Two New Releases

Two new releases came out in December. One is the short fantasy story of the first case of Vallon Drake, the heroine of Afterburn and the American Geological Survey series. The story is called All She Can Be.

The second new release is the first in a contemporary romance series with  touches of magic and suspense. The novel, Unlocking Her Heart leads off a series of books in what will be the Unlocking Saga.

All She Can Be

Karen L. Abrahamson

When someone moves the Canada/US border along the flooding Red River, the American Geological Survey assigns freshman agent Vallon Drake to find the culprit and repair the damage. If she doesn’t it could destroy the peace between the two nations.

But solving a crime in the shadow world of the AGS is never straightforward, especially when assigning blame can have serious career repercussions.

Karen L. Abrahamson once again transports us to the change-ridden world of the AGS, but this time she takes us back in time to Vallon Drake’s first dirty little case.

Available on:

Unlocking Her Heart (The Unlocking Series, Book 1)

Karen L. Abrahamson writing as Karen L. McKee

When Kylee Jensen left Africa she left behind her fiancée and brought with her a badly broken heart. To heal, she seeks out her best friend in the idyllic lakeside town of Peachland where she meets bad boy vintner Brett Main. Kylee knows her barely mended heart can’t take a man like Brett, but meeting Kylee might just be the incentive Brett needs to change his ways. When a mysterious death disturbs the peace that Kylee sought, and she finds a puzzling bracelet that refused to be removed from her wrist, only Brett’s help can keep Kylee from being next on the killer’s hit list.

Karen L. Abrahamson creates a cast of wonderful characters in this, the first book of the Bracelet contemporary romance series. The book will take readers to the sun-soaked Okanagan Valley where orchards and vineyards cover the hills and sometimes magic raises its head, like the ancient Okanagan lake monster.

Available at:

New Cartographer Short Story in FICTION RIVER: Universe Between

The latest issue of Fiction River came out on Tuesday, August 19th. Fiction River: Universe Between includes a whole plethora of stories about the time and space and emotions ‘between’, including my story, Between the Lines. It’s my first Landon Snow story, so of course he’s the hero!

You can find Universe Between at your favorite bookstore or here.




Finally here: Aftermath, Book Three of the American Geological Survey series

Well, it’s finally here and I’m thrilled about it. Now available in e-book form and they tell me print publication will be available early in March. I think this is the best one yet!

Happy reading,


Aftermath – Karen L. Abrahamson

After surviving the attempted destruction of the American Midwest, Vallon and her allies face an even greater danger: Homeland Security’s decision to destroy all Gifted – those people who can rewrite the landscape using only their minds. In a breakneck race to save her kind, Vallon rushes back to Seattle, only to find that friends are not really friends and nothing is what it seems. Will circumstances force her to break every moral code to stop an imminent war between Gifted and unGifted?

Karen L. Abrahamson establishes the American Geological Survey series as a thriller roller coaster of a ride within the urban fantasy genre. A fantastic story of cartographic magic, danger and betrayal, Aftermath will grab readers by the throat and drag them through to the end. Unputdownable.

Available  as an e-book at: 

A BookBlast Sale!

Terra Incognita is being promoted through BookBlast today (Here) and is available for $0.99 on Amazon through this weekend.

Here’s the blurb:

Terra Vargas lives on an Earth shattered by climate change in a city threatened by fierce marauders—the deepee—who destroyed her family. When a young man, Ravi Sanghera, arrives with a destiny of his own—to rid the earth of the “Destroyer of World”, Terra learns she inherited powers she neither understands nor wants—powers that might contain the secret to preserving or destroying the only home she knows.

Now Ravi faces a terrible choice, follow his vision and kill Terra… Or abandon the reason he traveled halfway around the shattered planet, and help her stop the deepee.

The answer lies in their future, but first they must survive.

Happy reading!

Andean Civilizations: A Map of a Different Color

Off to the fields, Pumamarka (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Off to the fields, Pumamarka (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

When I think of maps I imagine back to when the first human made their first finger marks in mud to share a game trail, or a watering hole or an especially good berry bush. Surely that must have been the earliest form of map. Of course none of those primeval drawings exist, and so I’ve found myself writing a about the western development of maps over the ages and have tried to give a sense of the European tradition and the contributions of Arab and Chinese explorers and cartographers. This is the easy stuff to research and write about because the maps these cultures used were set down in a manner we are trained to see. Maps, to most of us, are a visual representation, usually on a flat medium like paper, that presents the relationship of one place to another. But other cultures have had other ways of presenting their landscapes, case in point are the great civilizations of the South American Andes.

What most of us think of as the Inca are actually a series of overlapping civilizations that rose and fell in the various livable areas of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Columbia and Chile. After the very effective conquest of South American by the Spanish, not much remains of any Inca records and to date no maps (as we define them) have ever been found. But did these cultures simply not have maps or did they represent their landscapes in a different way?

Anthropologists and Cartographers say that formal mapmaking tends to occur within highly organized, bureaucratic societies as a form of discourse. The conditions necessary for mapmaking include: demands for agriculture, private property, long distance trade, militarism, and tribute relationships, amongst others, all of which are attributes of the various Andean societies.

Women at Ollantaytambo market (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Women at Ollantaytambo market (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Anthropologists studying the various ancient cultures have begun to realize that westerners probably won’t recognize Andean maps until we start to see them through Andean eyes. The structure of maps aren’t only determined by geography, but also by social organization, cultural conventions and human perception. In the Inca worldview, the cosmos was built on a quartered circle, based on the way they viewed the Milky Way divide the heavens. They viewed their world that way as well, with the lands they ruled broken into four distinct quarters.

The Inca also had to map unusual terrain, from the coastal deserts and river oasis, up through the highlands to the alte-plano and Andes mountains and down again into the Amazon basin. Trade and tribute came those long distances, and north and south from Ecuador to Chile. Over those distict terrains there were distinctions of crop and animals at each of the different elevations. So, for an ancient Andean, among the things they needed to represent, were the different elevations, the different foods, and the waters that made life possible across these sometimes inhospitable terrains, as well as capturing the four quarters of the world and social relations.

Market Scene, Chivay. Note the Inca rock that shows terracing and irrigation techniques. (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Market Scene, Chivay. Note the Inca rock that shows terracing and irrigation techniques. (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

The resulting landscape representations convey things like ownership and elevation. Ancient weavings show the long narrow fields of produce separated by clan-assigned canals. Pottery shows spatial designs that encode critical social structures, and still other sculptures, such as Chieftain Vessels correspond to Andean landscapes with the head of the figure as the summit, the shoulders as central mountain slopes, the lower hips as the coastal plains where mountain rivers diverge on fields. Still other sculptures show realistic representations of the terraced fields and irrigation systems that make up areas of central highland valleys.

So while we might say the Inca made no maps, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t represent their landscape. The difference is that the Inca ‘maps’ were often three dimensional and layered with meaning, both in terms of the landscape, ownership and familial relationships, and the relationship of the landscape to their ancestors, the spirits and the cosmos.



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.



The Roots of the World

The Grand Canal, Venice (2005) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

For men like Fra Mauro (see last post), the exploration of the external world led to an understanding of the inner landscape of men. So too, from the triangulation of the world (see post here) came a greater understanding of the internal shape of the earth.

I mentioned previously that in order to determine the shape of the world, a French survey team went to Ecuador and Peru at the same time as a team went to Lapland. Unfortunately for the Peruvian team, the Lapland team discovered the answer to the scientific question long before the Peruvian team ever finished their survey. While in South America, however, the Peruvian team struggled over mountains and through jungles and noted different gravity readings as they took their survey measurements along their route. They surmised that the differences in the readings might reflect the varying landscape and theorized that mountains might be made of less dense material than the lowlands. A good theory, but it took over a hundred years for the matter to be more fully explored and the discovery was made far from South America. It took the British Raj’s need to survey India to bring understanding to what the mass of mountains might mean.

Machu Picchu caught in the coil of the coil of the Urubamba River (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Machu Picchu caught in the coil of the coil of the Urubamba River (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

In the mid nineteenth century, the horrendous task of surveying India through triangulation was almost undone by the discovery of an error of some 150 meters between the distance the triangulation measurements computed, and an actual direct surface measurement. To determine what had led to the error, the cartographers involved had to reexamine their assumptions – in this case they had assumed that the mass of the Himalayan Mountains would greatly influence the gravity measurements of their survey instruments. What they found was that they had overestimated the lower mass of the mountains.

This led to a theory of the earth’s crust that still exists today, namely that every (theoretical) column of the earth (from core to outer surface following a theoretical plum line) should have approximately the same mass. Given that tall mountains have a lower mass, they must have an equally large (but low mass) protuberance at the bottom of the earth’s crust to achieve the same mass as denser areas of the earth’s crust. Conversely, under the oceans where the ocean basins are very dense, the earth’s crust would be relatively thin. The theoretical result would be that inside the earth there would be a mirroring of the plains, mountains and ocean valleys we see on the surface, much like a tall iceberg has a large underwater presence to balance it out. Modern science has supported this, by obtaining crust measurements off the coast of South America that show the Andes have roots as deep as 75 kilometers.

Stupa and Prayer flags at the Manali Summit (2000) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Think of this the next time you are crossing the mountains, staring up at those tall, snow-covered peaks, for they are the frosting, the outer conceit of an iceberg of stone that conceals the deeper reality of the roots of the mountains.

Much like Fra Mauro saw the illusions of men obscure the truth of his map of the world.

On Maps, GPS and Andre Gide

I never get lost, or only rarely. Few places turn me around, Portland Oregon being one of them. (I’m blaming the rivers and the volcanoes on creating a weird magnetic field that disturbs my sense of true north.) All my life I’ve arrived in a new place and managed to orient myself quickly, so that I’ve been able to get around with only my sense of direction and, when necessary, a map. These days, however, I’m beginning to feel like an anachronism every time I unfold my trusty, old fashioned paper map. In fact, I’m reminded of an episode of FRIENDS, when, in London, Joey had to place his map on the ground and step into it, in order to find himself.

Huinay Huayna, Forever Young, hung above the Urubumba River (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Huinay Huayna, Forever Young, hung above the Urubumba River (2011) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Let’s face it, with GPS, Onboard computers in our cars, and smart phones, all of which will give you the best route to take from point A to point B courtesy of MapQuest, the art of map reading is certainly on the wane. Which makes me wonder what the loss of that art will mean to our world.

Sure it might mean less coffee-stained maps, probably fewer traffic accidents and certainly fewer arguments between couples lost on a Sunday drive, but what will it mean to how we see the world?

My fascination with maps has always existed. Travelling as I do, one of my first purchases for any destination is a map that is large enough that I can understand the relationship between places, and that I can see enough details so that I can also get off the beaten path. When I go travelling, I like to trace my route on the map as an indelible reminder of the places I’ve gone and the things I’ve seen. It also reminds of the immensity of experiences I haven’t had, and all the other corners and mountain tops and valleys and towns and people I haven’t seen or met. The map reminds me of the world out there that I’ve, ever so briefly, stepped into.

Thread seller - Marrakesh, Morocco

Thread seller - Marrakesh, Morocco

With the advent of GPS and TomTom etc. I wonder how that affects our relationship with the world around us. With a map we get context. We get how small we are in a much larger world, whereas the GPS and OnBoard Computers I’ve used reduce the world to one small computer screen that points us in one direction and that doesn’t foster those exciting tingles a map gives when you realize there’s an alternative route to the one you’d chosen—one that might be richer for the fact it isn’t the most direct route or the path that most people travel.

Maps have fostered my imagination since the first time one fell out of my parents’ National Geographic Magazine and since the first time I traveled with my parents from British Columbia to Quebec and my mom showed me a map of the continent. I was seven and the vastness of the landscape excited me with all the half-glimpsed things along our route. Maps gave me a sense of where we were in relation to where we’d been. Today they give me a sense of the greater world. Old maps show what the landscape once was and how it has changed. Maps even give a sense of how other cultures view the world differently than most North Americans do today

Path along the Yukon River, following the routes of explorers.

The French Author, Andre Gide wrote that “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a long time.” That’s what maps are all about, a guide to discovery and exploring something vaster , whereas GPS seems to make a journey all about yourself moving from point A to point B.

So for me, though GPS and MapQuest are great for short trips, I’ll muddle through with a paper map and my own sense of adventure. I’ll live by Gide’s philosophy and take a chance on getting lost or perhaps, like Joey, finding myself in the map.

So how do you prefer to travel? Are you map challenged or a fan? Do you depend on GPS when you’re travelling? Why?