Stabenow: Creating crime in Alaska

Mystery writer to speak in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, September 06, 2001

Alaska mystery writer Dana Stabenow was offered $600,000 for the movie rights to "A Cold Day for Murder," her first Kate Shugak mystery, and she turned it down.

The problem was not the money. She's sick of seeing bad movies about Alaska and Alaskans, and she wants a few guarantees that a film made from her book be done well.

Stabenow, the creator of Aleut private investigator Kate Shugak and Alaska State Trooper Liam Campbell, has drawn on a lifetime in Alaska to create 17 novels, which have sold more than a million copies over the past decade. Stabenow will be in Juneau at 7 p.m. Sunday at the downtown library.

"I'll speak informally about libraries, my experience in Seldovia as a kid with the library there, and how important libraries are in our communities. But it won't sound as stuffy or formal as that. I'm a pretty, um, vigorous speaker," she said laughing. "I'm happy to answer any questions about anything to do with my professional life."

Quick to laugh and a candid conversationalist, Stabenow clearly loves writing. She enjoys talking about writing her own work, her profession and the craft in general. She's helped bring professional writers to Alaska Bush communities to speak in schools, and last year helped organize Left Coast Crime, an event that brought 100 writers and 450 fans together in Anchorage.

Producers have shown serious interest in a Kate Shugak movie and are exploring financing, but Stabenow has three conditions she wants met. The first is location a story set in Alaska should be filmed in Alaska.

"Don't you hate seeing movies about Alaska that are filmed somewhere else?" she said.

She also wants two Alaska talents involved in the project, screenwriter Mike Kelly and actor Irene Bedard, both of Anchorage. Bedard is an Alaska Native who starred in the film "Smoke Signals." She not only has agreed to play Kate but fully supports the project.

Stabenow was born in Anchorage and spent much of her youth aboard a fish tender in Prince William Sound. In 1964 the Great Alaska Earthquake hit during her 12th birthday party. She earned a journalism degree in the early 1970s, then spent six years working on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. She studied writing in a master's degree program in the mid-1980s, but a certain unpublished novel she penned proved to be her best teacher.

"I wrote 'the great Alaska novel' and sent it off to New York a lot and it came back a lot," she said. "It was 775 pages long. It was the book that taught me how to write."

Stabenow published her first book, the science fiction novel "Second Star," in 1990. Her first Kate Shugak book came out a year later. It won her the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America honoring an outstanding first novel.

Stabenow writes 10 pages a day about 2,500 words and said she spends as much time as it takes. That can be all day if she's just getting a novel started. As the story progresses she speeds up.

"My best day was a 27-page day, but that was from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. at night," she said. "I had to make myself quit. That's the exception. Those are the days you live for if you write novels."

She goes back and rewrites only when the book is finished. After she's edited her own work, it goes on to her editor at Penguin Books.

"Editing is your best friend," she said.

Stabenow has been writing two novels a year and she hopes to trim that pace in half to accommodate new opportunities. She's been tapped by Alaska Magazine to write a monthly feature. She's editing a collection of short stories set in Alaska called "The Mysterious North," that includes works by Sitka novelist John Straley and Anchorage writers Mike Doogan and Kim Rich. She's also been invited to participate in events such as Bouchercon, an annual national mystery writers convention, and a mystery cruise, a combination shipboard writers workshopInside Passage vacation.

"I am the luckiest person alive," she said.

Stabenow's presentation at the library is open to the public and free.


Riley Woodford can be reached at

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