Crime Reporter Turns Crime Novelist

photo by Wilson Webb/location courtesy of the James J. Hill House

Minneapolis-based crime novelist Kristi Belcamino is a longtime newspaper reporter who has worked for the San Francisco Bay Area’s Contra Costa Times and currently works for the Pioneer Press. The protagonist of her novels, Gabriella Giovanni, also works the newspaper crime beat. In Belcamino’s third book, Blessed Are Those Who Weep, which debuted this spring, Giovanni finds a crying baby in a room full of murder victims and embarks on a hunt for the killer.

“I majored in journalism, then screwed around and chased the grunge scene in Seattle, then went to Europe for a couple of months. After that, I moved to Minnesota and I got my first job as a reporter at the White Bear Press. It was the best job I’ve ever had: $14,000, 60 hours a week. And I loved every second of it.”

“It was a small newspaper chain, and each reporter basically had their own newspaper—covering cops, city hall, the school district. That got me into crime reporting. The first crime story I covered on my beat was about a teenager, 18 or 19 years old, who joined the military. She was in Texas on a military base and was talking to someone back home on the phone when she was abducted. They found her body a week later.”

“I found that I was really good at crime reporting. A lot of other reporters didn’t want to touch it. I discovered that I really believed it was important to write those stories, to give the victims a voice so that their death is more than just a name in the newspaper. Each death is a loss in this world.”

“I had carted around a big box of notebooks and letters from this serial killer I had been investigating at my job in the Bay Area. I was planning to write a nonfiction book about him, but he hadn’t yet been convicted of the crime I wanted to write about. So I started writing it as fiction, and I realized it was way cooler: My character could be smarter than me, and I could live vicariously through her when in reality I’m a mom with two little kids.”

“There was a story just a couple of weeks ago I wrote for the Pioneer Press that made me sit at my desk and cry. I was the first person to contact someone who knew someone who died in a murder-suicide. It was something really horrible that had happened, and I said, ‘I’m so sorry you had to hear this from a reporter,’ and then we hung up. About 10 minutes later, my phone rings and it’s him. He went on to tell me all about the people who had died—information to give a more balanced portrait of who the people were.”

“At my first book-club meeting ever, I realized that people were quoting Gabriella from my book—at that moment I knew that she was independent of me, and it blew my mind. Sometimes I’ve worried that she’s too much like me, but I took a personality test twice—once as her and once as me—and we came out as complete opposites. Gabriella is probably more courageous than me, a little more rebellious. She’s very clever and quick thinking—I like her, I think she’d be fun to hang around with.”

“There’s a kinship between people like crime reporters and police officers. It’s a draw to the underworld, and to the adrenaline rush. In my case, being aware of the tragedies in life helps me be more grateful for everything I have that’s good. It’s a constant perspective on my problems, along with a little bit of paranoia, and it creates a daily gratefulness. It makes everything really real.”

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Quinton Skinner is a writer and editor based in the Twin Cities. A former senior editor of Minnesota Monthly, he held the same post at Twin Cities METRO and 
has written for major national and local publications. He is the co-founder of Logosphere Storysmiths and author of several novels, including his latest, Odd One Out.