Raymond Benson is no stranger to writing action heroes. As the author of several James Bond thrillers, he's written high-octane adventures for one of the most iconic characters in books and movies. After concluding his run with 007 in the anthology "Choice of Weapons," he moved on to create his own heroine, a mysterious woman named "The Black Stiletto."
Taking place in the 1950's, "The Black Stiletto" is a pulp-noir-adventure along the lines of "The Shadow" or "The Spider", but featuring a femme fatale who could hold her own with any of these pulp legends. With two books already published, and another on the way, Benson took time from his busy schedule to tell Geek To Me readers where the idea for The Black Stiletto came from; why he thinks female heroines are finally catching on; and what his expectations are for the new James Bond movie "Skyfall":
Geek To Me: Tell us a bit about The Black Stiletto, where did the idea of creating this heroine first come from?
Raymond Benson: In early 2009 my manager Peter Miller and I were having lunch, and he told
me I should come up with something that women would like, because the bigger percentage of readers are women. I facetiously said, "How about a female superhero?" because of the success of the recent Marvel and DC movies. We both laughed and then he stopped, pointed at me, and said, "That's actually not a bad idea." I thought about it a lot and considered that if I did create such a character, I wanted her to be as realistic as possible. "Mad Men" was admittedly an influence; I wanted to set the story in the late 50s/early 60s. At the same time I had a different story brewing in my head about a grown son taking care of his mother withAlzheimer's, and he discovers some dramatic secret about her past. So I combined the two ideas and it clicked. And women do seem to like it, and men, too!
G2M: As you said, with recent films like The Avengers, Haywire and BRAVE, the idea of a strong female protagonist is gaining more widespread acceptance. Why do you think that's happening?
RB: Because it's about time? Seriously, why shouldn't female protagonists be as popular as males? I spent seven years writing testosterone-fueled James Bond novels. After that gig ended in 2002, I went on to write my own suspense thrillers, and nearly all of them feature female protagonists. I don't know why that is, other than that I found them to be more compelling characters. Most of them are moms. I'll let the psychoanalysts figure out why I'm comfortable writing women characters... maybe it's because I'm such a fan of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen, both of whom wrote terrific roles for women.
G2M: What was it about the world of "pulp fiction" that made you think that it was the best place to set the world of "The Black Stiletto"?
RB: As I mentioned, the brilliant TV series "Mad Men" was hot, and the retro thing was in vogue. I lived through it, too, albeit at a very young age, so I could relate. And given the fact that the Black Stiletto series consists of two parallel stories--one in the present and one in the past--it made sense chronologically for Judy's story to be told in that time period. I also envisioned her as something of a "female version of the Shadow." Her vigilantism works best in an era before cell phones and computers.
G2M: Do you think that there are any specific challenges involved being a male writer working with a female character?
RB: Sure, knowing what to wear! (smiles) Actually that's true, the clothes and make-up and girls-only stuff that men know nothing about are the hard parts, but my wife and other readers vet my manuscripts to make sure I get that right. As for everything else, the task is no different from writing any other character. Authors often create characters who are different races and genders from themselves. It's part of the job.
G2M: Recently there has been some controversy over the development of the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider character. The game developers have decided to make her a survivor of an attempted sexual assault as part of her back-story. This has drawn a lot of criticism from fans who say this would never be done with a male character. As someone who has written both male and female characters, what do you think?