Saturday, May 23, 2020

Truth in Fiction?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  We’ve been talking about how to weave reality into fiction—what we want to read about, and think about. How much we want to escape, versus how much we’re interested in real-life-based decisions fictional characters make. Maybe a veteran experienced journalist like Dick Belsky is the perfect person to tackle such a tightrope topic. His new book THE LAST SCOOP  is, okay, ripped from the headlines. But as all of Dick’s fast-paced investigative thrillers, it goes way deeper than that.
See what you think.

 
#MeToo & The Modern Mystery

         My character TV news director Clare Carlson falls in love in my latest thriller THE LAST SCOOP.
         And the new man in her life is crazy about Clare too.
         So this is one romance that should be smooth sailing, right?
         Not so fast.
         I’ve written about a lot of romance and love affairs in my crime novels before, but this is the first time I’ve dealt with all the changes in our society in recent times when it comes to these relationships. You see, the man in Clare’s life is a media consultant who has been hired by her TV station to improve the ratings. So, as news director, she is technically his boss. Which raises a myriad of issues in this #metoo era.
         Clare has an attorney friend named Janet who explains this all to her at one point in the book:
         “That’s a situation filled with potential downside for you, Clare. You’re his boss. If the relationship breaks up and the station decides to fire him - or even just doesn’t renew his contract - he could say that’s retaliation from you because of a personal relationship. It’s not as common for a woman supervisor to be accused of sexual harassment as a man, but it can happen. You could find yourself in a legal mess. That’s one scenario.”
         “What’s another one?”
         “He comes up with a plan for the station that doesn’t include you. Based on his consultant advice, the station fires you and gets a new news director. You claim it’s because you refused his sexual advances and wouldn’t sleep with him. Under that scenario, you would have a legitimate sexual harassment lawsuit again him.”
         “Uh, Janet, is there any possible scenario here that doesn’t wind up in a lawsuit?”
         “Well, you could live happily ever after but....” 
That isn’t the only office romance I deal with in THE LAST SCOOP. There’s also an affair going on between the station’s two glamorous co-anchors Brett Wolff and Dani Blaine. Which is complicated by the fact that Brett is married to someone else.
          For Clare, this presents another tricky situation. It’s not an unprecedented happening in TV newsrooms, of course:  MSNBC Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski had a love affair and wound up getting married in a real life on-screen romantic story not long ago.
         And, no question about it, that kind of sex between two star co-anchors sure provides a lot of sensational publicity which can translate into big ratings.
         But - like with her own office romance - Clare is left struggling to figure out what her role as a supervisor should be in all this.
         “Isn’t that a problem - a situation like that in the office - with all the controversy these days on sexual relationships or affairs in the workplace?” she is asked by someone at the TV station.
         “They say they’re in love.”
         “What exactly are the rules about that for two people working in the same office?”
         “I’m not sure what the rules are anymore.”
         She’s not the only one.
         I have another incident in the book where a longtime cameraman makes a joke about a woman newscaster’s breasts in front of other people in the office. Clare suspends him for two weeks and orders him to attend sensitivity training classes. He doesn’t understand why, complaining that no one had ever gotten upset before when he made those kinds of jokes to women. “Times have changed,” Clare tells him. “You need to change, too.”
         Now I’m not one of those authors who normally deals with real life political or controversial issues like this in a mystery novel. I don’t have people wearing MAGA hats or dealing with impeachment or universal health care in my books. And I certainly don’t plan to ever write about something as serious as the coronavirus pandemic.
         But - in an era where major media figures like Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Bill O’Reilly have lost their jobs because of sex scandals in their newsrooms- I find it difficult to write about a woman character like TV news director Clare Carlson without dealing with this important (albeit at times confusing) issue.
         What do you think?
         Would you prefer to keep all this out of a mystery novel and just focus on an old-fashioned romance for a woman character?
         Or do you like the idea of a woman like Clare Carlson dealing with real life issues such as sex in the workplace at the same time as she’s solving the crime?
         Tell me your opinion...
HANK:  Did any of you watch THE MORNING SHOW on  Apple TV? I thought it was terrific--a semi-fictionalization (with embellishments and accessories) of the Matt Lauer story--from the point of view of the Lauer character's coworkers.  Truly thought-provoking. But as Dick asks--what's your opinion?


The scariest kind of serial killer—one you don't know exists

Martin Barlow was Clare Carlson's first newspaper editor, a beloved mentor who inspired her career as a journalist. But, since retiring from his newspaper job, he had become a kind of pathetic figure—railing on about conspiracies, cover-ups, and other imaginary stories he was still working on. Clare had been too busy with her own career to pay much attention to him.

When Martin Barlow is killed on the street one night during an apparent mugging attempt gone bad, it seems like he was just an old man whose time had come.

But Clare—initially out of a sense of guilt for ignoring her old friend and then because of her own journalistic instincts—begins looking into his last story idea. As she digs deeper and deeper into his secret files, she uncovers shocking evidence of a serial killer worse than Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, or any of the other infamous names in history.
This  is the biggest story of Martin Barlow's career—and Clare's, too—as she uncovers the path leading to the decades-long killer of at least twenty young women. All is not as it seems during Clare's relentless search for this serial killer. Is she setting herself up to be his next victim? Clare Carlson is perfect for fans of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski.

R. G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City.

His newest mystery, THE LAST SCOOP, will be published in May 2020 by Oceanview. It is the third in a series featuring Clare Carlson, the news director for a New York City TV station. The first Clare Carlson book, YESTERDAY'S NEWS, came out in 2018. It won the David Award at Deadly Ink for Best Mystery of 2018.  The second Clare Carlson book, BELOW THE FOLD, was in 2019.

He also is the author of two thrillers written under the pen name of Dana Perry - THE SILENT VICTIM 2019) and THE GOLDEN GIRL (June, 2020).

Belsky previously wrote the Gil Malloy series - THE KENNEDY CONNECTION, SHOOTING FOR THE STARS AND BLONDE ICE - about a newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News. Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. He has also been a top editor at the New York Post, Star magazine and NBC News.

Belsky won the Claymore Award at Killer Nashville in 2016. He has finished several times as a Finalist for both the Silver Falchion and David Awards. YESTERDAY’S NEWS, was also named Outstanding Crime/News Based Novel by Just Reviews in 2018 and was a Finalist for Best Mystery of 2018 in the Foreword INDIES Awards.
His previous suspense/thriller novels include LOVERBOY and PLAYING DEAD. Belsky lives in New York City.                 

48 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your newest book . . . I really enjoy newsroom stories and this story sounds like quite an adventure for Clare . . . .

    I’m kind of on the fence about including current things . . . there are always so many opinions, and it can be a bit of a slippery slope. As far as the sex in the workplace, though, I think Clare has to deal with it because it’s become too big an issue in real life to ignore in the story . . . .

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    1. I completely agree, Joan. I try to stay away from a lot of current stuff, including politics, because I think fiction should be an escape for us all. But this seemed like a topic that needed to be addressed if Clare was going to have a romance in the office.

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    3. Oh, yes, hard to ignore when the plot calls for it!

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  2. Congratulations on the latest Clare book, Dick! I met you at the Dallas Bouchercon where you signed my copy of BELOW THE FOLD. That book ended up being one of only 2 books that I gave a 5-star rating in 2019, so am I looking forward to reading THE LAST SCOOP.

    So again, as discussed in previous JRW posts, it really depends on the book whether real-life issues should be portrayed/discussed, either prominently, a bit or not at all.

    I like reading the first two Clare Carlson books because it gave me an insider's insight on how a newsroom operates. And ooooh, Clare uncovering an unknown serial killer while having to deal with sex in the workplace issues, as well as the death of her mentor sounds like a great story.

    Hank, no I have not watched THE MORNING SHOW. I heard good things about it but no Apple TV. I am trying enough streaming services as it is.

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    1. Thanks, Grace. Wow, Bouchercon seems like a long time ago now, huh? Wouldn't it be great to hang out with a bunch of authors and readers again like that? Hopefully, someday soon. Glad you enjoyed the first two Clare Carlson books - and look forward to hearing your reaction to THE LAST SCOOP.

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    2. Yes, I am registered for both 2021 Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon, so fingers crossed that those in-person events will happen. And I have THE LAST SCOOP on my ereader but I am way behind schedule in my reading. Hope to get to read it later on this summer.

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    3. Yes, it'll be interesting to see whether those happen..

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    4. Killer Nashville is still on for August. And I believe Magna Cum Murder in Indiana for the fall. But who knows if those will continue - and, maybe more importantly, how many people will want to travel and be with a large group of people.

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  3. I wouldn't shy away from reading about sexual issues in the workplace, Dick. It's part of life. Also, the guy who complained that no one had ever gotten upset before, you can bet at least some of the women he made those comments about got upset - but might not have come forward. So, yeah - go for it!

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    1. Yes, Edith, as an old white guy, I understand a lot of the issues involving old white guys. A lot of the things that happened in newsrooms early in my career can't happen now. Like Clare tells the guy in the book: "Times have changed, you have to change too."

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    2. Very different from when we started, right? And "times" have changed, I guess, but it was never okay. Which is part of the story!

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  4. Congratulations on your new release! Current issues, bring them on.

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    1. Well, yes and no, Margaret. I think there is a place for them in a mystery novel. But I don't like to overdo it. It's a tough balance to find sometimes. But this issue just seemed particularly relevant to my character Clare and to the story I tell in THE LAST SCOOP.

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    2. It's all about whether it feels natural to be in the story.

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  5. I like stories that give me the inside scoop on unfamiliar places--like the workings of a modern newsroom. And I don't care for certain kinds of serial killer books--the kind where the author gives the reader lots of time in the serial killer's mind/life as he kills. But the hunt for one, when the focus is on the hunt and the killer is unmasked/caught at the end, is knuckle-biting. Clare sounds like someone I need to meet.

    And a big yes to including the #metoo issues. Any woman who says she's never been harassed or never witnessed harassment is either lying or willfully blind. It is still pervasive in our lives and we need to keep the conversation going--and it would definitely be relevant in a book with a character and setting such as The Last Scoop.

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    1. Well, hopefully you'll like THE LAST SCOOP then, Flora.
      None of the book is in the serial killer's mind. It's all told from Clare's point of view as someone desperate to catch him and stop him from killing again.

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  6. Exactly what Flora said!
    Welcome to JRW, Dick. Yes, yes, include all of the #metoo issues that arise out of office romances and the unsolicited comments from men who think they are being cute or funny when they refer to women's anatomy in suggestive ways. The time has long passed to call people on those things. If not now, when?
    I'[m going to begin with the first book in the series, because Clare sounds like a character I'll enjoy reading about.

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    1. That's cool, Judy. First book is YESTERDAY'S NEWS. They can be read as stand alone. But some of the personal issues develop over the course of the three books for Clare. Hope you enjoy!

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  7. Raising my hand as someone who suffered in silence as the only woman in the room when men were either criticizing or slobbering over something related to a woman and/or her body. Especially when I was younger, and less secure in my footing, I would fume. Of course now I respond.

    Edith is right about sex and all the issues around it being a part of the workplace, and I am pretty sure it always will be. It's top of the chart in Maslow's hierarchy, after all.

    Congratulation on what sounds like another excellent read.

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    1. Like I say, Karen, after all the stuff involving Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Bill O'Reilly it seemed right for Clare to deal with the issue in this book. Again, its complicated too by the fact that she's a woman supervisor who runs the newsroom. So she has to look at it from a couple of different angles.

      By the way, Karen, I'm from Ohio too. Grew up in Cleveland, but went to college in southeastern Ohio and worked for awhile in Dayton. Great state.

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    2. Howdy, fellow Buckeye!

      I'm from Hamilton, but I've lived in Cincinnati all my adult life.

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    3. Oy, I just made someone in my new book be from Hamilton! I bet it was from you, dear Karen!

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    4. !!!

      Or because you went to college in Oxford!

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  8. Congratulations for The Last Scoop Dick. I certainly prefer Clare dealing with real life issues and I'm looking forward to discover how she does it.

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    1. There's a couple layers to it here, Danielle.
      How Clare deals with it as a supervisor involving her co-anchors romance and a man making inappropriate sexual remarks in the office.
      But also how it affects here because she's interested romantically in someone she works with.
      Hope you enjoy the book - let me know what you think when you're done.

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    2. Yes, and that's a very realistic dilemma.

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  9. I like books that are believable so sure, put it in. But not too predictable, so... leave it out? Dick, I'm curious why you decided to write as R. G. The new book sounds terrific.

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    1. Long story on R.G., Hallie. I've spent most of my life as an NYC journalist where I'm known as Dick Belsky. But at some point when I wrote a novel back in the 90s a publisher thought it sounded better for me to use R.G. So that's just stuck since then. No one calls me R.G. outside my books!

      By the way I never worked with Nora, but i met her a couple times. She was a legend at the NY Post. We actually launched our first Sunday paper back around 1990 by hiring her to write an exclusive piece about George Steinbrenner. I always remember that.

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  10. Like Judy, I'm going back to your roots and beginning with YESTERDAY'S NEWS. Clare definitely sounds like someone I need to meet.

    As for including #metoo, yes, definitely. It's a part of the culture these days. The story would have been diminished without addressing the issues of workplace romance in a story line where your protagonist is having a workplace romance.

    As for COVID-19. I've been thinking long and hard about whether or not to include references in my writing. Since my books take place in more or less current time, I'm not sure it can be avoided without affecting the story, but it certainly won't be the story. Tough decisions.

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    1. It's always a tough balance about including current events when you're writing a present day story, Kait. Sue Grafton solved it neatly by putting Kinsey Millhone back in the '80s when the world was so much different. I have to deal with things like iphones and twitter and video livestreaming in Clare's journalistic life because she's in the media world of today. Like I said, I try to stay away from most politics and don't think I'd use coronavirus in the future except for maybe a passing reference. Hope you enjoy the Clare series.

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    2. We'll just have to see what happens, right, Kait? If/when covid is over--isn't that pretty to think of?

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  11. Hi Dick and congrats on the The Last Scoop (which I just bought!) I love books that give me a sense of a real setting, and I'm totally with your dealing with the #metoo issues. My characters started with a workplace romance, which was much more difficult for her to deal with, and it ended up changing their job paths.

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    1. Thanks, Deborah. This issue is certainly a sub-plot in The Last Scoop - most of it is about the story of her chasing a different kind of serial killer for a big story. But I think it helps fill out the Clare Carlson character to deal with some of these personal things.

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  12. One interesting thing--in THE MURDER LIST, the (female) character of Martha Gardiner was initially a man, Bennett Gardiner. But the metoo issues and motivations were so unavoidable, we made him a woman. And everything changed.It was incredibly educational.

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    1. So great when that happens, Hank. Seeing your character change like that in ways that even surprise the author. Having said that, I can't imagine Gardiner as a man. But that's probably because I read THE MURDER LIST and Martha was such a strong character.

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    2. SO funny, right? It was an amazing transformation. It changed everything--for exactly the reasons you're talking about!

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  13. Congrats on the new book! I read the first two Clare Carlson books already so I'm definitely looking forward to getting this one as well.

    As for the ins and outs of office politics and love affairs, so long as it doesn't overwhelm the main story it is perfectly fine to include all the messy details. It makes the overall story feel that much more "real".

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    1. Exactly my feeling too, Jay. Hope you enjoy this one.

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  14. Welcome to Jungle Reds, Dick and congratulations on THE LAST SCOOP! I have two questions:

    1). I thought that Clare would stumble on a dead body - and it looks like someone KILLED the lightning cameraman who said crude things about women.

    2). Since you are a man, is it difficult to write about characters who are women?

    To answer your question, my answer is that I look for women characters who are brave and courageous yet kind and likable. I also like men characters who have good hearts and respect women. I do NOT like to read about anyone who is cruel to someone who is different. It is ok with me if someone like that is killed off early in the novel like in Agatha Christie novels.

    Diana

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    1. Nope, Diana, the cameraman is only a passing reference in the book - and he is very much alive.

      Meanwhile, this is my 14th published novel, and more of my protagonists have been women than men. I enjoy writing women characters. And because I've worked with so many terrific and colorful women journalists over the years, its not difficult to draw upon that to create a fictional character like Clare Carlson.

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  15. I'm intrigued, and Mt. TBR has just grown a bit taller. Thanks for insights. <3

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    1. Yes, cannot stop the TBR! Got to love it. xoox

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    2. Yep, everyone's got a big TBR. But I'm glad to be on yours, Mary!

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  16. Thanks everyone for all the great responses! I just told Hank too that I'm in the Sunday NY Post today as one of their Best Books of the Week (along with some guy named Michael Connelly). So this has been a helluva weekend for me. Now if I could figure out a way to get out of my NYC apartment....

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