Monday, November 14, 2022

Q&A with R.G. Belsky




R.G. Belsky is the author of the new mystery novel It's News to Me, the fifth in his Clare Carlson series. He has worked at a variety of news organizations, including NBC News, where he was a managing editor, and the New York Daily News, where he also served as managing editor. He lives in New York City.


Q: It's News to Me is your fifth novel featuring your journalist protagonist Clare Carlson. Did you know when you were working on the first novel that you'd be writing more books about her?


A: No, I never envisioned it as a series. The first book was a very personal story for Clare about dealing with a traumatic incident in her own life at the same time she had to cover it as a news story. The original title was Forget Me Not.


But the publisher told me they wanted to change that to Yesterday’s News – so that it had a media feel that would go along with the rest of the series they had planned for Clare. And that’s how she’s lived on for five books now.


For whatever it's worth, I wrote two series characters previously in my career – a TV reporter named Jenny McKay and a newspaper guy named Gil Malloy – and both of those started out as stand-alone books too. It’s very hard to write a series until you see how the first book works!


Q: How did you create Clare, and do you think she's changed at all over the course of the series?


A: People always ask me if Clare is based on any journalist I worked with during my own career as an editor at the New York Post, New York Daily News, Star magazine or NBC News.


The answer is yes. She’s based on a LOT of people from those newsrooms. Terrific reporters – many of them women – who live to break the big story every day in the intense competition of the New York City media world. So is there a real life Clare Carlson? Let’s just say I’ve met a lot of real-life Clare Carlsons during my journalistic career.

I don’t think she’s changed too much over the course of the series. Some of the events and people around her have changed. But she still has a big mouth and says things she probably shouldn’t; her personal life is still a train wreck and…well, she’s still a flawed but I hope fascinating person. That’s the way I like her. And a lot of readers say they do too.


Q: What inspired the plot of It's News to Me?


A: Like the previous Clare novels, It’s News to Me is a “ripped from the headlines” mystery inspired by sensational stories I covered during my own media career. Many of them headline murders like the death of Riley Hunt in this book. 


I wound up being involved in most of the big news stories of recent years: crimes like Son of Sam, O.J., Etan Patz, Casey Anthony, and Jodi Arias; political sex scandals like Bill Clinton, Gary Hart, John Edwards, and, of course, Donald Trump; and celebrity deaths like John Lennon, Michael Jackson, and even Elvis.


And so when people ask me now where I got the ideas for writing all my crime novels, I tell them: “Hey, I just went to work in the newsroom every day!”


Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end before you start writing them, or do you make many changes along the way?


A: Ah, the old question for an author of “are you a pants-er or a plotter?” Me, I’m definitely a pants-er, someone who writes a book from the seat of my pants. I don’t plan it out, I don’t do outlines. I just go where the story – and, most importantly, the characters – take me.


I usually know A) a beginning and B) a general idea for an ending, but no clue whatsoever of how I’m going to get from A to B. And sometimes the ending changes based on what I write in the middle. So the ending winds up being as much of a surprise to me as it is to the reader.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just finished writing Clare Carlson book #6. It’s called Broadcast Blues – about the murder of a former New York City policewoman; about police corruption; about marital infidelity; about financial fraud; about corporate takeovers and…well, plenty about Clare’s life too. I put a lot of stuff in this one.


I also have finished a new thriller written under the pen name of Dana Perry. It’s about a female FBI agent named Nikki Cassidy and will be out in late 2023 or early 2024. I’m also working on two more Nikki Cassidy books for that series. If you want to read some of my Dana Perry work now, I have four thrillers out under that pen name: The Silent Victim, The Golden Girl, Her Ocean Grave, and Silent Island.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I write all my books sitting in public settings like coffee shops, bars, at the beach, even at times on a bus, train, or subway. I like people and noise and energy around me when I’m writing fiction. If I’m home, I have music playing and turned up loud. I guess that comes from all my years of writing in chaotic newsrooms. It’s the way I work the best!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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