I approached Carte Blanche with some nervousness, because:
1) I’ve never been a fan of authors resuming series started by others. I understand some reasons WHY it’s done but I’ve never been crazy about it. And, yes, I’ll be making similar remarks when Ace Atkins publishes his first Spenser book (now that Robert Parker has died and the estate has arranged for Atkins to resume the Spenser books and for Michael Brandman to write the Jesse Stone books.)
2) While I like the surprises and cliffhanger nature of the action in author Jeffrey Deaver’s books I wasn’t sure how well that would fit with the James Bond formula. And his solution – to alter that formula, led to the last concern…
3) Any time an author decides to shift a character in time – in this case making Bond a vet of the war in Afghanistan – I fret that they may be making too many changes.
But I decided to read Carte Blanche, put these concerns to the author and let the reader decide whether my concerns were justified or not.
Here Bond’s immediate task involves stopping someone from doing something terrible involving the death of thousands. If you think that description is vague, that’s intentional because Bond and his employers also are short on specifics. So Bond has to chase possible suspects around the world to stop evil-doers from doing acts of terrorism, but those who are supposedly on his side are not always true allies. In short, it’s typical Bond but under a new author and with some changes to James himself – he’s now a ex-smoker, for example.
How did you come to be recruited to take over the Bond series? Were you contacted by the estate? Were there any restrictions made on what you could do with the character?
I won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for my book Garden of Beasts a few years ago. In accepting that award in London I commented how honored I was because I started reading Fleming at a young age (about eight) and I counted him as an influence in my own writing. I suspect the members of the estate in the audience heard my remarks, checked out my other books and then, about a year and a half ago, contacted me to ask if I would want to write the continuation novel for 2011. I said yes almost immediately. There were very few actual restrictions, but I reassured the estate that I would do their boy justice.
How did you decide how much and in what what ways to change and update Bond? Why make him a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, for example, and not Iraq? Why make him an ex-smoker?
I did not change many facts, vis a vis the original Bond, though in updating him I had to make sure he was very appealing and current. Smoking was out not because it’s politically incorrect, but because it’s a bad habit for a spy nowadays, given the use of forensic evidence in espionage work.
Why did you decide to update/change his attitudes toward women, especially toward coworkers? The Bond of old surely would not have hesitated in sleeping with coworker as he did in this book.
Actually, Bond in the original books (my source material; not the movies) was always looking for someone to settle down with. He was married once and lived with two women for extended periods of time, though none of those worked out. He was much less a flirt than people give him credit for (again, that was more the movies). The women in Fleming’s original books were quite empowered, though they were often presented through a male-dominated filter. Look at the TV show Mad Men and you’ll see reflections of this attitude.
Did you have to run this book by the Ian Fleming estate or others involved in prior Bond books or movies to get their approval? Did they request or demand any changes?
The Fleming estate had approval rights over the book, which was fine with me. I submitted an outline early in the process, which they approved with some very good suggestions. I then went ahead and finished the book and submitted it to them. They again made a few good edits and then it went to my publishers, including a very good British copyeditor, who made sure my language and approach to Britishisms were “spot on.”
What would Bond make of this current controversy about the tabloids and Scotland Yard?
Bond had little patience for bureaucratic shenanigans and internal political maneuvering. His attitude about the press, at least in Carte Blanche, was that he didn’t have a lot of time for it but media was a good way to put an “active measure” in place — a spy term that would mean, in this instance, planting misinformation about an enemy. He was too busy on his job to spend his days watching TV news or reading the tabloids.
I know some stuff in the book is perhaps real and and some invented but I have to know if the NDR is real. You describe it this way: “Bond had phoned in an NDR – a Null Detain Request – and his number-plate was ignored by cameras and constables with speed guns.” If so can I get one?:)
Ha! We authors have to have some fun when we write, and an NDR is a product of my imagination, mostly because the way I drive I have longed for one for years!
Some who read Carte Blanche are Bond fans but unsure if they want to read him written by a different author. Others are Deaver fans, especially who love your plot twists, wondering if they’d also like your brand of Bond books. What would you say to those two distinct audiences on why they should try this book?
Brilliant question, and the answer is that I was very conscious of keeping both sets of fans happy. An author’s job is to entertain his or her audience if the subject of the book is thriller fiction, and I was very aware that I had to make sure Bond reflected the character the millions of fans loved, which I did by imbuing my hero with elements from the original books that those fans would like. And I made sure that my millions of fans would like the book by creating a typically fast-paced, cliffhanger of a novel with several surprise endings, which is my trademark.
Did your research for this book include travelling to the various locales mentioned, or had you already been to any of them, or did you do your research online or another way?
Yes, I had been to all of the locations I wrote about.
What type of writer are you? Daytime? Nighttime? Are you a “structured writer” in terms of putting in X number of hours per day, or must you be inspired by another type of stimuli, if so, what is it? Do you write from home or from some writers’ retreat?
I am utterly structured. I work eight or more hours a day, five or six days a week. I spend eight months doing an outline and research (the outlines are typically 150-200 pages), and then I spend two months writing the book, two more editing and polishing. I’m a manufacturer, just like a toothpaste company. I don’t wait for inspiration or muses. I go out and find the story and write it up I write and I do so anywhere — at home, airplanes, taxis, hotels.
I’d be curious on your thoughts on this Slate piece looking at this relaunch of Bond.
I hadn’t read it before but find it a well-researched, thoughtful piece — I respect critics who bring depth to their analysis of a book, or any creative work, that they’re reviewing, rather than offering readers clever phrases and empty wit. I certain agree that my Bond is completely contemporary — a la Jack Bauer — which I perceived as the only way to make him immediate to today’s readers, though others may disagree.
What were the pros and cons of having Bond as a lead character instead of your usual protagonists, Lincoln Rhyme and Kathryn Dance?
There really were no pros and cons. I approach each book with the frame of mind that I need to tailor the story to the character. Bond was an international, tactically oriented intelligence agent; Rhyme is a forensic scientist. My other series character, Kathryn Dance, is a kinesics (body language) expert. Corte, from Edge, is a protection specialist. I make sure that each character is in harmony with the type of story I envision, and then go from there. I will say that gave Bond some of Lincoln Rhyme’s brilliant ratiocination; he engages in mental chess matches against the villain as often as he pulls out his gun.
What’s next for you both in terms of Bond books – I assume this is just the first of them for you – as well as your regular series?
I agreed to do only this one Bond book. Presently I’m writing my next Kathryn Dance, and outlining my Lincoln Rhyme for 2013.
What thriller writers do you like and recommend others try and why?
A few that come to mind: Michael Connelly, Denis Lehane, Ian Rankin, Lee Child, John Connolly, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Kathy Reichs, John Gilstrap. What I like is the way these authors blend fast-paced criminal plotting with superb character development.
Lastly what have been your career highs and lows? I’m curious how taking over the Bond series ranks among your other achievements?
My career high was when a young man came up to me at a signing and asked me to sign a half-dozen books of other authors. I asked why. He said it was because he hadn’t read a single non-text book until he picked up The Bone Collector and it turned him on to reading. The lows have been the years of rejection. But, hey, that’s the nature of the creative business, right? Writing Carte Blanche has certainly been right up there at the top.