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.


This time someone has dumped a body in Ike’s jurisdiction (well, six feet his side of the county line, anyway).


The third in the Ike Schwartz series about a ex-spook small town sheriff in the Shenandoah Valley in rural Virginia. This time someone has dumped a body in Ike’s jurisdiction (well, six feet his side of the county line, anyway). The bad news is his deputy says it looks like a member of one of the feuding families of Buffalo Mountain. The worse news is it isn’t, it’s an ex-Soviet spy of Ike’s previous acquaintance.

It’s always amazing to me how much Ramsay can pack into 257 pages. Here there is the main plot of figuring out who killed the dead guy, Ike’s relationship with Ruth, Ruth’s relationship with Ike’s parents, Deputy Sam’s relationship with a Feeb, Ike’s past relationship with the CIA and the role it may or may not have had in the death of his wife, Deputy Billingsley’s persistent, painstaking pursuit that ends in a did-not-see-that-coming way, the wonderful characters of Colonel Twelvetrees and Master Sergeant T.J, plus we now know that Harley-Davidson has special paint for its motorcycles, and then after all that Ramsay finds room for an intermittent, book-long rant at bad thriller novels

“Can’t anyone write a decent thriller anymore?” she said to the trashcan. “Is it too much to ask for the plot to be at least plausible and the characters realistic?” She realized that this was the eighth in the Sledge series and by now the author didn’t have to work at his craft. His books were all marked, By Best Selling Author… and that was sufficient to move them briskly off the shelves.

Ouch. And Ramsay has gone to the effort of writing excerpts. Delightful.

All my Goodreads reviews here.

“The control of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime on the planet.”


In March 10, 2017’s New York Times Atwood writes in “What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Means in the Age of Trump:”

[Women] are not an afterthought of nature, they are not secondary players in human destiny, and every society has always known that. Without women capable of giving birth, human populations would die out. That is why the mass rape and murder of women, girls and children has long been a feature of genocidal wars, and of other campaigns meant to subdue and exploit a population. Kill their babies and replace their babies with yours, as cats do; make women have babies they can’t afford to raise, or babies you will then remove from them for your own purposes, steal babies — it’s been a widespread, age-old motif. The control of women and babies has been a feature of every repressive regime on the planet. Napoleon and his “cannon fodder,” slavery and its ever-renewed human merchandise — they both fit in here. Of those promoting enforced childbirth, it should be asked: Cui bono? Who profits by it? Sometimes this sector, sometimes that. Never no one.

No. Never no one. Read Atwood’s column in full here. It’s well worth your time. So is The Handmaid’s Tale.

And a complementary quote:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.–George Santayana

Alternative title: Why Nations Keep Shooting Themselves in the Foot

Misgovernment is of four kinds, often in combination. They are: 1) tyranny or oppression…2) excessive ambition…3) incompetence or decadence…and finally 4) folly or perversity. This book is concerned with the last in a specific manifestation; this is, the pursuit of policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or state involved.

To qualify as folly for this inquiry, the policy adopted must meet three criteria: [1] it must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight…[2] Secondly a feasible alternative course of action must have been available…[3] a third criterion must be that the policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime.

–Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly

A rereading may be beneficial to one’s mental health.


The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 6

WARNING: Spoilers spoken here.

Blood Will Tell cover

6 – The moose

P1000789 copy

This was a tough one, for me as well as the fans, vide Megan’s thoughtful comment here. (I also loved Jodie’s comment here.)

But in the end, the votes have it and I agree, it’s the moose. Moose is food, and without food there is no survival. There have been times when Alaska moose have been stricken with disease which drastically reduced the food supply for local tribes, forcing draconian decisions for mere survival (see Two Old Women by Velma Wallis). Google the definition of subsistence sometime. The important words there are “at a minimum level.” As in you aren’t quite starving, you’re just hungry all the time. The food supply is everything, from bowhead whale to walrus to caribou to bear, and moose, and when you’re hungry everything else that doesn’t manage to get out of the way first. Marty’s right, the issue is subsistence. moose

A visitor said, “Do you see a lot of moose around, then?” and my friend Dan said, “They’re like mice.” I think that was the year his brother Dave shot one from the deck of his house (relax, legally, he lives way outside the city limits and it was hunting season). Yes, they’re everywhere, including my front yard, which is where these pictures were taken. They are this year anyway. Next year may be a different story.

Just remember, to many Alaskans these pictures don’t say “How pretty.” They say “When’s dinner?”

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


Spring is coming… March update

Storyknife Writers Retreat

thrushFebruary was a busy month for Storyknife.

We were parsing out all of the submissions to our wonderful team of reviewers. Each submission was to be read by three people. We also needed to create a grid so we could figure out which applicants wanted a two-week retreat, which wanted a four-week retreat, and which month each was available. It looked a little like a complicated game of Tetris.

But it was completely worth it. This application period, we received almost seventy applications, each and every one like a gift sent to us by a woman who hoped to have some time to devote to her craft. It’s sad that we don’t have room for everyone. Next Monday, we’ll be posting biographies of the four writers chosen, but know that it was a really difficult decision.

I’d like to update you on the fund-raising efforts for Eva’s House. We didn’t…

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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.