Thursday, May 9, 2019

New interview with mystery author R.G. Belsky

A warm welcome back to mystery novelist R.G. Belsky. He’s here today to catch up and chat about his new book, Below the Fold.

You can read our interview about Yesterday’s News here.

R.G. Belsky is a journalist and crime fiction author. Belsky has worked as a top editor at the New York Post, the New York Daily News, Star magazine and NBC News. He has also published 12 mystery novels.

His newest book Below the Fold - second in a series featuring Clare Carlson, a woman TV journalist in New York City - was published on May 7. Belsky won the Claymore Award at Killer Nashville in 2016. He has finished as a Finalist for both the Silver Falchion and David Awards. And his first Clare Carlson book, Yesterday’s News, was named Outstanding Crime/News Based Novel by Just Reviews in 2018 and is also a Finalist for Best Mystery of 2018 in the Foreward/INDIE Awards.

Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, R.G., please tell us about your newest release.
“Below the fold” is an old journalistic term for a story that isn’t important enough to make it to the top of the front page.

That certainly seems to be the case when a homeless woman named Dora Gayle is found murdered on the streets of New York City. She’s a “nobody” and there’s no reason for the media to give her death much coverage.

But Clare Carlson - an ex-newspaper reporter who is now the news director of a New York TV station - begins investigating this apparently meaningless death anyway and uncovers mysterious links between the homeless woman and a number of wealthy and influential figures.

There is a scandal-ridden ex-Congressman; a prominent female defense attorney; a decorated NYPD detective and - most shocking of all - a wealthy media mogul who owns the TV station where Clare works.

Soon there are more murders, more victims, more questions. As the bodies pile up, Clare realizes that her job, her career, and maybe even her life are at stake as she chases after her biggest story ever.

What inspired you to write this book?
I worked for many years in the media (at the New York Post, New York Daily News, Star magazine and NBC News) and covered most of the big crime stories of our times: O.J., Jon Benet, Casey Anthony, Jodi Arias and all the rest.

The media is often criticized - and I’ve been the target of this myself - for focusing so much attention on these high-profile sensational cases, while ignoring other crimes that don’t involve wealth or fame or sex.

So I wanted to write a mystery novel about a case that doesn’t appear to rise to headline level, but then explodes into a sensational story because of the dogged reporting of a dedicated journalist.

Everyone, important or not, has a story.

Sometimes you just have to look a bit harder to find it, like Clare does in Below the Fold.

Excerpt from Below the Fold:



Every human life is supposed to be important, everyone should matter. That’s what we all tell ourselves, and it’s a helluva noble concept. But it’s not true. Not in the real world. And certainly not in the world of TV news where I work.
Especially when it comes to murder.
Murder is a numbers game for me. It operates on what is sometimes cynically known in the media as the Blonde White Female Syndrome. My goal is to find a murder with a sexy young woman victim to put on the air. Sex sells. Sex, money, and power. That translates into big ratings numbers, which translates into more advertising dollars. These are the only murder stories really worth doing.
The amazing thing to me is not that there is so much news coverage of these types of stories. It’s that there are people who actually question whether they should be big news stories. These critics dredge up the age-old argument about why some murders get so much more play in the media than all the other murders that happen every day.
I don’t understand these people.
Because the cold, hard truth—and everyone knows this, whether they want to admit it or not—is that not everybody is equal when it comes to murder.
Not in life.
And certainly not in death.
It reminds me of the ongoing debate that happens every time Sirhan Sirhan—the man who killed Robert F. Kennedy—comes up for a parole hearing. There are those who point out that he’s already served fifty years in jail. They argue that many other killers have served far less time before being paroled. Sirhan Sirhan should be treated equally, they say, because the life of Robert F. Kennedy is no more or less important than the life of any other crime victim. Me, I think Sirhan Sirhan should be kept caged up in a four-foot by six-foot cell as long as he lives—which hopefully will be to a hundred so he can suffer every minute of it. For God’s sakes, people, he killed Robert—freakin’—Kennedy!
And so, to those who think that we in the media make too big a deal out of some of these high-profile murder stories, I say that’s completely and utterly ridiculous. I reject that argument completely. I won’t even discuss it.


Now let me tell you something else.
Everything I just said there is a lie.
The truth is there really is no magic formula for murder in the TV news business. No simple way to know from the beginning if a murder story is worth covering or not. No easy answer to the question of how much a human life is worth—or what the impact will be of that person’s death by a violent murder.
When I started out working at a newspaper years ago, I sat next to a veteran police reporter on the overnight shift. There was an old-fashioned wire machine that would print out police slips of murders that happened during the night. Most of them involved down-market victims in bad neighborhoods whose deaths clearly would never make the paper.
But he would dutifully call the police on each one and ask questions like: “Tell me about the body of that kid you found in the Harlem pool room—was he a MENSA candidate or what?” Or, “The woman you found dead in the alley behind the housing project—any chance she might be Julia Roberts or a member of the British Royal Family?”
I asked him once why he even bothered to make the calls since none of these murders seemed ever worth writing about in the paper.
“Hey, you never know,” he said.
It was good advice back then, and it still is today. I try to teach it to all my reporters in the TV newsroom that I run now. Check every murder out. Never assume anything about a murder story. Follow the facts and the evidence on every murder—on every crime story—because you can never be certain where that trail might take you.
Okay, I don’t always follow my own advice in the fast-paced, ratings-obsessed world of TV news where I make my living.
And usually it does turn out to be just a waste of time.
But every once in a while, well . . .
Hey, you never know.

What’s the next writing project?
My third Clare Carlson book The Last Scoop, which will be published in 2020.In this one, Clare starts out investigating what she thinks is just a city corruption scandal - but soon finds herself on the hunt for a terrifyingly evil serial killer. It’s another “ripped from the headlines” mystery - inspired in part by real life serial killer stories I have covered like Son of Sam and Ted Bundy.

What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
Putting together a complex story with lots of plot twists - and somehow making it simple and interesting enough to keep people reading. I usually start out with a basic idea for a mystery - and a sort of general idea of an ending. But no idea how I’m going to go from one to the other. I like to surprise myself as I write, and - quite often - the ending turns out to be far different than I originally envisioned. That’s what happens in BELOW THE FOLD.

If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
I don’t do a lot of research because I tend to write about things I know. I know about newsrooms, I know about New York City, etc. When I use a different setting for a scene or chapter, I’ll usually pick a place I’ve been to already. So if I go to Dallas or New Orleans or Nashville for a writing conference or other appearance, I’ll use that city at some point in one of my books. Of course, you can do a lot of checking and research on Google, but you have to be careful about that. Not everything is clear on the Internet. Take writing about New York City for instance: You need to know that Houston Street is pronounced HOWston - not like the city. Or that most New Yorkers don’t call Avenue of the Americas by that name – it’s just Sixth Avenue. So if I’m writing extensively about a city where I don’t live - like say Los Angeles - I’ll talk to someone who’s lived in LA to make sure I’ve got it all right. But overall, I spend much more time on my writing than on research. I suppose that’s partly because I’ve had to do so much research over the years as a journalist. The main job of a journalist is making you sure you have all the facts right. As a mystery novelist, I get to make up most of the facts. Hey, that’s a lot more fun!

What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
I like to write in noisy, crowded places. Maybe because I spent so much time working in chaotic newsrooms! So I write in coffee shops, on the beach, in bars - even on the New York subway. Total silence is not an inspiration for me, I like to hear people talking, laughing, arguing or whatever around me - I feel it gives me a certain energy that I’m able to put into my books. Oh, and I write all my fiction out longhand first on a yellow legal pad. Which is strange because I always worked on a computer as a newsman. But somehow I feel like I’m more creative writing fiction out long hand - then eventually typing it into the computer.

What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
In mystery, I’ve been a longtime fan of Michael Connelly - partly because he’s an ex-journalist like me but mostly because he’s consistently written so many wonderful mystery novels over the past 25 years or so.

Overall, I’ve always loved Stephen King. Been reading him since the ‘70s and I think he’s sometimes very underrated by people who think he’s just a “horror” writer. Many of his novels - like 11/22/63 a few years ago - are brilliant classics to me. And his non-fiction book On Writing is a must-read for anyone out there who has any aspirations for being an author.

Oh, and I’ll read anything about baseball written by Bill James...

Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
To me, the most important part of any mystery novel I write is the character. I want Clare Carlson to be someone my readers love spending time with - just the way I’ve enjoyed spending time over the years with some of my favorite characters like Harry Bosch, Kinsey Millhone, Matt Scudder and - of course, most of all - Philip Marlowe. You can love the character, you can get mad at things the character does - but you have to care about the character. That’s what I try to do with Clare Carlson. And yes, just for the record, I like Clare a lot!

Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!

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