The History of Kate Shugak in 22 Objects – 3

WARNING: Spoilers spoken here.


3. Storyknife

If you weren’t quite unanimous the votes were nevertheless with Sasha’s storyknife. Mine, too.

I first came across mention of storyknives in the Alaska Room of the Loussac Library in Anchorage, in a reference in one of the early explorer’s journals (Maybe Dall’s. Can’t remember for sure.). Being an Alaskan storyteller myself, I wanted to know more about my spiritual progenitors, and so I went over and beat on Dan and Bruce, reference librarians, to find me more information. They found one article in an obscure arts journal out of, of all places, New York City. This one.

storyknife article

Storyknives were used by Yupiq girls to keep their younger siblings amused and out of trouble. The stories themselves are teaching stories, featuring children who disobey their parents and are subsequently killed and eaten by monsters. Every story begins with a drawn circle, meaning home. Characters are not drawn until they appear in the story, and they don’t speak until their mouths are drawn in.

Research is always rewarding for the author, but never more so than this time. I called my best friend, Kathy, and shrieked down the phone at her about it. We were both highly indignant that no one had taught us storyknifing when we were little. Later I found out my friend Mary Anne, raised in Manokotak, had been taught storyknifing at school. Yaaruin, she told me, is the Yupiq word for storyknife.

Well. I don’t know what I was researching for Dead in the Water at the time I stumbled across the storyknife, but from that moment it was a foregone conclusion that a storyknife was going to be part of the plot. It turns out that the least reliable character uses her storyknife to tell Kate what really happened on Anua, and leads Kate to solving the murder.

And when I flew to New York City for the Edgar Awards in 1994, it turned out Kathy, who came with, had secretly commissioned local artist Rick Lonsdale to carve a storyknife brooch, which she gave me before we went downstairs to the awards ceremony. This one.


I was wearing it when I accepted the Edgar for A Cold Day for Murder. And the storyknife brooch is now the logo for Storyknife.

the 23rd Kate Shugak novel
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Chatter Kate Shugak The History of Kate Shugak in 22 Objects Uncategorized

Dana View All →

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39 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Not really interested in the history
    Only interested in the next Kate book
    When will this be published?

  2. My vote was for the boat hook, but I loved reading about how you discovered the storyknife, very cool.
    OK on to the next object. Kate’s ivory otter – it appears in the books for the first time here. Kate uses part of her “oil money” to buy that otter and then carries it with her for years, in fact the best I can figure she stopped carrying it in her pocket after Jack dies. When her cabin burns, the ivory otter is one of the items she saves from the fire.So I think the object for A Cold Blooded Business should be the ivory otter.

  3. The history and the research you do for the books is amazing. I love hearing about it and think the story knife is perfect. This is encouraging me to re-read (for the third time) the entire series. I’m going to read quick and get caught up so I can make a more informed choice for Cold Blooded Business.

    Love your writing style and stories.

  4. I have read practically all of your books. The last Kate Book I read Mutt was shot mid air and Kate was shot and I have been hanging ever since. I have so far not seen another book in the series. I’m still upset! Is this the end if Mutt and Kate??????😢

  5. This is a really fun idea — I love reading about the behind stories.
    Thank You
    Kate21………..2016 Yeah

  6. I started re-reading the series on April 21st. How fun it was to re-meet (for the 3rd? 4th? 5th? time) Mutt and Kate et al, The Park…Today’s May 6th and I’m on Whisper to the Blood. Can’t decide if I want to finish with Bad Blood, or stop with Restless in the Grave and save Bad Blood for a re-read before the next book is released. Oh…silly me. Of course I will read Bad Blood this time – and start over at the beginning before the next release! I totally agree with Peggy: The Otter. Thanks for the books Dana. Love them!

  7. My first thought is the otter – but now I’m having second thoughts. There is another native woman at the Petco site who makes a type of garment that I can’t remember the name of. That garment represents both the native people as well as the dig that is being robbed.

  8. Absolutely has to be the otter. Kate carries it forever on, in it’s little velveteen bag that Jack got her for it.
    Listening to Breakup for the 5th time and it is still hilarious.

  9. I started the series and was hooked right away!! Your writing style makes Kate and all the other characters seem like they are part of my life….when I put a book down, I fully expect to see myself sitting in her cabin, reading by the tire.
    I don’t know how far realistically you can take Kate ….. How long she can survive all the perils she faces. She can’t live forever, but hey……this is fiction so just keep writing!!! I’ll keep reading!!!

  10. It had to be the Story Knife for that one. I was so tempted to go and read up on them.
    For Break-Up: yeah, the engine.
    Break-Up is the book I ve used 5 times to pull other people into Kates world and it ALWAYS has worked. So in case you wonder where all the blog readers from Belgium come from: ….that’s us

    (for those a bit vague on geography: Belgium is the tiny country halfway between Paris and Germany)

  11. For me it’s absolutely the otter fetish. I personally carry an Andres Quandelacy (Zuni carver) mountain lion but also have an otter by another carver so loved there was one in the story.

  12. I read my first Kate during one magical summer when I was too young for a regular job and yet old enough to go to the library by myself via bicycle. I found her tucked away with other mysteries on one of those revolving plastic paperback totems. I love the excuse to read all over again.

    I, too, would vote for the Otter. He just keeps wandering back again. But Deputy Dawg sure is a close second.

  13. Was tempted to say food as this one made me hungrier than the other 19, but have to agree the little otter is the right objet d’book.

  14. I don’t have a recommendation for an object, since there are no Mutt puppies. Just want to say how much I enjoy reading your blogs, which are written in a chattier voice than the books, which I also enjoy immensely. Thanks for all of it.

  15. Yes the otter please Dana. I have to agree with an earlier commenter that this book made me so hungry. All your books do but the meals served up to Kate on this job brought out the glutton in me. An alternative item is the little native hut type thing up near the dig that made the moose migrate a certain direction so the hunter could get his animal. Remember Kate beat the crap out of ‘your one’ as we say in Ireland and froze her tongue to a pipe to hold her. Must go back and reread now while waiting oh so patiently.

  16. Love all the books re reading because no new book but actually this is good as I have forgotten so much. And than You!!! How about Blazo boxes they are mentioned frequently.

  17. Dana, Have just reread “Dead in the Water” and enjoyed it again. Particularly fond of Andy Pence and his youthful exuberance and love of all things Alaskan. Would it be possible to have him reappear in a future novel?

  18. Is Anukshuk the correct spelling of Inukshuk? I love your books for the descriptions that take me away to a land for which I feel a great affinity. Have been to Alaska twice and am planning a trip to stay for a while this time, not just 2 weeks. There is so much to explore and in as much of Kate’s world is “not real” there is so much in your books that are. In prep for the next book I’m listening to the series in order. I just cried my way through one – can you guess where I am in the series? 😉

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