Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Tag Archives: getting published

I have vanquished the inner demon preventing me from writing an awesome first chapter! (…that’s an awkward, weird title haha)


ImageSo a few weeks ago I posted about the battle of writing my first chapter for my YA novel Hooligans in Shining Armour, set in present-day Belfast. There have been three completely different start points so far and numerous drafts of each. At the time, I was super excited because I thought I’d nailed that first chapter. Well…. turned out I didn’t lol. Writing first chapters is such an art. So I’ve spent the past week writing a new first chapter. After much crafting and re-writing and getting feedback from my most trusted critique partners…. I…. AM…. 99.9% SURE… I…. actually have nailed it this time!!! I guess there’s still that .1% chance that I’m not…

Image(side note: I spent waaaay too long looking at Monty Python gifs)

Words cannot express my joy. But I may go do this in my condo elevator right now.

ImageAnyway, if you want to check out the new material for Hooligans in Shining Armour, click here! Let me know what you think.

How do you know when you’re done with your novel, like really done? 

The next generation


The next generation

A little boy runs in front of an Eleventh Night bonfire with a Union flag as a cape. To the left, a lamppost melts and an electrical transformer smokes. Tiger’s Bay, Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 11th, 2011.

I’m going through my photos from Northern Ireland as I prepare to start querying agents for Hooligans in Shining Armour ( and I felt ready share this one as a post. The Twelfth celebrates the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

What’s the hardest part of a novel to write for you?


For me, with each of my manuscripts, it’s been the first chapter. Hooligans in Shining Armour follows two POV characters, Fiona and Danny. Danny’s first chapter has never been questioned. It’s solid. Fiona on the other hand….

frustratedThe first several drafts, nothing changed with Fiona’s. Then a number of people from my writer’s group, including a bunch who read the whole thing, said the first chapter was too slow and introduced the readers into a world that they promptly left and never saw again. Too much “ordinary world” before “inciting incident”. That it didn’t feel connected to the rest of the story. So I cut the first chapter entirely and stuck little bits of important stuff from that chapter elsewhere. Fiona’s first chapter was basically a paragraph hinted at ordinary world then BAM! inciting incident. Then I sent it to the editor. She said that she didn’t feel connected to Fiona’s old life or her quest to return home (ha now, inciting incident too soon, not enough ordinary world). She wanted to get a sense of her life in Madison before she went to Belfast.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get a first chapter together, knowing that that’s the first thing agents will read. It has so many jobs to do: establish tone/voice/genre, introduce protagonist and other main characters, show us what Fiona looks like, give us a glimpse into Fiona’s psyche, hint at what the Fiona’s journey will be, show us the world/s she lives in, and other things, too. All while being engaging and having some kind of tension on every page to keep the reader going. If the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence isn’t attention-grabbing, you risk turning off agents and readers.

Anyway as I was sitting at the airport waiting to welcome my sister to the wonderful world of Singapore, I think I figured out how to solve both issues at once.  I always get this giddy feeling when I finally solve a story conundrum and I really think I’ve done it this time with a little mix of both. Hopefully I’ll get Fiona finalized soon so I can post it!  To learn more about Hooligans and read Danny’s chapter, click here.


What’s the hardest part to write in your novel? The beginning? The sagging middle? The perfect ending?

Went on a photo shoot for my novel (fancy-sounding, eh?) Have you ever done your own art for your novel?


So I don’t often post on my WIP (Hooligans in Shining Armour) on here, but when I do…

JK I’m not going to go all Dos-Equis-most-interesting-man-in-the-world on you today. I’m going to talk about HISA today because I did something super fun with the help of Cait, an awesome writer friend! What did we do, you may (or may not) ask? We went on a photo shoot! I’m drawing nearer to submitting to agents, so I figured I’d do some promo work, if you will.

So there are a few visual things that are featured in HISA. Two include walls dividing people and red Converse. Fiona and Danny’s neighborhoods are divided by a “peace wall” that is about thirty feet high. Danny’s side of the wall is covered with graffiti art that was commissioned to beautify the wall. Fiona wears red Converse the entire book. I currently live in Singapore, not Belfast, so we had to find a location that could pass for a wall as described in the book. I bought red Converse to celebrate finishing the latest draft of HISA. So now I’ve officially become an unpaid shoe model as well as a full-time unpaid writer. My friend scouted locations and we found the side of a building on Arab Street covered with artistic graffiti.

So the one up top is my favorite, but here’s another I really like with a bit different perspective. I’m actually not sure which I like better, so if you have an opinion, leave a comment below!

ImageHere’s a few pictures of Arab Street in case you’re curious…


And a few shots of the Cupar Way peace wall I took on the Shankill (Danny’s side) while in Belfast:


I’m hoping to return to Belfast this Fall so then perhaps I won’t need this kind of staging, but it was fun to do. In my dream world, I’d commission a book trailer to be filmed in Belfast. Still scheming on this one.

To learn more about HISA and read a sample chapter, click here.   Also here’s some more photos from my trip to Northern Ireland.

Have you ever used your creativity to make promotional materials or cover art for your novel? If you’ve self-published, how how have you designed your cover?

“What’s you novel about?” ….Oh crap, I haven’t thought of a log line yet!



What’s my novel about you ask?


Have you ever had that moment where you’re like, crap, how do I explain to a most-likely-only-politely-interested person my entire life’s work for the past months or years? And then you’re talking and watching their face and their eyes are glazing over and it’s obvious that you’re making NO sense. That leaves you like, okay, crap how do I gracefully end this conversation without just doing this:

ImageAfter it’s all said and done, it may leave you feeling like, wow, if I can’t explain my novel in an interesting, coherent way, who’s ever going to want to read it? What is the meaning of my life even?????

ImageOkay, maybe not quite that bad, but….

Honestly, I sometimes even have a hard time explaining after I’ve written my synopsis and query letter. I’ll over-explain or under-explain or tell too much about subplots or secondary characters. It’s hard to quickly, coherently explain a novel in a few sentences, but we have to have our “elevator speech” ready if we’re going to pitch to agents or even self-publish. Oh, the joys of being a writer. We can’t just write a novel and be like, YEAH! IT’S AWESOME SO READ IT! We have to persuade people with very short attention spans that our novel is worth hours of their time. That’s a whole different art.

Have you ever had this happen to you? How do you prepare your “elevator speech” or log line?