The Joy and Heartbreak of Changing Series Characters / R.G. Belsky

The Joy and Heartbreak
of Changing Series Characters

by R.G. Belsky

Gil Malloy has been my best friend for the past several years. We’ve been through a lot, Gil and me. Happy moments, sad ones, career success, scandal, near-death escapes from killers, Gil’s broken marriage, a second try at that marriage and a few torrid romances for Gil with other women along the way too.

But its time for me to move on and say goodbye to Gil Malloy—at least for now.

Because I have a new BFF named Clare Carlson.

Okay, maybe this all seems a bit melodramatic for an author who’s only talking about a damn character in his mystery novels. But the relationship between a writer and his series character is an intense, complex one. We writers live with the character many hours a day; we direct what the character will do and say; and, more often than not, we wind up putting a good deal of ourselves into that character.

I wrote four books about Gil Malloy, a hard-driving New York City journalist who’ll do anything to break a front-page story. Gil is smart, talented, hard-working, outspoken (to a fault at times), irresponsible about most everything except his work and frequently can be a real pain in the ass. (I leave it to people who know me to guess which qualities of my own I put into Gil).

My new series character Clare Carlson—who makes her debut May 1 in Yesterday’s News—is a New York journalist too. But she’s a much more complex character. A onetime Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who is now the news director of a TV station, Clare tries to balance her old reporting instincts with the demands of being a high-powered media executive. She also has secrets buried in her past that come to light when she begins pursuing new evidence in the case that won her a Pulitzer 15 years ago—the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl from the streets of Manhattan.

Clare is slated for a second adventure with The Cinderella Murders in 2019.

The challenge for me of creating a new series character like Clare Carlson is to make sure she has some of the same qualities that made my readers like Gil Malloy. But not so many of Gil Malloy’s qualities that people feel she’s a kind of version of Gil in a dress. There were moments when I was writing Yesterday’s News when I decided to delete lines of Clare’s dialogue because I realized they were things Gil Malloy would likely say—not Clare Carlson. Then there’s the challenge for me too of writing a female character instead of a man and making that sound authentic. (No, I’m not just talking about sex scenes here, people!)

Of course, the good thing is that a fictional series character never really has to die. Lawrence Block wrote a series of Matt Scudder books early in his career that didn’t sell very well, went on to write other stuff—then brought Scudder back a few years later as a regular series character in A Stab in the Dark and the classic Eight Million Ways to Die. Robert B. Parker departed from his successful Spenser series to also write the Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall mysteries. Dennis Lehane started out by writing four mystery novels starring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro before moving on to bigger stand-alone thrillers like Mystic River (although he did later bring Patrick and Angie back in another mystery novel years later).

My own first mystery novel featured a female reporter named Lucy Shannon. I then published four other mysteries without her before bringing Lucy back in my sixth novel. I also wrote a series of mystery novels in the early 90s about a TV reporter named Jenny McKay. Amazingly, I still get queries from fans who want to know why I don’t write about that Jenny McKay woman again. Of course, in real life, Jenny would probably be close to retirement age by now. But that hasn’t stopped me from working on a new project featuring the Jenny McKay character.

So, as I say goodbye to Gil and hello to Clare, I find myself overwhelmed by a lot of conflicting and mixed emotions.

I look forward to many exciting times in the future solving murder mysteries with Clare Carlson.

At the same time, like with any old friend, I look back with fondness on the wonderful moments I’ve spent with my pal, Gil Malloy.

Of course, like I said, nothing is forever.

Who knows …maybe one day Clare and Gil will even meet.

But that would be another book for another time….

R.G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His newest mystery, Yesterday’s News, will be published in May 2018 by Oceanview. It is the first in a series featuring Clare Carlson, the news director for a New York City TV station. Belsky’s last book, Blonde Ice, was published by Atria in October 2016. It is the third in a series of books from Atria about Gil Malloy, a hard-driving newspaper reporter with a penchant for breaking big stories on the front page of the New York Daily News. The first book in the Gil Malloy series—The Kennedy Connection—was published in 2014 and Shooting For The Stars came out in 2015. 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. At the Daily News, he also held the titles of metropolitan editor and deputy national editor. Before that, he was metropolitan editor of the New York Post and news editor at Star magazine. Belsky was most recently the managing editor for news at NBCNews.com. His previous suspense novels include Playing Dead and Loverboy. Blonde Ice was nominated as a finalist for the David Award at Deadly Ink and also for the Silver Falchion at Killer Nashville in 2017. He was the Claymore Award winner at Killer Nashville 2016 and also a Silver Falchion Finalist in both the mystery and thriller categories. Visit him at http://www.rgbelsky.com/


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Thanks to Joseph Borden and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s editorial.