Tag: Cambodia

Heart’s Return Bundle

Heart’s Return Bundle

I’m pleased to report that my Romantic Suspense novel, Shadow Play, is part of the Heart’s Desire bundle from Bundlerabbit. The novel is set in Cambodia and involves a reporter, an old flame, missing orphans and stolen rubies. Think Romancing the Stone with a wee bit more danger.

Heart's Return

Shadow Play: New Romance from Karen L. McKee

Shadow Play: New Romance from Karen L. McKee

Shadow Play  

Karen L. McKee

When star investigative reporter Kaitlin ‘Seattle’ Blackwood arrives in Cambodia to look for her missing father, she drops right into the middle of the mystery her father left behind. To make matters worse, two strangers try to abduct her and the one man she had hoped never to see again rescues her. B.J. McCallum¾ ex-lover, ex-man of her dreams, ex-photojournalist¾ almost ruined her career when his exploded. He comes complete with his own heap of troubles: a murdered monk, stolen rubies and missing orphans, all might be linked to her father’s disappearance. Can Kaitlin and B.J. quit fighting long enough to solve the case and survive in a country where people have a habit of disappearing?

Once again, Karen L. McKee hits just the right note of humor as she leads readers on a romantic adventure, this time through the exotic, flooded landscapes of Cambodia during monsoon season. Shadow Play is a cross between Romancing the Stone and Raiders of the Lost Ark, a fantastic romp with wonderful characters and an authentic setting.

Available as an e-book at: 

And coming February 2014 in print.

The Satisfaction of Maps

The Satisfaction of Maps

A wonderful fromage tree at Angkor ruins (2008) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

As I said way back when I started blogging about maps, some of my favorite early memories are of looking at maps with my family as we started out on some adventure, or as I fantasized about places around the world that I wanted to see. I guess that experience made me a map fan. In reaction to my blog about whether maps should be in books, a few blog readers reminded me that they also like to read maps and in particular find satisfaction in maps contained in books because those maps offer the opportunity to better understand the relationship and distances between places written about in the book. The readers enjoyed following along with the characters as they moved across the landscape.

This enjoyment with following voyages isn’t limited to readers. I recently lost an afternoon playing with the Facebook Cities I’ve Visited app. I think Facebook and Tripadvisor are on to something there – the need to record and understand just where we’ve been in relation to where we are right now.

I mentioned previously that I always carry a map when I travel and mark my journey down for my future enjoyment. As a writer, taken in conjunction with my journals, these maps always help me remember the places I’ve been or travelled through and provide a cartographic representation of terrain that my aging brain cells might have forgotten. But maps aren’t just used by me during my journeys. My family always hauls out the atlas and follows along as I wander. On my last trip, to Peru, a network of writer friends around North America followed along as I did sent in my blogs like an itinerant reporter. I suppose the satisfaction for them, was not only that they could follow along, but that they could also get a sense of the relationship of where I was to their location.

Shell seller on the west coast of Zanzibar (1994) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Because although maps represent a greater world, they are also are very egocentric creations. By this I mean that maps are drawn by the creator not necessarily to draw reality, but to draw their reality. Case in point is a lovely 1886 Imperial Federation Map if the World Showing the Extent of the British Empire which shows Britain at the centre of the map (much as the medieval T/O maps showed Jerusalem at the centre of the known world). The wonderful map uses the Meracator projection which nicely enlarges landmasses in the northern hemisphere (including Britain) and also includes mythic Atlas holding aloft the world which is straddled by lithesome Britannia who is surrounded and adored by the lesser ‘races’ (read colonies), all peering up at Britannia’s greatness. Not simply a map it seems, but also a satisfying cartographic representation of the way Brits at that time wanted to view the world and themselves.

To some degree I think the Cities I’ve Visited acts something like the 1886 map: although we aren’t placing ourselves above the world, it gives us comfort with our place in the world. We create our representation of the places we’ve touched and maybe that gives them more reality for us. Perhaps that satisfaction also includes a little reassurance of our place in the world?

So when I was done with Cities I’ve Visited, I was very satisfied that I’d trod so many places in the world, but also fairly embarrassed. I felt almost like I was competing with some cyber-other to show that my vision of the world was broader because I’d been more places. Was it really a competition? The App said the average person has visited 17 cities. I was at 247 and I stopped when I started to feel really stupid (not to mention that I’d wasted a good chunk of the afternoon).

Muscian at tombs above Jaisalmer, India (2000) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

The whole experience reminded me of too many tourists I’ve laughed over who arrive at a place, leap out of the tour bus, take a photo and then leave to drive like mad to the next place and the next photo. That phenomena always put me in mind of a mission to collect places like notches on a belt – or like a dog leaving photographic spoor like doggie–do reminders of where they’ve been.

It makes me wonder if our egocentric need for maps is something like our need to collect, buy and own – as a means to quell our unquenchable need for satisfaction.



A Christmas Map of Place and Time

A Christmas Map of Place and Time

I put up the Christmas tree the other day, uncovering each tissue-wrapped ornament before putting it on the tree. My mother commented on how each one was so unique and that made me reflect on how each ornament was a memory that solidified and evoked a place that I had visited, or a certain place and time in my life.

Angkor across the pool

On the tree were ornaments purchased in Peru, and others from Tanzania, Cambodia, St.Thomas, and India. The tiny painted gourd Peruvian cuy (guinea pig), hung side by side with the wee silk elephant I found in Thailand. A German bauble my mother-in-law gave me hung next to a globe found at a French clock-maker’s shop at a town next to the Swiss border and a Pueblo Indian Virgin Mary sent by my parents from Arizona. All of these brought back memories of Christmas eve feasts, times in the Angkor heat or the chill of the Himalayas, and standing on the Serengeti plains.

Two of the dearest decorations were a handmade snowman and a tiny wooden cuckoo clock. The cuckoo reminds me of times with my stepsons and ex-husband out riding the wilds of Central British Columbia. You see, that area is ranching country complete with wolves and bears and miles of undeveloped forest. In the winter it was covered with snow-laden pine and spruce. At Christmas, there was no better way to start the season than to saddle up our horses and head out into that pristine winter land.

We’d take an axe and an old horse blanket with us and head out into the forest, the horses blowing steam through their nostrils as they bounded through hock-deep snow, my sons rosy-cheeked as they raced their horses ahead until they came whooping back to announce that had found the PERFECT tree. That was what the ride was all about. We’d follow them – usually out to some clearing where a smaller tree would stand. My husband would dismount and shake the snow off, getting it all over himself and then, as a family, we’d critique the tree they’d found. If it passed muster, we’d chop the tree down, wrap it in the blanket and tether the blanketed tree to the horn of one saddle before starting our (much slower) ride home dragging the tree behind us. That would bring the official tree into our home and the small cuckoo clock was one of the first ornaments we bought as a family.

The snowman ornament was made by my youngest stepson. We didn’t have a lot of money in those days – at least not for ornaments for the tree – so he and I set out to make some. I still have the small green felt tree I made, but his is special: a stuffed white snowman complete with scarf, and broom and a black top hat all carefully sewn by ten-year-old hands. I smile and think of him, long grown to a man, whenever I find it each year.

And so my Christmas tree today is a guardian of riches worth more than the presents under it. Those glittering branches hold not only my memories, but also a map of the treasures of my life.

Merry Christmas.

Packing Light – And Drowning in Electronics

Packing Light – And Drowning in Electronics

So I’m on the final countdown. Eleven days from now I’ll be on a plane heading towards Lima, Peru, on my virgin trip to South America. In between trying to get books finished and manage my business, I’ve been trying to pack and get my equipment in order. I’ve cleaned and packed my camera equipment. I’ve bought a lightweight computer. I’ve made plans to blog and I have my smart phone so I can keep in touch. I even have my kindle so I don’t have to carry a plethora of books.

There’s only one problem. I feel sick about it.

Photographing Angkor (2009) Note the camera backpack and tripod.
Photographing Angkor (2009) Photo (c) Selma Swaab. Note the camera backpack and tripod.

All this stuff weighs a ton. There are electrical cords and plug adapters and more plugs and batteries until I wonder whether I’m going trekking or to the office. I keep telling myself all this stuff will help my travel, but I guess I’ll reserve judgment until I hike my pack onto my back. Let me tell you about the changes the electronic age has made.

1. I don’t have to carry film. Instead I have a little external hard drive and numerous memory cards. This might not seem like such a big deal, but fifty to seventy-five rolls of high quality slide film are far heavier than you think, especially when you have to carry them on your back. Not only do they weigh a lot, they also take up a huge amount of space and time. I recall going through a SeaTac Security counter where they wanted to open and check each roll of film after I refused to let them put it through the x-ray. I had the time, so I stood there and let them do it, until they finally gave up. Seventy-five rolls is that much. Shooting digital on my last trip I shot over 3000 frames—the equivalent of about 86 rolls.

It’s interesting as I pack now. I’m using the large pack I took to India for three months and although this time I’m packing the same amount of clothes AND a sleeping bag, the pack is still almost empty compared to the old trip because of the lack of film. Which means a lighter pack and more room for the souvenirs and gifts I inevitably bring home.

2. Think books. There’s a guidebook to Peru that I’ll still carry, though I have it on Kindle also. (I always have a backpacker’s guide like Rough Guide or Lonely Planet). Right there, you have a heavy tome. Then any books you might want to read over a month or so away and you have a few more pounds. So this time I have my kindle loaded up with far more books than I know I’ll get a chance to read, but better to have too many than not enough. One of my most horrendous memories is of being caught in Burma with only the Thornbirds to read. Twice. I still shudder.

3. The telephone. Before cell phones took over the world I’ve had to waste a day wandering around to find a pay phone, stand in line and then make connections from whatever backwater I happen to be in. Having the smart phone will help out with e-mail and keeping in touch, so though it’s an additional weight I think it’s a weight that will save me in time. On the other hand it’s going to keep me more connected and that isn’t always a good thing when I’m trying to focus on the place I’m in.

4. The computer. Let me just say I always journal when I travel. It’s the best way I know of to record the events, the feel and emotion of a place. Often I’ll write myself to sleep and wake up the next morning and write more before I go off on the day’s new adventures. Having the computer presumably means I can do this electronically, but I’m not sure if I will, even if I need it to blog. I have always carried coiled notebooks. A notebook can’t break down and can be salvaged if it falls in a river. A notebook is less attractive to steal and a pen or pencil still feels more real in my hand when I travel. However I have to say that after filling four or five notebooks on my India trip, there may be room for computers though I feel both more vulnerable and excited to try this out.

Early Morning journalling on the balcony, Phnom Penh (2009)
Early Morning journalling on the balcony, Phnom Penh (2009) Photo (c) Selma Swaab.

So for this trip to a new continent, I’m trying a new form of travel: One that’s a little lighter and that comes with a whole lot more (electrical) connections.

If I don’t get hit over the head by someone trying to steal it.

Or fall in a river.

Hello world!

Hello world!


Fromages Tree at Ta Phrom, Angkor, Cambodia (2008) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson
Fromages Tree at Ta Phrom, Angkor, Cambodia (2008) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Welcome to the website.

Maps and dreams-those mysterious creations propel us on unexpected journeys-some good and some nightmarish. The most memorable adventures occur where the maps end and the dreams take over.

While this website focuses on writing, it also includes photos and random journal entries of my travels-regardless of where the tales or the travels have taken me.

You might say this site is dedicated to the gentle art of falling off the map.

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