IAMTW President Jonathan Maberry chats with author Raymond Benson, the author of nearly 40 published works. He is most well-known for being the third—and first American—author of official continuation James Bond novels. His most recent original suspense thrillers areIn the Hush of the Night (2018) and The Secrets on Chicory Lane (2017). His best-selling and acclaimed 5-book serial, The Black Stiletto, is in development as a possible TV series or feature film. Other tie-in works include two books in the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series (written as “David Michaels”), two Metal Gear Solid videogame adaptations, a novel set in the Hitman videogame universe, and more. Raymond also teaches college-level Film History, lectures on film topics, is a concert-level pianist, and is a former computer game designer and theatre stage director. He is an active member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, and ASCAP.
TIED-IN: What was the first media tie-in work you remember reading?
RAYMOND BENSON: I may be wrong, but I think it must have been the novelization of Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov. Many people mistakenly believe the 1966 film was based on Asimov’s novel, but in fact it was the other way around.
Did you write fan fiction? Tell us about it.
Never did that. Although when I was a kid of about ten or eleven, I wrote some James Bond-like short stories featuring “Lance Fuller, Secret Agent,” that were total rip-offs of Bond!
What was your first media tie-in gig? How did you get the job?
If you don’t count prose fiction, it would have been some of my work in the computer gaming industry between 1985 and 1995, where I really honed my fiction-writing skills. I was a role-playing adventure-game writer/designer during this time period, which I fell into after the publication of my first book, The James Bond Bedside Companion (non-fiction, 1984). The first game I wrote and designed was an adaptation of Stephen King’s novella, The Mist. I then did two James Bond games—A View to a Kill and Goldfinger. Later, when working for Viacom New Media, I worked on an adaptation of the Nickelodeon TV show, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and the film/novel The Indian in the Cupboard. It was shortly after this that I landed the job of writing official James Bond novels, which is really where the whole “tie-in” thing started with books. To date I’ve written 17 tie-ins for various licensors.
Talk about your experience working with that license.
I had gotten to know the people at Glidrose Publications (now called Ian Fleming Publications) in the early 1980s when I was researching The James Bond Bedside Companion. I suppose they liked the book when it was published, and we stayed in touch over the next decade (this was while John Gardner was writing the Bond novels). I also did little odd jobs for Glidrose (no pun intended). Then, in late 1995, Gardner decided to hang up his hat on the gig, and lo and behold, I was asked if I’d be interested in “giving it a shot.” I had to audition, so to speak, by writing an outline on spec, and then the first four chapters on spec, for which both assignments had to be approved by not only Glidrose, but also the British and American publishers! I passed and was signed to a contract that went on for seven years—producing six original 007 novels and three movie novelizations.
What kind of creative risks have you taken with your media tie-in projects?
Some tie-ins are strict adaptations of the source material. For example, I was allowed to embellish some scenes in the Bond screenplays I novelized, but I couldn’t change a lot. My novelizations of the two Metal Gear Solid games were very faithful to the sources. However, some tie-ins can be original stories set in the license’s universe. My two Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell novels (written as “David Michaels”) were original novels, as was my tie-in forthe Hitman videogame series. In those cases, the novels were, as you say, “creative risks” in that I was taking a fan-base’s beloved character and doing what I wanted to do with it. Of course, the licensor had approval along the way, so I didn’t get into too much trouble!
Of the media tie-in work you’ve done, what are you most proud of?
Certainly the Bond novels. More people have walked on the moon than have written official original Bond adventures. I’m very proud of what I did, and that gig is the cornerstone of my career.
Which media tie-in project was way outside of your normal style?
The Metal Gear Solid books contain a lot of fantasy and sci-fi elements along with the thriller/espionage stuff. That was new to me, I suppose, but I’ve always been a fan of fantasy and sci-fi books and movies, so it wasn’t like I was stepping into unknown territory. My tie-in novel for the zombie videogame, Dying Light (Nightmare Row), was something different for me, but again, the genre is still in the relative ballpark of what I’ve always written.
What are you writing now? How did that project come to you?
Currently I’m not writing a tie-in. I’m just concentrating on my own original suspense novels. Skyhorse Publishing published my last two titles, The Secrets on Chicory Lane (2017) and In the Hush of the Night (2018). I’m also continuing to exploit my five-book serial, The Black Stiletto, which is currently in development as a possible TV series or feature film.
What’s your fan experience been like?
The Bond fan experience was off the charts. It’s one of those franchises, like Star Wars or Star Trek or Batman or Buffy that attracts seriously opinionated fans! Bless them all. There were fans who loved me and fans who wanted to kill me. The seven years doing Bond was simultaneously an all-time-high and also a fright-fest. I traveled the world during that time, too, so I encountered Bond fans in many countries. Now, twenty years on, I’m one of the “veteran” Bond authors, and I enjoy a very pleasant fan following in that regard.
Will you be at any upcoming conventions?
I’m almost always at ThrillerFest in New York City every July. My hometown “Murder and Mayhem in Chicago” is probably the next one I’ll attend.
Talk about the writing you do outside of media tie-in.
Many of my original suspense novels feature female protagonists. I’m not sure how that started, but I enjoy writing women characters and I think I’ve come to be pretty good at it. I’m channeling my inner Ingmar Bergman, perhaps. I’ve moved away from international espionage and write more personal, character-driven stories that also deal with historical connections. The Black Stiletto books go back-and-forth in time from the present to the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Secrets on Chicory Lane jumps from the present back to the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Several of my more recent books play with a change of character POV. My current work in progress explores a mystery dealing with Hollywood in the late 40s.
What’s the most fun thing about writing media tie-in stories?
I enjoy immersing myself in a universe that I don’t have to create! Sometimes the ramp-up in studying/researching it can be intense, but if it’s a franchise with which I’m already familiar, then it can be a great deal of fun.
What’s on your media tie-in wish-list? What licenses do you want to tackle?
If Lynch/Frost ever licensed Twin Peaks, I’d wrap myself in plastic for that gig. I would love to do a Star Wars novel. There are a couple of best-selling authors with whom I wouldn’t mind collaborating (I won’t name them here).
Frankly, I would consider any tie-in project that came my way!
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