If I had been smart enough to see A Cold Day for Murder as the first in a series that would last 23 books and counting, I would never have killed off Abel, Kate’s mentor. He was later replaced by Old Sam as the eminence grise of the series but there was a considerable amount of angst, not to say consternation for the next few Kate novels.  

No, sadly, the first Kate Shugak novel was written originally as a writing exercise, because I’d just finished the second in a science fiction trilogy and I was tired of doing research. I set the mystery in Alaska and made a rule that the only references I could use were the Alaska Almanac Book of Facts and my memory. Kate is an Aleut because I was raised with Aleuts in Seldovia and my best friend is an Aleut (Kate is named for her).  Kate is a woman not because I was making a statement about gender equality in crime fiction but because it’s always easier to write in your own gender.

It was definitely the lazy woman’s way to write a book. It wasn’t until I’d sold my first sf novel (Second Star) and my editor asked “What else have you got?” that I even remembered the existence of the mystery, then imaginatively titled Mystery.

Initially I was most influenced by Sherlock Holmes, whose stories I had memorized by the time I was twelve.  I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t read a lot of crime fiction at all until I started writing it, and then, look out!  Beginning with Sharon McCone, the first woman PI who could take a punch, Kinsey, Vic, I inhaled them all. I managed to amass the entire collection of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series and read them in order. John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, same. 

Travis would probably like Kate a lot, but Steve Carella would be a little standoffish. “Let’s face it, you never met a rule of evidence you liked,” Jim once said to her.  As a PI she can get away with much a sworn officer cannot.  Very results oriented, Kate, and not one to worry about fruit of the poisonous tree if she can nail a perp.

The Kate Shugak novels are as much -- or more -- about Alaska as they are about the crime.  Alaska is one of the characters, it is omnipresent and all-influential, from the oilfields in Prudhoe Bay to the crab fishing grounds of the Aleutian Islands to the Quilak Mountains in the Park to the Y-K river deltas in the west. But then all my novels are like that.  I always start with a place, then I figure out who lives there, and then I see what kind of trouble they can get themselves into.

Someone asked me if I found any inherent differences today between male and female PIs in crime fiction. Apart from how much easier it is for men to take a leak on a stakeout, would anyone but a fool dismiss Vic Warshawski or Clara Rinker because of their gender?  Or Kate Shugak? 

Not unless they wanted their nuts handed to them on a platter.

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by Dana Stabenow
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