WARNING: Spoilers spoken here.
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.
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.