Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
My author name is R.G. Belsky. But my actual name is Dick Belsky, which I’ve always used during my career as a New York City journalist. R.G. Belsky came about when I wrote a book back in the ’90s with a female protagonist – and the publisher thought it might be a good idea to let the reader think I could be a woman too. So they came up with the “R.G.” idea to keep it vague. Unfortunately, when the book came out, they included my picture on the back cover which kind of gave away the secret. Nevertheless, every publisher since then has said they like R.G. Belsky better as my author name, so that’s what it continues to be.
In terms of age, the numbers get a bit frightening. Let’s just say I’ve been around a long time. I came of age in the ’60s, spent a year in Vietnam, worked in NYC media for four decades and have published 11 novels – so you can pretty much do the math.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I’m from Cleveland, Ohio originally. But I moved to New York City in 1970 after I got back from Vietnam and have lived in Manhattan ever since. I also live now in Princeton, NJ.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I graduated from Ohio University with a degree in journalism; spent a year working at various small newspapers in New Jersey; was at the New York Post for 19 years where I became Metropolitan Editor; covered celebrity news for 10 years as News Editor of Star magazine; was at the New York Daily News for five years as Metropolitan Editor and later Managing Editor; and then spent six years at NBC as Vice President for local digital media and also as a Managing Editor at NBC News for network digital coverage.
It’s sure been a wild ride! I’ve covered all the big crime stories like Son of Sam and O.J.; major political stories and scandals involving Bill Clinton and others; and a lot of other memorable stories I’m very proud of. Amazingly enough though, if you google me, the main story I’m associated with in journalistic history is HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR – the famous New York Post headline from the 80s. Go figure.
While I was doing all this, I was also writing mystery novels and thrillers. Most of my books were done while I was still working full time as a journalist.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
My new mystery is called YESTERDAY’S NEWS – and it will be published on May 1, 2018 by Oceanview. It’s about a TV journalist who becomes obsessed with finding out answers about the long-ago disappearance of a little girl from the streets of New York City. It’s the first in a series featuring Clare Carlson – a onetime star newspaper reporter who is now a TV executive at a New York station. The second book in the series, THE CINDERELLA MURDERS, is scheduled to come out in 2019.
At the same time, two of my thrillers from the ’90s – LOVERBOY and PLAYING DEAD – were recently released on E-book for the first time by Harper Collins – and are also available again in mass market paperback.
My most recently published books were the Gil Malloy series for Atria – BLONDE ICE (2016); SHOOTING FOR THE STARS (2015); and THE KENNEDY CONNECTION (2014). They feature Gil Malloy, a hard-driving newspaper reporter for the New York Daily News.
I’m also a Contributing Editor for The Big Thrill magazine where I have done numerous interviews of well-known authors as well as other articles about mystery writing, journalism – and, of course, my connection between the two.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Well, I’ve been writing all my life. At first, writing non-fiction as a journalist. But very early on I discovered how much fun fiction was and decided to try my hand at that too. People always ask me how I can have the energy to write a mystery novel after working in a newsroom all day. My answer is that I spend my time in a newsroom dealing with facts – but as a mystery author I get to make up the facts! It’s been a nice combination of occupations for me.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Wow, never really thought about that! On the one hand, I guess I could say I always considered myself a writer, even before I got published. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I really consider myself a writer now – or just someone who enjoys doing this. To me, it’s always been about the writing itself, not worrying about whether I’m calling myself a writer or not.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Well, if you want to go all the way back, as a little kid I devoured sports novels and science fiction novels. Decided then I wanted to write some kind of fiction. But I guess it really all started when I discovered Raymond Chandler. I then read all of Agatha Christie, Robert B. Parker, Ross MacDonald and a lot of others that inspired me to start writing my own mystery novels.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I’ve come up with most of my titles on my own, and I’m pretty proud of most of them.
My first book was titled ONE FOR THE MONEY – and I did that several years before Janet Evanovich came out with her first one with that same title (Okay, she was a lot more successful than me with it) Loved the title of my last Gil Malloy book too, BLONDE ICE – about a deadly, cold-blooded female serial killer.
But the title for my new book YESTERDAY’S NEWS was actually the idea of the people at Oceanview who are publishing it. It fits better than my original title did with the premise of the book – about a long ago missing girl story that every other journalist in town has forgotten about except for my character, Clare Carlson.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I have a pretty simple theory when it comes to writing style: I try to write the kind of books that I like to read from other people. I always like to keep the story moving, make it entertaining and create interesting characters that the reader – as well as me – will want to spend time with.
The most challenging thing for me about becoming a mystery writer was forgetting a lot of the rules I learned as a journalist. A journalist – especially a tabloid journalist like I was for most of my career – needs to tell a story fast. Put all the main facts in the lead. Go from A to B as quickly as you can. But that doesn’t work as a mystery writer. You can’t give away all the facts on the first page or go from A to B too quickly – you need to include a lot of false starts, surprise twists, red herrings, etc. So the bottom line is that as a mystery writer I had to unlearn a lot of things I knew as a journalist and pretty much do the opposite. Which was interesting!
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
YESTERDAY’S NEWS – like most of my books – is inspired In part by events I’ve covered as a journalist and people I’ve worked with in newsrooms. Not that the events in the books or the people are real, of course. But there is no better inspiration for writing exciting crime stories than working in a New York City newsroom. When people have asked me in the past where I get my ideas for the characters or the stories in my mystery novels, I always reply: “I just go to work every day!”
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I don’t do a lot of traveling for research. My books are set in New York, which I know from years of living and working here. For other locations, I tend to use places I might have traveled to in the past. In other words, if I travel to California or New Orleans or Nashville for a mystery conference, those spots might turn up in my novels. I do like to have seen places that I write about. You can get a lot of information about a place online these days, but nothing beats actually being there and walking the streets of a location you’re going to write about in a book.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My covers have always been designed by the publisher. The new cover for YESTERDAY’S NEWS is particularly intriguing, I think. But that’s all due to the people at Oceanview who came up with idea and the design. I love it!
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
For me, the main message is that my character Clare Carlson basically always wants to the right thing. She’s flawed in many ways, has made mistakes and done things in the past she regrets – but she still operates with a strong moral compass. I guess I got this from characters like Philip Marlowe and Spenser and Harry Bosch – but even TV favorites of mine like Jim Rockford. The character always needs to be a good person in the end. I think that sums up Clare Carlson too.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I have always tended to read pretty much everything that a handful of writers turned out. These include: Raymond Chandler, Robert B. Parker, Michael Connelly, Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton and Dennis Lehane. Some newer writers that I’ve recently discovered and really enjoy are Reed Farrel Coleman and Hank Phillippi Ryan.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
I was pleasantly surprised by all the support I got in newsrooms for my books – especially from people there who had no idea I did mystery writing until then. I still recall when my first Gil Malloy book, THE KENNEDY CONNECTION, came out in 2014 – with the Malloy character trying to solve questions about the JFK connection to get answers for a present-day murder. “Who knew Belsky was a Kennedy conspiracy nut?” someone in the NBC newsroom said.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Jeez, I hope so at this point. Otherwise, I wasted my time writing those 11 mystery novels. Seriously, I’ve always felt I had two careers – my journalistic career and my writing career too.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Nope, that one’s done. Hope everyone enjoys it when it comes out in May. I’m focusing on the second book in the series now.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
You always find out a few things you didn’t know when you go back to research things. But I tend to write about topics I know a lot about. So there aren’t a lot of surprises for me in writing the books.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I’ve been down the Hollywood road a few times in the past (movie options, scripts etc. based on my books) and I know how futile this kind of speculation is. Having said that, I would be more than happy if Jennifer Lawrence or Charlize Theron or Scarlett Johansson wanted to play Clare Carlson. Just have their people get in touch with my people, and we’ll make it happen!
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
I’m asked this a lot, and it’s a really easy answer: Write. Then write more. And then keep writing. A lot of people talk about writing. But the only way to be a writer is to actually write. Sounds simple, but it’s the truth.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Hope you enjoy my books. And keep giving me feedback on them. You get some interesting input from readers – sometimes they tell you stuff about your characters that even you don’t know!
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I do. Actually, it was a series of sports books for young people written by an author named Duane Decker about a fictional baseball team called The Blue Sox. I started reading them in grade school and devoured every book in the series. I loved baseball, and reading these books was probably the first time I thought about trying to write myself. The Duane Decker books were very important to me.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Oh, there’s so many. I grew up idolizing John F. Kennedy so that would be one person I’d certainly love to go back in time to meet and talk to (“Don’t go to Dallas, Mr. President!”). But maybe the most intriguing person for me as a writer has always been Raymond Chandler. He was such a brilliant, talented and yet troubled person – all of which made his novels and short stories so wonderful. A few years ago, I was in La Jolla, California, where Chandler lived – and went to visit his house. Standing in front of it, I thought about what it must have been like for him typing away there at his Philip Marlowe books. Ah, now if he could have just come out of that house and talked to me for a few moments – that would have been special.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Armen Pogharian said:
Headless body in topless bar – now that is quite a headline. Best of luck to you.
I happen to like a good mystery so I’m going to have to check out “Yesterday’s News” at my local library. I’ll be sure to request that they get it if they don’t already have it. I’m going to have to check out the other books as well. I just wish I had more time to read. Fiona, thank you for another great interview with another great author!