Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Interview with Children's Author Maryann Sawka

Please help me welcome children's author, Maryann Sawka to the blog today.

1. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became an author.

My name is Maryann Balcik Sawka. I live south of Pittsburgh, PA, in a small town named Hiller with my husband of nearly 10 years, Eli, and our two daughters, Megan and Sarah. My higher education consists of a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood/Elementary Education from California University of PA in 1993 and a Master’s of Science in Reading and Literacy for Elementary Grades from Walden University. My career path includes work as an alumni director, technical writer, software trainer, special needs preschool teacher, owner of my own company (Charming Manners) and most recently, published author with “Good Table Manners Made Easy.” We have three cats, Milo, Wolfie and Merrick, and one dog, Daisy.

2. Tell us about your current book. Give a short summary, tell us about your publisher, and also how you got the idea for this book.

Good Table Manners Made Easy is a collection of tips and tricks for using good table manners during a formal or informal meal. The book grew out of the many etiquette workshops that I have presented to children in the area of table manners. I found that the parents who enrolled their children liked being involved in the workshop through the materials that I sent home after each session. The book grew from the “tip cards” that I send home with each workshop.

My publisher, Lisa Umina, founder of Halo Publishing International has been incredibly supportive throughout the entire process. She has provided guidance beyond what I expected from a publisher. As an author, she understands the writing process and works with her authors accordingly.

3. What is a typical writing day like for you?

I tend to spend a lot of time in my head, phrasing passages, envisioning layouts and visualizing illustrations. It may take a few weeks or months for me to get everything planned out in my head before I begin the actual writing. But, I find that I am more organized and work better that way.

I can usually be seen tucked in a corner of a couch with my laptop or sitting in the car with a scrap of paper to jot down an idea that inspired me. Most of the actual writing occurs at my desk with one of our cats sleeping between my laptop and me. Makes for a cute picture!

Writing is not a full-time career for me at this time. With a busy family life and working on building my company, Charming Manners, I tend to be more of a part-time writer. My book that has just been published is the first in a series of books on manners and etiquette that I am in the process of writing. I have always wanted to be a writer, love books and encourage my children to share my love of books.

4. What do you enjoy most about writing?

When I used to work as a technical writer, I documented software programs for end-users, which was very process-oriented. When I started my own company, Charming Manners, I began writing my own curriculum after much research in the area of manners and etiquette. My book was born from my etiquette workshops and curriculum into a collection of tips for diners of all ages. While still somewhat process-oriented, the writing of my book allowed for some creativity mixed in with the processes. For me, this is the best of both worlds!

5. What is the most difficult part of writing?

Writing a book is hard work! There are many drafts, revisions, new ideas, thoughts of ‘I wish I had included this or omitted that’ that go with the process. Writing for children is different because you have to put yourself in the mind of a child. You don’t want the book to be too long so that it loses their attention, but at the same time there is a point that needs to be expressed. Finding the balance between the right information and too much information is challenging.

6. Do you make school visits or do speaking/book-signing engagements? If so, please describe a typical presentation.

Book signings usually occur at a library, community center, bookstore or anywhere I am able to interact with the group. We can spend time reading my book and talking about the content. If the technology is available, I can project the book’s illustrations on a screen for a more interactive reading. I can discuss my book, my writing process, my books in progress and answer some questions, depending on the time allowed for the gathering. I love signing books for those who ask. Visit my website at www.charmingmanners.net and contact me to arrange my visit with your group.

School visits are fun! The children are excited that something different is happening. The audience is excited and anxious to see and hear a visitor. I keep my presentations full of energy and humor while conveying the message of my books. Schools can contact me about planning a school visit. Visit my website at www.charmingmanners.net and contact me to arrange my visit at your school.

7. Is there any book that, when you read it, you thought, "I wish I had written that!"?

I have truly read, probably a thousand or more books. There are some that I enjoyed so much the first time around that I re-read them. Some of my favorites I re-read a couple of times a year because I can’t get the characters or plot out of my head. For instance, I find myself drawn to Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series during the fall and winter months. I have collected her entire collection on hardback and also on audio cd. When I used to have a long commute to work, I would listen to the entire series from start to finish over a period of a couple of months. I could never narrow down the list of “I wish I had written that” to one book as there are far too many that I have appreciated.

8. Do you have a website? If so, please give the URL. If not, where can readers go online to learn more about your book(s) and to order?

The name of my company is Charming Manners and the URL is www.charmingmanners.net. Books may be purchased there at www.halopublishing.com, www.amazon.com and other online retailers.

9. What are you working on right now?

Now that “Good Table Manners Made Easy” is in publication, I am working on another book in the series that relates to using good manners when entertaining others. This book tackles the appropriate manners and behaviors when you are hosting at your home or by inviting someone to share an excursion with you or when you are the guest. “Learning how to behave appropriately in a variety of social situations helps you to secure a repeat invitation, as well as leaving a positive impression of you with others,” is a passage from the book that I am writing at present.

In many instances, we, as adults, think that children will know how to behave appropriately if we just put them together and let them figure it out on their own. I think that the rise in our national bullying epidemic would indicate a need exists for us to teach our children, teens and others how to get along and consider the feelings of others in order to restore a feeling of civility to our society.

10. What is your best tip for aspiring authors?

I think it’s important to keep everything in perspective. For me, writing is part of my business, so I tend to plan portions of my workday for writing. But, inspiration is fickle. It can really strike at anytime. I find myself jotting down notes on a napkin in the car while sitting at a traffic light. Most of my actual words-on-paper writing happens when my family is otherwise occupied. Sometimes, my youngest daughter will be playing dolls in my office while I am writing. I keep paper near my bed so that if I have an idea as I am falling asleep, I can jot it down and not lose it. The best advice I can probably give is that you have to be flexible. My family needs me and depends on me for certain things. I have to balance their needs with what I am trying to accomplish. Finding a supportive publisher is key! Lisa Umina with Halo Publishing has become a friend, not just my publisher. She is so supportive and nurturing of her authors and helps you to realize your dreams. Finding a support system in the industry will help you to reach your goals.

11. What advice would you give children and teens as they prepare for life?

I would advise children and teens to consider the feelings of others before they do something that could potentially hurt someone. We don’t always realize how our actions affect others. The basis of good manners is putting the feelings and needs of others first, while keeping in mind that there is a fine line between acting with others in mind and staying true to ourselves. Be your own person, but be a good person. Using good manners will make you standout from your peers and fill you with self-confidence so that you are poised to handle the challenges that you will face as your prepare for life.

12. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readership?

I am very flattered that you have selected by book to review and discuss with your readers. Thank you so much for your time!

Thanks Maryann for your honest answers and insight into writing for children. Follow Maryann to the next stop at http://momnbaby.com/blogs tomorrow for more great information about this author and her books.


  1. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful interview with all of your readers.

    Congrats Maryann and good luck with a wonderful book. I've read it and can say it is one children and adults will enjoy.

  2. In today's life clubbing industry has been here for several decades, but the logistics and nightclub guest list management is still in many cases very “old school” and paper based. Zeguestlist a great tool that optimizes guest list management With an easy one touch check.



*Stories for Children Publishing, LLC. (SFC) and its divisions do not receive any compensation for product reviews beyond a sample and/or limited access to a paid website. SFC donates all books sent for review to a charitable organization. SFC may do a contest or giveaway of samples we receive.