News Editor Turns Novelist With “The Kennedy Connection”
Having been a college student when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, R.G. Belsky knew most of the facts and theories surrounding the tragic events of November 22, 1963. When the 50th anniversary of the shooting was observed last year, he was managing editor of news for nbcnews.com, in charge of much of the coverage by mostly young reporters on the staff.
He was amazed at their level of interest. “These are people who weren’t even alive when JFK was killed,” said Mr. Belsky, a writer who splits his time between a home in Princeton and an apartment in New York. “I was fascinated by how many people, kids in their early twenties, were obsessed with the topic. But it is, after all, the greatest unsolved crime of all time.”
Mr. Belsky spoke by phone last week during a break from a mystery conference in Long Beach, California, where he was promoting his book The Kennedy Connection. With the subhead “a Gil Malloy novel,” the book is a thriller about a discredited newspaper reporter who finds professional redemption — for a while — after breaking a story that provides what appears to be new revelations about the killing of JFK.
It is as much about the character of the reporter and his fall from grace as it is about the famous murder. But Mr. Belsky, who was an editor at the New York Daily News, The New York Post, and Star Magazine before joining nbcnews.com — which he has since left to devote himself to writing books — says the main character bears no real relation to his own experience.
“It’s fiction. There is no Gil Malloy,” he said. “A lot of people think they’re Gil Malloy. But it’s a combination of the qualities I see in reporters. I’ve met a lot of Gil Malloys in my life. The thing I’m trying to capture in the book was what the life of a reporter like that is like. It’s about how your personal and professional life can be a mess, but the bottom line is that you have this mission to do the big story. In some ways, it’s very noble, but in others, it’s screwed up.”
Mr. Belsky is a native midwesterner who became a reporter and editor after serving in the army in Vietnam. Anyone who worked at a city newspaper before print began its decline will recognize his depiction of the frenetic atmosphere. “That intensity that goes on in a newsroom was nowhere more true than in New York, where you have these papers going head to head,” he said. “Gil is a compilation of a lot of the wonderful and crazy aspects of reporters I’ve dealt with.”
The Kennedy Connection, published by Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster, came out last August and is the first in a series of three books. Due in February is a novella titled The Midnight Hour and next August, the novel Shooting for the Stars is scheduled for publication.
Mr. Belsky has actually been writing books for many years, publishing some mysteries in the 1980s and 90s. He knew he wanted to do a book with a journalist as a central character. He got his chance with the 50th anniversary of the JFK murder. “It’s always said you should write about what you know,” he said. “I know a lot about the Kennedy assassination so I didn’t have to do a lot of research for the book. I think when you write about something you don’t know, it’s harder to be authentic.”
Mr. Belsky professes a love for mystery characters, especially those with strong personalities. “What I tried to create in Gil,” he says, “is someone you want to spend time with. I want you to like the story, but mostly I want you to like him. I got a lot of great reviews, but my favorite was just three words: ‘Gil Malloy rocks.’”
Mr. Belsky wrote The Kennedy Connection while still working full time at nbcnews.com. Making the leap between writing and editing for a news organization and creating fiction wasn’t a struggle for him. “People would say to me, ‘How do you do it?’,” he said. “But for me, it’s almost like using different muscles. The biggest thing you have in a news operation is facts. The great thing about fiction is that you can do whatever you want, if you can allow yourself to do it. And that’s kind of exhilarating. It’s a different kind of writing. But I find it fun.”