Stefan Kanfer joins In Reference to Murder today to take a little "Author R&R" (Reference and Research). Stefan is the author of fifteen books, including the bestselling
biographies of show business icons: Groucho; Ball of Fire (Lucille
Ball); Somebody (Marlon Brando); and Tough Without a Gun (Humphrey
Bogart). He's also written many social histories, among them The Last Empire, about the De Beers diamond company, and Stardust Lost, an
account of the rise and fall of the Yiddish Theater in New York.
Stefan penned two novels about World War II and served as the only journalist on the President's Commission on the Holocaust. He was the first by-lined cinema critic for Time magazine, where he worked as writer and editor for more than two decades. He has received many writing awards and was named a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library. He lives in New York where he serves as a columnist for the City Journal of the Manhattan Institute.
Stefan's new thriller The Eskimo Hunts in New York follows Jordan Gulok, an Inuit (an Eskimo in common parlance), and a former Navy SEAL. In his freelance capacity, he can do things that are beyond the authority of the uniformed services—like tracking and "dispatching" malefactors. Jordan has an expense account and liberty to travel throughout the U.S. In turn, the U.S. government has plausible deniability should he ever get caught stretching or violating the law. The book finds Gulok in New York as he tries to stop a lethal international group manufacturing toxic pharmaceuticals and selling them to victims in Africa, Asia, Europe and America.
Stefan sent along some thoughts on the research process:
Research is—or should be—as integral to fiction as to nonfiction. There are many exemplars to cite. Think of James Joyce holed up in Paris or Trieste, sending for maps of Dublin so that he could get every street right as he recalled the sounds of O’Connell Bridge and smells of the pubs around the River Liffey for Ulysses. Or Marcel Proust, driven around Paris at night because he was too allergic to go out during the day, noting the colors and aromas of flowers in the parks, and the half-high chatter of people leaving parties, meticulously set down in Remembrance of Things Past. Or Mark Twain, or Graham Greene or Somerset Maugham in foreign locales, noting everything down for later use...the list is truly endless.
Writing thrillers demands no less of a writer. The protagonist of The Eskimo Hunts in New York is an Inuit, and I had to do many interviews with tribal people to get him right. (I also steeped like a teabag in the libraries of Manhattan to make certain I had the correct locales, even though I was born in the City and have lived in and around it most of my life.)
Of course, fiction without imagination is a dry affair—a matter of reportage with a change of names. We all know political novels like that, whose pages break in the hand when they’re read a year later. On the other hand, imagination without research is like constructing a castle without an architectural plan—the first strong wind will knock it over. My hope is that I’ve achieved a balance between fancy and authenticity in Eskimo; the readers, however, are the only proper judges of that.