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Raymond Benson is the author of 35+ published books, the most recent being The Secrets on Chicory Lane. Among his several original suspense novels, he is the author of the acclaimed “Black Stiletto” saga that began with The Black Stiletto in 2011 and continued with The Black Stiletto: Black & White, The Black Stiletto: Stars & Stripes, The Black Stiletto: Secrets & Lies, and The Black Stiletto: Endings & Beginnings. He is mostly known for being the third–and first American–writer to be commissioned by the James Bond literary copyright holders between 1996-2002 to take over writing the 007 novels. In total he penned and published worldwide six original 007 novels, three film novelizations, and three short stories. An anthology of his 007 work, The Union Trilogy, was published in the fall of 2008, and a second anthology, Choice of Weapons, appeared summer 2010. His book The James Bond Bedside Compendium, an encyclopedic work on the 007 phenomenon, was first published in 1984 and was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award by Mystery Writers of America for Best Biographical/Critical Work.

 

1. Your newest novel, THE SECRETS ON CHICORY LANE is set for release on October 3rd, 2017. The book features romance novelist Shelby Truman visiting her childhood friend of five decades who now sits on death row due to murdering his wife and child. What are some of the things your audience can expect from this new book? 

Readers will find it’s a very different type of story for me!  I’m tackling more social issues with my newer thrillers/suspense novels.  This crept into the recent BLACK STILETTO books more and more, and now SECRETS deals with mental illness and capital punishment in a challenging way.  My next book with Skyhorse Publishing, out in May 2018, is called IN THE HUSH OF THE NIGHT, and it, too, has a female protagonist—a Chicago FBI agent in charge of the human trafficking division.  My work-in-progress has a female protagonist and the story deals with racism and Hollywood.  I’m hoping that readers will find THE SECRETS ON CHICORY LANE to be something more serious and emotionally-charged than what I’ve done before.  It’s certainly a more personal story.

 

2. You’ve also written a series of women's action/adventure thrillers called THE BLACK STILETTO. How does your writing style differ in writing these books in comparison to your others, such as the James Bond thrillers?

I started writing female protagonists with my very first original (non-Bond) suspense novel, EVIL HOURS.  In fact, most of my original novels feature female protagonists.  I think I used up all my testosterone writing Bond, so now I write women!  I do believe I’ve improved as a writer over the years since the Bond gig.  While I’m proud of my Bond legacy, that was quite some time ago (15-21 years!) and my original work really doesn’t resemble those books.  I do want to attract women readers now, and I think I’m succeeding from the feedback I’ve received on the BLACK STILETTO serial. 

 

3.  Prior to officially writing the James Bond books in 1996, you wrote THE JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION. What was it that intrigued you so much about James Bond?

I had “grown up” with James Bond, I’m of the age that I saw the original Sean Connery pictures on the big screen, and boy, did they make an impact!  My father took me to see “Goldfinger” when I was nine, and six months later, a double-bill re-release of “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love” was at the theater, so I saw the first three films in a half-year... then several months later “Thunderball” was released.  So, really, within one year, I had experienced the first four movies on the big screen.  During that same year, I went out and started reading the Ian Fleming books—even though I was only nine—and continued to read them as I grew older.  I stayed with Bond throughout the years as a fan.  It was much later, when I was in my twenties, that I decided to write THE JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION as a labor of love, and it sort of opened all kinds of doors for me.

 

4.  In 1985 and 1986, you developed two video games for the Bond franchise. How did that collaboration come about, and do you think it had an impact on your being picked to author the series a decade later? 

My agent at the time knew that I was into computer games (this is when PCs were just coming into the home, with the Apple IIc and the like). I especially liked the “text-adventure” story-based games like “Zork.” My agent called and said there was a developer who needed a writer to work on a couple of these types of games and would I be interested? Oh, and they have a James Bond license, too!  So that’s how that started.  It took my writing career into a left-turn, as I spent the next decade writing and designing story-based computer games.  It’s where I really honed my fiction-writing, character development, and plot-building. But I think I was hired by Ian Fleming Publications (then called Glidrose) because of THE JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION and the fact that I had been doing other little odd jobs (no pun intended) for them during the decade I was in computer gaming.

 

5. You were chosen by Gildrose Publications to write the continuation of the Bond series after John Gardner officially resigned in 1996. How did you handle the controversy that came from being an American and ignoring the continuity that Gardner had established? 

I think it’s a myth that I “ignored” the Gardner continuity because I do mention some of his characters in my books. What I didn’t do was carry over his changing of Bond’s weapon of choice and rank in the Secret Service (I kept Bond a “Commander” and brought back the Walther PPK, since that’s the gun most identified with Bond—but I also had him use more modern weapons, too!).  There was some pushback from UK Bond fans about me being an American, and there was one small contingent that seriously harassed me for a short time, but that’s all under the bridge now.  I had many UK fans and still do.  By the way, I’m now not the only American Bond writer—Jeffery Deaver became the second American Bond author in 2011.

 

6. You regularly carried out tours promoting the Bond books in the UK. How do you feel that impacted the fans of the series in their acceptance of you as the new writer?  

I suppose it helped!  The biggest book-signing I’ve ever done was in London.  I had to sign something like 400 books. 

 

7. You've written novelizations to video games such as Metal Gear Solid and Hitman: Damnation. What is the most challenging aspect about this process? 

These “media tie-in” books are work-for-hire projects that are nice if you can get them.  Sometimes they’re challenging, depending on the license holder and how much they want to micromanage you.  I’ve had mostly good experiences doing tie-in work.  In some cases the books are strictly based on the game (or movie screenplay), and sometimes they are original stories that you create in the same universe.  The former is somewhat easier because you’re given the story and you just have to flesh it out into prose.  The latter can be more challenging, more like writing a novel of your own—you’re just given the universe in which to run around in.

 

8. In 2005 the government of Japan's Kagawa Prefecture erected a museum dedicated to the book 007 MAN WITH THE RED TATTOO, as well as honoring you with the title of goodwill ambassador. What were your first thoughts on that and have you seen the museum yourself? If so, what is your favorite part of the museum?   

My wife and I were flown to Japan for the opening ceremony back in 2005, so yes, I’ve seen it.  The museum was active and open for eleven years.  It just closed earlier this year.  I’m surprised it lasted that long.  It was indeed an honor and a privilege that the Prefecture did that.  It was basically a walk-through of artwork (painting and sculpture) that told the story of the novel.  There was also Bond memorabilia and a nice display case of my research materials. 

 

9. Under the pseudonym of David Michaels you've written the New York Times best-selling books, Tom Clancy’s SPLINTER CELL and Tom Clancy’s SPLINTER CELL - Operation Barracuda. Was it intimidating to live up to the Tom Clancy legend or did your past history with the Bond series make it feel less so?

Not really.  At the time, these were just another set of “media tie-in” work-for-hire jobs.  Fun to do, but not something I consider “mine.”

 

10. You give lectures on writing. Where can an author get more information to attend one of these lectures?

My website at www.raymondbenson.com has an Appearances page that lists all the various public events I do. 

 

11. You also teach college classes in film history. Where do you teach and how might a student go about attending your classes?  

I teach at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.  If you’re in the area, you can take the class!  I’ve been doing it for almost nine years now.  I’ve always been a film historian, I love movie history, and I can think of nothing better to do than explore the vast archives of a hundred years’ worth of filmmaking.

 

12. On top of all of your other many talents, you're also an accomplished pianist, performing at various local venues. Do you have a list of dates and times that your fans could hear you play?  

Again, this is usually listed on my website, and I also post on my personal page on Facebook.  There’s also an Author page on Facebook where I’ll post appearances.  I did have a regular piano gig at a local grocery store (!!) but unfortunately that ended last year. 

 

13. In 2007 you teamed up with film critic Dann Gire to present Dann & Raymond's Movie Club. Please, tell us what that is and when it's available to attend.

One of my regular gigs besides teaching film is a monthly performance I do in the Chicago area with Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire, called “Dann & Raymond’s Movie Club.” We do this live in front of an audience at area libraries, and we’re in our 11th year.  I suppose you can say it’s like a “Siskel & Ebert” show only it’s two hours long.  We discuss various movie-related topics, show clips, and tell jokes.  We have amassed quite a following.  Our “Oscar” shows in February each year draw hundreds in attendance.

 

14. Are you superstitious? I always thought that I wasn’t; however, when I saw that my editor settled on 13 questions, I felt compelled to add one more. LOL ;)   

Not really.  However, whenever I fly on an airplane, I always make a point to go to the lavatory and make a funny face in the mirror.  For good luck?  Who knows.