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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Moderator: Welcome, Raymond Benson! Thank you for joining us online tonight to chat about your latest novel, High Time to Kill. How are you doing tonight?
Raymond Benson: Hi, everyone! Thanks for having me here, barnesandnoble.com, and thanks to all for coming. I'm doing great.
Neo from Catalina: Hi, Ray. Curious — how long did it take you to write High Time to Kill, and did you do any traveling for setting research? What's coming next in the series? Keep those Bond fires burning.... Thanks.
RB: (Raymond, not Ray.) The entire process is about a year and a half, but the actual writing is about four months. I'm required by contract to produce an outline, which takes about three months to do; then I research the book for four months, including traveling; and then I write the book. After that, there's usually a couple of months of rewriting, editorial work with the publishers, et cetera, then I'm off on the next book while the current one is being printed.
Palmer from Dade County, FL: Hello, Raymond! Would you consider yourself to be somewhat of an Ian Fleming expert?
RB: I suppose so.... I researched his life considerably and have gotten to know members of his family fairly well. If you can find my book The James Bond Bedside Companion (now out of print), there is a complete section that is a biography of Fleming.
Bill Kanas from Wantagh, NY: Hi, Raymond! First, I just want to recommend High Time to Kill for all of you out there. It's a terrific Bond adventure, and I think that it shows a levelofmaturity in Bond writing greater then ever before. Now, my question: Are there any plans for a short story collection, possibly including the expanded version of your first story, "Blast from the Past"?
RB: Thanks, Bill. As far as a short story collection, there is talk about it, but there aren't enough short stories yet! Maybe when there are a few more under my belt. Yes, "Blast from the Past" was published in Playboy in an edited version (the full version has been published in Italy and soon in France).... An English version will be published someday, but I don't know when.
Lawrence S. from Sudbury, MA: Are you doing anything else with Hugh Hefner as a character? What was it like working with him?
RB: Hef is a great guy — very generous, very kind. I'm happy to call him a friend. I doubt I'll be using him as a "character" again; that was a one-shot novelty trick for the January 1999 issue of Playboy. However, I'm participating in the Playboy Expo on July 17th and 18th in Los Angeles and will be signing books there and giving a talk on the Playboy/Bond history.
John from Trenton, NJ: Did you base "the Union" on any former Bond group or current real-life terrorist organization?
RB: The Union is my take on the "international terrorist group," which is a must for this type of genre. SPECTRE is so much of a legal no-man's-land that it's a must to avoid. I wanted to create a more "blue-collar" terrorist group than the more "white-collar" SPECTRE. High Time to Kill is the first in a trilogy featuring the Union.
Mike Di Leo from New York City: Are you currently at work on the novelization of "The World Is Not Enough," and if so, what can you tell us about the screenplay?
RB: Yes, I've just completed the novelization for T.W.I.N.E. It's now in the editing/approval stages (which are immense!)...but I can't give away anything about the script. The book will come out at the same time as the movie, which is in November.
Matthew from Norfolk, Virginia: Dear Mr. Benson: Those of us who have read your previous Bond novels have noticed that, like John Gardner, you have made some changes to the characters, although staying true to the Fleming Bond. Are these changes meant to reflect the Bond we now see in the Pierce Brosnan movies?
RB: I'm not sure what you mean. I've tried to keep Bond the same as Fleming's Bond, with just a little more sensibility with the '90s (even though he's quite politically incorrect). The other characters (M, Boothroyd, Moneypenny) — perhaps they are influenced by the films, especially Boothroyd and M (I really picture Judi Dench when I write her, as well as Desmond Llewelyn for Boothroyd).
Michael Reed from Gahanna, Ohio: Hi, Raymond. This may sound strange since you are on just your third original novel, but I wonder something: Did you ever have to look back at Zero Minus Tenor The Facts of Death (or Tomorrow Never Dies as well) to make sure of any continuity or factual concerns when working on High Time to Kill? I'm amazed at how Fleming and Gardner both made the small moments in their series flow and (except for Bond's age in Fleming's work) never seemed to forget a detail. Do you also have an encyclopedic memory for everything in your own work?
RB: Hi, Michael. Even Fleming and Gardner made mistakes! At one point Fleming said Bond hated pajamas, and another time he said he loved them. I'm afraid sometimes I do have to look back at my earlier work, mainly to see how I described someone or something. I don't like to contradict myself. :)
S from Chicago: Hello, Mr. Benson. I'm picking up my copy of HTTK at Barnes & Noble this week, but off topic a bit — if you could have lunch with any of the following, who would you choose: Ian Fleming, Sean Connery, or Stanley Kubrick? Good luck!
RB: Hmmm...how did you know I'm a Stanley Kubrick fan? Anyway, I'd have to go with the latter. Maybe when Sean's dead and I'm gone, we can all have lunch together somewhere. :)
Mike from Washington, D.C.: What to you is the most important key in maintaining the character of James Bond?
RB: There is no single important key.... It's a culmination of being true to everything that has gone before and, at the same time, attempting to come up with new and original things for him to do. For me, being faithful to Fleming is my most important goal.
Bill from Wantagh: Have you talked with John Gardner either before or after you started writing the books for any input? Just curious.
RB: I know John and have met him on a number of occasions (I interviewed him for 007 magazine in 1993), but I have not spoken with him since I became the writer of the Bond novels. He has moved back to England, as I understand it.
Lawrence S. from Sudbury, MA: What is the Bond/Playboy history?
RB: Playboy was the first magazine in America to publish Ian Fleming. The March 1960 issue published a short story, and Fleming's works after that were serialized in the magazine until his death. Playboy also began a relationship with the filmmakers by doing pictorials of the various Bond girls. Playboy reestablished the literary link by publishing my stuff.
Christa Reynolds from Plano, TX: I am sure you get asked this question all the time, but who is your favorite Bond? Roger Moore is my favorite....
RB: I would have to say Sean Connery is my favorite. They say that whoever you see first at the movie theater always remains your favorite. I grew up with Sean, and he had (still does) that macho, detached, highly sexed, and menacing quality.... To tell the truth, I thought Timothy Dalton was a great Bond — the closest to Fleming's literary description — but I think Pierce Brosnan is doing an excellent job too.
Mick from La Jolla, Cali: At what rate do you have Bond age? Does he age fictionally?
RB: That's a tricky one. Fleming's Bond would be pushing 80 now. We don't talk about age. Like Superman, Batman, Conan, and all those characters who have been around for decades, they just don't age. You have to suspend your disbelief in that area. We've basically picked him up from the '60s intact and dropped him into the '90s with the knowledge of everything that has gone before.
email@example.com from NJ: How do you think James Bond has grown as a character since you took over the literary helms as the new Bond author? Has he changed?
RB: Bond hasn't changed. The world around him has. Basically, I'm forbidden to "change" him...but I can play around with him. For example, I can't make him become a concert pianist, but I can delve into his psyche more and explore what makes him tick.
Kurt from Boston, MA: Do you have much say on the latest Bond movies released? Also, what current actor, in your opinion, would make the best James Bond?
RB: The company that makes the films (EON Productions) is a separate entity from the literary copyright holders (the Ian Fleming Estate). The filmmakers do what they want. I have no say in the films. As far as current actors, I can't think of any offhand. They have to be British, rugged, tough, handsome, and sexy and have a lot of charisma.
Dennis from Hanover, NH: Have you read every James Bond book and seen every James Bond movie?
RB: Several times!
Lee from Atlanta: Hi, Raymond. Do you visualize one of the Bond actors while you are writing?
RB: No. In fact, when I first read the books in the '60s, I didn't visualize Sean Connery either. Fleming described a very shadowy person (he said he looked like Hoagy Carmichael!), and I pictured someone nondistinct.
Chuck Gault from Verona, NJ: Do you ever feel restricted by writing James Bond that you have to fill in the blanks with an already created character? Do you ever see yourself writing an entirely new character or series that is distinctly Raymond Benson?
RB: As a matter of fact, I've written a non-Bond novel that is looking for a publisher. (Any takers out there?) Actually, I consider it an honor to take over the Bond character, even if he "belonged" to someone else. It's a heavy mantle. I don't take the job lightly.
Bill from Wantagh: Why is SPECTRE a "legal no-man's-land"? Gardner used them extensively, and you have already made reference to them.
RB: Gardner used them three times but then stopped. Because of the McClory/Sony business involving the original THUNDERBALL story, we're not really sure who "owns" SPECTRE. The literary people can use SPECTRE because Fleming retained the rights to THUNDERBALL. However, using SPECTRE would seem to automatically make the film rights in a new work questionable.
Matthew from Norfolk, Virginia: Dear Mr. Benson: In reference to my previous question, I was thinking specifically of Moneypenny and M mirroring their onscreen counterparts. As for the next two books in the Union trilogy, where will they take 007?
RB: I don't know about Moneypenny...I don't particularly see the literary Moneypenny as being anything like any of the actresses who have played her. M...yes, definitely I picture Judi Dench. As for the next book, Bond will be in Morocco, Spain, and Gibraltar. Not sure about the third yet!
Moderator: How do you plan on spending New Year's Eve 1999?
RB: Not on an airplane, I can assure you that. :)
Paffy from Clearwater, FL: Which movie do you think is the best translation of a Fleming book?
RB: Probably On Her Majesty's Secret Service, one of the most underrated of all the Bond films. (The hard-core fans consider it one of the best.) However, From Russia with Love is my favorite and was also very faithfully adapted.
Bill from Wantagh: Are there any more plans for return appearances from characters from previous stories, such as the Governor from Quantum of Solace in HTTK?
RB: I like to include previous characters from Fleming's works; it's fun. So, sure, I plan to use them when I feel it's appropriate.
Freddie from Irvine, CA: I am really impressed with your Bond novels. I must admit I started reading them rather reluctantly but was very impressed once I started reading. No question, just a comment....
RB: Thanks, Freddie!
Mike from NYC: Can you compare for us what it is like to create your own original Bond story versus adapting a Bond screenplay into a novelization?
RB: Doing a novelization is fun because I can add my two cents to something that's already there. The time limit on writing one is very short — they have to be done very quickly, so not a lot of time and effort can be afforded them. For Tomorrow Never Dies, I added a lot of background to the villain and the Wai Lin character. Doing an original novel is much more gratifying, time-consuming, more difficult, etc....and ultimately what I like doing more.
Jayson Lindseth from Regina Saskatchewan: I was wondering where you got the idea for a High Time to Kill from, and what are the missing military secrets?
RB: You'll need to read the book to find out what the missing military secrets are! I get my info from various sources around the world (thank god for the Internet!) who I rely on. Fleming did the same thing. He had a whole network of "experts" who helped him devise things.
Eric from Dallas, TX: Hello, Raymond, any future Bond taking place here in Texas?
RB: Half of my last Bond novel, The Facts of Death, took place in Texas. It comes out in paperback next month. The locales are in Austin and its surroundings. Bond even has a meal at Chuy's!
Lenea734 from Lenea734@aol.com: Are there any plans to make any of your books into Bond movies?
RB: The film people have so far shown no indication that they will film my books, or John Gardner's, or the Kingsley Amis book. But who knows? They have automatic options on them. Maybe someday.... (fingers crossed)
Chris Rauth from Fredericksburg, VA: What is your favorite James Bond movie?
RB: From Russia with Love. All the early ones are great, in my opinion.
S from Chicago: If I could be permitted another question: What has been the highlight of your career as the James Bond author? Thanks.
RB: I would have to say the traveling and research end of it. I've also been able to meet a lot of people I otherwise wouldn't have been able to.
William from Charleston, South Carolina: Do you think Q will always be a part of the Bond story lines?
RB: Oh, yes, he's an established part of the formula. Although in the books we call him Major Boothroyd.
Chris from Virginia: Bond was married briefly at one time. Do you think if you continue writing Bond books you will have him get involved in a serious relationship?
RB: I'm not sure. I think getting married once was enough for Bond.... As far as "serious" relationships, maybe. That one I'll play by ear.
Panos Sambrakos from Greece: Hi, Raymond. Just wanted to ask if your version of T.W.I.N.E. will be part of the Bond literary cannon.
RB: I don't consider my film novelizations part of "my" canon. Neither did John Gardner. I try not to contradict anything in my own series in the novelizations, so they can "fit in" with them...but no, they're not part of the "Benson Bonds."
Cloet Nathalie from Roeselare, Belgium: Why did you start writing Bond books? Are you a Bond fan too?
RB: I've been a fan since the '60s, when I was a kid, and I started writing the books because I was asked! It was a dream come true.
Mike from Bryn Mawr, PA: What type of research did you do for this book? Do you read old Fleming novels to help in the research?
RB: I do extensive research, especially in the locales.... I travel to the places, eat the meals, stay in the hotels, visit the sites (I didn't go mountain climbing though — for that I got to know the first American to summit Kangchenjunga, and he was my reference for the mountain climbing stuff). Yes, I constantly reread the Flemings.
Mike from NYC: Your novels contain many reference to past Bond novels. Does the fact that Bond would be in his 70s now bother you? Did you ever consider making your Bond a man in his 40s? Kind of like the film series does now?
RB: That's what I do; he's in his 40s, not in his 70s. As I answered earlier, Bond doesn't age. That's just something we have to live with.
Mike Di Leo from Manhattan: Have you talked to Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli about turning any of your Bond novels into films or about writing an original screenplay for them?
RB: I know Michael and Barbara, and we're friends. However, nothing has ever been said about doing a screenplay.
Bill from Wantagh: How much did you add to your T.W.I.N.E. novelization, and can you tell us which gun Bond will use?
RB: As with Tomorrow Never Dies, I added more background to the characters. Bond is still using the Walther, of course.
Moderator: Have you been saving any books to read this summer?
RB: I'm looking forward to reading Hannibal...and all the new books on Stanley Kubrick that are coming out at the end of the summer!
Panos Sambrakos from Greece: Do you have the option to take your time with writing new books, or do you have to produce one each year>
RB: So far it's one a year! (pant, pant)
Moderator: Thank you, Raymond Benson! Best of luck with your new book, High Time to Kill! Before you leave, do you have any parting thoughts for the online audience?
RB: Thanks for having me! Check out the web site of the Ian Fleming Foundation — "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" at www.ianfleming.org — for all the latest up-to-date info on all things Bond. Thanks to all for coming! Bye!