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.
Bio:
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:
OPENING CREDITS
THE RULES ACCORDING TO CLARE
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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