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by Dana Stabenow

1989 I was busily engaged in sending novels to New York agents and watching them return like little homing pigeons. That spring a story appeared in the local paper about a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island in Washington state. It was calledHedgebrook. I thought, “What a wonderful opportunity for some lucky writer, but they’d never take me.” My best friend, Katherine Gottlieb, read the same storyand called me to say, “You should apply.” It took her a week of nagging until Ifinally did, and in the fall of that year I flew to Seattle, took the bus up tothe Mukilteo ferry, and was met on the other side by Holly Gault, the thenchef/manager in residence who drove me the rest of the way.

It was an old farm with five (we watched the sixth cottage go up while I was there) beautiful new post-and-beam cottages with stained glass windows and hand-woven throws, in a quiet, iconically Pacific Northwest setting where every morning I’d look up to see wild rabbits carousing out front or Nancy marching by with a rifle to scareoff the deer. On a clear day, the Seattle skyline was only a distant reminderof the madding world. I rode the farm bike to the library in Freeland and tothe beach to dig for clams and Holly took us up to Coupeville for mussels and beer.

And I wrote. I worked on anovel, I wrote a short story inspired by something I saw on the beach, I even wrote a sonnet, my one and only, and left it behind in the cottage journal.It’s pretty bad.

 Dana’s  original piece from Waterfall Cottage journals shared with her permission.



I was there for two weeks. I had all day in Waterfall Cottage to work without interruption, and every evening over dinner I could talk shop and tell war stories with my fellow residents, author Kathleen Alcala, poet Amy Pence, and author Susan Brown. It was a seminal, no, it was the seminal moment of my career. It was the first time anyone had ever acted around me like writing was a real job (“Sit down,”Nancy said when I got up to help clear the dinner dishes, “you’ve already doneyour work for the day.”) and it was the first time I’d ever been in the companyof other women writers. It turned out I wasn’t the only person who thoughtadjectives were important.

I sold my first book the following year. So when I unexpectedly found myself with four acres of view property in Homer, Alaska, it wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine what to do with it. When Hedgebrook invited me back for their 25th anniversary they toldme they could have as many as 1,400 applications for 40 spaces in a singlesemester. Unquestionably there is a need. I started a nonprofit corporation andbegan a capital campaign fund which has to date raised $500,000 of the $1million it will cost to build a main house and six cabins. We have two grant applicationspending and if they come through we will begin construction in April 2019, andwe hope to be in operation in 2020.

There is a direct line from my residency at Hedgebrook to the subsequent publication of the first of my thirty-four novels, to my appearance on the New York Times bestseller list, to my winning an Edgar award, to being named Individual Artist for the Governor’s Arts Awards in 2007.

And there is a direct line from Hedgebrook to Storyknife. It is my hope that, like Hedgebrook, Storyknife will build a sustainable community where women writers will find the support and encouragement they need to succeed.

Hedgebrook led the way. We are only following them.

Storyknife

Fireweed Storyknife
Snow Storyknife
Storyknife Neighbor
Alpenglow on Ilimna
Dana Stabenow
About Dana Stabenow
I was born in Anchorage, Alaska on March 27, 1952, and raised on a 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska. When I wasn’t seasick I wrote stories about NORMAL children who lived on SHORE and made my mother read them. In 1964, the Great Alaskan Earthquake occurred during my twelfth birthday party. In 1969 I graduated from high school, and put myself through college working as an egg grader, bookkeeper and expediter for Whitney-Fidalgo Seafoods in Anchorage. I received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Alaska in 1973. After graduation, I spent one more summer knee-deep in humpies and blew everything I earned on a four-month backpacking trip to Europe where I discovered English pubs, German beer, and Irish men. Fortuitously, upon my impoverished return home (I think I had something like twenty bucks and change in my pocket when I stepped off the plane) construction began again on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and answering to the call of the cash I worked for Alyeska Pipeline at Galbraith Lake and later for British Petroleum for six years at Prudhoe Bay. I made an obscene amount of money and went to Hawaii a lot. In 1982 I turned 30. Was this what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, work on the Slope and party in Hawaii? Well…but no. I left the Slope for the last time on August 17, 1982, and enrolled in UAA’s MFA program, from which I graduated in 1985. My goal was to sell a book before I went broke and I just barely made it: Second Star was published by Ace Science Fiction in 1991. The first Kate Shugak novel, A Cold Day for Murder, was published in 1992 and won an Edgar award in 1993. There are now three Star Svensdotter novels, four Liam Campbell novels, twenty-one Kate Shugak novels, two thrillers set on USCG cutters, a short story collection, a collection of the Alaska Traveler columns I wrote for Alaska magazine, and Silk and Song, a novel about Marco Polo’s grand-daughter traveling the Silk Road west between 1322-1327. Next up is a novel featuring Cleopatra’s fixer, the Eye of Isis, and following that the 22nd Kate Shugak novel.

16 Comments

  • Diana Reynolds Roome
    8:52 PM - 10 December, 2018

    I’m awed by your energy and productivity, and now Storyknife is spreading the Hedgebrook example all the way to Alaska.
    All best wishes to the women who will gain encouragement there and carry on the tradition of writers supporting writers.

  • Dana
    9:54 AM - 11 December, 2018

    Thank you, Diana. Keep your fingers crossed!

  • Kathleen
    5:49 PM - 11 December, 2018

    Dana, I discovered the Kate novels not long after moving to Alaska in 1995. They made my travels around the state so much more interesting, and Kennicott is still one of my favorite places to explore. As the aunt of a new author (Katherine Scott Crawford) I have learned how incredibly important a haven like Storyknife is to authors. Thank you for sharing your life and providing this opportunity to others!

  • Sally Stubbs
    4:09 PM - 12 December, 2018

    Wow. Congratulations. And thank you for your work on the behalf of aspiring writers everywhere.

  • Kathleen Acker
    1:21 PM - 13 December, 2018

    Wow, inspiration. Never knew about this. Keep me informed please.

  • Lauranelsonpkg
    4:48 PM - 13 December, 2018

    You should go to Yaddo in Saratoga Springs NY

  • Becky Smith
    9:49 PM - 13 December, 2018

    My books are still nestled inside me. Perhaps Storyknife will help me set them free. Thanks for illuminating the path forward for kindred spirits

  • Sybal Janssen
    6:04 AM - 14 December, 2018

    What a fun vision; looking forward to your post saying the doors are open. Your waiting list will be long!

  • Maria Grimaldi
    6:34 AM - 14 December, 2018

    Congratulations on your road to realizing your dreams. May your journey be brief and successful!

  • Trisha Davis
    7:15 PM - 14 December, 2018

    My spous and I owned a used book store in Montana. We discovered Kate Shugak in ’95/’96 and have been hooked ever since. We’ve lived near Homer since 2007; learning one of our favorite authors also calls the area home was another pleasant discovery. We’ve made contributions to Storyknife with hopes and best wishes for its success.

  • Norma Spencer
    8:22 AM - 15 December, 2018

    Kentucky has a remarkable retreat for women artists and writers. It is supported by KY Women’s Foundation.

  • Elisa Korentayer
    10:52 AM - 4 January, 2019

    Dana,
    I discovered your Kate Shugack books on the shelves of the Hedgebrook common room during my 2007 stay at Hedgebrook. Ever since, I have been a fan of Kate and inspired by you. I like to think that the books in Hedgebrook’s library were handed to them directly from you, and it feels good to know I have a small connection to you because of it. I am in the process of writing my first mystery, and knowing that you have paved the way in the world of mysteries is a comfort. I saw the announcement of your work on Storyknife in the Hedgebrook newsletter and felt a deep wellspring of joy knowing that you were creating another place for women writers to have the incredible experience I had at Hedgebrook. Perhaps one day I will meet you there. All the best with your creative work and continued success.

  • Dana Stabenow
    7:52 PM - 18 January, 2019

    Thank you, Elisa. I think I did send them those books (they’ll ask you for yours, too), and you remind me that I should send them some more because it’s been a while. Delighted to hear you’re hard at work on your novel and I look forward to hearing when it goes into publication!

  • Sue Bartz
    9:30 AM - 23 January, 2019

    Dear Dana,

    I’ve read and loved all the Kate, Liam and Star books! I’ve re-read all the Kate and Liam books, annually, usually starting in about August, as that is when Phoenix AZ heat really starts to intensify and I need serious distraction. Immersing myself in a mystery taking place in snowy tundras, ice-thickened lakes and streams, and, cold winter skies is just the curative space needed to survive the height of a desert Monsoon season through the end of a Sonoran summer, which arrives sometime after Halloween. I can imagine cold, bone-chilling goosebumps, even if I cannot physically produce them, with your creative assistance. And, the romance and sexual tension in both series ain’t bad either! (I will add here that I could love another Liam novel, if you were considering the possibility). And, I love the idea of your Hedgebrook retreat. It would be another type of curative space for the writer within. How lovely that you had the ability, means and understanding to be able to provide and support this kind of place. And, you know firsthand how personal and meaningful the experience would be to another writer. Thanks for remembering. And, thanks for not forgetting.

  • Sue Bartz
    9:31 AM - 23 January, 2019

    Dear Dana,

    I’ve read and loved all the Kate, Liam and Star books! I’ve re-read all the Kate and Liam books, annually, usually starting in about August, as that is when Phoenix AZ heat really starts to intensify and I need serious distraction. Immersing myself in a mystery taking place in snowy tundras, ice-thickened lakes and streams, and, cold winter skies is just the curative space needed to survive the height of a desert Monsoon season through the end of a Sonoran summer, which arrives sometime after Halloween. I can imagine cold, bone-chilling goosebumps, even if I cannot physically produce them, with your creative assistance. And, the romance and sexual tension in both series ain’t bad either! (I will add here that I could love another Liam novel, if you were considering the possibility). And, I love the idea of your Hedgebrook retreat. It would be another type of curative space for the writer within. How lovely that you had the ability, means and understanding to be able to provide and support this kind of place. And, you know firsthand how personal and meaningful the experience would be to another writer. Thanks for not forgetting about that..

  • Dana
    10:13 AM - 23 January, 2019

    Impossible to forget, Sue, as it was the single most important thing to me as a writer. Like I told Nancy when we met to talk about Storyknife at Hedgebrook’s 25th anniversary, “Everything good happened after Hedgebrook.” If Storyknife does the same for future women writers, all my dreams come true.

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