Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stuart Kaminsky

James O. Born

Last Friday night I attended a showing of the Florida State Flying High Circus. One of the only collegiate circuses in the country. After the show, all of the many acrobats, jugglers and dancers appeared on stage at once to be introduced individually to the crowd. I noticed that one of the young women’s last name was Kaminsky. I immediately wondered if she was related to the writer Stuart Kaminsky who has a long connection to Florida State. Once out of the big top I really didn't think much more about it.

When I returned from Tallahassee and fired up my e-mail I learned that Stuart Kaminsky had passed away on the same day that I made a mental note to ask them if he had any relatives in the flying high circus. I mention this coincidence only because it reinforces how I felt about Stuart. He was a really good guy and I like being around him and I didn’t talk to him as much as I would have liked. That's not a common complement but it is sincere and extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

This blog is probably the first one that mingles my personal feelings with responsibilities I have as president of the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). I enjoy working with the MWA and part of the MWA was Stuart Kaminsky. Not only was a member but as a recipient of the grandmaster title which he received a couple years ago during the Edgar awards.

I first met Stuart, his wife Enid and his daughter, Natasha, several years ago when he was signing books at Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach, Florida. His stately manor and keen insights into the craft of writing pressed me very much.

Sometime shortly after that I wrote a brief profile of him for a magazine here in Florida. The following is a draft of that article, which points out his many accomplishments up to that point. He will be missed, mourned, celebrated and remembered for many years to come.

Here's the profile:

The author of more than fifty books, , Stuart Kaminsky shows no signs of slowing down. A native of Chicago, Kaminsky studied journalism at the University of Illinois and eventually earned a PhD in communications from Northwestern University. But it was his high school English teacher, Mrs. White, who encouraged him to write. She talked a young Kaminsky into entering a national poetry contest, which he won. During his college career one of Kaminsky’s professors, George Scoiffas, pushed Kaminsky toward writing after finding one of his short stories outstanding. Later a photo journalism professor named Richard Hildwein arranged Kaminsky’s his first job with United Press. On a broader scale, Kaminsky was influenced by a number of writers whom he read. From Raymond Chandler's noir to Arthur Conan Doyle and the more contemporary Evan Hunter, also known as Ed McBain, Kaminsky developed a sense of plotting and style that has translated success across the publishing spectrum.

His career took a turn in the early 1970's when he started teaching at his alma mater, Northwestern University. As a professor in the Department of Radio, Television and Film he taught a fairly wide variety of subjects including English and Theater. In 1988, he joined the faculty of Florida State University, considered by many to be one of the finest schools in the country. At FSU, he became the director of the Graduate Conservatory in Film and Television.

What leads a man to devote his life to the study teaching and pursuit of writing? In Kaminsky's case, he had also been a voracious reader and by the age of twelve he knew he wanted to be a writer. Although he worked at jobs from loading timber on trucks or waiting tables he never lost sight of his goal to write. This seems to be where many would-be writers get side tracked. The need to find immediately profitable employment obscures the need to write. That is why so many authors tell people that if they are not absolutely compelled to write something every day they should not try to write a novel. It generally frustrates the writer and annoys those in the publishing industry.

Kaminsky's prolific output of novels, writing for television and other endeavors, such as raising his teenage daughter Natasha, visiting with his grown children and grandchildren, or playing softball with his wife, Enid Perll, shoots down another common comment from would-be writers: That many people don't have time to write. Not only does Stuart Kaminsky find time to lead a very active life at the age of 70, he also writes between ten and thirty pages of text each and every day. His newest project is writing a novel series based on the popular TV show C.S.I. New York. In 2005 alone he has three different books slated to be released by two different publishers. Tor will publish Denial, a new Lew Fonseca novel and Terror Town an Abe Lieberman/ Bill Hanrahan novel. In addition to these two popular series, Hothouse press will publish a series of interviews and profiles of best-selling mystery writers. These are based on Kaminsky spending a day with each writer in a natural setting like their home.

Among his series is the popular Toby Peters series. Peters is a private eye in Hollywood of the 1940s who deals with a number of well-known celebrities. In the most recent addition to the series, Now You See It, Peters helps famed magician Harry Blackstone as he’s suspected of murder. The Inspector Rostnikov Novels includes the Edgar nominated Black Knight On Red Square. Kaminsky’s other series include the Abe Liberman and Lou Fonseca books as well as two original novels based on the popular TV show The Rockford Files.

A former President of the Mystery Writers of America, Kaminsky is dedicated to helping other writers. His advice can be simple but profound. From taking writing courses to developing characters, the former professor has a deep reservoir of knowledge. Kaminsky has two cautions on signing up for courses on writing. “Never take a writing course from someone who hasn’t been published,” says Kaminsky. He follows that up with, “Take one course and then write. Don’t make a career out of taking classes.”

Kaminsky continues to write from his home on the west coast of Florida as his youngest daughter prepares to choose a college. Whatever changes happen in Kaminsky’s life we hope he continues to produce the novels that make us chuckle as they frighten us.


  1. A lovely post, Mr. Born.

  2. A great gentleman, a superb writer, a dean of the profession. He will be missed.

  3. It's nice that someone from the MWA took the time to do this.

  4. I never met him. Too late now.

  5. You know James, the world is getting smaller and now there is less of us in in.

    I had always wanted to meet Stuart and have him autograph one of his Toby Peters books. It would have had a place of honor given his FSU connections.

  6. My dad did not, as far as I know, have any relatives in the circus.

    He would have loved your post, though.

    - Peter Kaminsky