Knitting a Story for a Tough Alaskan Heroine

Easy Running by Brad Hughes
Easy Running by Brad Hughes
I was raised on a 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska.  Here’s a painting of it by Homer artist Brad Hughes.

My mom was deckhand and I lived on board with her.  I can trace at least part of my love for reading to her, as literally one of my first memories is her forefinger running beneath the words, “Once upon a time in a faraway land lived a beautiful princess named Snow White.”  I was reading long before I got to kindergarten.

I was also knitting, also taught at my mother’s knee.  Looking back, I realize now that she must have been terrified that if she didn’t get me interested in something to do inside that I would be outside on deck. Where I could screw around and fall overboard. (Which I did do, anyway.  There was this seagull, and I had a cracker, and well, never mind.)

So Mom taught me to knit.  I still have my first paperback instruction book, which consists mostly of garter stitch rectangles.  I moved on to more interesting items eventually, in particular what in retrospect feels like approximately 327 baby afghans.  I have fertile friends who had even more fertile children.

I’ve moved on from baby afghans, too, thankfully.  One of my recent proud moments as a knitter is pictured below. 

Clown Barf Scarf
Clown Barf Scarf

The yarn was made by a friend, Astrid Bear of  Damselfly Yarns.  In a moment of genius, she named it Clown Barf.  So…I made a Clown Barf Scarf.

Kate Shugak doesn’t knit. Neither does Liam Campbell. (Don’t scoff, Scotsmen used to knit in days gone by). Star Svensdotter does, though.  Alert fans will remember that when last seen, Little Elizabeth was wearing a sweater Star knit for her.

Nowadays, I’m part of a group called Knitting Around, made of women all of whom are infinitely more skilled knitters than I am.  In particular I think of Jeri, who has the annoying habit of looking at a pattern one week and wearing the finished product to group the following week.  I’m also on Ravelry.  Right now I’m working on a fisherman’s watch cap, one of three for friends who need something to keep their ears warm when they’re fishing for king salmon on the Kenai River.

I remember knitting an Aran sweater for my nephew Tim some years ago at the same time I was working out a particularly knotty plot problem for a Kate Shugak novel.  I’d write a paragraph or a page, get stuck, and go knit a couple of rows, come back, write another paragraph, repeat.

It worked.

Dana Stabenow was born in Anchorage and raised on 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska.  She knew there was a warmer, drier job out there somewhere and found it in writing. Her first science fiction novel, Second Star, sank without a trace (but has since been resurrected as an e-book), her first crime fiction novel, A Cold Day for Murder, won an Edgar award, her first thriller, Blindfold Game, hit the New York Times bestseller list, and her twenty-eighth novel and nineteenth Kate Shugak novel, Restless in the Grave, comes out February 14, 2012.


  1. Laura/Readerwoman

    Great stories – I don’t knit, I crochet, and I didn’t grow up on a fish tender, but I got attacked by a seagull once, and love to read – so Dana and I must be sisters, right?! Loved this!

  2. Dana Stabenow

    Thanks, Laura!

  3. Cathy Smith

    I’m a definite Dana fan and a knitter (can you say “Novice”?). On my annual trek to Alaska last year I tried to find yarn shops in each stop. What fun! Still don’t consider myself talented enough to try qiviut yet. LOVE LOVE LOVE both Kate and Liam series.

  4. Dana Stabenow

    Thanks, Cathy! Next time try Far North Yarn in Anchorage, the Birch Tree Gallery in Soldotna, and the Yarn Yurt in Homer. There is also a very nice yarn store in Seward that I can’t remember the name of.

  5. Kathryn Campbell

    I am not a knitter, but do love to crochet. Every women around me as I grew up tried to teach me to knit but I was so left-handed the poor women decided I’d do better learning to crochet. Mother and I would sit outside in the summer, under the big maple tree in the back yard doing our fancywork. She’d whip out my winter wardrobe of coats, sweaters for herself, Daddy, and me, mittens, socks, everything. I’d doggedly sweat and strain and end up with a sad dishrag. But, I improved over time, and now my crocheted dishrags aren’t nearly as sad!

  6. Tiffinie Helmer

    I taught myself to knit after I failed at crochet. I can knit a scarf like nobody’s business. But have yet to go further than that. I’m fine with that because I have a scarf in every color. I’ve been to the Homer Yarn Yurk and Soldotna’s Birch Tree Gallery. And I can’t wait until Valentine’s Day for Kate and Liam! I’ve missed them. There is something about Liam that has him rivaling my affections with Jim. I can’t choose. I need more of them both! Please put down the knitting needles so your fingers are free to type more stories.

  7. j.h. meyer

    LOVE the Clown Barf Scarf, Dana…
    Its got a ‘happy pattern’!
    Kudos for the new book coming out, too.
    —Julie :o)

  8. Dana Stabenow

    Thanks for sharing the knitting stories, Kathryn and Tiffinie, and just plain thanks, Julie.

  9. Dorothy Birtalan

    I was lucky enough to stumble across Second Star in a used bookstore and loved it. Thus began the hunt for the other two. It is rare enough to find strong, competent, female lead protagonists in SF, so it was well worth the time. I can only hope that, even as a one-off, you may some day write another SF novel.

  10. Dana Stabenow

    I’d love to, Dorothy, and thanks!

  11. Janice Strong

    I love your Kate Shughak novels! It isn’t really a day for me if I don’t go to Alaska and visit Kate. I am on “A Deeper Sleep” right now.

  12. Annie Modesitt

    EXCELLENT READ! And lovely job on the knitting, I love it when women ‘knit around’ like a bunch of floozies!

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