Non-writers just don’t understand: How many different ways can I possibly show a character smile?

sighOkay, so for the record, I only used “sigh” 26 times so that meme is a hyperbole (my fancy word for the day). Anyway, I entered Hooligans in Shining Armour into writing competition called “Pitch Wars”. You submit your query and first chapter to four mentors. Mentors each pick one manuscript and help the writer whip it into shape to submit to an agent round in November.

I’m brushing up my manuscript. One of the things I like to do is search words and phrases to make sure I’m not being too repetitive: sigh, smile, grin, rolled my eyes, pissed up, icy fingers, etc. All writers have words or phrases that they slip into using too frequently. I’m trying to spot mine find more interesting ways to express them. In this MS, a lot of them are related to describing either emotion or drinking (lol, my hooligans drink A LOT). My novel’s written in first person. I’ve been working hard on using body language to show emotion of non-POV characters, rather than labeling the emotion or using sadly. I’m also trying word dialogue to imply tone, and use tone to show emotion.

Here’s the phrase I’m sprucing up now: She pursed her lips and sighed. “If your dad was arrested…” The character is feeling torn. She wants to help Fiona but she legally can’t, and she doesn’t want Fiona to take it into her own hands. It actually doesn’t sound too bad, except I’m watching how often I use the word “sigh”. Also she just pursed her lips and now she’s talking.

Here’s my #1 contender for spruced-up version: She pressed her fingers to her forehead. Her fingernails had been painted nude. “Fiona, if your Dad was arrested…”

That took me at least ten minutes come up with. I’m still mulling over “Her fingernails had been painted nude.” It feels a bit passive to me. Amazing how many tiny things go in to sculpting a novel.

you dont even knowOne way I get inspiration for non-verbals is through reading. I write down good ones I find. Obviously, I don’t copy them, but they give me a starting place. I also use the power of the internet and pin good resources so I don’t lose them. Check out my Craft of Writing board!

Have you ever tried searching words in your WIP to check repetition? What word or phrase do you overuse?

#PitchWars 2014: My Mentee Bio (or just a way to learn random stuff about me)

I’d never heard of Pitch Wars two weeks ago. I happened by another writer’s blog discussing it and was like, hmmm… two weeks is plenty of time to whip my novel and query letter and synopsis into shape (see my adjectives below). One of the best parts so far has been meeting fellow Pitch War mentees and critiquing one anothers’ submission material. Love fellow writers <3

Tiny blurb about my novel.… Hooligans in Shining Armour is an 82,000-word Young Adult contemporary that brings the love story of If I Stay into a cultural battlefield, a Northern Irish version of Sharon M. Draper’s Romiette and Julio. So Romeo and Juliet with a dash of sectarianism.  Feel free to tweet or email me. Always a pleasure to talk about my hooligans.

hooligans cover

What are your hobbies and interests? 

Writing, obviously. So, back story, I’ve been living in Singapore for the past year (crazy it’s been that long!) for my husband’s job. I’m working a small amount, so I’ve kind of become a full-time, unpaid writer :P. This year, I wrote Hooligans. I’d been toying around with the idea since my trip to Northern Ireland in 2011. I went to one writer’s group in Singapore (the amazing Singapore Writer’s Group) and then haven’t stopped working on it since! I’m also a co-organizer for the 500+ member Singapore Writer’s Group. I’ve met so many amazing writers through this group and they have helped revolutionize my writing

Other than that…. Taking advantage of the strategic location of Singapore and traveling as much as possible. While embarking on said adventures, I’ve been taking millions of pictures. I’ve also started actively editing my pictures. Lately I’ve really been into capturing people in their daily lives as well as doors/corridors/columns (it’s not as random as it sounds, I swear). I think it’s the lines make interesting composition or something. Phhhh listen to me talking like I know photography jargon. I also occasionally dabble in oil painting. Here are two examples of my closed-rectangular obsession below taken at Angkor Wat, Cambodia.


And some portraits I really like from Cambodia and Vietnam

Bike ride near the rice paddiesCaught this little boy floating.Chasing the cows

I also enjoy running, even in the ridiculous heat and humidity of Singapore.

10264176_10154015699080153_5996446754965199627_oI’m the one in the front :D

Being a token Yank over here in Singapore has heightened my interested in the NFL. (side note: haven’t met many Americans here and hang out mostly with Brits, hence the token-ness). I feel the need to embrace my Wisconsin culture! And yes, Americans, we do have unique cultures, which I didn’t really realize before I moved across the world. I sometimes blog on being the token Yank. Follow me if you’re interested in reading about me calling trousers pants and giving my friends a good laugh….

328191_802575316205_743762526_o…Guess what my favorite team is? My Dad is from Green Bay and I am from Wisconsin, so….

Finally…and a BIG finally… music. Absolutely need to breathe. Okay, well maybe that’s an exaggeration, but seriously, I must have music on at all times: when doing dishes, walking to the store, riding the bus, writing, sometimes even trying to fall asleep. I create playlist soundtracks for all my novels. Recently I’ve really been enjoying the Singer/Songwriter iTunes radio station, which kind of surprised me. I’m generally more of an Alternative, Hard Rock, Hip-Hop, with a dash of Celtic music kind of girl. Oh and I did play the clarinet in high school so…there’s that I guess. My favorite song right now is “Walking Lightly” by Junip (a Singer/Songwriter discovery).

Do you have any pets?

Yes, two amazing dogs that we imported with us all the way from the United States! That’s true love (and thousands of dollars…seriously).

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Toby (Australian Terrier)                          Ailie (Cairn Terrier)

And no I don’t normally dress my dogs up. It’s just too funny-looking NOT to post.

Do you have any special talents? Tell us!

Not to get all sappy and serious, but perhaps this is a special talent. Back home in good old Madison, Wisconsin, I work as a school psychologist. This is related to what I think is my special talent. I can build a relationship with pretty much any kid. HOLD ON! In a professional setting! I’ve worked with hundreds of kids and teenagers from at least twenty racial/ethnic backgrounds and the gambit of social strata (except maybe the 1%). That’s why I love writing…wait for it…YA!!! I get kids and teens. And I absolutely love working with them.

List 3 adjectives that would surprise people about you: 

Introverted. My friends don’t believe me, but it’s true. My extroversion is a learned skill and I definitely get “peopled out” and need to go hide for a while .

Manic. Just a bit. On occasion. Like write 16 hours a day. Perhaps a few days in a row. Like recently lol.

that stuffs amazingDetermined (to the point of obsession on occasion). When I put my mind to something, it will get done, whether it’s obtaining  funding a student service trip to South Dakota or finishing a revision by a self-imposed deadline. My mom sometimes jokes about this personality trait of mine. In 8th grade, we moved from Milwaukee, WI to Sparta WI. Between door slams and blasting Smashing Pumpkins, I swore I’d move back, and that’s where I took my first job as a School Psychologist. In 6th grade I saw the movie Braveheart and fell in love with Scotland. I immediately started watching travel videos and reading all about Scotland. Now I’ve been. Twice. And my current novel? Months and months of research on current events, history, setting, culture, dialect. Hunting down people in Belfast to read it. Hiring a Belfast development editor to read for dialect and culture. At least fifteen critiques by Yanks and Brits. It’s been an epic quest finishing it, but now that it’s pretty much done, I’m so proud of it. All the stress and panic and doubt and, yes, tears have been worth it.

The-OfficeThis pretty much sums up how I feel about it! I’m off to my condo elevator :P

Do you have any tattoos? If yes, what are they? And where are they located on your body?

Nope. A) I hate pain. B) I have commitment issues :P No seriously I cannot imagine anything that I know I would still want on my body in thirty years.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m incredibly proud of Hooligans. I’ve been writing since I was 12. I have like four novels hidden away in a secret file on my laptop. One’s over 200,000 words long! Eek! I’ve learned A LOT since then. Okay, if any mentors see this, don’t judge. Hooligans is only 82,000, I swear!

In terms of my the rest of my life, I’m proud all the work I’ve done as a school psychologist for the past six years and cannot wait to get back to the United States to continue. Related to that, I’m pretty proud that my husband and I were brave enough to completely uproot our lives and move across the world. That’s not exactly an accomplishment, but it was a scary decision and sometimes we still wonder if it was totally insane to do. Moving to Singapore has definitely changed my entire outlook on life. I cannot even quantify what I’ve learned about the world and myself as a result. It’s also made me a better writer.



I will say there are times when I can’t wait to get back to this though…

557168_10100111065895585_2043205287_nAnd that’s my story. Or one small part of it.

If you’ve reached the end of this post you MUST post some random fact about yourself. The most random. If you don’t, I’ll know! Okay, no I won’t but maybe karma will get you :P

hooligans cover

Hey writer friends!!! Which imaginary cover do you like better??

There’s that old, old, ancient saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We’ve all heard it a gagillion times (yes I know that’s not a real word but I just like it). Let’s be honest with ourselves, okay? I’ll admit it. I judge books by their covers and i know I’m not alone. That’s why they’re so important, right?

So for funsies, in between final edits, I’ve been playing around with imaginary covers for my novel Hooligans in Shining Armour. I’m not sure which publishing route I’ll go when I’m 100% ready to put it out there, but it was just fun to do! One cover is more based on Fiona’s story, the other is based on Danny’s.

Here are the original photos:

photo-5 (3)My friend took this photo of my feet on Arab Street in Singapore. I chose this spot for the graffiti art. I staged it to look kind of like a peace wall that still separates a predominantly Catholic and Protestant community in Belfast. Also, Fiona wears red Converse the entire novel. I arranged my feet in a way that I thought suggested anxiety or insecurity.

p1020065This is a picture I took at a bonfire on Eleventh Night in a Protestant neighborhood in Belfast. This represents Danny’s side of the story and perhaps is more closely related to the title of the novel.

I don’t have Photoshop or any fancy photo-editing software, so I used this free website to do some photo-editing Windows Live Photo Gallery couldn’t do. Then I used this free website to add text, mostly because I liked one of the text options. There may be better sites out there. If there are, please let me know :)

Here’s what I came up with so far….

cover fionaFor this one, I tried to blur out the Converse logo but I’m not happy with the color. It’s too bright white, but it was really hard to even get that color.

hooligans coverFor this one, I enhanced the color a bit and intentionally blurred the photo.

Anyway, this was just for fun. I’m not sure about the font or the color of the font at this point.

Any suggestions for improvement? Knowing very little about my WIP, which do you like better? If you’ve self-published, how have you gone about getting a cover?

Non-writers just don’t understand: What’s the name for the rope things they use at airports to make lines?

cant finishDoes this ever happen to you? Here you are writing awesomeness and then you get stuck on the name for something. You know what it is, you can picture it in your head, but you just…don’t…know what it’s called! This JUST happened to me. I’m trying to fix up an airport scene in Hooligans in Shining Armour describing how Fiona bought her plane ticket back to the U.S. and her brothers are waiting to say goodbye to her just past the… WHAT ARE THOSE STRETCHY ROPE THINGS THAT MAKE LINES CALLED?

linesLol sorry for shouting, but that totally cramped my awesome flow of narration.By the way, apparently they’re called line divider rope. Thank God for the internet. So I wonder if in the U.K. and Singapore and most of the rest of the world they’re called queue divider rope. Cue that drumbeat ending with a cymbal crash always used for bad jokes that I ALSO don’t have a good way to describe :P

Other personal examples:

1. The thing that stores, generally not in the U.S. that I’ve seen, pull down over their storefronts when they close?

shuttered shopAnswer (I think): shutter, so you’d say shuttered shops

2. The part of the door frame where you close the door, so like if you were leaning on an open door, what would you be leaning on?

Door_In_Door_FrameAnswer: door jamb

3) What you call the up and down rail things in a metal gate. Rods?

scrirg185Answer: So my brain just kind of failed me on this one. Apparently they’re just bars haha. We’ll just say I over-thought it.

All these things you never consider until you have to describe them in words so other people know what you’re thinking.

What’s the last last object or sensation or whatever you realized you didn’t know the word for?

Two months, five countries, four islands…. Now back to writing your perpetually-nearly-finished novel and building your social media empire, Sarah J. Carlson!!!

Yeah, so this is me right now.

Daily-Life-GIFs-13-Exhausted-Guy-CollapsesAs I said in my ridiculously long, hopefully attention-grabbing title, I’ve been doing a little bit of traveling. Not only have I been traveling, as the official resident of Southeast Asia, that has made me a tour guide of sorts for the four fabulous, wonderful, amazing people who spent thousands of dollars to come over to Singapore et al to spend time with me. So…Singapore, Ho Chi Mihn City (Viet Nam), Koh Lanta Island and Chiang Mai (Thailand), Siem Reap/Angkor Wat (Cambodia), Bintan Island and Bali (Indonesia). Also one minor motorbike accident and an ambulance ride to the Cambodian hospital (um… interesting, though I don’t remember most of it because I had a concussion). Let’s just say, this white girl ended up in a private room that housed other medical supplies while the waiting room was filled with locals on cots. So sad :,(  Cheap ambulance ride… 30 USD. Annnnnyway, I think that’s all the places I’ve been with my friends and family. Yeah, I’ve covered Indochina pretty well now, though there still is Laos and Myanmar….

It has been an exciting, expensive, and EXHAUSTING life that I’ve been blessed to live for the past two months. I can do without budget airlines for awhile. Air Asia, you kind of suck. Now it’s all coming to an end and it’s back to what I call homeostasis for one Sarah J.C. Singapore normal, if you will. Also that means I will get back to working on my novels, which is pretty exciting–particularly since I made a shocking discovery the week before my Southeast Asian Travel Extravaganza while doing what I really THOUGHT was a final revision. That realization…the reason why I didn’t particularly care for one of my characters. This launched a pretty major re-write that got interrupted by all that pesky travel :P

panicSo anyway, now it’s back to it…. Finishing up that major re-haul of my novel and re-starting the whole blogging thing. Like for real, I mean. I have been lazily posting pictures so I can get a gold star or whatever and say I’m still blogging, but I mean to get back to the whole non-writers don’t understand/promoting my work/writing in general/on being the token Yank kind of thing. Oh and posting proper pictures from my real camera (not just uploading from my iPhone cuz it’s easy) with details on my travel-ventures. Oh, the motorbike accident was just a teaser! There were very dodgy ferry rides, near ship wreck on a longtail boat, elephants, lady boys, many temples, jungle exploration complete with leeches, cat poop coffee, stegosaurus carvings in the Tomb Raider temple, extremely depressing poverty, massive monitor lizards, very annoying tourists (NOT American!), shooting guns with the Vietnamese army, durian and so, so, so much more. Plenty of fresh creative fuel for writing. Not gonna lie, I seriously contemplated taking pictures of my bruised up face daily to document the healing process in order to describe it in my novel.

But really, here’s how I feel about the return to homeostasis and finally, FINALLY getting back to writing…

funny-gifs-i-get-excited-about-insurance-tooAnyway…how do you get restarted after a writing/blogging/life hiatus?

Side note: To see my iPhone adventure pics, click on my Photography category, or Samples of Southeast Asia


Central Balinese mountain coffee… So this is where some coffee comes from!

We went on a mountain rainforest hike in Central Bali while staying at a mountain retreat near the ancient volcano, Agung Batukaru.There were probably 30 tourists in the whole area! Amazing.

P1160512A local collected coffee beans from coffee plants in the rainforest.

P1160545Coffee berries and coffee flowers.

P1160443Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) beans in the wild. A luwak/civic cat eats coffee berries from a coffee tree, digests them, then does you know what. These beans are then collected, treated many times, then made into very expensive coffee. Apparently the civet cat’s stomach enzymes do something to make the flavor amazing. These cats also apparently only eat the best. Anyway, on our jungle hike, we found these in the track. Kopi Luwak in the wild! It is apparently the most expensive coffee in the world, at $700 USD per kilogram (according to Wikipedia). I tried it. It just tasted like very strong coffee. Perhaps my taste just isn’t refined enough haha



Hey writer friends, anyone need inspiration for writing a horror novel? Check out my pics from the Ten Courts of Hell, Haw Par Villa, Singapore (warning…these plastic figures actually look pretty gross)

P1160229 P1160233 P1160234 P1160235 P1160237 P1160240 P1160241 P1160252 P1160255 P1160258 P1160265 P1160266 P1160271 P1160272 P1160273 P1160276 P1160282

Haw Par Villa was constructed by the inventors of Tiger Balm as a place to teach traditional Chinese values. By the way, punishment for disobeying your elders in Yama, the third court of hell, lorded over by King Songdi? Heart cut out.

Also, there was this….


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Fishing in the moat around Angkor Wat

Boys and men fishing from one of the two bridges that crosses that moat around the Angkor Wat temple complex. The square-shaped moat around the temple complex is 656 feet wide and has a perimeter of 3.4 miles. The bridges go through gates in the wall that also surrounds the complex, connecting to a causeway that runs directly to Angkor Wat.

A view of the moat and the side of the bridges, which run east-west.

photo (2) Fishing from the bridge into the moat.

photo-1 (3)

A boy on the bridge, one of the demon carvings looking down on him. The demon carvings run the length of one side of the bridge, it’s either gods or heroes on the other, I can’t remember which and I can’t find a website that says.

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