By George Ebey
The Black Stiletto is back in the final novel of this stunning five-book saga. This time, everything will come to an end and all secrets will be revealed. It’s 1962. Judy Cooper’s former lover and his psychotic sister set out to ruin the very pregnant Stiletto, forcing her to flee to Texas for a showdown. In the present, the Alzheimer’s that afflicts elderly Judy is in its last stage, but her son and granddaughter continue to protect her from the assaults from her past.
Mr. Benson recently checked in with THE BIG THRILL to provide some insight into the origins of the character and to explain what it was like to bring his long-running series to its exciting conclusion.
Let’s talk about the genesis of the series. How did THE BLACK STILETTO first come about?
I had an idea for a story in which a grown man is taking care of his mother in a nursing home—she has Alzheimer’s—and he discovers some dark secret about her past that no one knew about. I didn’t know what that dark secret was, so the idea sort of sat on the back burner. My mother-in-law died of Alzheimer’s, so my family went through that ordeal. Then, in 2009, I was having lunch with my literary manager, Peter Miller, and he said, “Raymond, you need to come up with something that women would like, because women buy books more than men.” Since there were a zillion superhero movies coming out, I facetiously said, “How about a female superhero?” We laughed and then he got serious and said, “That’s actually not a bad idea. Think about it.”
So I went home and did think about it. Then I combined the Alzheimer’s story with the female superhero idea and voila! It all fit. The dark secret was that the mom was a masked vigilante back in the 1950s/early 60s. (No super powers.) So I created the mythology that the “Black Stiletto” was a female crime fighter in New York and L.A. between 1958 and 1962, and then she mysteriously disappears. No one knew who she was, but she became a legend. Then, in the present, her grown son discovers her secret. It became two parallel stories—one in the present and one in the past.
Did you always intend for it to be a long-running series or was that something that came about as the first book evolved?
I conceived the saga as a five-book story. It’s really more of a serial, because each successive book begins where the previous one left off. Each book tells the story of one year in the Stiletto’s career—told in first person through her diaries. That means this new one is the fifth and final book. All secrets will be revealed and all questions answered!
The books do a great job of sharing the narrative between the past (via a series of journal entries from the Black Stiletto herself) as well as through the point of view of a narrator (her son) in the present. Did this inventive technique present any creative challenges for you? If so, how did you address them?
The main thing was writing in a convincing female voice. It’s strange, but for some reason I’m very comfortable doing so. I’ve written several novels with female protagonists. Luckily, my wife (an avid reader) vets all my manuscripts and would catch things that might not sound right from a woman’s POV. I also gave that first manuscript to a couple of other female writers. One of them said, “If I hadn’t known a man had written it, I would have believed a woman did.” That was good enough for me!
ENDINGS & BEGINNINGS looks to be the final installment in THE BLACK STILETTO’s canon. Can you tell us what it was like to approach the inevitable task of crafting the series’ conclusion? What were some of the challenges? Rewards?
When I started the books, I knew how the series would end, but I didn’t exactly know what went in-between. So essentially I outlined the first book and figured out in general how it would all end up. When it came to books 2, 3, and 4 (and most of 5), I treated them as stand-alones—although there is continuity between the books. I’d like to think a reader could pick up a middle book and enjoy it without having read the previous ones, but it’s probably best to read them in order. Think Harry Potter or Hunger Games or whatever… you wouldn’t read those out of order either.
What has been your favorite part of working on this series?
I believe this book is my thirty-third or thirty-fourth published title, and I have to say that I feel the BLACK STILETTO saga is my magnum opus. At least, so far. I’m really proud of it. It was a lot of fun to write, and when I finished one book, I couldn’t wait to start the next one. I was exhausted when I was done, and it took me a while to recharge the batteries in order to write something else. The research into the time periods was interesting. I lived in New York City for over a decade, so I knew it well—but researching L.A. in the early 60s was a challenge, but a fun one.
The TV/film rights for the Black Stiletto have been optioned by Tony Eldridge of Lonetree Entertainment—he is one of the producers of the new “Equalizer” movie with Denzel Washington. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Tony can get this set up as a TV series or feature film. That, of course, would make my day.
Raymond Benson is the author of over 30 published books. His most recent thriller series is THE BLACK STILETTO; the fifth and final installment, THE BLACK STILETTO: ENDINGS & BEGINNINGS, will be published November 2014. Raymond was the fourth—and first American—official author of James Bond novels, and his works are collected in the recent anthologies CHOICE OF WEAPONS and THE UNION TRILOGY. His rock ‘n’ roll thriller, DARK SIDE OF THE MORGUE, was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best Paperback Original P.I. novel of 2009. Raymond also teaches film history and is a working musician.
To learn more about Raymond, please visit his website.