The Kristi Belcamino Interview
Congratulations on the launch of your Gabriella Giovanni Mystery series! BLESSED ARE THE DEAD and BLESSED ARE THE MEEK were released in 2014 and your third book, BLESSED ARE THOSE THAT WEEP is slated for release in April 2015. Please tell us more about the inspiration of your heroine, Gabriella Giovanni, and her investigations.
As a writer, I write books that I would want to read. One of my favorite writers is Adriana Trigiani. Her books feature Italian-American characters and so I knew a long time ago that if I ever wrote a book I would get in touch with my heritage and write about an Italian-American character.
Gabriella Giovanni works as a newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area, like I did once upon a time. But unlike me, she grew up in the Bay Area and was raised around her giant, Italian-American family.
And unlike me—thank God—when Gabriella was young, her sister was kidnapped and killed. Her efforts to deal with this tragedy led her to the crime-reporting beat. As a reporter covering the death beat, she is able to reach down and draw on her own tragic past to connect with others who are dealing with the aftermath of horrific crimes and accidents. Her strong family foundation combined with her own dark shadows, makes her somewhat of a chameleon, allowing her to go from having a fancy dinner with the county Sheriff at one moment to interviewing gang bangers on a street corner the next.
Two books released by a brand new author in less than a year is impressive production! How do you manage this kind of massive output? Is Gabriella’s world tightly outlined, or do you know where her adventures take her as soon as she does?
I’m a parishioner at what author Brad Parks dubbed The Church of One Thousands Words. That means every day, five days a week, I write at least 1,000 words. If you keep on this schedule, you can easily have a first draft of a novel in three months. As Stephen King says, you can write a book a season: winter, spring, summer, and fall.
In addition, like Parks, I was a newspaper reporter. The fear of losing your job, combined with a crusty editor screaming in your face teaches you to write tight and fast and effectively eliminates writer’s block for life.
And I do outline. I have a three-page synopsis of what happens in my book before I sit down to write it. In addition, I outline the major turning points and the story structure on index cards. When I sit down to write, I have a pretty good game plan for where the story is headed, allowing for detours along the way, of course.
The titles of your books are riffs on the biblical Beatitudes, the eight blessings from the Sermon on the Mount. Gabriella is herself a very religious person: she attends mass regularly, and uses the cathedral as a place to center herself and collect her thoughts. Have you heard of readers expecting your books to have more Christian themes when they picked them up?
I haven’t heard of that happening, but I can share a funny story along those lines. In Minnesota, we have a super talented children’s author with a name somewhat similar to mine, Kate DiCamillo who wrote The Tale of Despereaux. I adore DiCamillo’s writing but obviously it could not be more different than mine!
So, back to the story: I was doing an author visit at a local library and began by reading a passage from Blessed are the Dead that was pretty graphic. It was a scene between Gabriella and a serial killer who preyed on little girls and there were a few “F bombs and there may have been some talk about saving fingers from victims or something. During my reading, a woman rushed in late and sat by a friend of mine. I saw them whispering for a few minutes but didn’t think anything of it. Later, my friend told me this woman had rushed there thinking she was going to see Kate DiCamillo. Oops.
As a newly published author, what has been the biggest surprise (good or bad) once you got into the mystery party?
Finding my people. The Malmons! Joelle Charbonneau! Jess Lourey! The Jordans! Judy Bobalik! Erin Mitchell! Janet Rudolph! Matthew Clemens! Owen Laukkanen! Jeff Shelby! Alison Gaylin! (Too many more to name, but just know that every single person has been unbelievably supportive and encouraging.) I have been welcomed into this mystery community with open arms. I thank my lucky stars every single day that when I sat down to write a book it was a mystery. I have also written a young adult book and I’m not going to slam the young adult community, but I will say that there is no group as kick butt as my crime fiction peeps!
You’ve got three hardboiled mysteries under your belt. What do you want to write next? What happens after you’ve done 8 Beatitude-inspired titles? Maybe something with a cat? I hope so. I really like cat stories.
No cats. Dogs are more my style. But dog mysteries aren’t really a thing, are they?
Right now, I’m busy writing the fourth book in the series, Blessed are Those Who Mourn. It comes out in September. At that point, I’ll have four books published in 15 months. All Gabriella, all the time, baby. I’m not sure yet if there will be more books in the series, but if readers want more, I’ll write more.
Besides that, there is a non-Gabriella crime fiction book I’m itching to write as soon as I can come up for air. And, I’m going to spend the summer polishing a young adult mystery I wrote a year ago so I can send it to my agent. If I’m lucky, people will want to read a young adult mystery set in Minneapolis.
In the spirit of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and the Bernard Pivot questions asked of every guest, we have our own set of questions we ask of every interviewee.
When did you finally say, “Yeah… I’m gonna write stuff for a living. And it will be AWESOME.”
As the mother of two little girls, I was haunted by memories of this serial killer who preyed on kids. The most terrible thing he said, out of so many horrible things, was that there were many, many people exactly like him. I sat down and wrote my first book as a form of therapy, to purge this guy out of my head. In the process, this character and world were born and I discovered I liked being in Gabriella’s world, especially when it is -35 degrees in Minnesota like it is today. I sit down at my computer and suddenly, I’m in San Francisco, strolling the streets of North Beach, talking Italian with the old neighborhood guys and having a latte.
What has been your favorite moment in writing so far? The moment that when you read it on the page, you smiled and said, “That was so cool!”
What has surprised me the most and what I find really cool is to go back and read something I wrote and think, who the hell wrote that because I have no recollection of doing so and it isn’t half bad. That zone I get in when I’m writing is pretty trippy when I sit back and look at it and it’s results.
What was the moment that made you say, “Writing books is amazing”?
I felt this way the first time someone who was not a blood relative told me they read and loved my books. I continue to feel this way every single day, but one moment that really tripped me out was my first book club visit. I was talking to this super awesome group of women and I was sharing this somewhat heartbreaking story and there were a few tears in the room and the women started quoting from my book, something that Gabriella says in the first book “Die before cry.” It’s her mantra to keep her from crying. When these women started saying that, it blew my mind. It made me realize the books have taken on a life of their own and that my characters are REAL to the readers. It still astonishes me and thrills me to no end.
The standard Beatles or Rolling Stones question: Agatha Christie or Nancy Drew?
Nancy Drew. Although I always wished she were a little less goody-two shoes, she was still pretty darn cool. I’ve read every single Nancy Drew book there is, along with all the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden books.
I want to re-iterate that I’m extremely grateful to be part of this mystery community. I love how you called it a “mystery party,” Kate. Thank you to everyone who has read my books and thank you to everyone in this mystery world who has offered their friendship, support, and encouragement as I navigate the new world of a mystery writer.