R.G. Belsky & Flawed Characters

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Today, R.G. Belsky, author of Below the Fold, has a post about flawed characters as heroes. Belsky’s Clare Carlson mysteries, including Below the Fold, are available through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2H9dztY

Here’s the summary of Below the Fold.

When the murder of a “nobody” triggers an avalanche.

Every human life is supposed to be important. Everyone should matter. But that’s not the case in the cutthroat TV news-rating world where Clare Carlson works. Sex, money, and power sell. Only murder victims of the right social strata are considered worth covering. Not the murder of a “nobody.” 

So, when the battered body of a homeless woman named Dora Gayle is found on the streets of New York City, her murder barely gets a mention in the media. But Clare—a TV news director who still has a reporter’s instincts—decides to dig deeper into the seemingly meaningless death. She uncovers mysterious links between Gayle and a number of wealthy and influential figures. There is a prominent female defense attorney; a scandal-ridden ex-congressman; 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.

*****

Before Belsky’s post, here’s a little bit of information about him. R.G. Belsky is a longtime journalist and a crime fiction author in New York City. 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, including his current Clare Carlson series – about a woman TV journalist.

Thank you, R.G., for talking about flawed characters.

*****

WHY WE LOVE FLAWED CHARACTERS

By R.G. Belsky

Clare Carlson, the main character in my new mystery BELOW THE FOLD, has a lot of wonderful qualities: She’s smart, funny, tough and a highly-successful journalist who’s risen to the job of news director at a major New York City TV station.

But there’s also a few not-so-great things about Clare. Okay, maybe more than a few, especially in her personal life. Which is pretty much of a train wreck after three failed marriages, a number of ill-advised romances and a decision she made in college more than 20 years ago which still haunts her to this day.

One reader said of her after she made her first appearance in my Yesterday’s News during 2018: “I’m not sure I like Clare. Not the character, the person. At times I’m angry with her, other times I’m cheering. A few times I simply wanted to pull her to pull her aside and give her a good talking to. That’s a good thing. It shows her real self on the pages.”

Which is why I love writing about her.

But then I’ve enjoyed reading about flawed characters created by plenty of other authors over the years too.

Let’s face it: Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is not the perfect guy, not the perfect police officer. He bends rules, he crosses the line a lot and his personal life is frequently in turmoil. Same thing with Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder; Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone; Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and – maybe most of all – Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Go back and read the Marlowe books sometime. Sure, Philip Marlowe is the greatest detective character ever in mystery fiction – but he’s definitely no choir boy.

Then there’s maybe the most dysfunctional protagonists in recent mystery history: the scheming husband and wife in the unreliably-narrated bestseller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Maybe we didn’t exactly love Nick and Amy Dunne in that book. But we sure were damn fascinated by them and that turned the book into a blockbuster phenomenon.

Even my favorite TV detective character of all time, Jim Rockford from The Rockford Files back in the ‘70s, was lovable because of all his flaws on the show – which really set him apart from the other detectives on the screen back then. Rockford was always making bad decisions, always being friends with the wrong people , always in trouble with the cops. “On my best day, I’m barely legal,” he says to one person who questions his professional ethics on a case.

I was on a panel with Reed Farrel Coleman, who writes the Jesse Stone series now created by the late Robert B. Parker, where we talked about the importance of writing flawed characters like that in our mystery novels.

Coleman said that the toughest part of writing Jesse Stone was you had to make sure he wasn’t too perfect. I mean Tom Selleck plays him on TV, so you immediately think of that when you read the books. Jesse is good-looking, honest, tough – almost perfect, right? Well, Coleman explained, that’s why it was important to give Jesse flaws – his drinking, his failed marriages and his injury which cut short a promising baseball career and prevented him from making it to the major leagues.

That’s what I try to do with my Clare Carlson character too.

In the new book, BELOW THE FOLD, she has an exchange with her best female friend which I think captures that pretty well.

“You have a strange set of priorities,” the woman friend says after Clare explains how she broke up with a guy because she didn’t like his TV watching choices – and that was a real priority to her.

 “Hey, they work for me,” Clare responds.

“How do they work? You’re a forty-something year old woman who’s been divorced three times and have no man in your life right now.”

“Okay, I didn’t say they worked well….”

One early review of the book, from the MenReadingBooks blog, described Clare this way:

“On one level, its hard to pull for Clare because of her personal self-inflicted issues, but on the other hand, she is such a dogged reporter that each lead, no matter how small, is met with our approval that we can’t help but hope she wins.”

No, Clare Carlson is not perfect.

But then none of us are either.

Which is probably why we love our mystery heroes to be the same way.