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.