|Stuart Kaminsky: Mysteries in Motion|
Crescent Blues: Your first published mysteries featured Toby Peters, a down-at-the-heels private eye in 1940s Los Angeles, whose cases usually involve real people who were in Los Angeles at the time -- Errol Flynn in A Bullet for a Star, for example, and Judy Garland in Murder on the Yellow Brick Road. What was the inspiration for Toby and the series?
Kaminsky: The inspiration for Toby and the series was multiple. There was my interest in film and film history, particularly American film. There was my interest in mystery fiction in general and private detective fiction in particular. Specific influences include the novels of Raymond Chandler, the Sam Spade radio series, the Harry 0 television series, certainly the novels of Andrew Bergman, novels by Thomas Dewey, a hodge-podge of film detectives including Mike Shayne, Boston Blackie, the Crime Doctor, Charlie Chan, etc. I wanted Toby to be unpretentious (he doesn't play chess or smoke a pipe, or quote from literature or the Bible) and at the lowest level of the professional economic scale.
Crescent Blues: How has your work in film, both as a professor and as a scriptwriter, affected your fiction writing?
Kaminsky: My work in film has greatly affected my fiction writing. When I write fiction, I see scenes, characters and action. There may be a voice-over which is one of my characters or me or a narrator, but for me at least my fiction is visual.
Crescent Blues: How have the Toby Peters mysteries been received by the friends and families of the famous people who appear in your book?
Kaminsky: I have had little feedback from the families of the famous people with whom I have dealt in my Toby Peters novels. Only second-hand did I hear that Errol Flynn's daughter very much liked my treatment of her father. I met John Wayne's daughter, Marisa. She was being considered for a movie I was working on. I liked her very much and, apparently, she liked The Man Who Shot Lewis Vance.
Crescent Blues: Do you find that movie buffs generally agree with or accept your interpretation of their idols?
Kaminsky: I have had no negative feedback on my depiction of movie "idols" from fans. I have, I believe, treated those with whom I have dealt with respect and even love. I deal with their idealized biographies not necessarily their flaws. These are not biographies but exercises in dramatic nostalgia. For example, my treatment of Joe Louis is extremely affectionate, but I have also written a play about Joe Louis which deals with his battle with inner demons which led to his mental illness.
Crescent Blues: Are there any figures in Hollywood history that you would like to use but haven't been able to for one reason or another?
Kaminsky: There are a number of historical figures I'd like to use in Toby Peters novels. Some of them I have rejected because they don't have sufficient name and image recognition for a general audience (Wheeler and Woolsey). Some I have put aside because of difficulty in finding sufficient research material (Al Jolson). Some have eluded me as potential characters -- I just couldn't get inside the character (Greta Garbo). So, I would like to do Toby novels featuring Abbott and Costello, Robert Mitchum, Dick Powell, Tyrone Power, Joan Crawford, Sidney Toler, Ida Lupino, the Ritz Brothers, Danny Kaye... There appears to be no end of potential clients.
Crescent Blues: How do you develop a Toby Peters plot? Do you start with the famous figures Toby will meet and see what hot water you can get them into, or do you start with a plot and then figure out which Hollywood denizens would fit into it?
Kaminsky: My Toby Peters plots begin with the famous characters. I select something from their lives that gets me thinking, sometimes for months, about turning a plot on that event -- Flynn's Clinton-like inability to stay away from young girls, W.C. Fields' hidden back accounts, Joe Louis's affair with Lana Turner, Chico Marx's gambling debts, etc.
Crescent Blues: In 1981, four years after your first Toby Peters book was published, Death of a Dissident launched your second series, featuring Russian police inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov. What was the reason for beginning the new series?
Kaminsky: The reasons for launching my Rostnikov novels were several. First, I wasn't making enough money writing just one series. Second, I had written an outline and 100 pages of a multi-generational, non-mystery novel about a Russian family. No one wanted the book. I had done a great deal of research and thought, "Why not a police series to contrast with my private eye series?" I chose the 87th Precinct novels, which I love, as the model for my Russian police procedurals. Evan Hunter (Ed McBain) has been a constant supporter, a good friend, and a generous mentor.
Kaminsky: The Rostnikov books are very difficult to research. The Rostnikovs take about three times as long to research and write as any of my other books. I pride myself on being accurate in this series.
Crescent Blues: How have Russian immigrants reacted to the Rostnikov books -- do they find them a believable picture of the world they have left behind?
Kaminsky: Russians who have read my Rostnikovs -- both immigrants and people inside of Russia -- have been quite, quite favorable. During a trip I made to Moscow, just before the fall of the Soviet Union, I was honored by a gathering of the Union of Russian Journalists for my Rostnikov books.
Crescent Blues: Do you know if the Rostnikov books are available at all in Russia, and if so, how have they been received?
Kaminsky: My Rostnikov novels are not available in Russia. The offers we have received are in rubles, not dollars, and the advances are quite small. Until…