The Long Way Home

August 1.  After spending a week in Cusco, Peru walking up and down the streets, shopping in the markets, taking photos of stone walls and immersing ourselves in Inca history and culture we flew back to Lima, Peru with a connecting flight on to Santiago.  Except when I went to check in to our flight on Lan Chile, they said our flight was not for July 31 but for the next afternoon, August 1st.  I was looking forward to getting back to Santiago.  A nephew was planning to pick us up, but the flight on the 31st was full and we weren’t on it.  So we got a taxi and headed to Miraflores.  I asked the taxi driver to take us to the Doubletree Hotel.  He countered that without a reservation there would be nothing available.  He suggested an alternative hotel–Stefano’s.  I went in and looked at a room.  It was definitely not the Doubletree but it reminded me of many hotels we had stayed in with the kids during our travels in Mexico.  It was only for one night; the room would be adequate.

They overcharged me at the front desk.  I knew it but we were on our way out of Peru.  I argued a little, they came down a little.  My husband was tired; I paid for the room.  Mike laid down and napped.  I walked up the street and bought bottled water and some slices of cake in a tiny shop.  I walked through a charming area filled with antique shops.  I peered in the windows and admired the sparkling crystal and silver, the old carved wooden furniture, the odd and interesting items in each shop.  Then I walked back to Stefano’s.  We ate our cake and drank water.  I read my Kindle, we talked.  About 10:30 Mike asked me to see if the restaurant was open.  He was a little hungry.  I wasn’t even sure there was a restaurant.  We turned off the lights and went to sleep.

Sometime in the night Mike got up to go to the bathroom.  I heard him, I talked to him, and I fell back asleep.  About 2:30 in the morning I woke up with a start.  Mike was laying on the floor between the bathroom and the bed.  I tried to lift him, I tried to turn his head, I shouted at him to wake up, but within a minute I knew I needed help.

I called down to the front desk–my husband had fallen and I needed someone to help me get him up and back into bed. Hotel security arrived almost immediately.  The man took one look at my husband and told me he would have to call the paramedics.  Two paramedics arrived very quickly and declared my husband dead.  I would not believe it.  I insisted that he was still warm, that they only needed to get him up off the tile and he would soon be alright.

Soon a detective arrived along with the coroner to make a report.  I became well acquainted with Detective Jose Pino, and I will always think of him as the head of CSI, Lima.  I was told to stay away from my husband’s body, to not touch anything, to wait.  I called my oldest daughter and told her dad had passed away in.  She was shocked and sad, but agreed to call her seven brothers and sisters.  And so the night passed.  Police came and bagged my husband’s body and carried him away.  All hotel room deaths are investigated as homicides in Peru.

Little did I know that I had just taken my first steps into what would become a two week nightmare, a nightmare punctuated by unexpected rays of bright sunshine.

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Chile, Chile Lindo

July 25. More than forty-seven years ago I came to Chile. I was seventeen years old, young and foolish with two semesters of Spanish behind me. Despite all the things I did not know the trip to Chile changed my life in ways I could never foresee. I lived in Talcahuano, a seaport about six hours south of the capital, Santiago. I lived with a family, who are my family still today. I realize in retrospect that I arrived at a difficult time–the father of the family was very ill and died two months after I arrived. The oldest son’s wife gave birth to their first child, the oldest daughter was a newlywed living at home with her husband. Somehow, they fit me in as a member of the family, finding a space for me. I learned to speak Spanish, Chilean Castillano to be more exact, an ability that still brings me opportunities and friendships. I saw new people and places at an age when I was able to incorporate another family and culture and make them my own.
At twenty-two I applied for a job with Pan American Airlines; I was hired partially because I was bilingual, partially because I had lived outside the United States and because I had lived and traveled in another culture. I had just graduated from college and was ready to see the world. I was based in London. I traveled as far east as New Delhi, India and as far west as Detroit, Michigan. I traveled to Beirut, Tehran, and Karachi as well as Copenhagen, Paris, Munich, New York, and Spain. I swam in the Mediterranean and in the Adriatic, and in the North Sea. I visited Anne Frank’s attic in Amsterdam and the Tower of London. I visited the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort in New Delhi. I was named runner-up to Stewardess of the Year for the London base just before most of my class was laid off because of the oil embargo that followed the murders of Israel’s Olympic team in Munich, Germany.
While I still had flight benefits I returned to Chile, flying to Santiago and then down to Concepcion. I stayed in a hotel that looked down on La Moneda, the presidential palace where Allende killed himself rather than surrender to the military. I arrived not in the aftermath, but in the middle of a military take-over, but I had come to see family. Despite the precarious times, despite the 1000% inflation that was just being reined in, despite confusion and fears, despite arriving at a difficult time my family took me in and we had a wonderful visit.
I returned to the US and went back to school. I met my husband. He had traveled to parts of the world I hadn’t seen–Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam. He knew things I didn’t know. We had eight children. I taught Spanish (thank you Chile!); life was busy.
We traveled to interesting places. Eventually we moved to Arizona and began spending our summers driving through Mexico. Four of our children traveled to Chile, staying with extended family. Another son spent two years in the Dominican Republic and the youngest attended a boarding school in Mexico School for part of his time in high school. Es bueno ser bilingue! But during all those years I never went back to Chile.
A niece came to stay with us, and a nephew. My oldest brother and his wife came to Arizona. The oldest sister came to California for medical treatment and we spent a crazy day on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz. She came back with her husband and visited us in Arizona. The youngest sister–other than me–married a gringo and moved to San Jose, California. We were in touch, but for forty years I never went back to Chile.
The kids grew up, my husband’s body turned on him–the injuries he’d sustained to his neck and shoulder, the damage done to his ankle and knee in Vietnam–to name only a few, began to catch up with him and he was asked to take a medical retirement. We moved into a one level house on the Mexican border. We might still be there now, but my sister in San Jose called to say that our sister in Santiago was doing poorly. An autoimmune disease was taking its toll. If we were going to visit we needed to go. So I bought tickets and we flew to Santiago. I almost canceled the flight. There was a lot going on with our kids and grandkids, life was happening all around us. But we got on the plane. We spent a week in Santiago. Selma is doing better. She had cataract surgery while we were here. We took the bus to Talcahuano. My brother and his wife in Talcahuano have both had serious health problems, But they didn’t bat an eye. They gave us the grand tour and I knew I was home. We stood on the hill above San Vicente and I looked down at the fisherman’s bay below us and across the hills to the port cities and it all looked familiar. There is a new road across the hills. I remember walking over the hills from downtown Talcahuano to San Vicente to visit with cousins. I am amazed at how far I must have walked. I remember running up and down the hills from the house to the centro, taking the bus into Concepcion to the University. The hills are as steep as I remembered but the house is much further from the middle of town. I see the Mormon church that was under construction when I lived in Talcahuano. It is a nice building, a busy building, more than forty years old. Maria Elena’s 103 year old mother is in declining health. A son and his wife and two kids are staying at the house during the mid-year school vacation. A contractor is working on an addition to the house.

When is there ever a perfect time to visit? Now. It’s the only time we have.
I am sitting in a hotel in Lima, Peru, planning to fly to Cuzco this afternoon. My husband is still asleep. I am wearing him out. If I had planned ahead we would have come to Peru on our way home. But I didn’t buy the tickets that way. So we will be able to go back to Chile for another week before we return home. The taxi driver on the way to the airport in Santiago asked me where I was from, he couldn’t quite place my accent–maybe Mexico. The taxi driver in Lima asked me if I was from Spain. I am inordinately happy when my Spanish doesn’t blare gringa. But pride goes before the fall, and I become self conscious and suddenly can’t put two sentences together. Bueno. It’s time to start the day. This gringa chilena has places to see. Chao, chao. Until next time.

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Shaman Priest: A story of Guatemala

Guatemala, our small neighbor just to the south of Mexico has a long and violent history, yet many people are unaware of Guatemala except as a tourist destination, a place with colorful native peoples, active volcanos, incredible pre-Columbian ruins, and beautiful textiles and handicrafts.

Right now many of the refugees crossing our border are Guatemalan. Why do they come? Why have they crossed through Mexico illegally and at great personal risk for a chance to enter the United States? Why have they come here hoping to stay?

Many come hoping for a new and better life for themselves or their children, and they bring their culture and its problems with them.

Did you know that from 1960 through 1996 colorful Guatemala was torn apart by a violent civil war? Did you know that more than 200,000 people were killed over the course of the 36-year-long civil war? More people were killed in Guatemala that were killed in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, and Argentina combined. Unfortunately most people are unaware of the extent of the violence that took place in Guatemala.

And the violence continues there today in the form of gang violence, drug violence, and common criminality.

Did you know that 83 percent of those killed in the civil war were Mayan Indians (according to a 1999 report written by the U.N.-backed Commission for Historical Clarification titled “Guatemala: Memory of Silence”), and yet the Mayans for the most part tried to avoid violence and maintain their way of life?

Did you know that the U.S. was involved in the Guatemala in 1954 when the CIA backed, trained, and funded the overthrow of an elected president?

Shaman Priest, a novel set during Guatemala’s brutal civil war gives a human face to the violence and suffering that occurred during that time. In the story a young Mayan shaman’s family is murdered and he leaves his beloved mountains making his way to Guatemala City where he becomes a Catholic priest. There he meets Maria, daughter of wealthy landowners, and Earl Smith, an American working for the United States Aid in International Development (USAID) program. This powerful story of Guatemala is told through three fictional characters as they struggle with love and loss, violence, death, and a desire for justice and revenge.

Shaman Priest, by Karen Hopkins will be available in paperback on Amazon beginning July 7, 2014.

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Summertime

I’ve lived in Arizona for twenty-three years.  I’ve lived on the border for eleven years.  I fixed my granddaughter a snack this  morning–carrot sticks with chili-limon sprinkled all over them.  They’re pretty good.  She’s three.  It was her idea.

I went out and weed whacked the yard this afternoon.  You have to be wacky to even think of  doing that.  I raked over a couple of snake holes in the ground.  I would rather have snakes than rats in the yard if I have to choose.

I came inside dripping wet and jumped straight into the shower.  The more I turned the hot water down the hotter it got.  Our water l is pumped up to the top of the hill into a tank that sits in the sun.  The line from the meter to the house runs across the south facing slope of the property line.  In the summer the cold water can be scalding.  Luckily the hot water heater sits in the garage where it cools off a little.  With the water system I have do you think I can take a solar energy credit?

Oh well.  I am clean and dry.  I would have showered under the refrigerator water if I didn’t mind walking out into the kitchen in my all togethers, but now he fan is turning and the air conditioner is running.  I think I’ll sit down and watch the World Cup.  The USA is still in.  Gooooooooooool.  Gotta love futbol.

And July is right around the corner.  I think I’ll grill carne asado for the Fourth of July.  Can’t wait for the fireworks!!

 

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Iraq Now

Will Iraq fall to jihadists? Did US forces die in vain? Will ISIS create an Islamic caliphate? Then what? Here are the latest developments.

June 13, 2014 at 1:16 pm

 

Sources: CIA World Factbook, Long War Journal. Laris Karklis/The Washington Post.

(Washington, D.C.) — The President and his top advisors have told us over and over again in recent years that “al Qaeda is on the run,” and “we decimated al Qaeda.”

Now we know it’s not true.

In recent days, an ultra-radical faction of the Sunni terrorist network — ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq & Al Sham — has captured huge swaths of Iraqi territory, hundreds of millions of dollars from Iraqi banks, and even U.S. military equipment.

At the moment, ISIS forces are rapidly moving toward Baghdad, imposing Sharia law, killing thousands, terrorizing millions, creating an exodus of Iraqis trying to flee for safety, and raising serious new questions:

I’m not going to try to answer these questions today. Just the fact that they need to be asked shows how badly U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has failed, and how high the stakes are for the American people, for Israel, and for our Arab allies.

At the moment, I need to go back to finishing the manuscript for my new novel on a future ISIS plot to conquer the Middle East and build and Islamic caliphate.

But first, please keep praying for the Lord to intervene and stop the rise of the jihadists, pray for safety for all Iraqis (and Syrians), and please keep praying for courage for the Christians. Pray, too, for regional and world leaders to have wisdom to know how best to stabilize and pacify the situation.

Then, please keep on top of the latest developments.  Here is some of the latest news coverage from the epicenter worth paying attention to:

“The Obama administration is facing its worst-case scenario in Iraq, which seems on the verge of crumbling as Islamic militants march on Baghdad,” reports The Hill newspaper. “Just more than three years after U.S. soldiers left the country, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken over hundreds of square miles ranging from Syria’s coast to the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit. The terrorist group is in control of a wide swath of land from which it could launch attacks on the West, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte warned Thursday.”

“If these people succeed in multiple countries, that is going to represent some kind of permanent terrorist threat to the West, to our interests around the world and to ourselves,” he said on MSNBC.

“The sudden developments have left the White House with few good options and opened President Obama to severe criticism from Republican critics in an election year,” The Hill noted. “They argue the failure to reach a security agreement that would have left some troops in Iraq has hastened the government’s downfall. What’s more, the group is now taking access of U.S. arms and equipment that were left behind when troops left after nearly a decade in Iraq. Militants posted pictures on Twitter that showed they had acquired U.S. Humvees and armored vehicles….U.S. officials are worried that more weapons could fall into ISIS’s hands if the militants reach Baghdad. The U.S. has already sold the Iraqi military armed helicopters, drones, Hellfire missiles and a number of small arms….”

“This is pretty bad…These guys are our mortal enemies. These are the people, or one strain of the group of people, we’ve been fighting at least since 9/11,” said Michael Eisenstadt, senior fellow and director of The Washington Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program….“It feeds the perception that the United States is being pushed out of the region and the few accomplishments that we’ve had seem be unraveling,” he said.

THE LATEST HEADLINES WORTH TRACKING (via Drudge):

Exodus from Iraq as chaos spreads…
UN: 800k refugees…
Terrorists ‘full-blown army’…
Medieval Sharia Law Imposed…
‘Roads lined with decapitated police and soldiers’…
Iraqi government ‘paralyzed’…
Army Collapses…
VIDEO: Thousands of soldiers captured by ISIS…
Iran Deploys Forces…
Americans evacuated…
USA Secretly Flying Drones…
Pentagon: Rebels may have captured military equipment…
PAPER: ‘Worst case scenario’…
FLASHBACK: Biden: Iraq One of Obama’s ‘Great Achievements’…
Vets in Congress: ‘What was point of all that?’…
Oil Soars…
OBAMA HINTS AT ACTION…

—————–

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Would You Kill a Mouse?

On May 10, 2014 the Wall Street Journal ran an article on market economics  and its negative effect on morals.  To actually test this commonly accepted idea two German economists, Falk and Szech conducted an experiment in which they gave participants ten euros (about $14.00).  Once participants had the money in hand they were told that as part of lab protocol a healthy, young mouse would be killed unless the participant bought the mouse with the money they’d just received.  If they paid for the mouse it would live out its life in health and comfort.

Forty-six percent of participants chose to keep the money and let the mouse die.  The other 54% of participants chose to save the mouse.  There was more to the study, but it always included the option to allow the mouse to live or die.  And somehow the entire study demonstrates that yes, the market is immoral.

Wait a minute!  I live in a rural area.  We have mice here; I kill mice every week in my garage.  I trap them in a not very nice way and then I scoop up their little bodies and toss them over the wall.  (I don’t like to poison the mice because I am afraid the poison may affect the birds that eat the dead mice.)  So I have a hierarchy of values.

Would I let a mouse die for $14.00?  Of course.  I kill them for free.  Mice are pests, not pets.  They spread disease, sometimes horrible diseases like the plague and hantavirus.  But they also chew things up like the wiring on the underside of my car which was not cheap to repair.  They gnaw on the valuable stuff in my garage, and if I wasn’t busy trapping them they would soon be inside the house.  If they would stay outside I would leave them alone.  But mice and humans don’t share space well.  Mice are vermin–vectors for disease and death.  And you’re offering me $14.00 to let you kill one?

I don’t think I am a heartless person.  My point is that the study is flawed at the most basic level and to draw any conclusions on man’s morality or lack thereof based on mice is not going to give valid results.

You want to know whether market economics dilute our moral values?  Offer your subjects $14.00 to kill a puppy.  The results will be way different.  Given that choice I’d take the puppy home with me.  And so would 99% of the people in the study.

Falk and Szech may be brilliant economists, but this study missed the boat  when it comes to human nature, economics, and moral choice.

 

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Jay Walking through Life

Coming back across the line from the dentist  I crossed the street against the light. I jaywalked.  Hey, when in Rome . . . in Mexico everybody jaywalks.

 

As I was crossing the street I thought of a conversation I’d had a while ago on rules and consequences with one of my kids. He was standing on the curb in Manhattan, watching a man down the block trying to cross the street in traffic. The man was hit by a bus and thrown 20 yards or so landing near my son.  He was dead.

 

My son talked about how helpless he felt standing there unable to do anything to prevent the accident even though he could see it coming.  Watching, he had a sense almost of fear for the stranger. It seemed  wrong that this man who had been very much alive was so quickly and unexpectedly killed.

 

As I listened to him  I  thought of a similar incident from many years ago when I lived in London. An elderly woman was hit by a taxi in front of our house. She lay on the sidewalk with her skull fractured, thick dark blood oozing from her head. We brought out a blanket and pillow. We called the ambulance feeling uneasy, helpless. It’s not something you forget easily.

 

There are times when we think  those who break the rules should suffer the consequences,  should be brought up short, should learn  they cannot break rules without suffering the consequences. They should be punished.

 

But then I see the stark reality of consequences and I have to back off. Do I really want to suffer the consequences of my foolish, thoughtless decisions?

 

Justice has its place, but I vote for mercy. Without mercy we are all stepping out in front of the bus.

 

So in this life I hope we learn, I hope we follow, and I hope that we do not always have to suffer the consequences of our actions.  Thank you for mercy, and second chances, and third. . . .

 

Maybe I’ll have time to learn and change. Maybe today I’ll quit jaywalking through life.

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Giant Tales

Please read my short story in…
Giant Tales: Dangerous Days
Coming Soon! June 25, 2014
 
 

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Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright. . . .

by Karen Hopkins © May 1, 2014

The woman stands leaning on her broom, staring out into the trees. She was sweeping the small porch when Alonso passed by, stopping to report, “Sarita, El Tigre was spotted again out there,” waving vaguely toward the trees. Sarita’s small house built of bits and pieces of wood and flattened tin cans sits on the edge of the jungle, the last house before the clearing surrenders to the trees, the vines, the dark, the wild. El Tigre—the jaguar, that cat who rules the night with bright golden eyes, that cat who swims the rivers, the cat who had carried away her husband Juan—is back.

Sarita looks around the small house, two rooms and a walled patio with its horno for baking. She shudders feeling suddenly cold in the tropical heat.

El Tigre sits high in the tree, stretched along a stout branch. He watches as the woman goes back to sweeping. His interest isn’t personal; she is simply the closest, most accessible prey and El Tigre is hungry. He’s picked Juan’s bones clean, cracking and sucking out the marrow. His stomach growls, but the big cat sits, silent, invisible in the splotches of light and shadow.

That night Sarita dreams of El Tigre, sees him following Juan through the jungle silent and unseen. She watches as El Tigre drops from a tree knocking her husband to the ground, trapping his machete under his body. She watchs ancient Jaguar Priests take on the form of El Tigre, flying through the jungle, ascending stone temples to cut out the hearts of innocent children.

She rises up early anxious to escape her troubled dreams. She builds up the fire in the horno and mixes masa for tortillas. When her children awake she feeds them warm tortillas with goat’s milk, wipes their faces and walks them to the little schoolhouse. There’s been wind during the night. Sarita takes her broom and begins to sweep, first the porch, then the hard packed path leading out to the dusty track. She stops, frozen on the path. There are paw prints in the damp soil beside her.

Sarita clutches her broom and follows the prints around and behind her house. She retraces her steps back to the edge of the jungle staring out to where the prints disappear into the darkness.

El Tigre resting on his branch hears a noise and opens one eye. The woman is staring at him. His tongue comes out, pink and shiny; his jaws seem to open in a grin. He leans down and licks the thick white scar made by a machete, running across his shoulder and chest. Tonight he will come again. Tonight he will feed.

Sarita stands still and quiet for several minutes then turns and fills her pockets with stones before running back into the village to find help. Alfonso sits drinking coffee with other men in front of the abarroteria, the tiny grocery store.   “Excuse me, but I have found huellas, paw prints, around the side of my house.” The men look up with mild interest.

“Prints? What type? Perhaps a dog?”

Sarita holds her hands apart indicating a plate-sized print. Raul raises an eyebrow. “There is no animal with a print so large.”

“Only one,” Sarita whispers, “El Tigre.”

The men look from one to another. Alonso speaks up, “Let us go and see these tracks.”

The men stand, studying the prints. They look huge and they come from the jungle into the village. No cat, not even the jaguar can be allowed to enter man’s space with impunity. They carry their machetes and edge their way into the darkness. They soon lose the trail in the undergrowth, the vigor of the tropical forest. They look into the dark; they peer up into the trees. They will not capture El Tigre today.

Sarita fixes dinner, a chicken and fresh mangoes and of course warm corn tortillas. She and the children talk, the children recounting the events of their day. When the light fades Sarita tucks the children into her bed, the bed she and Juan once shared, the only bed in the small house. She goes out and sits in the patio, watching the stars as they appear one by one in the evening sky. She builds up a fire in the round clay horno. She would feel better if she had Juan’s sharp steel machete, but it was lost with him. She clutches her broom listening in the growing dark. She hears a soft sound, a thump outside the patio wall. She walks to the wall and stares out. El Tigre stares back his yellow eyes gleaming, hypnotic. He moves forward, his paws reaching up easily to the top of the wall. His jaw falls open in a smile. Sarita is paralyzed, but she thinks of her children asleep on the other side of the flimsy wall and moves forward, thrusting at El Tigre’s eye with the handle of her broom. The jaguar pulls back in surprise, a growl rising from deep in his throat. Sarita backs away, but the cat is not deterred. Like a spring he contracts, then pushes up clearing the wall. Sarita backs against the horno in terror. In desperation she thrusts the bristles of her broom into the fire. She swings it forward flaming, hitting the jaguar in the face. The powerful animal swats the broom away and licks his paw. Sarita reaches into the horno and pulls out a burning faggot. She runs at the cat heedless of the burning wood in her hand and hits El Tigre over the head. The jaguar is singed, confused. He wants to escape this enclosed space, this burning pain. Once more he leaps, clearing the wall, following the path of the broom, landing in the brightly burning brush. His anguished screams mix with those of Sarita who stumbles inside, wakes her children and runs toward safety away from the raging fire, the tortured jaguar.

 

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Sometimes you just have to write

I am about sixty pages into my next story.  I like my characters.  I know what’s happening at the border.  I know who the good guys are and who the bad guy is but I still haven’t figured out why the bad guy is doing what he’s doing.  Okay, I know he has connections to the cartel.  I know it’s money that motivates him.  But what is it with all his power and influence that he can actually do for the cartel?  And whatever it is it has to be something he can do without leaving a trail.  Now I know there are probably a dozen answers to that question.  And I know I should have figured that out before I started writing.  But I have such a good story going, going . . . . Yikes!  Going where?  

Sometimes all you can do is write.  I am sure i will figure this out but in the meantime I’m writing, building characters, putting in the action, making connections.  And if I’m lucky something will click and I will recognize just what it is the bad guy is up to.  Does this sound backwards to you?  Well, all I can say is as a story develops new ideas come.  I may have to go back and rewrite, but that is so much better than not writing at all! 

In the meantime look for my other books on Amazon under my name, Karen Hopkins–no middle initial.  At least you can enjoy a good story while I figure this one out!!

Oh, one more thing–I am in the middle of setting up Shaman Priest as a paperback.  Once I get that figured out I will publish all my titles in paperback.  I’ll keep you posted as soon as hard copies are available.  

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