Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Q & A

SJC - Updated - 4

How long does it take you to write a book? 

Um… I don’t even want to think about it. But seriously, it depends a lot on the book and how much research is required. How complex it is. All the Walls of Belfast, set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and woven with the impact of intergenerational trauma, was spread over about five years, because it required a lot of research to capture dialect, culture, history. It’s also a dual POV, which adds to the complexity. It also took me a lot of trials, and quite a few wrong turns, to truly discover the heart of the story. On the other hand, I’ve managed to pound out a first draft for another story in under a month. I will say, with each book I write, the next is easier.

What is the most difficult scene you’ve written in your latest book? 

Definitely the first chapter for the first POV character, Fiona. Her beginning is complicated, and it took me many, many, many tries to figure out where to start even, and how much the reader truly needed to know. Some of my poor critique partners literally must have read fifteen unique Fiona Chapter 1’s, and I wrote more than that. Danny’s first chapter barely changed.

Do you write with music?

An absolute requirement. I always create a unique soundtrack for every book I write. If All the Walls of Belfast had a theme song, it could be “Mess is Mine” by Vance Joy, “Whispers in the Dark” by Mumford & Sons, “Baptisms” by Radical Face, or “I’d Be Lying” by Greg Laswell. Since Danny and Fiona have their own unique, but intersecting, story lines, they have a few of their own songs. For Fiona, it’s “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors, “Geronimo” by Sheppard, “Take It All Back” by Judah & the Lion, and “Take Yours, I’ll Take Mine” by Matthew Mole. For Danny, it’s “This Is What It Feels Like” by Armin van Buuren, “Glory” by Radical Face, “Minstrel Boy” by Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros from the Black Hawk Down soundtrack, and “Comes and Goes (in Waves)” by Greg Laswell.

For the sake of art, I sometimes venture into music I don’t normally listen to, like Country for my current WIP. No offense to any Country lovers out there, of course!

Favorite books?

The Giver, since about 5th grade. Lord of the Rings. The Virgin Suicides, Catcher in the Rye, Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick, I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios.

Favorite movies/TV?

Between working full time as a school psychologist, playing tea and doctor with my daughter, and writing, I have basically no time for movies and TV now…. For movies, Lord of the Rings, Slumdog Millionaire, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Trash (set in Brazil, follows three orphan boys living in a trash dump as they go on an adventure to right a terrible wrong).… For TV, Shameless, Dexter, Intervention, Derry Girls, Rome, SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. Guilty Pleasures: Horror movies, an occasional smattering of reality TV including The Only Way is Essex, Ghost Hunters, My Big Fat Fabulous Life, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, and shows on Investigation Discovery that make my husband a little nervous.


Trying to take fancy pictures with my iPhone. Going on hiking adventures with my husband and young daughter. Running. Occasionally dabbling in gardening; a previous owner of my house was a master gardener, meaning my yards once had pretty elaborate gardens. Eek. Travel as much as possible. When I’m not writing, I don’t really like sitting still. I like adventures,  near and far.

triumph 2

What countries have you been to?

Canada, Bahamas, Mexico, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, United Kingdom (Scotland and Northern Ireland), Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand. I still have a few continents to get to, and many places in the United States. Living abroad helped me appreciate all the awesomeness inside our own borders.

What jobs have you had?

Cashier at Walmart, Work Study food service, Work Study office assistant, youth worker at a Day Treatment program for children with intense behavioral and mental health needs, camp counselor at a YMCA summer school age program, teacher at a summer school age program on a military base (I was employed by the Department of Defense!), school psychologist working in predominantly low income, high diversity schools. During my stint in Singapore, I was also a private tutor for an Australian family and worked for a local enrichment program that taught creative writing in local Singapore schools and with young children.

Two truths and a lie?

I have metal plates in my face. I MAY have gotten into a little motor bike accident in Cambodia and broke a few face bones. No, I don’t set off metal detectors. I am a Canadian citizen, thanks to my mom (I have dual citizenship). I don’t like to lie, so we’ll skip that part.

If you could travel back in time and tell younger you one thing, what would it be?

Take Spanish instead of German in middle and high school! You know how many times I’ve used the German I studied for four and a half years? Like twice, and I didn’t even need to.

What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

Definitely hiking the Routeburn Track on the south island of New Zealand. It was a three day hike through a mountain pass where we faced both freezing temperatures and flooding. They shut down the trail and started evacuating people after we finished! In addition to the steep hike carrying a thirty pound pack with all my stuff, I had to climb up a water fall and may have almost fallen off a narrow path with a hundred foot drop off. But the whole hike was absolutely beautiful in a way that words and pictures cannot capture, and the feeling of pride and accomplishment when we reached the end was absolutely intoxicating. I felt completely alive.


Do you have Irish ancestry?

I do not. At least not that I know of. Interesting fact: most of my mother’s family was basically Highland Clearanced out of Scotland and sent to Canada. I actually stood in the ruins of the place some of them last lived, Shiaba on the Isle of Mull. It’s now grazing land for sheep.


This was a school house in the 1800s.