Dana Helen Stabenow was born in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 27, 1952. Her grandfather was the first DC-3 pilot for Alaska Airlines. She grew up on a seventy-five-foot fish tender named the Celtic in Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound and lived with her mother, Joan Perry Barnes, who was a deckhand. Her mother, an avid reader, could bake bread, skin and butcher a moose, pluck and cook ducks, and help maintain and run a fishing boat. Stabenow’s earliest memory is of her mother reading the story of Snow White to her, and Stabenow learned to read before entering kindergarten. She read all the Nancy Drew books in the local library’s collection in about a month; however, it was Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (1951) that hooked Stabenow on the mystery genre. She graduated from Seldovia High School in 1969 while working part-time for an air taxi service. Then she put herself through college working as an egg grader, bookkeeper, and expediter for Whitney-Fidalgo Seafoods in Anchorage. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks in 1973.
After graduation, Stabenow backpacked around Europe for four months. After her return, she worked in public relations for Alyeska Pipeline at Galbraith Lake and later for British Petroleum at Prudhoe Bay. In 1982, she enrolled in the University of Alaska-Anchorage’s master of fine arts program, from which she graduated in 1985. She began to write seriously at this time. She sold her first novel, Second Star (1991), to Ace Science Fiction in 1990. It was the first of three books in her Star Svensdotter series, set in the near future when people are moving off the planet.
In 1991, Laura Anne Gilman, Stabenow’s editor at Ace, learned that she had an unsold two-hundred-page mystery novel that she had written two years earlier. After reading the manuscript, Gilman agreed to publish A Cold Day for Murder and offered Stabenow a contract for three books featuring Kate Shugak as the main character. When Gilman moved to another publisher, Stabenow started the Liam Campbell series. In 2006, she published her first thriller, Blindfold Game. To collect background information, Stabenow spent sixteen days on board the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley on patrol in the Bering Sea. She became president of the Alaska chapter of Sisters in Crime and has written the travel column for Alaska magazine.