Interview with Raymond Benson

ED- We are most honored to have with us the famed American author, Raymond Benson. Raymond, you are one of the most prominent authors that we have had the pleasure to introduce to our legion of fans. Please tell us how you began your writing career.

RB- I became a writer because there was no money in theatre (LOL)! I was a theatre major, specializing in directing. After college I went to New York and spent over a decade there in the off-off and off-Broadway scene, directing plays and composing music for shows. But it was like beating your head against a brick wall. In the early 80s I started thinking about doing a book about James Bond—a non-fiction coffee-table book that was a history of the 007 phenomenon, a biography of Ian Fleming, and analyses of all the books and films thus far. It took three years, and during that time I went to England for research. I met members of the Fleming family and his business people, as well as many of Fleming’s friends and colleagues. This book became THE JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION (first published 1984).

ED- Your interest in piano at a young age led you to composing music for theatrical productions later in life. Please tell us about this aspect of your career.

RB– The composing really began during my college years at the Drama Department of the University of Texas at Austin. Usually I would collaborate with a playwright who had written the book and lyrics for something new and I would add the music, or I would compose incidental music for an already existing play. I continued this practice in New York, where I received ten ASCAP “popular music” awards for my work. One of my musicals, THE RESURRECTION OF JACKIE CRAMER (written with Frank Gagliano), had no less than six productions in New York and around the country.

ED- You have written six James Bond novels. Tell us how you became involved with this and the Edgar Award that you received during this period.

RB- The Edgar Award was a nomination for THE JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION (1984) for Best Biographical/Critical Work. I didn’t win, but as they say, it’s great to be nominated! Jump ahead to 1995. John Gardner had been writing the official Bond novels. I was currently writing and designing computer games, which is another way I parlayed my writing into something creative. I got a call out of the blue from the Fleming Estate people (at the time called Glidrose Publications Ltd.). Gardner had decided to retire from the gig and they asked me if I’d be interested in replacing him. I was the only person they asked. I had to come up with an outline for a story (on spec). When that was approved, I had to write the first four chapters (on spec). All this had to be approved by not only Glidrose but by the British and American publishers. After my “audition,” so to speak, I was given the contract. Unbelievable, really.

ED- This was not the only work that were written about the British spy master. Tell us about the other works that you were involved in on this subject.

RB– I also did three movie novelizations of the last three Pierce Brosnan flicks. Whoever is the author of record usually also pens these movie tie-ins if the current film is an original one and not based on any existing Fleming title. (So far none of the continuation authors’ books have ever been filmed.) There were also three Bond short stories, two of which appeared in Playboy magazine and one that appeared in TV Guide. All the single editions of the books are out of print, but my six original novels and the three short stories have been collected in two anthologies—THE UNION TRILOGY, which came out in the fall of 2008, and CHOICE OF WEAPONS, which is due out in August 2010. Back in the 80s, when I first started designing and writing computer games, I adapted two Bond films into text-adventure computer games, A VIEW TO A KILL and GOLDFINGER. I was also commissioned by the Fleming Estate to adapt CASINO ROYALE to a stage play, which unfortunately was never produced professionally, but we had a successful staged reading of it in New York.

ED- Was there much controversy about you being an American author with your work on the Bond novels?

RB- Among a small contingent of British Bond fans, yes. But I had plenty of fans over there, too. Any new Bond author will be controversial with some aspect of the fan community. It comes with the territory. The Bond franchise is like Star Wars or Star Trek or any of those huge franchises with an international fan base. Bond comes with a lot of baggage and everyone has his or her own opinion of what or who Bond is.

ED-Tell us about your work involving the ‘James Bond 007’ video game in the 1980’s.

RB– There were two titles, as I mentioned, A VIEW TO A KILL (which was the current movie out at the time) and GOLDFINGER. These were done at a time when there were no graphics per se in computer games. It was all text, like the great Infocom games (i.e., ZORK). I had just come off the BEDSIDE COMPANION and my agent hooked me up with a game developer that had the license to do two Bond titles. I also worked briefly for Victory Games, which published the James Bond 007 Role-Playing Game (paper and pencil type), so I wrote and designed an adventure module for them—YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE II—BACK OF BEYOND.

ED- Please tell us in detail about the other books that you have written.

RB- That might take a while, LOL. My original fiction includes a handful of titles. EVIL HOURS is a novel that takes place in West Texas and is about a woman haunted by the unanswered questions surrounding her mother’s murder that happened 30 years earlier. I liken it to “Larry McMurtry meets David Lynch” (The Last Picture Show meets Blue Velvet). FACE BLIND is a thriller that takes place in New York and is about a woman with “prosopagnosia,” or face blindness, i.e., she is unable to recognize faces. This puts her into some scary situations involving mistaken identity and murder. It’s “Wait Until Dark meets Memento.”  SWEETIE’S DIAMONDS (winner of the 2006 “Lovey” for Best Thriller at the Love is Murder Writers Conference in Chicago), is a thriller about a single mom/high school teacher with a dark past that catches up with her. The story turns into a Tarantino-style chase across America with guns blazing. And I have two “rock ‘n’ roll thrillers” featuring a detective named Spike Berenger. They are A HARD DAY’S DEATH and DARK SIDE OF THE MORGUE. They feature a lot of humor, rock music references, cameos by real rock stars, and the requisite amount of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

ED- You have also written short stories and novelizations for several prominent periodicals. Tell our readers about your work with this.

RB– Two of my biggest passions are film and music. I’ve become a film historian over the years (I teach Film History at a local college) and I’m a progressive rock aficionado. I currently contribute articles to Cinema Retro Magazine (www.cinemaretro.com) and Progression Magazine (www.progressionmag.com). I’ve also just begun writing for a Chicago newspaper, the Daily Herald. (With regard to music, I also wrote a biography of the rock band Jethro Tull.)

ED- Your video adaptations did not stop with James Bond. Please shed some light on your work with ‘Splinter Cell’ and ‘Metal Gear’.

RB– TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL is a very popular videogame franchise. Clancy’s people and the game company decided to expand that into novels. I was hired to write the first two books. The publisher wanted an in-house pseudonym that would be put on all the Clancy videogame spin-offs—“David Michaels.” So I was David Michaels for these two books, which were New York Times best-sellers. Since then, there have been at least two other David Michaels. More recently, I was hired to write novelizations of the METAL GEAR SOLID videogames. These two came out under my own name. The SPLINTER CELL books were original stories featuring Sam Fisher, the games’ protagonist. The METAL GEAR SOLID books are strict novelizations of the actual games’ storylines. Tie-in work is a specialty of mine. I’m a founding member of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers (www.iamtw.org), and we all do this kind of work.

ED- We have learned that you have other novels in the process of release. Can you give us a ‘look behind the scenes’ on your latest projects?

RB- Other than the aforementioned CHOICE OF WEAPONS Bond anthology, there’s HUNT THROUGH NAPOLEON’S WEB, which will come out in the fall of 2010. This is the sixth and final book in the “Gabriel Hunt” pulp adventure series (www.huntforadventure.com). The books are credited to fictional hero Gabriel Hunt, but each one is written by a different author. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine. I have new stuff on submission, I’m on the short list for more tie-in work, and I keep busy teaching and writing miscellaneous material. One of my side projects is DANN & RAYMOND’S MOVIE CLUB, which I present with local Chicago film critic Dann Gire (also the president and co-founder of the Chicago Film Critics Assocation). The Movie Club is a monthly live show that we perform at two large suburban libraries. We tackle a different cinema topic at each performance, show clips, present movie trivia and facts about the making of films, and tell jokes. We’re in our third season at Illinois’ largest suburban library and it’s the most popular adult program. For more info about the Movie Club, or about any of my activities, check out my website www.raymondbenson.com or “friend” me on Facebook!

ED- Raymond, it has been a pleasure and an honor for us to present you to our readers. We have many college students that wish to become writers, and will find your interview with us as a great inspiration. I hope that you will keep in touch and let us know of all your future projects for our reader’s interest. Thank you for spending your time with us.