Writing Advice from Authors and Illustrators

I have gotten to know some incredible people on my journey as a writer. Talented friends who are generous with their time and advice. They have graciously allowed me to share that wisdom with you here. I know you’ll be inspired by these fantastic kidlit creators as you continue on your own writing journey.


Meet Linda Sue Park…

Linda Sue Park is a national treasure. She is beloved in the kidlit community and sought after for author visits and speaking engagements as a Newbery award winning author and all around expert at her craft. You probably know her best as the author of A Single Shard or A Long Walk to Water. My family loves her picture books too, especially Bee Bim Bop! and Xander’s Panda Party.

She is passionate about librarians, book bans and the right every child has to see themselves in the pages of a children’s book. I had the privilege to speak alongside Linda Sue on Connections with Evan Dawson recently. Along with Leslie Youngblood and Vicki Schultz, we talked about book bans, diversity in publishing and how to raise readers. You can listen here.

This was a big year for Linda Sue as she launched her own imprint at Clarion Books named Allida. The name and logo honor her Korean heritage and the first title is a middle grade masterpiece. You Are Here: Connecting Flights features interwoven stories from TWELVE different East and Southeast Asian American authors. Check out her website for all of her titles!

She serves on the advisory boards of We Need Diverse Books and the Rabbit hOle museum project. She also created www.kibooka.com to highlight children’s books created by the Korean diaspora. 

What do you like to do for fun? 

Snorkel, cook, eat, watch baseball games and other sports, garden, play games, spend time with my family.

How long have you been working at your craft? 

Over 50 years! (my mom has poems that I wrote when I was 5)

Favorite writing spot/conditions?

For novels, I write on my laptop…almost anywhere. For picture books and poetry, I usually write first drafts by hand on whatever paper is to hand.

What started you writing? 

 I’ve been writing since…I can’t remember.

What challenges you?

 Every book I write teaches me valuable lessons about how to write THAT book. When I start the next one, I’m in uncharted territory all over again. It’s challenging, but also keeps things interesting.

What keeps you motivated to create? 

Young readers. Children’s authors get to write and create the books that people remember for their whole lives.

What are you working on right now? 

A story that might grow up to be a middle-grade novel, and curating and promoting Allida Books, my imprint at HarperCollins.

Words of wisdom for our members? 

If you knew for certain right here and now that the story you’re thinking about would never be published, would you still write it? THAT’S the story you should write.

Thank you, Linda Sue! I don’t know how she has time to do it all, and still give back to her local community. The Rochester Children’s Writers and Illustrators is a local group of about one hundred local writers and artists who come together to support each other and learn more about their craft. Linda Sue serves as an advisor on our board of directors and has offered her talents as a presenter at retreats and meetings so many times over the years.

She introduced me to the pomodoro method of writing and every time I set my timer to write for just twelve minutes,  I think of Linda Sue. 


Meet Jackie Yeager…

Jackie Yeager is a middle grade author whose stories inspire children to think more, work hard, and dream big. Her middle grade series, The Crimson Five, is light science fiction and includes three books: Spin the Golden Light Bulb, Flip the Silver Switch, and Pop the Bronze Balloon.  She is also my amazing critique partner and has a heart of gold!

What do you like to do for fun? 

I love hanging out with my family. Now that my kids are in their 20’s, time together is rare but always fun. I like taking short trips with my husband and meeting my friends for coffee or wine. I love updating our house. I’m always reorganizing or redecorating something. And I love blogging and creating content for my team-building website. It’s my other creative outlet. 

How long have you been working at your craft? 

For a long time! I began writing seriously in January 2007. I wrote a middle grade novel in three months and queried it immediately. After several rejections, I quickly realized that getting published wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. I needed to learn how to write and I needed to learn how to structure a story. So, I devoured every blog post on the topic that I could find and read both writing craft books and as many recently published middle grade books as I could get my hands on. I still do all of that to this day.  

Favorite writing spot/conditions?

For years, I wrote whenever I could find a pocket of time, usually in an old recliner while my kids were at gymnastics or hockey practice. But now I have an actual office filled with candles, books, and motivational pictures. It’s quiet and cozy and I love writing in it—day or night!

What started you writing? 

About fifteen years ago, I was working as a reading teacher, where I taught students one-on-one. We read a lot of children’s books! Being exposed to so many great stories made me want to try writing one myself. And so, I did.

Are you agented? 

I’m not agented right now but I was until my agent left the publishing industry. It was nice to have someone in my corner who could open doors for my manuscripts. She was a positive advocate and responsible for my original two- book deal and my option book after that. Now that I have a new manuscript ready, I’m back in the query trenches again! 

One of your favorite kidlit presenters? 

Linda Sue Park presented many years ago. She was a fabulous speaker and I was struck by how confident and knowledgeable she was. She talked about the important role that a critique partner or critique group plays in helping a writer hone their craft. I was inspired listening to her, and maybe a little awe-struck too! Her talk motivated me to work hard and become the best writer I possibly could. 

What challenges you?

The art of storytelling itself. We’re all connected through stories and I’m forever challenging myself to improve the way I share mine. Whether it’s through my books, my presentations, or my blog posts, I’m always working on ways to use my stories to connect with people.

What keeps you motivated to create? 

The countless ideas I have swirling in my head! I have a vivid imagination and I’m never at a loss for story premises or characters. When I have a spark of inspiration, it motivates me to create something for readers that will spark their imaginations too. 

What are you working on right now? 

I’m working on a new middle grade novel. It’s unrelated to the Crimson Five series and it has been so fun to write. The world building is vast and the plot is complex. I realized early on that I can’t tell the whole story in one book. So, the first manuscript is complete but I’m working slowly on the sequel too. Hopefully the first will find a publishing home soon so I can justify working on the second. 

Do you have a favorite author or book that inspires you?

There are too many to list! One of my favorites, though, is Stephanie Garber, author of the CARAVEL (YA) trilogy. Her writing is beautiful, filled with colorful and playful descriptions. It has a fairy-tale quality that I adore. Her plots are intricate too. I’m inspired by her books every time I read them.

Words of wisdom for aspiring writers and illustrators? 

Keep your eyes on your own page! You may feel the urge to compare your journey to someone else’s. But that will only lead to self-doubt. There will always be someone who writes faster, or finds an agent before you do, lands a better book deal, or wins more awards. None of that matters at all. Do your best to remember that no one writes or illustrates like you do or can tell a story with words or pictures like you can. Children are waiting for your books. So, stay focused on that and create something special for them.   

Check out Jackie’s books and blog at www.swirlandspark.com

The legacy of Fannie Barrier Williams

If you’re from Brockport, you probably know about Fannie Barrier Williams. But most of us don’t recognize the name, despite her former status as a national celebrity. Barrier Williams was a suffragist, civil rights leader, orator, and changemaker. She was born and raised in Brockport, and hers was one of the only Black families in the community. In 1870, she would become the first Black woman to graduate from SUNY Brockport.

After college, Barrier Williams took a teaching position in Mississippi and experienced a level of racism she had never before encountered. It broke her spirit and led her toward a life as an activist. She moved to Boston to study piano but was asked to leave after her presence made white students uncomfortable. She met her husband, Samuel, and moved to Chicago where he started a law practice, and she became active in the local community.

Barrier Williams started by fighting for women’s rights in the workplace and pushed for housing and health facilities for women and children in poverty. She fought to become the first […]

585mag.com [Jan/Feb 2024 Issue]

PAWS: Life is Better with Baseball

Twelve-year-old Erik Gomez has one dream: to be a professional Major League Baseball player. He wears a championship ring from a tournament in Cooperstown and his favorite player is Fernando Tatis, Jr. of the Padres. Gomez trains five to six days a week at PAWS, a one-of-a-kind center with a turfed field, pitching machines, an amazing sound system and graffiti-lined walls. You may remember PAWS or “Providing Animal Welfare Services” as a group that supports city pet owners. The owners built dog houses, launched a spay/neuter program, and provided low-cost pet care units. Starting in 2018, they worked diligently on a new vision to serve the community through sports. After a few years and a lot of hard work, the youth and advocacy center officially opened. Cofounders Matt and Laura Piccone believe that sports, primarily baseball and softball, will be the catalyst for social change within their community.

“I still have a strong drive to help the animals, but you have to help the people first,” says Matt. “If communities are suffering, animals are suffering. If people are concerned with baseball, they start to […]

585kids.com [Fall 2023 Issue]

Trick or Treating is for Everyone

Calling all goblins, ghouls, and ghosts! Attention: all princesses, Pokemon, and pumpkins! Do your kids love to play dress up? Be sure to add this Halloweenthemed activity to your October calendar. The Al Sigl WalkAbout is a day of indoor fun where families and individuals served by Al Sigl’s seven member agencies gather together for accessible trick-or-treating at Eastview Mall. This free event, held on October 22, ends with a costume contest for people of all ages and abilities. Everyone is […]

585kids.com [2023 Fall Issue]

What I learned about Fannie Barrier Williams:

and how the legacy of this change maker is being kept alive by local students.

I was so honored to visit an incredible group of scholars at SUNY Brockport last fall. They were all recipients of the Fannie Barrier Williams Scholarship. Jianna Howard is their teacher, advisor and mentor. She’s the reason they call themselves a family. 

Michael Hanlon did a fantastic job photographing the students and the buildings around campus.

I am embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Fannie Barrier Williams when asked to write about these scholars. I have a Masters Degree in education and I had never once heard her name in any class I took or book I was assigned to read. Before sitting down to write this article, I did a ton of research and read Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race by Wanda A. Hendricks. Wanda is a history professor at the University of South Carolina and an expert on Fannie’s life.

I wish more children had the opportunity to learn about the life Fannie led and the achievements she made despite being met with opposition at every turn. It’s up to all of us to share the stories of change makers like Fannie.

Please enjoy this article on Fannie Barrier Williams and the students who are achieving their dreams in her honor.

Angelina & me

Sometimes the seeds that are planted in one chance meeting blossom beyond anything you could have imagined.

This woman. 

Intentional. Generous. Empathetic. A force of nature. 

Her soul shines through a smile that lights up the whole room.

When she pulls you in for a hug, she’ll adjust you first. She’ll say, “No. It needs to be heart to heart.” And she will move her heart to yours. It is so easy to be emotional around Angelina. Her spirit allows you to be yourself, even if you’ve only just met.

Back in June, I took my kids to the Black Kids Matter celebration in Penfield, NY because I knew we’d meet great people and have a lot of fun. There were incredible African musicians there and lots of black owned businesses. I met so many fantastic people that day including children’s author Nykki L Matthews, twelve year old entrepreneur Trinity Jackson and, of course, Angelina. 

I introduced myself and asked her if my husband, Chris, could take her photo. She talked about Native Made with so much excitement. Chris sent me the photo he had taken and I was so glad to see how he had captured that joy in her eyes and smile. 

I knew then that I was going to tell my editor, the fabulous Christine Green, about Angelina and beg her to let me write an article about her. Not only did Christine agree to let me write it, it ended up being chosen for the cover story and now everyone gets to see Angelina’s beauty radiating from the COVER of the magazine!

I was thrilled to join Angelina at the (585) photoshoot. You would never know that she was completely out of her comfort zone the way she rocked different poses, changed outfits and shot lots of film inside and outside of Innovation Square. After the shoot, the incredibly talented David Turner allowed us to take a peek at some of the images. This gifted photographer, who has photographed celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, was so gracious with us both, allowing us to give our opinion on the best ones.

As Angelina sat there looking at photos and starting to come down from the adrenaline high, we had the best talk about what it’s like to have a dream you want to pursue in this stage of life, both of us being moms who give most of our time away to our children, spouses, the household. We struggle to manage our time, balance our relationships and workload, all while remaining present with our families. We laughed and cried together, bonding over our similarities.

Months later, I was standing in my kitchen, scrolling on my phone, when I saw the cover of (585) Magazine. I screamed and texted Angelina. She had seen it a minute before I did and was screaming in the parking lot of the Penfield Target. I got to celebrate with her at the magazine’s Happy Hour for the November issue.

I am so grateful that the Rochester community will get to see this woman. This fierce advocate for Indigenous People. This mother, daughter, sister, wife, steward of the Earth and my friend. 

I wish her Gramsy were still alive to see Angelina at this moment, in this beautiful stage of her life. But I’m so thrilled Angelina’s children will have this to keep forever. Please enjoy this article on Angelina Hilton and mark your calendars for the Native Made Market which will take place the Saturday right after Thanksgiving.

Native Made

Angelina Hilton has been traveling back to the reservation in Kansas every year since she was a little girl. She recently made the decision to bring her Native traditions and culture home to the people of Rochester. 

Native Made, Hilton’s small business, provides marketing services for Native American–owned businesses. She has made it her mission to increase Indigenous visibility and reduce barriers for Native people to enter the marketplace. Last November, she saw an opportunity to share her heritage with her Rochester neighborhood. Hilton hosted Indigenous vendors and presenters at the first Native Made Market at POP ROC, the pop-culture cafe she cofounded with her husband, Jason.

Hilton is listed on the roll of the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri and is the sixth-generation granddaughter of Rantchewaime (Flying Pigeon) and Iowa Chief Mahaska (White Cloud). Her family moved to the Rochester area when she was a child, where she learned her new home was rich in Native culture and history, being the land of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Hilton cherished the […]

585mag.com [Nov/Dec 2023 issue]

Thank you, RACWI!

It has been an absolute honor to serve as President of RACWI this past year. The Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators is a group of kidlit creators living in the Rochester, NY area. Thank you to all of you who made me feel welcome and capable in this new leadership position. I had a blast preparing our monthly meetings and lining up guest presenters. 

This year we were treated to presentations by Heather L Montgomery, Kekla Magoon, Mindy Yuksel, Keely Hutton, Achut Deng, Jackie Yeager, Marsha Hayles and Jen Rofé.

We ended the year on a high note with the incredibly talented London Ladd who presented to the group and showed us his art studio.

More highlights from the year:

Peggy Thomas, Andrea Page, Susannah Buhrman-Deever, Keely Hutton, Sarah Mead, Vivian Vande Velde at School No 12
  • I spent a day reading to the amazing second graders at Rochester’s Anna Murray-Douglass Academy No.12 and sharing my writing process.

Kekla Magoon, Sarah Mead, Yuko Jones, Bruce Coville

  • I got to perform in a ridiculous musical with Kekla Magoon, Yuko Jones, Bruce Coville and many more at our annual post-festival dinner!

  • I found an amazing critique partner.

Our group has so much to look forward to…

RACWI meetings are about to start up again at Writers and Books. We have a writers retreat coming up at the Gell Center in Naples with guest speakers Linda Sue Park and Dee Romito. Festival to Go is happening again in October. Here’s how to donate a book to an RCSD student. And planning is heavily underway for the Rochester Book Festival in November!

I have been a member of this group of local authors and illustrators for fifteen years. Being immersed in their talent, love and generosity has improved my craft, enriched my life and given me beautiful friendships. I am so grateful for each and every one of you.

If you live in the Rochester area and you love to write or illustrate for children, send me a message. You belong here. Come and check us out!

Rediscover the Beauty Around You

When Joseph Nardone bought his current home in 1999, the simple backyard consisted of a pool, a white fence, and a lonesome walnut tree. After knocking down the fence, he discovered he had been given a blank canvas to decorate. That’s when he started planting. 

“I learned as I went,” Nardone says. “I just kept adding.” […]

585mag.com [Sept/Oct 2023 Issue]

A Fairy Tale Cafe:

Coffee and Smoothies and Cheesecake, Oh My!

Just as Dorothy was transported to the land of Oz, you’ll feel like you’ve entered another world when you walk through the doors of the Old Farm Cafe. Stepping inside out of the bitter Rochester winter, I am instantly transported to a sunny summer day on the farm. “That’s the idea,” says owner Eric Vaughn Johnson. […]

585mag.com [March/April 2023 Issue]

About Me

Sarah grew up surrounded by books and loved her notebooks and pens. She loved writing plays and performing them with her siblings. Her long stories won her the future author award in elementary school. As a fourth grade teacher, Sarah earned a Masters degree in writing curriculum, but decided that writing children’s books was much more fun! When she isn’t writing or reading, you can find her dancing to old records, playing board games or watching movies with her husband and three kids. She has a mini-goldendoodle named Oliver who likes to sleep on her feet while she writes. Sarah lives with her family in Victor, NY.