The Raymond Benson CBn Interview (Part III)
Today we continue our in-depth series of interviews with author Raymond Benson. In Part I Raymond spoke candidly about what it was really like to be plucked from fandom and entrusted with James Bond’s literary license to kill. In Part II we discussed, in detail, Raymond’s work from 1984’s The James Bond Bedside Companion through 1999’s High Time To Kill. Now we continue our look at the specific works Raymond produced his tenure as “continuation author.”
[Warning: This interview may contain spoilers.]
In January 1999 you published your second James Bond short story, “Midsummer Night’s Doom.” We’ve already talked about how it was commissioned by Playboy as a sort of “James Bond meets Hugh Hefner” – so instead, let’s talk about your research. I’m thinking of a particular photo of you standing between the two beautiful playmates. Is there a story behind that?
This story was done in-between The Facts of Death and High Time to Kill. It was summer of 1998 and I was in the middle of writing HTTK. Playboy was about to celebrate its 45th anniversary with the January 1999 issue, which they were already planning and putting together. (They must have all the material for an issue at least four months prior to its publication, and the issue usually hits the stand one month before the cover date; thus the January 1999 issue is actually on sale in December 1998). I honestly can’t remember who thought of doing a Bond short story again for the 45th anniversary issue, but I suggested doing a sort of humorous tale in which Bond meets Hugh Hefner. Since Hef was a huge Bond fan, had published Ian Fleming, and lived a Bondian lifestyle–and Bond was the ultimate playboy–it seemed to make sense. At least it was a nudge, nudge, wink, wink concept that everyone felt was appropriate. In the summer of 1998, Hef was about to throw the first “Midsummer Night’s Dream” party in five years–the last one was in 1993, I think–in which the guests must arrive in sleepwear. He had just separated from his wife Kimberley and was in party mode. He was also living with three blonde girlfriends. So it was to be a big event, with 1000 people invited. I think it was Hef’s personal assistant that suggested setting the story at the Midsummer Night’s Dream party. This is now an annual event, held the first weekend of every August. Since Hef would appear in the story as himself, it also made sense to feature two real-life Playmates as the Bond-girls. Hef’s office put me in touch with Lisa Dergan, Miss July 1998, and Victoria Zdrok, Miss October 1994. I had wanted a Russian girl and Victoria fit the bill–I actually requested her. Lisa was suggested by Hef’s office. I interviewed them both by phone and then met them in person later on several occasions. I wrote the first draft of the story in July but I needed to fill it in with authenticity. So my wife and I were invited to attend the pajama party! It’s safe to say that it was the party to end all parties–at least from our limited perspective. The women wore lingerie and the men wore pajamas and it was just as I describe in the story. The food and drink was fantastic and the eye candy was phenomenal. It was a fairly surreal experience–at one point, around 3am, my wife and I found ourselves on the dance floor two feet away from the likes of Jim Carrey, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Pamela Anderson. We met all sorts of other celebrities and Hollywood’s beautiful people. It was certainly a unique research trip. Back home, I finished the story quickly and turned it in before the end of the month. Other celebrities and real people are mentioned in the story, but the villain’s name was based on my good friend Doug Redenius, the vice president of the Ian Fleming Foundation. I called him “Anton” Redenius in the story. As I said before, this story wasn’t meant to be taken seriously–it was all in good fun.
What about the very impressive illustration for this story, and the other illustrations used on your Playboy work. Do you know who did these? Do you own any of the originals?
The illustrators are credited in each of the six magazines that featured my stories or excerpts from the novels. Playboy has always had great art direction. Even back in the days of the Fleming excerpts, the artwork was great. Playboys owns all this artwork, although some of the older stuff may have been auctioned off recently.
1999 was a big year for you. Not only did you publish “Midsummer Night’s Doom” and High Time To Kill, but you also wrote a second movie novelization (The World Is Not Enough) and another James Bond short story. I’ll come back to all your novelizations later–tell me about “Live At Five?”
TV Guide came to Glidrose, in September 1999 (just as I was finishing DoubleShot) and said that they were doing a special James Bond issue to coincide with the release of The World is Not Enough (the issue dated November 13, 1999). Pierce is on the cover and is interviewed inside, there’s an article on the Bond women today, and some other stuff. They wanted an exclusive Bond short story that had something to do with television. It also had to be very, very short–I had a strict word count limit–and it had to be done, if I remember correctly, in a couple of weeks. It wasn’t easy. I decided to set it in Chicago because I live in the area and had access to a friend that is a television anchor, talk-show host, and local celebrity–Janet Davies, who appears as herself in the story. It was funny because she had to get permission from her bosses at the station in order for me to portray her as having a romantic dalliance with James Bond, even though it was fiction.
“Live at Five” is set in 1985 and marks the first time an entire James Bond story has taken place in the past instead of “five minutes into the future.” What made you decide to do this story as a remembrance?
The idea for the plot had to do with a Russian defector, an ice skater. In order for that to make any sense, the story had to take place prior to 1989, before the fall of the Soviet Union. Simple as that. So I framed the bulk of the story within the context of Bond remembering the events of that time prior to meeting the girl again in the present. The story has a nice twist, I think, when the identity of the girl is revealed.
In most trilogies Part II is always the darkest chapter, and this is certainly true of DoubleShot. In many ways it’s your most daring and controversial book. What inspired you to create a novel in which Bond is physically and possibly even mentally impaired?
Because the concept intrigued me. I was especially tired of seeing Bond portrayed in the films as a superhuman, someone that never gets hurt or has doubts or other physical and/or psychological problems. Fleming certainly did it. Bond is a mess in You Only Live Twice, for example. After I had finished High Time to Kill, I did want to make the second part darker, and I did it by weakening Bond. I thought, Wouldn’t it be interesting if Bond wasn’t operating at 100%? I used that head injury he sustained in HTTK as the basis for his problem. I did a lot of research on what that head injury could possibly do to a person, consulted a physician, and came up with the lesion on his brain. All the symptoms he suffers in the book are very real and could occur to someone with that condition.
Was this concept a hard sell to Glidrose?
No, they liked the idea. So did the publishers.
This book really divided Bond fans. Some enjoyed the experiment, but others were quite hostile about what you “did” to 007. What do you say to those fans that felt you went too far in this book?
Well, not much. Look, any writer in those shoes has to try new things. After thirty-plus books and twenty-plus films, not to mention comics and computer games and other media that has featured original Bond stories, a writer can’t just keep writing the same thing over and over. John Gardner experimented. Even Fleming experimented (look at The Spy Who Loved Me!). A writer’s got to be willing to get out there and try new things and also be willing to fail. I suppose in some fans’ eyes I failed on that one, but there are just as many fans that think I succeeded. Bond is such a subjective thing because there’s so much baggage that comes with Bond. Everyone has an opinion of what Bond should be. A lot of those opinions are very diverse. I treated the character in this book as realistically and faithfully as I could. Fleming’s You Only Live Twice is the best precedent I can name for what I did.
We get a nice look at Bond’s domestic life in DoubleShot. You’ve been to London many times… Have you ever gone in search of Bond’s Chelsea flat?
Yes. I pinpointed where I thought Fleming placed it, although I never named the exact street (and won’t now!–but you might be able to figure it out if you know the area). There’s a sequence in the book in which Bond walks from a Chinese restaurant back to his flat. Everything I describe on that walk is there, including the restaurant. I may have slightly changed the name of the restaurant, I can’t remember.
Where else did you travel for this book?
This may have been the longest research trip, and it was in April-May 1999. It began in England again because I also did some work on The World is Not Enough novelization by visiting the set at that time. For DoubleShot I had to scout out some of the London locations, such as the Ivy restaurant, Bond’s neighborhood, SoHo, New Scotland Yard, and some other places. From the UK I went to Spain. My wife, who hadn’t joined me on a trip since the Hong Kong one, met me at Heathrow after flying in from the US, and we flew to Alicante together. The Costa del Sol tourist agency was extremely helpful in setting up the itinerary. It was particularly nutty because the Spanish press followed us around, everywhere we went. We had this huge “entourage” with us all the time. Very bizarre. We visited all the locations in the book–Malaga, Ronda, Marbella–but most importantly I had to educate myself on bullfighting.
That was my next question–the bullfighting…
The Spanish hold a great respect for it–they consider it an art, not a sport–and I wanted to understand this and portray it in such a way that was respectful. I do believe Fleming would have appreciated it, just as Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles did. Maybe Fleming did, but there isn’t any evidence of it. I read a lot about it but the best insight I got was from one of Spain’s most famous and popular matadors, Francisco Rivera Ordonez. His grandfather was the one that Hemingway wrote about. Francisco is young, handsome, and had married into Spanish royalty. Usually the press isn’t invited to Francisco’s home but he changed his mind and allowed my “entourage” to visit because of the Bond connection. Francisco was preparing for his bullfighting season by practicing in a private bullring and my wife and I had the opportunity to watch. He killed two bulls “in my honor.” I learned a lot about the ritualistic qualities of the corrida and tried to impart this in the book. I felt it was very Fleming-esque. As far as Spain is concerned, it was one of my favorite countries I visited during my tenure as Bond author. The people were exceptionally friendly and helpful and we were in a particularly beautiful part of the land. Ronda was spectacular. The hotel at the top of the cliff there is a perfect Bondian location.
Where did you go from Spain?
After the week in Spain, my wife flew back to the US and I went on alone to Gibraltar. I spent a few days there, touring the mountain and the village. The highlight was meeting the Governor of Gibraltar at “The Convent,” which is the seat of the government. I had no idea what the reaction would be when I wrote to say I wanted to tour the building because I wanted to set a James Bond story in there–and a terrorist plot would be foiled inside! But he was very gracious.
From Gibraltar I went across the strait to Morocco, my first trip to Africa. That was certainly a very different world. I started in Tangier and had hired a guide to show me around. One day we went out into the country to Chefchaouen and some of the other locales in the book. From Tangier I went to Marrakesh. I thought I would be using that city, since I had featured it in one chapter in HTTK, but I ended up moving the spot to Casablanca. Marrakesh was my favorite place in Morocco, that’s for sure. It’s everything you imagine Morocco to be. Casablanca wasn’t as exotic as I expected but it was perfect for the Union locations I had set up. The DoubleShot trip was really an incredible experience (I even rode a camel!), but exhausting. I didn’t want to go on such a lengthy trip again in the future, but I’m afraid the next one was nearly as long.
Sounds like you had some amazing experiences.
I should point out that I’m not going into very much detail here about the research trips. These are capsulized accounts. I mentioned that I had written a memoir about my Bond work, and that’s where I go into a day-by-day breakdown of everything that occurred on these trips. Those who really want to know the nitty-gritty of what I saw, who I talked to, and when, will just have to wait until that’s published, if ever!
Duality plays an important role in DoubleShot, and you follow this theme through with twin Bond Girls, Hedy and Heidi Taunt. How do you answer criticism that Bond bedding twins was just a little too much of a male fantasy, even for a James Bond novel?
Really? Too much of a male fantasy? For James Bond? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s how I answer it. Actually it was Hugh Hefner that inspired it. He had twin girlfriends at the time. If Hef could do it, why not Bond? Besides, not a whole lot happens between Bond and the twins until the very last page of the book. Would you believe my British editor really liked those characters and wanted me to bring them back in the next book?
Why didn’t you?
Featuring the twins once was enough!
Bond fan Devin would like to know what your thought process was in creating the villain Domingo Espada. Was he “based on anyone or any past character specifically, and how did you want him to come off in the final novel?”
Espada wasn’t based on anyone–I just imagined what a retired matador would be like. There are people in Spain that feel that Gibraltar should belong to the country and not to Britain. That was the impetus for setting the story in that locale–another territorial dispute. Espada is simply one of the hard-liners that look at Gibraltar as a “thorn” in Spain’s heel.
Your “henchwomen,” Margareta Piel, is certainly one of your most kinky creations. Was she inspired by the great cinematic Bond femme-fatales like Fiona Volpe, Fatima Blush, and Xenia Onatopp?
I wouldn’t say she’s inspired by any of the film characters. She’s inspired by that type of female character–the femme fatale, as you say. The Hera character in The Facts of Death belongs in the same category. They’re all cut from the same fabric.
Bond uses the alias “John Cork,” a name Bond fans will recognize as the co-author of The James Bond Legacy and co-producer of the DVD documentaries. Can you talk a bit about why you chose John, and what other real-life characters appear in this book?
It was simply John’s turn. He’s a good friend and fellow board member of the Ian Fleming Foundation. Other folks that appear in the book are Peredur Glyn (as Bond’s “double”), a guy I got to know off the Bond newsgroup–I thought that was such a cool name; Stuart Howard returned as the Scotland Yard agent; Brian Berley, an artist friend, appeared as a law enforcement officer; the female doctor in London, Kimberley Feare, is named after a girl I knew high school and am still friends with; and the manager of the Chinese restaurant that Bond eats at, Harvey Lo, was the manager of a Chinese restaurant in New York that I used to frequent when I lived there.
DoubleShot… Your title?
Nope. My working title was Doppelganger. After the book was written I was pushing for Reflections in a Broken Glass. My American editor came up with DoubleShot. I like it.
Never Dream of Dying
Never Dream of Dying is my favorite book of yours. I think Tylyn Mignonne is your best drawn female character and Bond’s relationship with her is truly romantic. Did you set out to make your 5th original book a love story?
I did indeed. I wanted Bond to fall in love again. I felt it was important. The fact that it tied in with the business with Marc-Ange Draco, relating as it did to Bond’s relationship with Tracy, contributed to the way the book clicked.
When you first decided to do a book in which 007 would become involved in the world of celebrity and show business, did you consider setting some of the action in Hollywood?
There is a scene or two in Hollywood, but I always wanted the main action and climax to be at Cannes. It’s more exotic and has the feel of the European jet-set. It’s a more Bondian location than Hollywood!
Tell me about your research travels for this book?
This was another long trip that occurred in April-May 2000. Again, I started in England and then took the Eurostar to Paris. Kevin Collette, a French Bond fan and journalist, had offered to be my guide in Paris and Cannes. He was covering the Cannes Film Festival for work so I was riding on his coattails, so to speak. Once again I visited all the relevant locations that appeared in the book. I made one change in the story locations once I got to Paris. I had originally planned for the scenes in which Bond runs through the dog show to be in a movie set, but I was unable to find a suitable one in Paris. Kevin got me into a television studio and that worked even better, so I used that. I spoke to a member of the French police bomb squad to get info on the methods the Union were using to attack the film festival. Victoria’s Secret sent me tapes of some of their fashion shows so I could get an idea of what those were like since I was unable to attend any in person. I did get inside the Louvre to scout out how a fashion show could occur there.
Did you go to the Cannes Film Festival?
Kevin and I took the train to Cannes to arrive in time for the festival. It was madness. This was one place where the name James Bond didn’t open any doors. If you weren’t famous or if you didn’t have that coveted press badge, then you were dog doo-doo. I guess I was dog doo-doo. I had to observe all the events from the sidelines. Kevin and I bribed a friend of his that worked as a security guard in the main theatre in order for me to get inside and get the lay of the place quickly. Luckily I was able to soak up enough of the atmosphere of the festival to be able to write about it. I had a lousy time in Cannes.
And from there?
Things picked up after Cannes. Guide duties were taken over by Pierre Rodiac, a French Bond fan and president of Club 007, one of the two big French Bond fan clubs. (The other club, Club James Bond, is run by Laurent Perriott, whom I met in Paris. He and his cohort Francois-Xavier Busnel showed me a good time in the city one night.) Anyway, Kevin stayed on at Cannes to do more work while Pierre and I went to Monaco. Pierre had arranged a tour of the Monte Carlo Casino, where a scene in the book takes place. I wanted to play one of the games but couldn’t afford it. You have to be able to drop $500 without blinking in order to have a good time there! From there we went to Nice, which was really lovely. The film studios outside of Nice were perfect for my purposes at the beginning of the book. These were the same studios used by Hitchcock for To Catch a Thief, and by Truffaut for Day for Night, among other famous pictures. We also found a great equestrian farm nearby that doubled as Tylyn’s home.
The next leg of the trip, in Corsica, was one of the best of my Bond adventures. Pierre and I flew to Corsica, rented a car, and toured the island for a week. It was fantastic. We started in the north and made our way south. The most interesting locales were the prehistoric sites that feature in the book, where Stonehenge-era monoliths and stone-castles still exist. Fascinating stuff. We ended up in Bonifaccio, which I’m sorry I couldn’t use in the book. It was by far the best place on the island, but logically I had no reason to take any characters there.
You’ve already talked about how you handled the character of Marc-Ange Draco, and the controversy surrounding it [see Part I], so let’s talk instead about some of the other Fleming characters who appear in this book. Rene Mathis, for example…
He’s an important character in the Bond Universe. I wanted to bring him back. This being France and all… I don’t think there were any other Fleming characters besides Draco and Chi-Chi.
What real people appeared in this book?
Pierre Rodiac, my guide in Corsica, became the alias of Le Gerant. Kevin Collette, my guide in Paris and Cannes, became “Bertrand” (his middle name) Collette, Bond’s ally in France. Dave Worrall, another Ian Fleming Foundation director, became a physician. Laurent Perriott became a French policeman. The sadistic eye doctor, Dr. Gerowitz, has a name borrowed from the real ophthalmologist I spoke to about the lasers, Dr. Rob Gerowitz. The assassin “Schenkman” is, of course, Richard Schenkman, the president of the American James Bond Fan Club during the 80s and now a filmmaker in LA. Dan Duling (also in “Blast from the Past”) finally made it into a book with his last name–he’s the director of the film they’re shooting in France. Stuart Laurence, the lead actor, is actually Stuart Howard–when Stuart was an actor in New York he had to use a stage name because there was already a Stuart Howard in Actors Equity. That was his stage name. Robert Cotton is a Bond fan I know through the newsgroup–he was the screenwriter of the film they’re shooting. Gilles Jacob, the head of the Cannes Film Festival, makes a cameo as himself, along with other stars that are mentioned. Finally, Tylyn takes her name from a Playboy Playmate that’s a friend of mine, Tylyn John, Miss March 1992. However, I always pictured the Swiss actress Irene Jacob in the role of Tylyn Mignonne.
The retina tattoo and the eye torture is quite grisly, but very effective and Bondian. Is this rooted in reality?
Yes. I consulted an ophthalmologist and ran everything past him. There have actually been ophthalmologists that sign their initials on the back of a patient’s retina after performing laser surgery! Drawing a simple tattoo isn’t too far removed from that. Yeah, that was one of the worst tortures in a Bond book, all right. I’ve had that surgery done to me, too, and it doesn’t feel very good when they do it right!
Bond fan Fraser asks: “Mr. Benson: How did you expect the fans to react when you introduced Bond’s male secretary in the novel? Also, how did you come up with that idea?”
I wasn’t sure how they would react but I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I simply introduced him in NDOD and had planned to expand his role in further books. The plot of Tattoo didn’t really exploit him well, and after that, well there weren’t any more books. I wanted to develop him into a cool ally that worked out of London and sometimes crossed the lines of regulations in order to help Bond. We’ll just have to say that Nigel is an unfulfilled idea.
In this book the villain’s target is the Cannes Film Festival. I’ve heard it said that a flaw in selecting this as a target is that vain showbiz glitterati are not necessarily the most sympathetic victims. Did this ever occur to you when you were writing the book, or come up in editorial sessions?
I disagree. Think about it a minute. What if dozens of our favorite movie stars were suddenly killed in a tragic accident or, God forbid, a terrorist attack? We’re talking about beloved celebrities. True, some celebrities are not beloved, but think about it a minute. It’s terrible and tragic when innocent people are killed, but it makes a far more spectacular impact when famous people are killed. Remember when John Lennon was shot in New York? Of course, he was John Lennon, but you see, the entire world mourned him. In America it was like when John F. Kennedy was shot. What if you had a whole bunch of people that had fans and admirers all over the world, and these people were suddenly murdered? If you think 9/11 made a statement, what kind of statement would that make? No, I think I hit it right on the head. Goro Yoshida, the guy hiring the Union to do this, wanted to strike at Western commercialism, and what better way than to hit at the motion picture industry?
The ending, when Bond and Tylyn say goodbye in a Nice cafe, reminds me very much of the bittersweet ending of Moonraker. Was this a nod to Fleming by any chance?
Not consciously, but I did want Bond not to get the girl at the end. In a way, I guess I was thinking about Moonraker but it wasn’t an intentional homage.
Never Dream of Dying was, for once, your own title. Was it clear sailing, or did Glidrose and the publishers fight you on this?
It was clear sailing, for once. That was my working title and it stuck. Everyone liked it. It sounds like a Fleming/Bond title, doesn’t it?
You’ve mentioned how you prefer the UK jacket art to the U.S. editions, yet with NDOD the UK jackets changed. Why the change? Did you have any input in regards to jacket art during your tenure?
I still don’t know why the jackets changed. They hired a new artist. Maybe someone at Hodder wasn’t happy with the covers, I really don’t know. I never had any input into the Hodder jackets. I was able to suggest things for the Putnam jackets. For example, I suggested the pair of faces for DoubleShot and the Corsican knife for Never Dream of Dying. Most of the time, though, I had no say in what was on the jacket.
I’ve noticed almost all your author photos were shot by Paul F. Dantuono. Who is he?
Paul, whom I mentioned earlier as being one of the characters in “Blast from the Past,” is a photographer I got to know in New York. We became the best of friends. He’s a very talented photographer and did some real high profile work for ad agencies, corporations, as well as fabulous artsy stuff for his own amusement. He’s since moved to Rhode Island.
The Man With The Red Tattoo
Seeing as this book deals with international terrorism, how did 9/11 effect the writing or the marketing of this book?
It didn’t in any way. The book was finished before 9/11. The outline was written in the fall of 2000, researched in the spring of 2001, and written during the summer of 2001. By 9/11 it was in the hands of the publishers. They didn’t change a thing.
Where were you on 9/11?
I was at home. I was online at the time and a friend instant-messaged me to say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At first I thought it was probably a single engine plane pilot that had made a huge mistake, but my friend insisted that I go turn on the television. I did and was in time to see the second plane hit the tower. Like everyone, I was in shock the rest of the day–the rest of the week!
Red Tattoo is set almost entirely in Japan and is one of your best books location-wise. Tell me about the research trip you took for this book?
I have to hand it to the Japan National Tourist Organization for their help, above and beyond the call of duty. They really got into the project and were probably the most helpful in any of the countries I visited. My friend James McMahon, who lives in the Chicago area, is a huge Japanese enthusiast. He can speak the language well, has been there numerous times, knows the culture and history, and is simply well versed in all things Japan. Add to that, he’s a huge Bond fan and knows the books and films inside and out. I asked him to accompany me to Japan to be my guide and it was a very smart move. He was also helpful in the initial planning of the novel. He made excellent suggestions for locations around Japan and provided insight into a number of aspects. The JNTO helped us plan an itinerary that incorporated all the locations I needed. On the Japanese side, my friend Yoshi Nakayama, a journalist and Bond fan in Japan, helped organize a number of things that the JNTO couldn’t do, such as the visit to the Soaplands establishment to interview a Soaplands girl and the boss (who was most assuredly a Yakuza). (And I assure you that interviews were the only things that took place there!) Yoshi also arranged for us to meet Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, who were both extremely gracious and welcoming. We had dinner at Mie Hama’s house! One of the more interesting things was the visit to the Seikan Tunnel.
I remember you telling a story about Seikan Tunnel to Bond fans at a luncheon in Chicago. You had an interesting experience there…
For those who’ve read the book, there’s a lengthy sequence that takes place there–it’s the longest underwater train tunnel in the world. Civilians aren’t allowed to go down there, but the JNTO helped me arrange it with Japan Rail. They took us down (in hardhats) so that I could map out a chase route. James and I were on our way to Sapporo, in Hokkaido, so the Japan Rail people arranged for the train to stop in the tunnel, unscheduled, so that we could get on! You should have seen the faces of all those passengers when the train stopped unexpectedly in the tunnel and in walked these two gaijin (foreigners)! What the heck are these two guys doing here??
What about the other Japanese locations?
Since the novel and film of You Only Live Twice took advantage of the main island of Japan and the southern portions, I took Bond into the northern island, Hokkaido. Incredible and beautiful place. Truly a magnificent country, Japan.
Benesse House on Naoshima Island is truly a Bondian location. The buildings there could well have been designed by Ken Adam. In actuality, they were designed by world-famous architect Tadao Ando, who happened to be on the premises when we were there. It was an interesting challenge to adapt the art museum at Benesse for my purposes.
While you’re on these trips, how do people react when you tell them you’re the guy who writes the James Bond books?
As I’ve said before, it opens a lot of doors. There was always a lot of confusion in many of the countries–they thought I wrote the Bond films and that was always a problem. Some paper in Spain reported that I was there researching what would be the next Bond film and of course that was incorrect. In Japan, when James and I arrived at Naoshima Island, where Benesse House is located, there was a huge crowd of people waiting at the pier for the ferry. That had never happened to me before.
[For an excellent day-by-day account of Raymond’s research trip to Japan, read James McMahon’s TO NIPPON, WITH LOVE at Her Majesty’s Secret Servant.)
Gunfights and fistfights abound in Red Tattoo, and the body count is quite high. It’s probably your most violent book. Is this because you’re trying to evoke the milieu of an Asian action movie in this novel perhaps?
It’s my most violent book? Really? It doesn’t strike me that way. To answer your question, no, I wasn’t trying to evoke an Asian action movie. I think I was influenced by Asian action movies more with Zero Minus Ten than with Tattoo.
The end of Chapter 17 is certainly meaningful and moving to readers of Fleming. Did you do this for the fans, or did you feel it was critical to give a nod to Bond’s ordeal in You Only Live Twice?
It was critical. I wanted the “Kissy ghost scene,” as I called it, not only for me, but for the fans, for Fleming, and for Bond. It had to be done. It was the heart of the book. It’s also the best scene in the book.
Many fans were delighted by the return of Tiger Tanaka. Were there any other Fleming characters in this book? How about cameos by real people?
No other Fleming characters, other than the mentions of Henderson and Kissy. Yasutake Tsukamoto plays a major role as the head of the yakuza clan. “Take” (“Tah-keh”) was the head of the JNTO in Chicago and he was most instrumental in arranging my research trip. I was pleased to honor him by making him a major character in the novel. My friend Yoshi Nakayama portrays Tanaka’s assistant. Ikuo Yamamaru is the real leader of the Ainu people. I honored him by making him Bond’s ally in the story. Reiko (Tamura) was inspired by a Japanese journalist I met by the name of Reiko Ishizaki–a lovely woman who was my vision of the character. She interviewed me for NHK television. On camera, she asked me what my ideal Japanese Bond-girl would be and I replied, “Well, you.” She turned a thousand shades of red and gestured for the cameraman to cut! Bob Greenwell is a real guy at the UK morgue that features in the early part of the book. He supplied me with all the info pertaining to that location. William Kanas is a lawyer friend of mine that I turned into the artist that sculpted the object in which the Kappa hides. And finally, Chris Lodge is a UK inspector. Chris is the son of noted British novelist David Lodge. David had attended a charity auction in which a “character in a Bond novel” was donated by IFP. David won the auction and gave it to his son Chris.
Time for a fan question. Ed would like to know: “How did you come up with the character of Kappa and more specifically, was the character of Kappa a conscious reaction to Nick Nack in TMWTGG?”
Again, I thank James McMahon for the Kappa. He told me about the mythology behind the Kappa character and I thought it was too good not to include it. So I made the Kappa a henchman. And no, I never thought of Nick Nack, although I can understand in hindsight how some people might see a similarity. The two characters are small people. Other than that, though, there isn’t much else. The Kappa is grotesquely deformed, facially.
I know this book went through a rather difficult titling process… for the longest time I remember you calling it simply “The Japan Book.” Can you tell us how you finally arrived at the title The Man With The Red Tattoo?
Yeah, I think it was the most difficult one to name. My working title was Red Widow Dawn. The “red widow” referred to the mosquito, and the “dawn” referred to the time of the attack. IFP nor the publishers liked that. I submitted another list of possible titles. At one point, someone submitted the title Bite! (I kid you not.) One of my titles was The Man with the Cold Tattoo. I rather liked that. This eventually evolved into Red Tattoo and I went back into the manuscript and made Yoshida’s tattoo entirely red.
You’re co-hosting a trip to Japan in September that will feature visits to many of the locations in The Man With The Red Tattoo. Feel free to plug. What can Bond fans expect from this trip?
If the tour company can get 30 paying customers, then it will happen. It’ll be great, I can assure you. I’ll be a guide, Doug Redenius will be a guide, and James McMahon will be a guide. Also Yoshi Nakayama. We’ll visit most of the locations featured in the film You Only Live Twice and my Tattoo novel. The guests will also get to meet Akiko Wakabayashi. Just visiting places like Noboribetsu and Benesse House is worth the price, I can assure you. Any serious Bond fan will want to come on this tour. Don’t let the price deter you, because it would cost at least that much anyway for a trip to Japan.
Let me slip in one collector question. “Doublenoughtspy” asks: “As a big collector of Fleming and Gardner Proofs – can you talk about what proofs were done for your Bond novels? For instance I know there were no proofs for the movie novelizations. But were there UK & US proofs for all of the others? Do any proofs exist for the short stories?”
There were no UK proofs for any of the books, including novelizations. Putnam produced proofs for the original novels only. I don’t know how many of each title they made. I was given a handful, which usually went to some select friends. I know some proofs sold for a lot of money to collectors through various venues. I can tell you that the only book that went through some significant changes between the proof copy and the final was Zero Minus Ten.
Many fans have asked if you had any plans, outlines, or story ideas for a seventh book? Is there anything you could share about what might have been in Benson Bond 7?
As I said earlier, I was pretty burned out when Tattoo was done. I was about to ask IFP for a year off when they decided to stop the continuation novels temporarily. I really didn’t have an idea yet what I was going to do with a “next” book. There was, however, another Bond short story I wrote in-between Never Dream of Dying and Tattoo. It wasn’t very good. I did it on spec, just for something to do during the off months between the outline and research trip for Tattoo. It was called “The Heart of Erzulie,” and it took place in Jamaica. IFP thought it was too much of a Fleming pastiche. I guess I agree. Oh well, it kept me busy for a month.
An unpublished Raymond Benson James Bond short story!? Can you
share any more details? Isn’t ‘Erzulie’ a Voodoo Goddess?
You’re correct. The story had a voodoo theme to it. Believe me, it shouldn’t see the light of day!
TO BE CONTINUED…
In the concluding Part IV, we examine Raymond Benson’s three 007 movie novelizations and his post Bond work.
Thanks to Raymond Benson and James McMahon for the use of their photographs.
Original The Man With The Red Tattoo cover art by Evan Willnow.
To discuss this interview visit this thread in the CBn Forums.