Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Tag Archives: travel

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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Drawing inspiration from adventure

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I’ve been busy updating my website. My biggest project: creating new photo pages documenting my journeys in Belfast and around Northern Ireland as a part of my research for All the Walls of Belfast, my YA novel. My first trip was in July 2011. I returned in July 2015, and then a third time in June 2016 (incidentally the day of the Brexit vote). These trips gave me the priceless opportunity to delve deep into the past, current events, differing perspectives, culture, dialect, and setting. Feel free to take a look 🙂

My most recent “Proud to be American” moment

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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.

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“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.

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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:

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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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