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.

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.

Book 2 of the Terra Trilogy is now available!

I’m thrilled to announce that book two of the Terra Trilogy is now available in e-book and the print publication will be available in May.

In the years after the ‘Big One’ destroyed most of human civilization, a lone city perches precariously on the Pacific Northwest coast of North America.

When nomadic marauders attack the Independent city of Couver, seventeen-year-old Terra Vargas must choose: use her Cartos powers to protect her city, or rescue her mother from the marauders’ camp. But as her control over the earth power erodes, so does her ability to choose wisely.

Stay or go?

Either way, there will be a horrible price to pay.

Available on Amazon and at Smashwords and other fine e-tailers.

 

Rhumb Lines, Novel Writing and How to get from point A to Point B

Dhow in coastal waters off Zanzibar Island (1994) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m in the midst of a year of writing sequels. Actually it may take two or three years to get through all the sequels needed for my current novels. As I have already mentioned on this blog I’ve found writing my first sequel a bit of a challenge even though I knew where I was going. It seemed that I kept straying off course.

This puts me in mind of the challenges mariners had back before Gerard Mercator created his famous projection in 1569. A projection is a way of taking three dimensional landforms off of a globe and placing them onto a flat surface (a map) while retaining relative conformity of shape and relation between the landforms. What Mercator did was take meridians of latitude and longitude and make them all aim straight north-south or east-west creating 90 degree angles at each intersection. Sure it expanded the landforms closer to the poles, but it also gave mariners a means of plotting courses over long distances.

Picture this overlaid on top of a typical world map with latitude and longitude laid out.

You see, prior to Mercator, mariners shared two fears – bad weather and getting lost. (Actually I share their fears, the latter most particularly when I’m writing.) In the years before Mercator’s projection, mariners had generally confined their sailing to the Mediterranean and coastal waters. The transatlantic voyages to America were done by the stars, but there were no helpful portolano (mariners maps using compass roses to show sailing routes) of the great oceans. Mercator’s grid made sailing the open ocean as easy as sailing the coasts because it gave sailors a means to chart a straight line (a rhumb line) from Point A to Point B across the ocean. From this they could plan their headings and make their voyages.

Of course sailing the distance from Cape Town to New York is about as huge an endeavor as writing a novel (or a sequel) from page one to the end and neither route actually takes a straight line. Sailors travelling that distance recognized that they didn’t travel a flat earth, they travelled a globe and so they added to their calculations, the curve of a great circle that was the largest circle they could draw through a sphere and this route showed the actual shortest distance between two points. Sailors then chose their routes by drawing straight chart lines between the great circle and rhumb line that allowed them to approximate the great circle along the route.

Tall ship off Portuguese coast (2006) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

This seems a lot like the process I use when I’m writing. I know where I start and I know where I want to finish (most of the time). The writing process then becomes one of deciding how far to travel from the rhumb line (the plot or the backbone) of the story, for it seems to me that novels have great circles, too. These are the themes you are writing about and you don’t want to allow your plots to take over, so that your story is nothing but plot, but neither do you want your subplots to take you so far out of your way that the story no longer fits within its themes. And that’s where sailing and writing diverge in their process. Sailors use the great circles and rhumb lines to plot their course and they follow it from Point A to Point B. A writer, on the other hand, will use them to plan their novel or their series of novels, but also to look behind and check whether they have wandered too far off course to get to their final destination. This is the challenge in sequels: viewing the second or third book as just one of the charted lines between the rhumb and the great circle, building its way to the ultimate end of the voyage.

 

 

Free Fiction

Free Fiction this week is part one of Pretense for Murder.

A dead girl, an empty phone booth where one shouldn’t be and a school full of suspects with too many unusual powers.

When student, Vallon Drake discovers the dead body of a girl and a British phone booth standing outside the American Geological Survey Preparatory Academy, she knows someone with special power committed the murder. Heck, her school exists to teach students with the talent to rewrite the landscape as future special agents. But while Vallon wants to solve the crime, everyone else wants to cover it up. Trust Vallon to break the rules to take the investigation on—even when the cost of doing so might be her life.

To read Part one, click here.


Westward Ho!

I’m sitting here watching the snow fall on the western edge of North America and contemplating how with the spread of people over all of the continents leaves no mysterious ‘promised land’ to cling to. As I’ve written in previous posts, in earlier centuries people sought Prestor John or mysterious islands. They sought an easy route to India and the Northwest Passage. All of these were, over time, debunked, but in our restless human need to seek, we replaced those distant vistas with something else. At least in the past we did.

Old Ranch, Yukon (2009) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

The exploration of North America helped with that. As the surveyors moved west they opened up awareness of a great mysterious place called the American West. The acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase brought Lewis and Clark’s expedition and knowledge that the western mountains were more than one range and a new awareness of how broad the continent was. While they set to rest the final hopes that the Columbia and Missouri Rivers might connect and form a Passage to India, tales of what they had seen brought a new hope that, if not a promised land, there might at least be a Garden of the World in the rich lands westward.

Channel at edge of Yukon River (2009) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

Lewis and Clark were followed by the Topographical Engineers – a small elite branch of the army, whose most famous member was John Charles Fremont. Fremont took with him a red-faced German topographer named Charles Preuss. With Kit Carson, these three set out to map the trail west, determine where to establish outposts, and scout passes over the mountains. While the results of their first venture were of only limited value for its maps, Fremont’s dramatic escapades of planting a US flag on a high peak to demonstrate the national resolve of ‘America strong and triumphant from sea to sea’, and his colorful journal, apparently launched many settlers westward. Subsequent Fremont/Preuss ventures resulted in some of the best maps of the day, extending knowledge down into California and erasing as much fanciful cartographic information, as it established. Preuss’s expertise in creating maps led not only to cartographic information, but also to the first ‘road map’ to the west.

Other explorers like John Wesley Powell, extended our knowledge of areas around the Grand Canyon as they travelled down the Green River and into the cataracts of the Colorado River within the Canyon. His further expeditions surveyed much of southern Utah from the Colorado to the Nevada line. Powell’s work also resulted in warnings about the old methods of agricultural farming. The warnings weren’t heeded and it took the dust bowl dirty thirties to prove him right. But Powell gave America an even greater legacy. He lobbied for, and finally achieved, the creation of the United States Geological Survey, which continues to this day to provide detailed maps of the country.

Old Ranch, Yukon River (2009) Photo (c) Karen Abrahamson

The only problem with this is that detailed maps removed the mystery and it seems to me it impacted the human psyche. From America, explorers joined the Europeans in the further exploration of our planet. We delve into the depths of the ocean, the frigid wastes of the Arctic, and into the humid breadth of the Amazon Rain Forest. But even those areas are being explored and the race for space seems to have died. It makes me wonder if part of the anger and anxiety we see in our culture isn’t partially due to the fact we have no new vista to call us and no new ‘promised land’ to bring out our best.