During my first visit to the Vancouver Aquarium in 1984, I fell in love. It was love at first sight … with the sea otters! With an Aquarium membership, I returned often, spending endless hours marvelling at these marine acrobats and their charming behaviours. When I chose to write an adventure story as my big project in a children’s literature course the following year, the characters immediately came to mind: wild sea otters. That crazy lady obsessively hanging out at the Aquarium in the fall of 1985 in a lawn chair beside the sea otters’ enclosure scribbling notes and taking pictures? Ahem, that was me.

At first I was attracted to their cuteness, but the more I researched sea otters, the more respect I had for them: I was amazed at their ability to survive living in the cold Pacific Ocean. With my story completed, I added illustrations, then handed it in. It felt good.

 ©Karen Autio

©Karen Autio

My instructor gave me a great mark and helpful advice on how to restructure the plot, should I want to work on it further, but raising a family filled my time for several years. Despite many distractions, that story wouldn’t let go of me.

In 2004, I got wind of a contest for children’s writing with the prize being consideration by a publisher. Sadly, I didn’t win the contest or get an honorable mention …

But in thinking about my sea otter story again, three dreams for the project took form:

  1. Find a publisher.
  2. Have the story illustrated by artist and children’s book illustrator Sheena Lott.
  3. Launch my book at the Vancouver Aquarium.

It took many more critiques, revisions, edits, and five rejections over another ten years, but dream number one finally came true when Diane Morriss at Sono Nis Press accepted my manuscript for publication in 2014. I was ecstatic! Back to work I went, now teamed with editors Laura Peetoom and Dawn Loewen as I continued to revise my fictional story, Kah-Lan, the Adventurous Sea Otter. It was a huge challenge to find the balance between fact and fiction, and between natural history and story quest, but I did it.

When Sono Nis Press engaged Sheena Lott to create the cover and one illustration per chapter, it was another dream come true.

© Sheena Lott

© Sheena Lott

© Sheena Lott

© Sheena Lott

With my dream artist at work on the illustrations and a fall publication date, only one dream remained unfulfilled. I had nothing to lose, so I ran the idea past Lindsaye Akhurst (Manager, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre) who had previously reviewed my manuscript, and she connected me with the appropriate people in event planning.

Launching Kah-Lan at the Vancouver Aquarium is coming true on Saturday, September 26, during Sea Otter Awareness Week! I’m honoured and delighted to share my new book at the Science Literacy Book Fair that day. Several other authors will also be presenting, giving readings, and autographing books from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Come find us in the Teck Engagement Gallery.

It took a lot of time and tough work, but my three dreams inspired by my love for sea otters are now fulfilled. Thirty years from first draft to book launch … must be some kind of record.

Blog post written by Karen Autio

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3 Responses

  1. Patricia Fraser

    Karen is a wonderful writer and meticulous in her research and storey management. I’ve watched Kah-Lan grow through a number of years and it has become a delightful and beautiful book. Sheena Lott’s illustrations promise to add greatly to the package. And who can resist those clever, wise salty survivors?

    It is a great combination of education and entertainment–and that is something that Vancouver Aquarium has provided most beneficially to the residents of Vancouver for many, many years. Altogether this will be a great team.


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