A New Romantic Novel!

I’m thrilled to announce the latest Karen L. McKee equestrian-based romance novel, A Different Nightmusic.

For Oklahoma girl Trisha ‘Monty’ Montgomery, going to Lake Farm to escape her past and to breed a top jumping horse might be her one chance at a new life. But the shame of poverty and a past with men she isn’t proud of taints her attraction to the taciturn Jack Lake, the mysterious owner of Lake Farm.

When a flaming white horse gallops across her path and causes her to crash her truck, Monty ends up stranded at Lake Farm. Trapped as much by her pride as by lack of money, she soon finds herself entangled in mysterious goings-on: Is the flaming horse real? What is making the stable’s stallion go mad in the middle of the night?

And most of all, is Jack her enemy or her fate—the man who will send her stumbling back to a life of shame, or the man who will help her move on to a new life?

Available for sale on AmazonSmashwords and Kobo.

Inspiration and a new Short Story

I’m pleased to announce the publication of a romance novella called ‘The Rescue’. The story is based loosely on the fact that I broke my leg in January just like Amanda did in the story. The difference was, I fell on ice, not wet wood and I never had a handsome search and rescue man come and rescue me. Sigh.

I had to walk out.

I hope you enjoy the story. Here is the blurb:

The Rescue, by Karen L. McKee

Amanda Ripper escaped a controlling husband who convinced her that she was weak and an invalid. To convince herself that it wasn’t true, she fills her life with friends and hiking and refuses to become involved with anyone again. Then she falls and breaks her leg, reigniting the specter of her old life. Can a handsome man from search and rescue to give Amanda a chance at life again?

Available on Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo.

Two New Romance Short Stories

I’m thrilled that Twisted Root Publishing has just released two Karen L. McKee e-book romantic short stories at Amazon and other on-line retailers.

Happy reading!

 

 

Free Fiction – My Christmas Gift to Readers

As a gift to my readers, this short story is for free from now until January 1st. I’m thrilled to provide another wintry tale (maybe it’s because we just got our first good snowfall of the year and the entire city is shut down). This one takes us back to medieval times and a small clearing in a forest. And of course it’s a romance with horses.

Enjoy!

Click here. Sorry the Freebie has come down. Watch for a new one this month.

T’is the Season of Romance and Family

It must be the season but I’ve found myself writing romances and family stories over the past month. As a result a number of new Karen L. McKee stories have gone up on line.

In addition, Karen L. Abrahamson published two stories set in the far east. One involves romance gone wrong and the other focuses on growing up and family–in a not so nice situation.

Happy reading!

Great Expectations: Cats and Readers

Kayaking the west coast. (1996) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

This past week I was supposed to be on the coast of Oregon with a group of writers learning about marketing books to bookstores. I was really looking forward to the trip and being with a group of great friends. I had everything packed and ready to be loaded into my car. My cats were primed and ready to for the trip. (They always travel with me, and the hotel where I stay at has known these boys since they were babies—it’s like a second home).

Then Ben, the larger of the two boys got sick and not just throwing up, but a total shut down. He quit eating (a VERY big thing for this guy) and drinking and became very quiet and cooperative. Now you have to know Ben. This is a cat that pulls paintings off walls and statues off shelves just to get your attention. When he took a downturn I ended up taking him to the emergency veterinarian. The next day more vets and more bills and at that point the I was still holding up hope that he might recover and I might still head to my course a day late.

Not to be.

Ben.

More tests, more bills and by this point I was administering subcutaneous fluids twice a day, force feeding three times and day and wrestling pills down his throat twice a day. It’s a wonder he’s still speaking to me. How do you spell stress?

The point I’m making here is that all my expectations were dashed and so I had to totally regroup and refocus myself from a week that I had booked off from work to a week working and caring for sick cats (yes, Ben’s brother got the same bug). It was jarring. It was unpleasant not least because I had a sick cat, but also because I wasn’t doing what my mind had expected. I raise this because it brought home something important writers need to think about, which is reader expectation.

Reader expectation is what the reader is expecting to experience in a book. For instance, if J.R.R. Tolkien had written a shoot-‘em-up Science Fiction book as a follow-up to the Lord of the Rings, think about how disappointed the Lord of the Rings fan would have been when they bought the book. Same goes for the reader who picks up a book that has a cover and blurb that looks like a suspense story, but when they get reading they find it’s women’s fiction. Or the reader whose book spends an immense amount of time early on lovingly describing the gun the hero owns, but by the end of the book the gun has never been used or even appeared in the story again. Each of these authors has violated reader expectations.

Shiva trying to catch a fly in Oregon.

A few days ago I was talking with a writer friend of mine. He was bummed out because his editor at a New York publisher had turned down book two of his two book contract and my friend couldn’t understand what that had happened. In discussion with the writer he advised that book one was a lavish fantasy involving the Jewish kabala. Book two was a comedic superhero novel. Anyone see a problem here? Apparently his editor did, because the publishing house had ‘bought’ my friend as an author of lavish Jewish fantasies, but his second novel failed to deliver this in every respect. The publishing house likely turned the book down out of concern for reader expectations. Basically my writer friend was asking to his readers to give up the expectations he had created through his first book and start all over again. I suggest that readers don’t like to do this anymore than I wanted to give up my week in Oregon.

In all of these cases the author failed to meet reader expectations and as a result the reader would have as dissatisfying an experience as I have had this week. Yes, the book(s) may still have been well written. My writer friends second book was undoubtedly wonderful (he’s a great writer), but it wasn’t what the publisher was banking on the reader wanting. He should have written another Jewish fantasy. He should have written under a different name for the superhero novel. Not that all our books have to be the same, but if we want to establish a career as a writer, we need to establish a brand. We might have several brands for different kinds of books written under different  names. For instance my romance novels are under Karen L. McKee, while my fantasy/SF is written under Karen L. Abrahamson. It helps reader know what they are getting and this helps meet reader expectation.

So as writers we need to make sure that we don’t put our readers through the experience I’ve had this week. With two sick cats, I definitely didn’t get what I’d thought I bought when I booked the week off.

(and in case you were interested, the boys are both on the mend.

The boys.

“A Good Traveler (or writer) has no Fixed Plans…”

Porter on the Camino Inca. (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

I purchased a lovely journal the other day. Though it’s not specifically a travel journal it certainly could be, because all of the quotes in the book relate to travelling, but when I read the complete quote by Lao-Tzu, all I could think of was its applicability to writing. The quote goes thus:

‘A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.’

As someone who loves to travel, this quote provides a cautionary tale, because it warns that if you focus always on the destination you miss a lot along the way. Personally, I prefer to meander from place to place because you never know when you are going to find some better place to go than the place you intended. If you are always focused on heading somewhere, you have a much greater chance of missing where you are. As the Buddhists suggest, mindfulness of where we are, rather than worrying about the future  (or where we are going) brings much more happiness than the rush, rush, rush of hurried travel. It’s for that reason that I don’t take bus tours. The tours point out what they think you want to know, not what you can really learn just by being there.

Yukon path, (2008) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

But Lao-Tzu’s quote applies equally to writing. The writer who spends all his/her time solely focused on completing a project isn’t really giving themselves the opportunity to enjoy the project. I’m not saying that you should fool around and never finish, I’m suggesting that you should enjoy the process, no matter how difficult it is, and—just like the traveler who takes the time to meander you don’t need to be so end-driven that you can’t enjoy the little sidepaths that your muse sends you down.

I guess what I’m talking about is allowing the story to carry you along, just like the road can. You don’t have to know where you are going exactly, though you may have a vague idea that you would like things to end in a certain way. Some of my best days of writing are when I have allowed the story to carry me away from the story I had intended—those are the mornings I get up and rush to get writing again because I want to know what happens next. The funny thing is that if you allow the little digressions and flashes of insight to lead you, often the ending will turn out to be some place better than what you envisioned. Believe me, if the ending surprises you, it’s going to surprise and charm your reader, too.

So as a recovering ‘plotter’ of novels I think all novelist should allow themselves the freedom to step off the path they are following to explore the new world they’ve created. They might just find it’s bigger and better than they ever imagined.

Angkor Wat reflections. (2009) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Maps, Shakespeare and Melville- One Year Later

Rajasthani girls with Mendhi on their hands. (2000) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Exactly one year ago I wrote my first blog about maps and decided that I would write a series on that topic– maps, their history, the people who made them, and how maps have been used by people. I did this because maps are integral to the series of books I write in the Cartographer Universe and I wanted to understand more deeply what maps have meant to humankind.

What I’ve come to understand is that maps can be a truth, a lie and a metaphor. They can present the ‘reality’ of the physical world—the mountains and rivers and roads and cities and can inspire men to superhuman acts just to complete a map. Just as often, though they represent lies or half-truths—the imaginary island of Brasilia, the shifting landscape of Prestor John’s Kingdom or, more overtly, contorted landscapes intended to lure the unwary into towns, gold fields and department stores. And that’s a problem, because we tend to think of maps as representing the truth and we don’t  approach maps with a ‘use at your own risk’ mentality or with the realization that any map may only represent the reality that the map’s maker wishes to represent. They’ve been used this way for centuries, so that the modern-day Chinese maps which change the location of major city thoroughfares to stymie the advance of any potential invasion are only an extension of the same tradition that caused British mapmakers to make erroneous maps of the West Coast of Canada (presumably to stymie the work of Spanish spies), and the Portuguese and Dutch Kings who kept secret their routes to the spice islands.

Ship off the Portuguese Algarve, (2005) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

But maps are much more than simply tools to convey or obscure information. Maps are a part of our psyche so deeply engrained that the map metaphor has seeped deep into our culture. Cervantes wrote ‘Journey all over the universe in a map, without the expense and fatigue of travelling, without suffering the inconveniences of heat, cold, hunger, and thirst.’ Shakespeare wrote “In thy face I see the map of honor, truth and loyalty.”

The Camino Inca Trail to the sacred city of Machu Picchu. (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

But maps themselves are not truth, but metaphors. Once, in Fra Mauro’s time, they represented the mythical extent of man’s imagination and potential. Once, they represented the adventure, the spirit of mankind in the terra incognita of the empty sections of the map. Nowadays they represent the world as governments want it to be when they represent contested borders (think the current battle over islands between Japan and China, or the oil-rich islands in the South China Sea that three countries claim). Maps are used to represent presidential aspirations, shifts in battlefields, oil pipeline routes, and enemy and friendly countries—not that these presentations are the truth, but they are one truth—the truth that the mapmaker wants us to believe.

In this day and age when maps are no longer produced by a person hunched over vellum and ink, we must remember that many things influence the mapmaker’s pen. Everything from politics, funding sources and the publishing company’s allegiances represent what is filtered onto the page. Which brings me to my final conclusion about maps and the truth. They have always been creatures of the imagination and not of the truth, no matter that they grew out of scientific endeavors, but now that purpose of inciting the imagination is being used with more strategic purpose than ever before. Can we trust maps? No.

As Herman Melville stated so well:

It is not down on any map; true places never are.

Porto boats at dawn , Porto, Portugal. (2005) Photo (c) Karen L. Abrahamson

Road Maps and Avarice

Uigher apothecary shop, Kashgar, Western China. I doubt this shop still stands as the Chinese have torn most of the old city down for new ‘Chinese’ development. (1997) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson.

Yes, it is all about the money.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Klondike gold rush and how that led to cartographic oddities that misled gold seekers into taking ill-advised routes to the gold rush. But other maps are also intended to ‘sell’ to their users—including the ubiquitous road map.

Americans often claim that they invented the road map, and indeed Americans certainly created the most extensive collection of roadmaps just as they advanced their road systems. But there are earlier versions of roadmaps. In the third century the Romans produced a six meter-long map of roads and distances between certain points called the Peutinger Table (now stored in a Viennese museum) and during the time of the crusades crude journal/maps of routes to the Holy Land were produced. But the modern road map is largely an American invention.

These maps didn’t originate with cars in mind, but as a result of bicycle clubs in the late 1800s when cyclists were searching for maps of paved roads to enjoy their activity. Cars soon took over and road maps developed as promotional tools to encourage people to travel to, and live in, new places. Of course, as new locations opened up, land sales increased, and as the car culture grew and people travelled more, road maps did wonders for the bottom line of the oil companies.

A Peruvian cowboy in the Sacred Valley. These roads still resist development. (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

But maps were used for promotion by other companies, too. In Canada, department stores developed road maps that showed that ‘all roads started or ended’ on Yonge Street, Toronto, the location of their store. Maps produced by oil companies specifically marked the location of oil refineries and invited people to visit these new ultramodern facilities. Maps produced by exhibitions/fairs included images of vehicles speeding to that location. Road maps were not just a means to open up a person’s eyes to the many places in the landscape, they were a means to direct that person’s attention to a specific location in an overt attempt to separate that person from their money.

City maps were more of the same only concentrated in a microcosm of what was going on all over the United States. John Jacob Ast0r became the veritable poster child for land speculation through his exploits in Manhattan. Astor bought his first lot on the Lower East Side in 1800 and gobbled up numerous lots afterwards to make a fortune in property values. What was bought for$50 an acre in 1800, was worth $1,500 in 1920 and as the City’s grid system was planned well before the city finally took shape, Astor was able to parlay his wealth into $25 million—the wealthiest man in America when he died in 1848. How did he do that? By looking at the street map of the city. Then he could sell properties—always at a profit—to take the cash and purchase more property in as-yet undeveloped areas that would be worth even more in the future. For example, a sale at $12,000 allowed him to purchase lots that would be worth $80,000 in a few short years. All because the road maps, like the maps to the Klondike, told him where to go.

Which brings me to the latest development debacle in Greater Vancouver: a developer not only leveled all the trees on the property that was soon to hold four mega houses, he also leveled the trees in a local park, on private property and along a salmon spawning stream. I’m not holding my breath given the history of cutting down trees in these parts, but here’s hoping a large part of his profits go into reparation.

Mist over the Fraser River. These peaceful scenes are ending as hihg-density development occurs. (2010) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

 

Danger-Maps, Belief and New Madrid

Schwedigon pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Schwedigon pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar (2000) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Most of the maps I’ve written about over the past year have been maps setting out the geographic formations of the world—regardless of how skewed the map-maker might have made the map in order to influence the beliefs of others. But some maps are made to represent truth and to save populations from dangers, so today we’re going to look at a specific type of map—those used to convey earthquake danger. I’ve been researching this because it relates specifically to the current novel I am writing called Aftershock.

Most of us are familiar with California’s San Andreas fault, the 800 mile long fault that stretches northwest-southeast in California and that brings Los Angeles (west of the fault) two inches closer to San Francisco (east of the fault) each year. This much-talked about fault line has been the subject of disaster movies and books, and also of reams of geological research. The damage caused by the fault’s quakes led the State of California to have the San Andreas and other surface faults mapped and to require disclosure of proximity to fault lines in any residential real estate dealings in the state. The trouble is, that even though these maps are available, most people – even those who have lived in proximity to a faults line seem uninformed about the dangers and new buyers of homes are positively unaware of their proximity to faults even though they sign disclosures in their ‘offer to purchase’ agreements. Why? Because maps and the language around them can either be used to convey danger or to minimize it. In the case of the California real estate disclosures they say that the house is in the San Andreas zone, but they don’t specifically use the language ‘earthquake fault zone’.

Cypress knees and trees, Orlando (2012) Photo (c) Karean Abrahamson

Another example or earthquake danger maps, and one dear to my heart (given I live on the south coast of British Columbia, Canada), are the ones that show the Ring of Fire around the Pacific Ocean basin. Nothing brings home the dangerousness of the place I live as seeing the numerous dots presenting quakes over 4.0 magnitude in recent history around the Pacific. You see, there are so many dots that a thick black line extends around virtually all of the Pacific except for the stretch bordering the Antarctic and a small section of North America – the part of the coast where I live. Okay, so there hasn’t been a moderately sized quake here in the past 20-30 years (yes, Seattle has had one, but not here, so far). In fact there hasn’t been a really big one here in a heck of a lot longer than that. But historical evidence and that ring of dots around the ocean says that there’s a very good chance one will happen one of these days. Around here we grow up being told to be earthquake prepared. Are we? Given the number of schools that haven’t been seismically upgraded, I’d say ‘no’, even though the maps are there to show us the danger.

So why do we refuse to listen to the maps? A likely answer lays in another part of America. Right in the heartland of the U.S., where Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky meet, in 1811/12 near the small community of New Madrid, a series of massive earthquakes (magnitude 7.5 and 8) wiped out entire fledgling towns, sent sand and water geysering into the air and lifted huge chunks of the landscape. The only thing that stopped huge loss of life was the fact that few people lived there.

Research into the quake says this type of quake will happen again. The trouble is the quake zone isn’t at the edge of a tectonic plate and there isn’t something like really a visible fault line to show where the quake will occur because these quakes occur far underground—that’s also why they are so devastating—and so life in the Midwest has mostly been focused on the danger of tornadoes, rather than the lurking danger right underfoot.

Sunrise over Porto, Portugal. (2005) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson.

The trouble with this type of deep earthquake is that shockwaves travel farther and wreak more damage. In fact, geologists predict that such a quake today would be felt from Colorado to Washington D.C. and could wipe out most of the country’s central infrastructure.

As a result when, in 1990 a prominent inventor named Iben Browning predicted a major quake would occur in the New Madrid fault zone between December 1 and 5th of that year, the media promulgation of maps showing concentric areas of damage seriously impacting cities like St. Louis, Nashville, Birmingham, Little Rock, Jackson and Chicago started to get people taking the danger seriously. Children were kept home from school during the danger days. T.V. crews descended on the area like flies on road kill and everyone held their breath.

When nothing happened, of course finally people began to listen to the scientists who had previously laid out why the big one wasn’t likely to happen at that exact place and time. But the maps had done their damage. They’d laid out a ‘cartography of danger’ that hadn’t arisen. As a result, even though the states of Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee try to prepare people for earthquakes because the risk of the big one still exists, they have an even more uphill battle than they do in California or here in the Pacific Northwest. You see, seeing a fault line on a map may not bring home the importance of believing, but when what you believe the danger presented on the map and then nothing happens, you’re less likely to believe in future danger.

So when the big one does hit, it will be Aftershock, indeed.

A pile of bricks is all that remains in earthquake-prone Peru. The ruins of Huaca Pucllana, Miraflores, Peru. (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson.