Karen Autio is the author of a trilogy of historical novels for young readers. She writes about events in Canada’s history that haven’t had much attention: the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, tuberculosis and living in a sanatorium; spies, sabotage and internment during the First World War.
Karen also focuses on the value of family stories and heritage. When her Finnish-Canadian grandmother gave her a silver spoon and told her its tale, Karen had no idea it would lead her into a whole novel’s worth of words. She learned that her grandmother’s Finnish friends had members of their family from Port Arthur who died in the wreck of the Empress of Ireland. Karen researched the steamship and wove the ship’s story into fictional Saara’s life in SECOND WATCH.
About writing …
When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?
While I enjoyed writing and illustrating stories as a kid and thought I’d be a children’s book illustrator when I grew up, I followed a different path in university, studying computer science. A few years after graduating, I took a course on children’s books and chose to write a story as my final project. That was my first inkling that I wanted to become a writer, but it wasn’t until 1998 that I realized I wanted to devote my time, energy, and creativity to writing for young readers.
What book(s) has most influenced your writing?
The Dr. Seuss Beginner’s Dictionary played an important role in turning me into a lover of words. Julie Lawson’s historical novel Goldstone about Swedish immigrants in the early 1900s in British Columbia was an inspirational model for me as I was writing my first historical novel called Second Watch about Finnish immigrants in 1914 Port Arthur, Ontario, and their involvement with the sinking of the Empress of Ireland steamship. A book about the writing process that I frequently reread is Take Joy: A Book for Writers by Jane Yolen.
When and where do you prefer to write?
Morning is my best time to write, although I’ve been found writing late into the night when a deadline is looming. I prefer quiet. I filled a spiral notebook while writing Second Watch and wrote scenes out of order. Writing Saara’s Passage and Sabotage was entirely different. I wrote both in a linear fashion from a detailed outline directly on my computer.
What was your biggest challenge in writing your book?
In writing my latest book Sabotage, my biggest challenge was writing it in the same first-person-from-Saara’s-point-of-view format as the first two books in my trilogy. I kept running into obstacles, feeling restricted by her limited viewpoint for that particular story. I’m deeply grateful that my substantive editor, Laura Peetoom, directed me to rewrite the entire book from both Saara’s and her brother John’s viewpoints. It was a daunting task, to rethink the whole plot. But this expanded the story and allowed the reader to go where only John could go and to know his thoughts and perspective.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Read as much as you can, especially in the genre you want to write. Keep writing regularly, submitting your work, and adding to your idea file. Join a supportive and honest critique group to help guide you in editing, revising, and thus strengthening, your manuscripts.
About you …
What do you like to do when you are not writing (other than reading, of course)?
Walking or cycling on a creek-side path and hopefully spotting wildlife.
Can you share something that is happening in your life that would surprise us?
People are surprised when they learn that I’m a freelance editor and I’ve had three historical novels published when my degree is in math and computer science!
Do you have any unique talents besides writing?
Fancy writing! By that I mean calligraphy.
What can we expect from you in the future?
My first picture book, called Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon, has been accepted for publication by Sono Nis Press. It explores the history of where I live in the Okanagan Valley, B.C., in a unique way.
Quick hits …
Is there an author that you would really like to meet?
What book are you currently reading?
Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Who designed your latest book cover?
Frances Hunter and Jim Brennan.
What is your favourite quote?
It’s too difficult to choose one from my collection, so I’ll share three!
“I am able to write, always, because as a writer I am always unable not to be true.” ~Bono
“Do not forget life, artist. A picture is not a collection of portrayed objects nor is it a certain effect of light and shade nor is it a souvenir of a place nor a sentimental reminder, nor is it a show of colour nor a magnificence of form, nor yet is it anything seeable or sayable. It is a glimpse of God interpreted by the soul. It is life to some degree expressed.“ ~Emily Carr
“Ideas should be clear and chocolate thick.” ~Spanish proverb
Where can new fans can follow you?
Author website: www.karenautio.com
Amazon profile: www.amazon.com/Karen-Autio/e/B004FVG64O
By Karen Autio
Sono Nis Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kindle | Kobo
German spies? Sabotage plots? Internment camps? Danger hits close to home for Saara and John Mäki in this adventure tale based on real espionage, sabotage, and paranoia in 1915 Canada.
Sabotage has been shortlisted for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Juvenile/YA Crime Book and the 2015 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award.
Karen Autio speaks about her new book.
Other books from the Saara Maki Trilogy by Karen:
Words on a Limb would like to thank Karen Autio for sharing her story. We wish you much success with the third book in Saara Maki’s Trilogy and encourage our readers to give them a read. Enjoy your calligraphy Karen, it was a pleasure to meet you!
Nice interview. Maybe I’m biased because I like your books. 🙂
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Thank you so much, Malcolm!
Karen, this was a great interview; I really enjoyed reading it and you are so eloquent, I’m sure your novels are, too! They sound very intriguing, and I’m curious, you having mentioned you also illustrate—did you also illustrate GROWING UP IN WILD HORSE CANYON?
I’m also a collector of quotes and these are excellent ones I hadn’t come across yet. Thank you for that! Since you write/read historical fiction, you might also be interested in learning of a writer pal of mine, Darlene Beck Jacobsen, whose debut novel WHEELS OF CHANGE will be released this fall (http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.com/).
And Lora, you bring such a wonderful variety of authors to light through your blog. Thank you 😀
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I’m delighted you enjoyed reading my interview and that I could add to your quote collection! Thank you for your kind words. My illustration skills are lagging way behind my writing skills, so no, I’m not doing the illustrations for my picture book. As soon as the illustrator is determined, I’ll be posting on my Facebook author page. Thank you for letting me know about Darlene’s debut novel. I’ll check it out!
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Karen grew up in Nipigon, Ontario, and we are also so proud of all her accomplishments…many are asking “when is her next book coming out?”…..Love, Mom & Dad (Anita and Art Lange).
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Thanks so much! Your words mean the world to me and make me smile.