Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Tag Archives: Singapore

Signing the publishing contract

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Writing on the MRT in Singapore.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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…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 😛 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 😛 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:

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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_n  557168_10100111065895585_2043205287_nphoto 3

Christmas in Singapore

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So Singapore’s an interesting place. A city-nation-island. One of the safest cities on Earth. Home to over 200 malls. You can find a Hindu temple right next to a Catholic church. A Buddhist temple right next to a mosque. This year, I decided to travel around a bit and document Christmas in Singapore.

Singapore’s about 18% Christian, but Christmas is still a very big deal. The malls and and Orchard Road, Singapore’s version of Times Square, get decked out. Honestly, Singapore may be more decorated than what I’ve seen in the United States, at least in the Midwest.You can also buy real Christmas trees. Though small, they actually go for a reasonable price. Malls somehow create fake snow and you can go and play in it at certain times of the day. Others have foam snow parties.

So here’s my photographic Christmas journey through Singapore.

Each mall and Changi Airport has it’s own Christmas theme, which can range from typical US mall to Alice in Wonderland and Smurf Christmas.

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Orchard Road goes all-out starting at the end of October. I’m pretty sure you can see it from space. Orchard Road has over 20 malls, most of which are connected by underground tunnels. It’s literally a maze of malls. The first time I went there, it took me 15 minutes just to figure out how to cross the street!

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Gardens by the Bay, home of Singapore’s famous Super Trees, also gets a festive make-over. It was a very teddy Christmas, complete with fake snow.

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There were attempts to “Keep the Christ in Christmas.”

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And a few other random shots of Christmas around Singapore.

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This is actually a mostly “Muslim” hawker centre. Most of the stalls feature halal food and Malay food.

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The airport in Langkawi, Malaysia, which is a predominantly Muslim country.

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A very fairy Christmas to you from Singapore!

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photo 1-2(All malls decorate for Christmas; most have different themes)

Stay tuned for my Christmas in Singapore post! Still collecting photos.

Merry Christmas

Writer friends, do you ever wonder if you might be in a little too deep as a writer? I think I may be in too deep….

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bwi18Here’s one sign…  You wake up after having broken face surgery and the first thing you do is have your husband take pictures of your hospital room.

Okay, so it wasn’t REALLY the first thing I did, but that definitely did happen.

Back story: So about a month and a half ago I decided, hey, writing a motorbike for the first time ever after not even driving a car for six months sounds like a great idea. In Cambodia. So I was trying to turn and I kind of face-planted in a ditch that was about 6 feet deep according to my poor, probably slightly traumatized brother. FYI: Cambodia is not the most medically advanced country in the world. But I did get an ambulance ride, a private room (which was combination supply closet), and pretty comprehensive treatment for what they had there. Never mind that no one spoke English and I had a concussion and apparently stitches and no memory of what happened for about an hour. On the plus side, all that, only $130 USD lol.

Anyway, so I went to a public hospital in Singapore because, you know, I had some kind of stitches in my leg (not sure if dissolvable or not) and I obviously hit my head and face and had a concussion. The doctor was like, why are you here? You were treated in Cambodia. And I said, yeah exactly, and my face is still weird and my teeth are numb. So he took some x-rays at my insistence and determined there was fluid in my face and he couldn’t see anything. Okay, awesome. Then he made me an appointment with a plastic surgeon like a month later. Why? I don’t know lol. So this was end of July.

Then last week, I had a filling issue. I went to see my dentist at a private hospital and got my filling fixed then mentioned, hey my teeth are still numb and my face is weird. He had me get a CT scan THAT DAY. And apparently my face was broken in two places. The bone under my eye and the top of my jaw. Which is why all my nerves were messed up. Thanks awesome Singapore public hospital jerk ER doctor for NOT catching that and NOT suggesting, hey maybe we should get you a CT scan to be sure. Fast forward from end of July to first week of September. Had CT scan and was in for surgery less than 48 hours later (this Saturday). Apparently my face was actually broken in THREE places, the side of my jaw, too. Extra props to that awesome first Singapore ER doctor for completely missing the fact that my face was broken in three places and not bothering to give me a follow-up appointment until the end of August, which then was pushed back to the second week of September. My face should have been operated on within two weeks not six. So gold star for you, Singapore Public Hospital that shall remain nameless but happens to be located on Alexandra Road. Gleneagles, you were amazing! Saved the day! Thank God I have medical insurance, that’s all I’ll say.

ANYYYYWAY so now I’m recovering and I’ll be fine. I like to look at the positive of things. So for this, it was getting the inside scoop on being in the hospital! In Hooligans, one of the characters ends up “in hospital,” but I’d never been a patient admitted to a hospital. So I got to go into an “operating theatre,” emerge from general anesthesia, play with the bed and the remote, eat crappy hospital food, have my blood pressure checked every hour, listen to the sounds of the hospital, and have an IV drip and all that. Now I can incorporate it into my story and make the hospital scenes even more real!

Here’s a few snapshots….

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So this may be a sign that I’m a bit too committed to being authentic in my writing lol…. And that I should never ride a motorbike again.

Writer What lengths have you gone to in order to get your story accurate? Do you ever wonder if you get a bit overcommited?