4 Women Who Write

Okanagan Women Book Authors:  Four Who Made It Through Persistence, Positive Reviews and Promotion


Story by Dona Sturmanis

Writing a book; many dream about it, but few complete the task. Meet four Okanagan women who have done just that.


A certain stick-to-it-iveness is required to get a book from concept to publication. There are countless hours of writing, editing and seeking out publishers who will hopefully like your manuscript enough to turn into a tome. The work isn't over once a title is published; now comes the promotion, marketing and book signing, all to ensure a book keeps selling. And then there is always the next book to write....



Patricia Smith O’Connor:

“Within less than an hour I had sold fifty books.”


The three brisk-selling, well-reviewed books authored by Patricia Smith O’Connor of Armstrong are all different genres.  My Patchwork Life (2005) is the tale of her early life growing up in Dublin. The Search for Jacqueline Smith (2006) is based on real events behind the death of a top model’s mother. Things Your Mother Forgot to Tell You (2012) is a guide for business women and women returning to the job market. It's based on Patricia’s corporate teaching experiences and her interviews with numerous celebrities. “The one thing they all had in common was the ability to find what they loved and market themselves until they became a success.”


Born and raised in Ireland, Patricia worked as a management consultant for leading British, Irish and North American companies. She is well-known internationally as a television and radio presenter and hosted her own show.


Patricia knows the value of promoting her books. “I attended a Christmas Vernon Women In Business luncheon,” says Patricia. “I had a table with my books on it and within less than an hour, I had sold fifty. Many of the women purchasing them said they were for friends, as they had read all my books and loved them. I only wished my darling husband was with me to hear them say that.”


Patricia lost her husband Robert on February 3, 2014 and son Connor Patrick in April the previous year. “My writing and my dog Sara both saved my sanity after their loss.”


It was her late husband, Robert, an actor’s agent, who motivated her to write My Patchwork Life. “It was after I told him tales of growing up in Ireland and the mischief I got into. He insisted I write it all down.” 


Patricia is now completing The Belle of New York, about the life of her great-great-grandmother, and the follow-up to her first book, My Patchwork Life 2.


Patricia’s books can be found at the Armstrong Pharmacy,  Brookland Books, Amazon and other sites, as well as Albany Books in Vernon.




Karen Autio

“There really were German spies at work in my hometown in 1915”


A silver sugar spoon—a gift from her Finnish-Canadian grandmother—inspired Kelowna’s Karen Autio to write Second Watch in 2006, the first book in her bestselling historical fiction trilogy for young readers published by Sono Nis Press. It’s about the doomed final voyage of the Empress of Ireland, Canada’s equivalent to the Titanic, which sank in the St. Lawrence River on May 29, 1914. Among the 1,012 passengers who perished were relatives of Karen’s grandmother’s friends.


“I researched the Empress of Ireland and invented my Finnish-Canadian characters,” says Karen. “Soon I had sufficient research gathered to write a novel for young readers.”


Karen’s sequel to Second Watch, Saara’s Passage, has some of the author's own family history entwined in the story line - her grandmother was diagnosed with tuberculosis shortly after Karen’s mother was born, was quarantined in a Toronto sanatorium 1000 miles away and journaled letters to her baby.  


Both Second Watch and Saara’s Passage were shortlisted for the Chocolate Lily Book Award, which celebrates the first choice of young BC readers.


Sabotage, the last book in the trilogy, was based on a tall tale Karen heard growing up in Nipigon, Ontario, that turned out to actually be true. “There really were German spies at work in my hometown in 1915 plotting to destroy the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge.”


Sabotage is her favourite book because it deals with spies, sabotage, enemy aliens, and internment in Canada during the First World War.


Sabotage was nominated for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Juvenile/Young Adult Crime Book, shortlisted for the 2015 Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award, and listed by the Canadian Children's Book Centre as a “Best Book for Children.”


Karen’s successful books, selling over 6000 in total, have enabled her to travel across Canada doing book signings and school and library presentations. “I most enjoy interacting with elementary school students. It’s fun to see their reaction to such things as how spies communicated in code during the First World War.”


The Kelowna author is grateful for publisher Sono Nis’s proactivity about sharing publicity duties. They created a Sabotage video, provide teacher’s resources, funding, arrangements, and promotion for book launches, submit books for review and award consideration, and much more. Karen herself has a website (karenautio.com) and Facebook author page where she regularly posts book news. In 2016, look for her picture book exploring Okanagan history focusing on Wild Horse Canyon (in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park) and its vicinity.


Karen's titles are available at Mosaic Books and Bell Tower Books in Kelowna and Hooked On Books in Penticton, by order from any independent bookstore, Sono Nis (http://www.sononis.com/) or as paperbacks and ebooks on Kobo and Kindle.



K.J. Steele

Her first novel took ten years to write.


“Writing my first novel was my doctorate in creative writing,” says K.J. Steele of Summerland about No Story to Tell, published by American-based The Story Plant (2011). “From the moment I sat down to write the initial paragraph—which ultimately ended up being a 106,000 word novel—it would have been close to 10 years.”


K.J.‘s second novel, The Bird Box, was released in late February, 2015 by the same publisher. “It was quicker to write. The initial theme for the novel came to me several years ago, but I wrote the majority of this one in about one year.”


No Story to Tell revolves around a young, small town woman with forgotten dreams who blossoms into a new creature because of serendipitous encounters and events. The Bird Box is about the redemptive and restorative power of love in an insane asylum in 1954.


K.J. took courses from Humber College’s School for Writers in Ontario. “It was a proving ground for me and my writing. Spending summer workshops with other aspiring writers and working closely with the school’s talented mentors, I was able to gain the validation and confidence that I can write literary fiction at an exacting level.”


K.J. found the specialist fiction publisher, The Story Plant, through a friend. After a rewrite, No Story to Tell was accepted for publication and released. It received enthusiastic reviews and moved into the bestsellers’ list.

Promotion is a joint effort between K.J., her publisher, and an online promotions agency. “For No Story to Tell, I did a virtual tour, which seems to be the way of the future. Proper promotion of a book is essential to attracting a readership.”


Becoming a published novelist has definitely changed K.J.’s life. “I feel fortunate to be surrounded by a strong publishing network,” says K.J. “It has given me the freedom to move forward with confidence with my writing.”


K.J. Steele’s books will be available in paperback and e-book format through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as various independent American bookstores.





Jennifer Cockrall-King

“Food and The City had an award right upon publication.”


Food culture writer and journalist Jennifer Cockrall-King, of Naramata and Edmonton, wrote Food and The City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution (2011) for several different reasons. “I became intensely interested in urban agriculture on a tour of Cuba in 2007,” she says. “Urban agriculture was a keystone of its very unique food model. I also noticed an uptick in interest in community gardening in Edmonton, where I live when I’m not in Naramata. I’m a keen food gardener, so the elements merged into project that warranted a book-length commitment.”


Food and The City examines alternative food systems in global cities that are shortening food chains, growing food within city limits, and taking food security into their own hands.


Jennifer is proud of her Dave Greber Freelance Writers Award, a Canadian social justice book award writers enter by submitting a chapter of their book-in-progress. Food and The City had an award right upon publication. How nice is that?”


“Getting a publisher was difficult,” says Jennifer. First, she took the Simon Fraser University Book Publishing intensive course in the Lower Mainland in summer, 2009. “I met wonderful people who helped connect me with Canadian agency Anne McDermid and Associates. I polished up my book proposal and it took them seven months to finally sell the book. It was turned down by every Canadian publisher, but lots of interest from US publishers. Prometheus Books had a good reputation and we went with them.”


Food and the City was well-reviewed in the UK, Canada and the US - translation rights have been sold to Korean and Japanese publishers, and a French translation is possibly in the works.


Jennifer is currently working on Food Artisans of the Okanagan Valley, to be published by Touchwood Editions in spring, 2016. She’s also working on a book about seeds and seed banks she hopes will come out the same year.


The author’s passion for writing about food has been channelled into organizing the annual Okanagan Food & Wine Writers Workshop being held in Kelowna September 11-13 in 2015. “We learn, eat, drink and share our knowledge and enthusiasm for food and wine writing over three days.”


Food and the City is available at Mosaic Books in Kelowna, Coles, Chapters, Amazon and as an e-book on Kindle.