The Back Story of A Fine and Dangerous Season by Keith Raffel
Who knew that future president John F. Kennedy had spent the fall quarter of 1940 at Stanford Business School in my hometown of Palo Alto, California? Well, once I found that out, my historical thriller A Fine and Dangerous Season was the inevitable result.
First, I asked myself the two-word question that all thriller authors ask: “What if?” What if during his time at Stanford, JFK becomes fast friends with someone from a completely different background who is Jewish, not Catholic, San Franciscan rather than Bostonian, with a famous left-wing father, not a buccaneering capitalist one? And what if JFK and this fictitious character, Nate Michaels, have a falling out? And then what if JFK needs this guy’s help 22 years later during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Research was next. I wanted the book to feel real. As a first step, I drove by 624 Mayfield on the Stanford campus where Kennedy lived in a guest house that he rented for $60 per month. The house is long gone, but it did get my imagination’s tachometer up into the red zone.
At the Palo Alto Library, I found old menus from JFK’s favorite hangout, L’Omelette. The prices seemed reasonable enough--a quarter for a martini and six bits for a French lamb chop dinner! Back at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, I found a teasing and witty letter from Kennedy’s Stanford girlfriend Flip Price, who chided, “You wouldn’t exactly win a prize for the world’s best correspondent.”
Doing the research on the Cuban Missile Crisis itself was much easier than the work I did on Stanford in 1940. Few modern events have been more scrutinized by historians. With a preference for primary sources, I relied on the book The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, some 500 pages of word-for-word transcriptions of administration deliberations. The only change I made is to place Nate in the room sitting just behind JFK.
The magic of writing A Fine and Dangerous Season transported me right back to Palo Alto in 1940 and the White House in 1962. Even today, when driving down El Camino Real in Palo Alto, I pass the corner where the old L’Omelette stood and see a hazy outline of John F. Kennedy at the bar surrounded by a passel of admiring women.
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