Books Burned by Kim Kardashian’s Love Child!
The tabloids in the grocery checkout lines often distract me. The headlines scream of aliens conferring with well-known celebrities. The British monarchy holding regular séances. And most of the time, I’m left wondering who are these people and why do I care? But the British monarchy holding séances, those always get me, as does “Headless Body in Topless Bar.” Like a Sidney Poitier movie, Guess Who’s Writing This Week’s Blog? None other than one of my favorite tabloid editor/writers (and writer of the quoted headline), R. G. Belsky, whose new novel The Kennedy Connection received rave reviews from our Killer Nashville book reviewer. In this blog, Belsky addresses a number of things including why life sometimes would never be believed in fiction. So true.
Until next time, read like someone is burning the books, because somewhere and in some headline, a Kardashian may be doing just that. Truth is stranger than fiction.
Tabloid Truth is Sometimes Stranger Than Fiction
By R.G. Belsky
I’ve covered a lot of big crime stories during my time as a tabloid journalist. O.J. Son of Sam. Amy Fischer. JonBenet Ramsey. I was even a part of creating the most famous tabloid crime headline ever: Headless Body in Topless Bar.
So what’s the biggest difference I’ve found between true-life crime and writing mystery novels?
Well, as a mystery author, I get to break the one rule a journalist always has to follow – I don’t have to stick to the facts.
For example, my thriller The Kennedy Connection – the first in a series featuring newspaper reporter Gil Malloy – is about the greatest unsolved murder case of our time: the JFK assassination.
There is no way as a journalist I could answer all the questions that still remain — more than a half century later — about what really happened that day in Dallas.
But in my novel, I create a character who claims he’s the son of alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to help Gil Malloy “solve” the crime. I also provide an alibi for Oswald at the time of President Kennedy’s murder that proves he couldn’t have done it. And I even come up with a witness — two of them, actually — whose testimony might have gotten Oswald cleared if he hadn’t been shot by Jack Ruby.
Yep, making up the facts sure can make a crime story more interesting, huh?
The truth is there have been an awful lot of real life crime stories I’ve covered over the years that have contained more twists and sensational angles than myself (or any mystery author) could ever possibly come up with on our best day.
Take the O.J. Simpson case. It started with the ex-wife of a beloved superstar athlete and entertainment figure found murdered. (Yes, O.J. really was once beloved by the American public.) Then came the Bronco chase on LA freeways that captivated a nation; the Trial of the Century with the “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” glove and all the rest; plus, Kato Kaelin, Johnnie Cochrane and the other unforgettable characters we met on what turned out to be must-watch TV viewing for the next year. I mean what fiction writer could have ever imagined a story like that?
Same thing with Son of Sam. Think about this crazy plot: A loner postal worker — rejected by women and believing he‘s getting orders to kill them from a dog — goes on a legendary New York City murder spree that became known as the Summer of Sam. He taunts police with notes to the press; terrorizes the entire city for more than a year; and becomes the most famous serial killer of all time. Then he finally gets caught because of a simple parking ticket. Most editors I know would reject that idea out of hand as implausible if I ever pitched it for a mystery novel.
Probably the strangest crime story I ever worked on was the “Headless Body in Topless Bar” headline. I was city editor of the New York Post when a holdup man for some reason decided to kill and cut off the head of the owner of a Queens bar. My job was to confirm it was a topless bar so we could use that memorable headline. I managed to get a reporter to do that, and just like that, tabloid history was made.
Amy Fischer. Jon Benet Ramsey. Casey Anthony. Amanda Knox. Jodi Arias. All of these real life crime stories and so many more have come right out of real life headlines without any need for us to make up the bizarre details.
So while I — and other mystery writers — continue to push our imaginations to the limit in order to dream up astonishing make-believe stuff to keep readers riveted to our books…well, sometimes it’s just hard to beat the actual facts.
One of the finest mystery novels ever was “Eight Million Ways to Die” by Lawrence Block. It’s a top-notch tale, which helped Block to fame as a Grand Master in the mystery genre. But maybe the biggest strength of that book — the theme upon which the title is based — is the crazy way people can be murdered in New York City, all of which were culled from the New York tabloids.
And why not?
Because if you’re looking for something even stranger than fiction, there’s no better pace to look than the world of real-life tabloid news.
Now that’s the truth!
R.G. Belsky has been the metropolitan editor of the New York Post, news editor of Star magazine, managing editor of the New York Daily News and – most recently – was managing editor of NBCNews.com. His new Gil Malloy mystery novel, Shooting for the Stars, is inspired in part by some real life famous celebrity murders – but is mostly fiction. It will be published on August 14 by Atria. Visit his website at www.rgbelsky.com
(To be a part of the Killer Nashville Guest Blog, send a query to email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks to Tom Wood, Maria Giordano, Will Chessor, Meaghan Hill, and publisher Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s blog. And for more writer resources, visit us at www.KillerNashville.com, www.KillerNashvilleMagazine.com, and www.KillerNashvilleBookCon.com.)
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