The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 10

WARNING: Spoilers spoken here.

HoZ Kate10

It’s the Herc. Has to be.

C-130 Hercules

In service since the 1950s, designed originally for troop transport in war zones, it is also one of the sturdiest and most reliable workhorses for transport of freight and heavy equipment into Bush Alaska, home to more rough gravel airstrips than just about anywhere else. They are common to Alaskan skies–I see one or more every day on their way to doing touch-and-goes at Homer Airport. Admittedly, it took a long time to find a pilot who would agree to putting a Herc into a flat spin, even if it was just in his own imagination. When I finally did, I stopped asking and wrote the scene.

A few years after Midnight Come Again was published, I was invited to ride along on the Alaska Air National Guard’s Operation Santa Claus, the annual trip they make to Savoonga. I even got to ride up front for a bit. Earplugs are advised.

And here’s the Kate Shugak history lesson I promised you last month–

Hunter’s Moon was very nearly the last Kate Shugak novel, not because Kate was done living her life but because my publisher lowballed me on the next contract offer. I like to eat, and a roof is good, too, and neither was possible with that offer. As far as I was concerned, the Kate Shugak series was done.

Meanwhile, across town, the lovely and talented Kelley Ragland, she of St. Martin’s Minotaur, heard on the wind that Kate might be homeless. It turned out she was Kate’s biggest fan, so she contacted my agent and made an offer that allowed for food and lodging. For the first time in my career I was making a decent living, and later, under Kelley’s care, Kate was hitting the New York Times bestseller list. Now I’m working on the twenty-first novel in the series.

Our hero.

Our hero.

None of it would have happened without Kelley Ragland. If there is a particular novel between Kate10 and Kate20 you like, thank her for it.

kate21-cover-artThe 21st Kate Shugak novel, coming May 6, 2017.

First time I’ve ever been compared to Elmore Leonard.

Excuse me while I’m over here breathing into a paper bag. And even more important: PW didn’t give anything away, so safe to read.


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Signed hardcover edition

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The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 7

WARNING: Spoilers spoken here.


7 – Golden crowned sparrow

Although you people are killing me here, being all over the map as you are (the 747 engine! the bear! the pickup! the Cat! snow machines!) the most votes are for the sparrow.


We call it the “spring is here” bird, because it is when you first hear the notes of its song. Listen to it here.

It’s my favorite bird, singing the first bird song I ever recognized. Not to sound too precious, but it chose itself to manifest as the voice of Everybody Talks to Her, aka Emaa. I had no idea it would become a leitmotif of the Kate Shugak novels. One of those gifts from the writing gods.

Also, FYI, every single one of the bear stories in Breakup is true. Kate going backwards up the creek bank in full retreat from a pissed-off sow? That would have been my dad.

kate21-cover-artThe 21st Kate Shugak novel, coming May 6, 2017.


The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 5

WARNING: Spoilers spoken here.

Play With Fire cover

5 – The hunter’s tunic

The votes are in, and although there was a strong minority in favor of the morel mushroom, in the end Arlene’s comment made the case for this fifth object.

…It was made of caribou hide, tanned to ivory. Red, white and blue beads were worked around the collar in a pattern that sort of resembled the Russian Orthodox cross, or maybe those were birds, Kate wasn’t sure. The seams at shoulder, armhole and underarms were heavily fringed and hung with dyed porcupine quills. Dentalium shells gleamed from a sort of a breastplate, and something in the order in which they were sewn to the hide hinted at the shape of a fish. You could see the fish better if you didn’t look straight at the design.

In 1988 the Smithsonian mounted an exhibit called “Crossroads of Continents,” a collection of old and new artifacts from Native life from Siberia and Alaska. They brought it to the Anchorage Museum, and I went back to see it I don’t know how many times. I bought the book, too, which you will pry from my cold, dead hands. It’s the best written and best illustrated exhibit book I’ve ever seen.

Crossroads of Continents

Regalia, harpoons, visors, grease bowls, blankets, baskets, drums, masks, and the stories behind them all–it was the class in Native art and technology they should have taught us in school and never did. And yes, it’s where I saw my first hunter’s tunic, which was the inspiration for the hunter’s tunic in Play With Fire.

hunter's tunic

kate21-cover-artThe 21st Kate Shugak novel, coming May 6, 2017.

The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 1

WARNING: Spoilers spoken here. Continue reading