follow: and then..and then…with each successive plot point making life harder than the last and the MCs making wrong choices in response to plot points that threaten to put their life dreams out of reach. All driven and fueled by each character’s fears, weaknesses, and core needs, while keeping in mind where I want my characters to end up as human beings. They are like real people in my brain.

Yep, I also spent many hours brainstorming around my characters’ internal workings and character arcs, which helped substantially with plotting. I have an idea of who my characters are when I start writing, but they evolve and grow more complex as I go; I don’t truly know who they are until long after the first draft, but all this got me tons closer.

**So I said “I” in those last paragraphs when I really meant “we.” I’m writing this novel collaboratively, so I’m blessed with another great brain who’s just as invested in our story as I am. So we spent hours and hours on Skype and messaging as well. Have I mentioned that I love her?**

attack hugI can just feel that we’re almost there. Our novel will be loads better because we took all this time to delve deep into our characters and their lives, and thought hard about what risks exist in their worlds and used all this to create an inciting incident that leads to the story problems that drive the plot. The feedback the incited our examination of the inciting incident, I can’t even….

hallelujahHey writers, have you a time when someone saved the day for your WIP?

Overcoming the Inevitable WIP Existential Crisis


58769011It happens to all of us, I’m sure. You’re cruising along on the WIP, feeling like you’re totally rocking it…until you either tell someone about it or let them read part of it. And they point out a major problem–like huge. And it causes you to call your entire life into question.

NoooOkay, not that extreme, but it completely challenges everything you’ve already written. The thoughts that race through your mind…it’s all crap…I’m going to have to completely re-write it…I have no plot…where’s my inciting incident…my characters are shallow and mundane. Take your pick.

I’ve had existential crises with every novel I’ve written, all the way back to that 200,000+word monstrosity that is my plotless first attempt at writing. Every time, I’ve worked through it and A) my novel has emerged 50 times better, and B) I’ve emerged as a better writer. After I get over that initial panic anyway ๐Ÿ˜›

During this specific crisis, I realized, thanks to the feedback of others, that A) I have no real concrete inciting incident, and B) I don’t really have a concrete plot stemming from inciting incident that spans the entire novel. My strength as a writer lies in creating characters. One of my weaknesses is plotting; it takes a very strategic, conscientious effort for me.

So I went to my favorite coffee shop in Singapore, enjoyed a blue orange mocha, and spent the afternoon going back to basics.

1623390_10100702177044105_1832868065462732496_nI reviewed my notes and resources on plotting and then did some freewrite brainstorming around plot for the WIP. For me, the physical act of writing it down on paper changes the way my brain flows. Below you’ll find the handmade outcomes of my afternoon.

Fundamental questions I must consider about the story as a whole:

photo 1A fun little plotting template I conglomerated from a number of sources:


So here’s what I need to do: nail down the inciting incident then continually ask myself and then? And then? This will lead to a cause/effect series of events compounding from one another, with characters making choices that lead them to the crisis, the point of no return, and then to the climax. Whew. Okay. I can do this! This particular existential crisis is on the path to resolution, but I know there’s more to come ๐Ÿ˜›

Have you ever had a WIP existential crisis? Any plotting tricks that works for you?