Action should be Raymond Benson’s middle name. When you write six original James Bond novels, three film novelizations, and three short stories about this legendary spy otherwise known as Agent 007, you must know how to write great action. But that’s not all Benson knows. His thrillers Dark Side of the Morgue and A Hard Day’s Death immerse readers into the world of rock n’ roll. And Benson is on top of his game (and the New York Times best-seller list) when it comes to writing successful videogame novelizations.
Contributing editor Janice Gable Bashman chats with Raymond Benson about his upcoming thriller Homefront—The Voice of Freedom, co-written with John Milius, who wrote or directed many films, including Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn.
You have written several novelizations of video games, including Metal Gear Solid and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (under the name David Michaels). Why will fans of your previous novelizations (and other books) love Homefront—The Voice of Freedom?
At the risk of speaking with little humility, I am confident in saying that it’s better than those previous titles you mention! This was an extremely interesting and fun book to write. It is an original story based on John Milius’ universe of the Homefront videogame, but readers don’t have to be gamers or be familiar with the videogame to enjoy it. It’s a stand-alone thriller, pure and simple, and it should appeal to all fans of the genre.
Can you give a brief summary of this “speculative military/political thriller”?
The year is 2025. America’s economic and military powers decline dramatically in the fifteen years between now and then due to a number of frighteningly possible scenarios. At the same time, North Korea’s status in the world increases under the leadership of Kim Jong-un (and we predicted his ascension before he was named heir to the dictatorship!). Taking advantage of America’s weakened state, North Korea explodes an EMP over the country, wiping out all communications and devices with electronic circuits. Then they invade. The story is told from the point of view of a former hack reporter who travels across the USA documenting what he sees and encounters. It’s a road trip, an apocalyptic cautionary tale, and an action-thriller all in one. And there’s romance, too!
Your co-author John Milius stated, “Homefront represents a fascinating vision of the near future. After completing my work on the game, it became clear that there were many more stories to tell, and this book will offer a chilling look at this near-future world.” What’s so fascinating about this world?
It’s fascinatingly scary! We use real-life cities, streets, and neighborhoods, brand names and familiar landmarks, and situations that could really happen. It’s a world we don’t want to live in, let me tell you! Writing it gave me the shivers. Hopefully I’ve produced some startling imagery. Can you imagine a Las Vegas in which everyone gambles by candlelight, due to the lack of electricity?
What’s the key to making video game stories appealing to readers?
To be a good videogame, it has to have a good story behind it. That’s why Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid are so successful. While the gameplay is exciting and visceral, it’s the unveiling story that compels a player to keep going Like with any tie-in work, the task of the author is to take the existing story (or, in this case, create an original one in the existing universe) and make sure it has all the right ingredients of a modern thriller.
What difficulties are there in writing a video game tie-in novel, and how do you deal with them?
More than half of my books, out of twenty-three published works, are tie-ins. In today’s fickle and uncertain publishing world, a good tie-in gig is terrific bread-and-butter work. I am grateful that I’ve got a foot in that door. I approach a videogame novelization the same way I approach one of my original novels. After obtaining the required information from the licensee, I write a detailed outline. In the best circumstances, there is healthy back-and-forth communication between the author and the licensee. With Homefront, working with game company THQ, developer Kaos Studios, and creator John Milius was a great experience. But, to answer your question, there’s really not a lot of difference between writing tie-ins and penning original works.
What’s next for Raymond Benson?
In September, my original novel The Black Stiletto will be published by Oceanview Publishing, the same folks who did ITW’s Thrillers—100 Must-Reads. I’m very excited about this one. It’s about a female vigilante operating in late 1950s/early 1960s New York City. It’s “Million Dollar Baby” meets “The Dark Knight” meets “Mad Men”!