Guest Blogger: Raymond Benson
They say (who are “they,” anyway?) to write what you know, and while there’s a lot to be said for that adage, I’m not sure those of us who are practitioners of thrillers, mysteries, or other genres such as horror, science fiction, and fantasy—can write what we know, because most of us are not killers, vigilantes, astronauts, aliens, vampires, hobbits, or the opposite sex. We make it up. The same is true for the locations in our books. Sometimes we are required to send our heroes and heroines to exotic places where we’ve never been. If we’re lucky, as I was when I was writing the official James Bond novels between 1996 – 2002, I could afford to travel to those exotic lands and walk in 007’s footsteps. I could soak up the sights and smells, taste the food, study the people, and get to know the place well enough to write about it. In other cases in which I was unable to visit a specific location, I had to do the research—in other words, I hit the travel guides, the Internet, and talked to people who live there. It’s what most of us do.
That said, almost all of my original thrillers, i.e., those that are not work-for-hire tie-ins and such, are set in locations I know well, and these are places where I have lived at some time in my life. My readers will find that I like to use parts of Texas (particularly West Texas, where I spent the first seventeen years of my existence), New York City (which I called home for half of my twenties and half of my thirties), and Chicagoland (where I’ve been since 1993 and still reside today). These locales are stamped in my DNA, so it’s only natural that I write about them.
My new thriller, THE BLACK STILETTO, is no exception and in fact uses all three. It’s the story of a female costumed vigilante working in 1950s New York. The metropolis really hasn’t changed that much since 1958 except in the details, which, of course, I did have to research. For example, there are a few scenes set in the famous Algonquin Hotel. I remember being in the Algonquin when I lived in the city during the 1980s, but I had to refresh my recollections and also talk to someone who was there during the time period in question to find out what was different. It’s a good thing I did, because the names of the restaurants had changed. Nevertheless, after living in Manhattan for eleven years, there’s something about the city that sticks to your blood and I find that I can write about it as if I’m still there. New York plays heavily in some of my other books, such as FACE BLIND, A HARD DAY’S DEATH, and TORMENT.
The Stiletto, we learn from the story, grew up in West Texas, specifically Odessa (home of the original FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, and yes, Permian High School was my high school!). Once again, it’s a city that is a part of me, even though I had to dig into its past to get the details right. For example, I had to find out what schools my heroine would have attended as a child in the early 50s—one of which no longer exists. I have used West Texas a number of times in books such as EVIL HOURS, SWEETIE’S DIAMONDS, and ARTIFACT OF EVIL. Basically situated in the desert with a notoriously flat landscape dotted with oil wells, the region has a mystery and mood all its own.
Finally, Chicagoland makes an important appearance in THE BLACK STILETTO because the heroine’s son—in present day—lives in the northwest suburbs and takes care of his elderly, Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. I use real towns such as Buffalo Grove, Riverwoods, and Arlington Heights, and I mention real streets and buildings—but I changed the name of the nursing home just to be on the safe side. Once again, the Chicago area features in several of my books, such as SWEETIE’S DIAMONDS and DARK SIDE OF THE MORGUE.
So what is the lesson here? If you use locations that you know, they’re easier to write about. Yes, there is still research involved. You have to get your facts straight, especially if you’re talking about a different time period. Nevertheless, if you’ve been to your hero’s or heroine’s stomping grounds or actually lived there, you will find that the locales are imprinted in your memory banks, that never-ending well of inspiration—and this all gets colorfully rendered onto the printed page.
Raymond Benson is the author of 25 published books. His most recent thriller is THE BLACK STILETTO, from Oceanview Publishing, which BOOKLIST awarded with a starred review. The sequel, THE BLACK STILETTO: BLACK & WHITE, will be published May 2012. Raymond was the 4th official author of James Bond novels, and his work is collected in the recent anthologies CHOICE OF WEAPONS and THE UNION TRILOGY. His “rock ‘n’ roll thriller” DARK SIDE OF THE MORGUE was a Shamus nominee for Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel of 2009. Raymond is also a prolific tie-in writer, the most recent work being HOMEFRONT—THE VOICE OF FREEDOM (co-written with John Milius).
THE BLACK STILETTO: Check out the value-added packed official website to download a free teaser short story, watch the promo video, and listento the “Black Stiletto Song.”