Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Interview with Raymond Benson- Black Stiletto Stars & Stripes - He was the fourth official writer of the James Bond novels from 1996 – 2003

Please welcome Raymond Benson, by far the most interesting author I've interviewed yet.

Here’s what people are saying about Raymond’s  Black Stiletto:

"THE BLACK STILETTO: STARS & STRIPES is Book #3 in this historical series by Raymond Benson, and mid-20th century supergal Judy Cooper just keeps getting better."
(Popcorn Reads, see complete review here)
"Benson's knack for toggling back and forth in time gives readers two engaging storylines to pursue. The Black Stiletto isn't Wonder Woman, but her moxie is sure to be a hit with the Comic-Con crowd."
(Library Journal)
"I love Black Stiletto books. Raymond Benson makes them so enjoyable to read and so believable that I just looked it up again to see if the Black Stiletto was real."
(Julie Moderson, Bestsellersworld.com and Mysteriesgalore.com)
"Top notch espionage and action, family drama and a superhero! Benson does a great job of switching time periods and the center of action. This is FUN stuff."
(Buzz Bin, Crimespree Magazine)
"In the third entry in this series, real-life concerns contrast with the comic book–like escapism of the Black Stiletto’s adventures of 50-plus years past, all likely to heighten anticipation for the next two series entries, promised for 2014."
"I can't wait for further revelations about the life of the THE BLACK STILETTO and her offspring."
"Anyone who enjoyed Batgirl's adventures is going to love the Black Stiletto... Benson's third is a compelling story that spans back and forth over the course of 40 years, showing how each character is affected by a past none has any control over."
(Romantic Times Book Reviews)

Raymond, welcome to my blog.
Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.

This is the third in the Black Stiletto series. Can you tell us a bit about Stars & Stripes?
Stars & Stripes continues the story of the Black Stiletto, which began with The Black Stiletto (2011) and then The Black Stiletto: Black & White (2012). This is a five-book series. The Black Stiletto: Secrets & Lies will be published in January 2014, and the final book, The Black Stiletto: Endings & Beginnings, will come out in November 2014. The series tells the story of Judy Cooper, a feminist before that word was in our vernacular. In the late 1950s/early 1960s, she donned a mask and costume and went out on the streets of New York to fight crime and social injustice. No one knew who the Black Stiletto really was. She became a legend, a cult figure with a Robin Hood-type mystique. After she mysteriously disappeared in 1962, her status grew such that in the 80s and 90s comic books, action figures, and a movie was made about her. Cut to the present day—a grown man is taking care of his mother in a nursing home in the Chicago suburbs—she has Alzheimer’s.  He discovers that she was the Black Stiletto. So it’s two parallel stories, one in the past and one in the present. There’s action/adventure/thrills along with a poignant family story that spans decades. Each book is one year in the Stiletto’s career (it began in 1958); thus, Stars & Stripes takes place in 1960. In her civilian persona, Judy joins the J. F. Kennedy presidential campaign as a volunteer, only to discover a nefarious behind-the-scenes plot to alter the course of American history. In the present, Martin, her grown son, must deal with mental health issues of his own, a new love in his life, and a rebellious daughter who’s beginning to show more of the Stiletto-like traits of her grandmother than he’d like.  

Where did the idea for the Black Stiletto series come from?
In 2009 my literary manager Peter Miller and I were having a discussion. He was saying how the biggest percentage of book-buyers is women and that I should come up with something that might appeal to them.  I’ve always been comfortable writing thrillers with female protagonists (Face Blind, Evil Hours, Sweetie’s Diamonds), so I facetiously offered, “How about a female superhero?” We laughed and then he got serious and said, “That’s actually not a bad idea.”  So I went home and thought about it. I also had another story in the back of my head about a grown man who discovers some dark secret about his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. So I combined the two ideas and voila…the Black Stiletto was born. And indeed, I’m finding that women do respond very well to it. And men, too.

Will there be another Black Stiletto novel?
See above.  It’s a five-book series. Also note that the rights have been acquired and that it’s being developed as a television series in Hollywood. Tony Eldridge, of Lonetree Entertainment, has the rights. He is currently one of the producers of Sony’s new production of “The Equalizer,” starring Denzel Washington. Eldridge is busy shopping a two-hour pilot script to the networks and studios.

I was reading your bio and WOW, what a cabinet of curiosities you are, a film-maker, musician, actor, director, Theatrical composer, teacher, computer game designer and author.
Do you think this varied and eclectic personal history makes you a better author?
There’s no question about it. Actually, my training in the theatre (my college major was directing) prepared me for all kinds of things. First of all, it taught me how to tell a story and communicate it to an audience. The same techniques can be applied to prose-writing, cinema, whatever… I tend to look at all my creative output as “theatre,” even though it’s not always in that medium!

Where is the most fascinating place you’ve ever gone to research a novel?
Between 1996-2002, I was the third—and first American—author to be commissioned by the Ian Fleming Estate to write continuation James Bond novels. I wrote six original books and three film novelizations. The Bond books are known for their travelogue aspects, so I did travel to the locations I wrote about. Japan is certainly up there as a fascinating destination. Others would include Corsica, Morocco, Hong Kong, Jamaica, China, Spain, and more. My Bond novels are currently in print in anthologies—The Union Trilogy and Choice of Weapons. The Black Stiletto series takes place in locations where I’ve lived—New York City, Chicago suburbs, Texas, and the last two books will have settings in Los Angeles, where I’ve visited many times.

Speaking of your being an author, some people may not know that you were the fourth official writer of the James Bond novels from 1996 – 2003, during which time you wrote six original novels, three film novelizations and three short stories.
Can you tell us how this began?
(Fourth writer if you count Ian Fleming.) It began when I was nine years old in 1964 and my father took me to see “Goldfinger”! I grew up with Bond, read the Ian Fleming books several times, kept up with the films. Then, as an adult in the early 1980s, I wrote a non-fiction coffee table encyclopedic work entitled The James Bond Bedside Companion, first published in 1984, with an updated edition in 1988. This established me as something of a Bond “expert.” When I was researching the book, I went to England and met members of Fleming’s family and his business people. We got along and they liked the book when it came out.  This was while John Gardner was the Bond author. In late 1995, when he announced his retirement from the gig, the Fleming people called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to give it a shot. 

You have 25 plus published books to date, you’ve seen many changes during your career.
What’s the biggest challenge facing aspiring authors today?
Actually 28 published titles to date.  The biggest challenge for aspiring authors is to build a platform that will help elevate their books above the ocean of product that’s out there. With the advent of e-books and the ability to self-publish anything, authors need to find ways to stand out and be heard. Social media is extremely important these days from a marketing standpoint. Now authors need to be not only good writers, but good self-promoters.

An interesting side job for you is that you are the piano player for “The Beth Am Klezmer Band”. First what exactly is a Klezmer band and second what drew you to play in it?
(After Congregation Beth Am, a synagogue.)  Klezmer music is Jewish folk-jazz, mostly originating from Eastern Europe. Everyone has most likely heard Klezmer music but may not know what it’s called.  In many ways it sounds a lot like Dixieland jazz, except it has more minor keys and that Eastern European flavor that Dixieland doesn’t have.

Do you have any planned signings or events planned?
I’m signing at the Deer Park, Illinois B&N location at noon on April 6.  I’d be happy to sign at others.  I usually sign at the Houston Champions in Texas when I go to visit my relatives—probably in late May or early June—so I’ll be setting that up soon.

Raymond, you are by far the most interesting author I’ve interviewed up until now. I could in fact read your bio over and over and it would still have a jaw dropping effect on me. I want to thank you for taking the time to give us a little peek into your life and to wish you good luck on the sale of your newest novel The Black Stiletto:Stars & Stripes.
Thank you! For more about the Black Stiletto, including a promo video shot in Hollywood, a free downloadable teaser short story, and a free downloadable theme song, visit www.theblackstiletto.net

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  1. Wonderful guest post, and so many fascinating stories in there from James Bonds to theater.. i imagine coffee with Benson would be a delightful adventure. I will be honest these books are new to me and I like that there a parallel perspectives from past to present. Thanks for introducing us Debbie!

    1. Thanks Kim, he was a treasure trove of experiences and information and he would be a great one to have coffee with, leave it to you to caffeinate any experience :)