By Sabina Mollot
Gramercy author and former journalist Dick Belsky writes what he knows. In the 1990s, he penned a series of novels about a television reporter named Jenny McKay. In the past three years, he wrote four novels about a newspaper reporter named Gil Malloy. Now, he’s begun a third series about yet another journalist, this one named Clare Carlson, with the first book, Yesterday’s News, to be released by Oceanview Publishing, on May 1.
In an interview with Town & Village, Belsky said it’s stories centering around newsrooms that come most naturally to him after decades of working in them himself. Prior to becoming a novelist, Belsky worked as a top editor at the New York Post, where he helped create the famous “Headless Body in Topless Bar” headline. He also later worked for the New York Daily News, Star magazine and NBC News.
“No matter what someone says, I don’t think anyone can legitimately say, ‘This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’” said Belsky, who writes his novels under the name R.G. Belsky.
His most recent series of books, published by Atria Books, centered around an ambitious investigative reporter who had to climb his way up from the bottom after making a serious error in judgment that ruined his reputation. And Belsky still has plans to return to the series. However, the story he had in mind for Yesterday’s News wouldn’t have worked with Malloy as the protagonist.
In this story, Carlson, who runs a New York news station, is forced to face her own past on the 15th anniversary of a case of a missing girl she’d covered. It wasn’t just a news story, but a case she investigated on an ongoing basis, breaking exclusive after exclusive due to her access to the girl’s family. While the mystery remained unsolved 15 years later, the anniversary has brought the story back into the news. Carlson then discovers new leads, new suspects (including a prominent politician) and potentially more victims. She also has her own secrets.
In his news career, Belsky covered a number of missing child cases, the most high-profile of them being the one about Etan Patz in 1979. When a suspect was finally charged and convicted last year for the murder, Belsky began thinking about how in some ways, a cold case of a missing child is even worse for a family than one that’s been confirmed to end in tragedy.
“Because you never know the answer,” he said. “In this case the family never has closure,” he added of Yesterday’s News.
Belsky said the book’s lead character was inspired by many of the hard-working women he has shared a newsroom with, in particular when he started out at The Post.
“When I started out at papers, the role of women was different,” he said. “They were writing society stuff, not hard news, but not at The Post. We had a terrific team of women reporters that wrote hard news and they were doing it against the odds. There weren’t a lot of people looking to hire women, so they had to prove they were worth it.”
Carlson also has some similarities to Malloy, whose snarky and sarcastic one-liners Belsky has admitted he wished he could dare to utter in real life. But, Belsky, added, “She isn’t Gil Malloy in a dress.
“Clare is the director of a news station. She has to deal with ratings and advertising campaigns and managing her staff. She is dealing with issues being married three times. There are issues as far as being a woman in the workplace.”
Belsky had intended to make Carlson’s story a standalone one until Oceanview told him it wanted a series. He’s already well into the second book, usually splitting his work days between Think Coffee on Third Avenue and the Writers’ Room on Astor Place, a co-working space for writers. He’s lived in Gramercy for over 25 years, but insisted it’s impossible for him to work at home.
“I spent years working in a newsroom with people shouting and screaming,” said Belsky. “I can’t work without people around me.”
He has however done plenty of writing at the beach and even at bars. “I work better in noise and chaos,” he said. “I live in Manhattan, so it’s a good place for that.”
Yesterday’s News will be released in paperback ($16) and on Kindle ($15). Belsky will be signing copies at The Mysterious Bookshop at 58 Warren Street (near City Hall) on May 8 at 6:30 p.m.