Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Category Archives: Writing

Signing the publishing contract




My mom has said on more than one occasion that when I put my mind to something, I make it happen. At the end of 7th grade, we moved from a suburb of Milwaukee to the rural town of Sparta, Wisconsin, population 9,000. I swore I’d move back to Milwaukee. I started my professional career as a school psychologist for the Milwaukee Public Schools. After I saw the movie Braveheart in like 6th grade, I swore I’d go to Scotland. I went twice; once, I even hiked to the ruins of the town my ancestors immigrated to Canada from on the Isle of Mull.

Sheeps in Shiaba

Grazing sheep on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland near the ruins of a town that people were forced from to make room for grazing sheep.

Before my husband and I moved to Singapore during the summer of 2013, I resolved to take a group of middle school students who had worked with me for a year in a community service club to Pine Ridge Reservation to volunteer. With the help of those students and many others, I managed to get the whole trip paid for at no expense to the students and navigate the bureaucracy of my school district to make it happen.


Our autographed school t-shirt that went on the wall of Re-Member. Mitakuye Oyasin means “all [people/things] are related” in Lakota.

From a very young age, I loved making up elaborate worlds and stories in my imagination. I’d be running around in my back yard by myself, talking to entire casts of characters that existed only in my mind. I’d often rope my four younger siblings in, too. I first realized my love of writing those stories down in 4th grade when I was selected to go to a special writing convention for all the elementary schools in the area. All our short stories were printed and bound into a book. After that were many notebooks filled with stories inspired by Stephen King and Michael Creighton. Some of them are still in a box in my parent’s attic somewhere. After that was an elaborate sci-fi story I spent many hours researching Europa and methods of faster-than-light travel and star systems with habitable planets. I finally finished a draft at some point in college. It was 240,000 words. *cringe*

After I let someone look at it, then couldn’t pay them to read the whole thing, I knew I needed to learn more. So I took critique classes at UW-Madison, went to conferences, and got involved in more critique groups and read books. Wrote several more (and better) books that I queried without luck. About five years ago, after a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, I was inspired. I started researching and learning. Then, while sitting at an Irish pub in Madison, Wisconsin, I took the first primordial steps toward writing a book that is now called All the Walls of Belfast.


Taken by me at a bonfire in Tiger’s Bay, Belfast on Bonfire Night (July 12th, 2011).

Then I moved to Singapore for my husband’s job, found more writer friends, and really, really got serious about writing. I got involved in the fabulous Singapore Writers Group within a week of getting off the plane and focused on developing my craft, critiquing others, and taking and applying constructive feedback, even when it was hard to hear. Researching, so much researching. And re-writing—and re-writing again—while riding busses and sitting in various coffee shops in Holland Village and Robertson Quay and Buona Vista.

photo 1 (4)

Writing on the MRT in Singapore.

i heart writing

One of the many flat whites consumed at one of many coffee shops in Singapore.


I found out about fabulous twitter-based writing contests such as Pitch Wars, Nightmare on Query Street, and #Pitchmas. other twitter pitching contests. Finally I landed an agent, Claire Anderson-Wheeler at Regal Hoffman & Associates, after she liked a tweet.

Then I moved back from Singapore and went back to work full-time as a school psychologist and had my daughter.

For the next three years, while balancing all that, I re-wrote parts of All the Walls at least twice, then basically fully re-wrote it again based on Claire’s developmental feedback and feedback from a plethora of critique partners. In the end, I’d say the whole thing ended up being re-written. Thankfully, Claire never stopped believing in Danny and Fiona and my abilities as a writer, but she challenged me over and over again to find the heart of my story and focus on that.


Sampling of the many, MANY post-it notes that helped get me through.

It’s hard to quantify amount the support I’ve gotten over the years from Claire, and from fellow writers in Madison and Singapore and Belfast (also my far-flung crit buddies in Belgium, Turkey, and Cali), who have been essential in pushing All the Walls of Belfast to be more accurate, more authentic, more focused.

The past five years of working on this manuscript has felt like running a mentally (and sometimes physically) exhausting marathon with an ever-moving finish line. I’ve lost count of how many files I’ve naively saved with “final draft” tacked on the end.

But, like my mom has always said, when I put my mind to something, I never give up.

So, I still can’t believe I’m writing this, but….

Finally, in February 2018, the manuscript went on submission. I signed my contact with Turner Publishing (distributed by Ingram) on March 27th, 2018 while on a road trip to Colorado. After speaking with the acquisitions editor, I knew they were the perfect fit. They loved Fiona and Danny as much as I do and got All the Wall’s potential to expand the worldview of American readers and teach them something new.

I still can’t believe that soon I’ll be holding a copy of my book baby.

Persistence, perseverance, patience, and a lot (a LOT) of hard work really can make dreams come true.

Attitude is everything 2

Picture taken on a three day hike on the Routeburn Track on the South Island of New Zealand. I *may* have come a few inches from falling off a cliff.


After 7+ Years of Querying


Writing like six different novels (at least), then landing an agent and revising for three years, I can officially announce…

PW announcement

Still doesn’t totally feel real.

All the Walls of Belfast, March 2019!

More details to come 🙂

Writer’s Retreat Up North


This weekend, I had the privilege of attending a writer’s retreat up in the North Woods of Wisconsin. It may be the first weekend of May, but when we first arrived, the lake was still partially frozen. Happy spring, love Wisconsin.

Last year, after I came home, my husband asked, “What did you do the whole time?” There are no learning sessions or scheduled activities beyond meals. It is just writing. For like three days. So my response: “wrote like a crazy person for like 14 hours a day.” And I think he did think I was a little crazy. Or maybe more than a little, lol. But it was amazing. I mean, call it what you want–being in the zone, writer’s high, whatever–but being away from home, surrounded by other like minded, like devoted people, freed my brain and it was absolutely amazing. I’ve spent this entire year just WAITING for the next one.

This year, I didn’t have something I NEEDED to work on. All the Walls of Belfast is currently untouchable, and I recently sent another WIP to my agent. None of my other projects have been calling to me either. But cue #WriteMentor! A new twitter-based writing contest to hook unagented authors up with mentors who are agented/published. The past few years, with my super busy life, I’ve been missing the camaraderie of a solid Twitter writing community. So I signed up to be a mentor a few weeks ago and this Friday, the submission window opened. Perfect timing. At the writer’s retreat, I had the unique opportunity to devote all my brain power to reading entries and prepping feedback. And I could pick the brains of fellow writers around issues like how debut novels pitched as trilogies are fairing in the market place. Writer’s retreats are also a great place to build new writer connections. Only small hiccup, my laptop decided to spontaneously die on the first full day.

dead computer gif

And it was an hour and a half drive one way to a Best Buy to get a new one. #writerproblems

All’s well that ends well though, and I managed to get through all of my submissions, make new writer friends, and interrogate a published author on the finer points of tax deductions, making audio books, and marketing.

I highly recommend writer’s retreats to any writer, no matter where you are in your writing journey 🙂

#WriteMentor Wishlist


Hey, so I’m a mentor in #WriteMentor, a new opportunity for querying writers to get hooked up with agented or published author mentors.

If you’re a mentee hopeful, you may have seen my Mentor Bio on the website, but here’s a little more intel.

About me:

The eldest of five children, I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I spent the first few years of my life in dying coal mining towns in the Pocono Mountains. My father’s career as a Methodist minister took us to Wisconsin, where I spent the rest of my childhood growing up in places ranging from unincorporated towns of four hundred to the suburbs of Milwaukee. I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, a Master’s of Science in Education, and an Education Specialist Degree in School Psychology. Currently, I live outside Madison, Wisconsin with my husband and young daughter. I work as a school psychologist in an elementary school with a diverse, mostly low income population; I have also worked in middle schools. My professional areas of focus include supporting the success of children with behavioral and mental health needs and helping to promote resilience in children who have been exposed to trauma or toxic stress.

I had the opportunity to live in Singapore for a year and a half and focus on my writing. There, I made writer friends from around the world. I also had the unique chance to be enmeshed in cultures different from my own.


Additionally, I’ve been lucky to travel to seventeen countries on four continents. I like adventures.


Feel free to check out my upcoming YA Contemporary novel All the Walls of Belfast (March 2019, Turner Publishing).

IMG_4798_edited - Copy

My Wish List:

Number 1 Favorite: Contemporary YA

As a school psychologist, I love reading and writing YA that deals with the realities many teens face. I love well-researched stories that explore complex social and mental health issues in an empathic way. I do NOT want anything that glorifies, or could be construed as glorifying, suicide, self-injurious behavior, teen pregnancy, substance use, or eating disorders. I’m not necessarily looking for an “issue” book, but rather gritty YA contemporaries that show teens fighting to rise above external and internal conflict difficult situations through their own resilience. I want characters struggling with internal and external conflict, being forced into making impossible choices with real consequences that they suffer because of their own bad choices. I enjoy characters I grow to love who then make wrong choices that make me want to throw the book across the room. I’m also a fan of redemption and coming-of-age stories.


I’m eager for stories that feature deep, authentic, conflict-ridden relationships between characters (whether romantic, friendship, or family) that drives the plot. I particularly enjoy stories where the secondary characters are well-developed and complex. As a school psychologist, I also like seeing adults in the character’s life taking on the mentor role, whether it’s a teacher, family member, or rando person, because having one positive adult relationship is one of the best ways to promote resilience in youth who are struggling.

I love to travel and learn about other cultures and sub-cultures. As such, I enjoy reads that open my eyes to people coming from backgrounds different from my own.


Other interests:

I’d be open to character-driven Historical YA that features deep, conflict-ridden relationships, especially if it shows me cultures and places I’ve never been. I also would be open to light Magical Realism with strong character development.

MG, Fantasy (especially High Fantasy), and Sci-Fi aren’t really my area of expertise, so there are other mentors out there who might be a better fit.

What I’m looking for in a mentee:

I would like to partner with someone with an open mind and a query-ready manuscript who knows the heart of their story and is willing to work hard. I will say, for personal reasons, the sooner I can get the manuscript after you’re selected, the better, please.

What you can expect from me as a mentor:

Full manuscript developmental edit report (1 read through and report).I’m also more than happy to answer any questions and provide advice around querying and what comes after.

In terms of feedback, I’m…um…thorough and honest, let’s just say, because getting hard, constructive feedback and using it is really what has pushed me to be the writer I am today. Be prepared for long developmental edit letters or lots of comments, with suggestions on what you can do. I won’t re-write things for you, and I may not give ideas for fixing everything, because I don’t want to change your voice or your story. I’ll also point out what’s working and make suggestions things that aren’t based on what I see as your strengths as a writer. After you get the letter, I’m happy to bounce ideas back and forth and help you come up with a plan moving forward. This is the process my agent and I went through more than once!

I feel one of my strengths is developing characters that feel real and creating authentic internal conflict that drives and is driven by plot, and then using that internal conflict to create dynamic relationships with other characters, which then can drive the plot.

I’m open to different means of communication, ranging from email to potentially Skype, though that would take some careful planning.

If you have more questions, feel free to connect with me on Twitter. So, so excited to see your manuscripts!


Had to throw one GIF in there 😛

All the Walls of Belfast Novel Aesthetic


All the WallsI’m in between writing projects at the moment, so I took some time to play around with creating my very first novel aesthetic for All the Walls of Belfast. Most of the pictures are my own, but the others I obtained from Shutterstock and Pixabay. So excited about it!