Regional Mystery Q&A

Questions from Robert Hahn in March 2012 for a Publisher’s Weekly article on regional mysteries.

Q: Kate Shugak began as an investigator in Anchorage but you’ve really allowed her to cover the whole state in a manner unlike that of any other Alaskan crime fiction writer. How do you manage to encompass such a vast area with such vastly different environments?

Air travel. Seriously, although of course it also has to do with Kate’s life experience.  She was born Alaska Native, raised partly in a white family, and then sent away to school in one of Alaska’s larger cities, Fairbanks.  Because of this, she is able to cross cultural, geographical and ethnic divides in a way few of her generation can.  She’s equally comfortable sitting down to maqtaq or mac and cheese, and she has no problem playing Monopoly with the kids of whatever village she’s stuck in until the blizzard stops and her plane can get in. Her work experience (her BA in criminal justice, her year at Quantico, her five years with the Anchorage D.A.) gives her entree into the white world, while her family background (Aleut, Park rat) gives her credibility in the world of the Alaskan Bush.

Q: One of the most interesting elements of the series to me is Kate’s continuing recognition and acknowledgement of her Aleut heritage and your adroit handling of that rich heritage as well as the problems of Alaska’s Native Americans. If that isn’t part of your own heritage how have you (seemingly) made it your own?

I was raised in an Alaskan village, and spent my childhood around Aleuts. My best friend is Aleut-Filipino (also known as Jalapeno). I watched and I listened. I still do.

Q: How do you manage to write so authoritatively about Alaska’s bush country, urban environments, fishing boats and, of course, the 20 million acres of the Park?

My hometown village had (and has) a population of 300.  It’s on the edge of what is now the Kenai Fjords National Park.  There is no road, you can only get there by boat or plane. I worked on the TransAlaska Pipeline and in the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay. I wrote a column for Alaska magazine where I spent five years traveling around Alaska and writing about it.  I grab every opportunity that comes my way to go anywhere and everywhere in Alaska.  I do my best to adhere to that old writer’s dictum: Write what you know.

Q: Alaska’s many natural resources provide conflict in some of your novels from minerals (A Night Too Dark) to commercial fishing (Killing Grounds), oil (A Fine and Bitter Snow) etc. Is it difficult to avoid being too one-sided or “preachy” when dealing with these issues?

Very, and I can only hope and pray I rein in that impulse most of the time. On the other hand, conflict is storytelling. Take the Suulutaq Mine, a world-class gold mine recently discovered in Kate’s back yard.  The Suulutaq is of course based on the Pebble Mine, a real gold mine recently discovered right across Cook Inlet from where I live.  The discovery is located upstream of the best commercial salmon-fishing area in the world, Bristol Bay.  Strip mining is not an environment-friendly activity.  The Pebble mine is the single most divisive issue in Alaska today, pitting miners against fishermen and developers against environmentalists. Of course I picked up the Pebble and put it down in Kate’s Park.  I’m a practicing opportunist, I use what the universe so kindly offers.

Q: The inhabitants of the Park are remarkably eccentric – even those who belong there, not to mention those incomers who don’t belong – those who are committing “suicide by Alaska. Are many of them created from real life prototypes?

If anything, I dumb down the eccentricities.  If I based my characters on real Alaskans, no one would believe them.  Would you believe a guy who, coming out of an unfriendly divorce in which he and his wife had to split the house, proceeded to saw the house in half? Although I keep meaning to use that one in a book someday.
Q: Do you think Alaska, at least as represented by the Park area, is unique in the degree to which people both value their independence and need to rely on one another to survive?

I think all of Bush Alaska is.  Mostly it’s the distance involved, first from the rest of the world, and then itself from the rest of Alaska.  Alaska is three-plus hours on a plane from Seattle, and four time zones from New York.  Bush Alaska is as much as an $800, three-hour flight from Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city.  When you’re stuck out in the wilderness with no road, no running water, and no regularly scheduled airline, your first asset is yourself.  You have to be capable.  And then you have to be there for your neighbors, because they are your second asset.  There are Alaskan villages who don’t see a representative of state or federal government for months and maybe even years at a time.  Once in a while they see a state trooper, but that’s usually only when there is trouble of a criminal kind.  They’re on their own.

Full article here.

the twentieth Kate Shugak novel

Chatter Kate Shugak

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20 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Will there be another Coast Guard book?

    I enjoy mysteries, but that can mean a situation puzzle, a who did what and why? It doesn’t always have to be murder. Does it?

  2. I love Kate Shugak…This is the best series I have ever read. I just finished, though barely, Hunter’s Moon. My heart is broken. I am eager to start the 10th book, which I hope I can get through without shedding tears! Thank you for a wonderful series, and especially for sharing your world with me through Kate. There is so much more I want to say, but I just have no way of putting it all into words.

  3. I’ve enjoyed all of the Kate Shugak novels–Kate is such a fascinating blend of cultures! What makes her stand out, though, from other female lead characters, is the vulnerability that you bring out so clearly. In spite of her background in law enforcement, in spite of her reputation as Emaa’s granddaughter, and most of all, in spite of her marvelous Mutt, there are situations where she comes up short, and that makes her most believable. Most memorably when Jack was killed. Thank you for giving us such a rich view of Alaska and its people.

  4. I cannot for the life of me remember who Pete Halvorsen is. I’ve read all the books, most multiple times, but my memory is not the lockbox is used to be. Please, so I am not too distracted during Bad Blood, what is the history between Pete and Kate?
    Thank you (especially for continuing to write these wonderful books),

  5. I have loved all the Kate Shugat series. I especially love Mutt. But, after reading your last book, I will never read another one. You just left it hanging and I guess that is one way to make sure people read the next Kate Shugat book, but I won’t. You killed off Mutt and that’s just the worst! You could have make your time line of stories different so she wouldn’t have been ten. You could have had her have a litter of pups and Kate keeping the pick of the litter, so at least Mutt’s line would have continued. Well, you now have lost one fan.

  6. The next Kate Shugak novel is already in the planning stages, Alexis.

    Diane, I’m sorry you feel that way. Thanks for supporting the series as long as you have.

  7. I just finished Bad Blood and really need to see what happens next. Please hurry with the next book in the series and please make sure that Mutt is part of it! I can’t believe the ending!! When do you anticipate the next book being available? I love the series.

  8. Love reading your series & the Alaska information on your site but WAY too many spoilers. Some people just forget that not all of us have read every book yet.
    I try to take my time sometimes I start to read them so fast I have to switch authors our I would go right through them.

  9. Dana,

    I have just finished your 9th book. Will there be a 10th to see if Mutt lives? He is so real and such a wonderful companion and guardian. I shall be very sad at his demise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Dear Ms. Stabenow,
    I love your books. I finally made it to Alaska last year and fell in love with it. I live in Florida and have enjoyed your Coast Guard books also very much. Do you plan more? I hope so. Thank you Helen Wagner

  11. In which book did Kate’s grandma (Emaa) pass away?? Don’t recall it and am reading books in order – currently reading Hunter’s Moon. Thanks.

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