Showing posts with label private eyes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label private eyes. Show all posts

14 April 2019

How My Experience as a Private Investigator Affects My Writing

I had to go to Left Coast Crime in Vancouver to run into Pamela Beason, who lives in my town.  We hadn't chatted in at least a decade.  Go figure.

Pam  was born in Kansas but, like any sensible person, headed to the Pacific Northwest at the first opportunity.  She is an outdoors enthusiast - as her list of novels will make clear - and her list of jobs is amazing, ranging from work in a geological research lab,  to managing a multimedia group at Microsoft, to the work described below.  You can read more about her writing at  http://pamelabeason.com.

I asked her to write us a guest piece and she provided this gem.  - Robert Lopresti

How My Experience as a Private Investigator Affects My Writing 

by Pamela Beason


Although I am now retired from the job, I worked as a private investigator for more than ten years, and that experience definitely impacts how I write my mysteries. Here are a few of the most important points I’ve learned from being a PI and a bit about how they affect my writing:

There’s More Than One Side to Any Story. As a matter of fact, there are as many “sides” as there are people involved. Take a bar brawl, for example. Each combatant will have his or her own story, but everyone in the bar will have one, too. And the cops arriving on the scene might have a completely different idea about what is going on, because they’ve been told by the dispatcher, who was told by whomever called 911, what to expect when they arrive. Each person’s life experiences color his or her opinion of who might be at fault; none of us is completely objective. It’s fascinating to interview all the different parties and try to separate perception from reality. This really helps me concentrate on characterization and point of view in my novels. If you are a writer, you can do this, too–just pretend you’re interviewing each character in a scene, and you may be amazed at what you discover.

Criminals Are People, Too.  Like most upstanding citizens, I’d love to be able to identify a criminal on sight. In a few cases, we can, but that’s often because those individuals are severely mentally ill as well as being criminals. The scary fact is that many criminals are charming individuals whose company we would enjoy until they do something unethical. I’ve interviewed their victims, whose stories inevitably start out like this: “I liked WhatsHisFace right off the bat, and I liked him right up until he robbed me/stole my car/stabbed me with a kitchen knife.” And when I talk to these criminals (usually in jail, thank goodness), I find them charming, too, although they have really screwy logic. One such fellow told me he shouldn’t be charged with illegal possession of a weapon (he was already a felon) because he really, really, really needed all his guns to protect himself from the bad guys who wanted to steal the drugs he was selling. And, he added, he’d turned his life over to Jesus (again), so everyone really could trust him now. Really.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a straight face when talking to these folks. But my point is that criminals can be loyal to their families and friends, love their dogs, be fine musicians or artists or accountants, whatever–they are people. So whenever I create a villain for my book, I try to make him or her as “human” as possible, too, because this is actually much more frightening than making them seem evil at first glance.

I have sympathy for former criminals who have just gotten out of prison. Most of us don’t want them living next to us or working for us, but how are they supposed to become responsible, productive citizens if nobody will give them a chance? So, in my stories, I have sometimes made parolees the victims of as-yet-unidentified criminals, because who is likely to believe that a parolee is being framed for a crime he or she did not commit?

Law Enforcement Officers Are People, Too. Police/FBI/Border Patrol, etc–all LE personnel are just as individual as you and I. They can be good or bad at their jobs, well educated or not educated at all (that varies tremendously across the country), prejudiced against groups of people or political or religious affiliations. So I always try to make my law enforcement characters real, too, by giving them flaws and families and individual belief systems.

The U.S. Legal System Is Unequal. As a matter of fact, it’s so unfair that it was shocking to me when I first became an investigator. Why is it so hard to be a defendant in our system? First of all, if you are ever accused of a crime, no matter how frivolous the accusation, most people will automatically believe you are guilty. Then, the prosecution has a legal team that generally has adequate funding, established offices, modern equipment, and so forth, while the defense team, depending on the situation and locale, could be anyone. I’ve worked with dedicated but exhausted public defenders and investigators who received virtually no pay, had no offices, and had to bring their own pens and paper to the job. How could that possibly be a fair fight?

I’ve heard many average citizens say that they’d never need a public defender. Have you looked at the average hourly rate of attorneys recently? It’s $150-$300/hour, and they charge for every minute. Believe me, if we were charged with a felony, most of us would need a public defender. These people and their investigators are saints. Exhausted, often poverty-stricken saints.

So, in summary, when I write a mystery novel, all these elements come into play in developing my characters and building my plots. These bullet points are branded into my brain. And now I hope they’re romping around your brain, too.

01 February 2015

Ending a Series

Gypsy's Kiss by Jim Winter
by Jim Winter

Leigh graciously gave me his slot today (we have a special guest coming in on my normal Tuesday slot) to talk about ending a series. And, let's be honest, I'm here to pimp my latest work, Gypsy's Kiss. But it's the end of Nick Kepler. For now. Maybe.

When I thought about writing about this, what came to mind was the end of a series. They all eventually end. Sometimes. I'm not so sure if it's wise to continue them beyond a certain point, but success often makes that decision for writers. It's clear Robert B. Parker had finished telling Spenser's story around the time of Ceremony. The novel had a certain finality to it as the consequences of the previous A Savage Place presented themselves. But Spenser and Parker continued. Within a few novels, it was clear he was just having fun now, making good money having that fun, and giving readers something nice and comfortable. But what if Parker had decided to end it all right there? Could he have continued as a writer?

My beloved 87th Precinct series ended when Ed McBain, AKA Evan Hunter, passed away. He wisely opted not to allow publishers to continue his series after his death (except for a posthumous release or two.) Sue Grafton has said that Kinsey Millhonne will also end with Z is for Zero. We are up to W now with X due out this year and Y in a couple of years. Sue Grafton has publicly stated that Z is for Zero will take place on Kinsey's 40th birthday so we won't have to watch her go through menopause. Hey, she said it. I didn't.

Which brings us back to Gypsy's Kiss and the end of Nick Kepler. Maybe. If I don't get the itch or a request to do it again. There are a lot of reasons for closing the book on Kepler. For starters, all but the first novel are independent releases. Mainly, I was burning off a couple of finished novels in various late stages of editing. I thought about returning to Nick's story again as I prepped a new novel (and potential series) to send to an agent. So I sat down to prep Kepler #4 and found he's stopped speaking to me. I hadn't written anything but a short story called "Gypsy's Kiss" in years. I liked the idea of Nick and Gypsy moving on, but I hated the result. So I hit on the idea of making it a novella, long enough to make the premise - call girl Gypsy wanting Nick for her final client - work while not taxing the reader with a long novel. Besides, I'm busy.

So what's it about? Gypsy is Nick's favorite informant. She's taken a bullet for him and even risked her own life to trap a sexual predator he once followed. Like Elaine in Lawrence Block's Scudder series, she's used her income from the sex trade to escape a life of being used. Now that she's ready to move on, and to celebrate, she wants a dollar from Nick to be her last "client," nothing outrageous (though it's pretty clear she's game even if Nick can't see it), just a quiet evening splitting a bottle of wine and watching old movies. But someone doesn't like Gypsy leaving the skin trade and leaves her a violent calling card.  This being early spring, Nick stashes Gypsy on an island in the middle of Lake Erie, guaranteed to make her hard to find during cold weather. He digs through her past to find who wants to hurt her all the while trying to save his business from closing.

I wrote Gypsy's Kiss for a number of reasons, not the least of which was working with this form. I've done novels. I've done short stories. I've never done a novella. Also, even though all the Kepler novels were released, I wanted to give the Kepler series some closure. I didn't just want to walk away with Nick confused and angry at the end of Bad Religion. Since this was going to be my last original independent release (not counting short fiction), I wanted to go out with a bang. What happens to Elaine? What happens to Nick? Is it really safe to go to New Orleans in 2005?

It's left open-ended. Nick could appear again, either back in Cleveland or someplace else. But if I never pen another line of Kepler again, I've left him in a good place.

Gypsy's Kiss is available for order today.

25 November 2013

A is Forever

A is Forever

by Jan Grape



When first began writing your first novel did you plan on a series or a stand alone?  I absolutely hoped I could do a series with my Private Investigators, Jenny Gordon and C. J. Gunn. This was in 1980 and Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton had both published female private eye books and I wanted to be part of that cadre. I totally hoped for a 3 book contract. I completed my first in the series in 1981. It was titled April Anger. If Grafton could do the alphabet, and John D. MacDonald the colors then perhaps I could do the months.

And in keeping with the genre, Robert Parker had a white PI and tough black friend who always helped with the case. I definitely wanted to explore the relationship between the white woman, Jenny Gordon and the black woman, C.J. Gunn, my wonderful black girlfriend, the late Choicie Greene named the character in the book, C.J. Gunn. The initials stood for Cinnamon Jemima Gunn. I wanted to show this relationship could be as close as sisters which Choicie and I were.

I completed the novel, sent out query letters to editors I had met at mystery conferences. I got some good feed-back and then an editor wanted to publish it. The editor was ready to present to the editorial board and then the editor left that house and went to another house, taking my property along to the new house. But that house wasn't interested.

The next editor was very interested but just as they were presenting found out that another editor had just purchased a female private eye book and they couldn't purchase a second one. Of course, other houses purchased and published more than one MALE PI novel I thought, but sent the mss out once again.

The final time, once again an editor wanted to publish then the company went out of business. In the meantime, I had started the second in the series, May Madness and I began writing short stories that featured these two female private eye characters.

It was a couple years later that an editor wanted to see the first novel as she really liked the characters in the short stories. But once again it was rejected, The editor said she really liked the characters. However, she thought they had grown-up and past the mss in the short stories and didn't think this mss worked anymore. So I put that mss away in the closet.

I don't think many authors think of doing a series book, they just like the first really well and if it gets published they hope the editor wants a second or a third.

After Austin City Blue, came out the publisher did want the second.  Dark Blue Death came out.  In the meantime, I wrote, What Doesn't Kill You a non-series stand alone. I still have not finished the third in the Zoe Barrow series. There were personal upheavals and publishing upheavals and one thing led to another.

I still think I should do the third and I've had ideas a couple of stand-alones. But have only done short stories and co-edited anthologies.

I would like to hear from my fellow writers about series or no series.

18 June 2012

To Fathers, Step-fathers, Adopted Fathers & Foster Fathers

by Jan Grape

As I write this it is June 17th, Father's Day, however this won't be posted until the 18th which is the day after Father's Day. But I'd like to talk a bit about fathers. I had two. My dad and my step-dad. They both were decent, honorable men who did the best they could for me, helping me reach adulthood as a productive, considerate, educated woman. I lived with my mother and my step-father, Charlie Pierce. I only spent two or three weeks with my birth father or as I called him, my "real" dad, Tom Barrow. It was difficult as a child to only see my father for such a short amount of time each summer. When I returned back home to my mother's house, I usually cried for a week or two, knowing it would be another year before I saw my dad again. I didn't understand it at the time and the idea of joint custody or even more reasonable longer visitation was not an accepted idea. My father wasn't married the first few years when I visited with him. And I think I must have been nine or ten before we had those visitation weeks. My mother and father had divorced when I was around two years old and shortly after that my father went to China and India as an Army man during World War II.

I do remember him visiting me when I was six years old. I was living with my grandmother in Houston, TX at the time. My mother was working at an aircraft factory, Consolidated, in Fort Worth and it was very difficult to have and take care of a small child with the hours she worked. My grandmother and her husband lived ten miles from the city limits of Houston on a dirt road. One day, a yellow taxi drove up to our house and a tall, lean man in an Army uniform got out of the car. It was my dad. He was home on furlough and wanted to see me. I was just getting over chicken pox and I got so excited that my red-spots seemed to pop out again. Of course it was just the excitement.

My step-father has been gone since 1995 and I miss him a lot.. He and I had a lot of problems during my teen age years but I think that's fairly normal. Teenagers are an alien species as I have mentioned before. Charlie had a lot of little sayings, like "I ain't had so much fun since the hogs at my little brother." Don't ask me to explain that one. And the standard when I asked him for money was, "If money was germs, I'd be as sterile as St. Vincent's hospital." You get the picture. One saying he had that stayed with me all these years was "There are two things in this world that can't be beat. One is a good education and the other is a good reputation." Those are words to live by for sure. I miss you and love you, Daddy.

My dad has been gone for twenty-four years and I miss him almost daily. Immediately after I graduated from high school, I moved to Fort Worth to live with my dad and step-mother. I graduated from school on Friday night and started to X-ray school on Monday morning. And during all those year afterwards I spent a lot of time with them and we grew very close. We made up for all the years we had not been together. I'm very glad he got to know my late husband, Elmer. They were alike in many ways and they were close too.

My dad loved to read and he had scads of books, mostly mysteries. Mostly private-eye mysteries and from the time I was about 12 years old and visiting my dad in the summer, he was handing me books by Mickey Spillane and Richard S. Prather and Erle Stanley Gardner. I was in heaven reading their books. Of course they were hard-boiled and womanizers (well, Perry Mason wasn't but Donald Lam was) but I just loved the style of writing these guys wrote and enjoyed the mystery plots. I decided then and there if I ever did learn to write it would definitely be mysteries and mostly likely private-eye stories. And most of my short stories did feature my female PIs Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn.

One major thing my dad taught me was, to do what you love. And if you can make a living at that, you're ahead of the game. That's true. I loved being in the medical field, but my unspoken dream was to write and be published. I'm really glad my dad lived long enough to read many of my short stories. He died before my novels were published but I'm sure where ever he is, he's read them as I wrote them.

The other big thing my dad taught me is that you can't live in the past with regrets. And you just can't wallow in guilt about mistakes you made. And he didn't mean not to acknowledge your mistakes, but learn from them. Everyone fails at some things and that's the way you learn how to succeed. This is very true in writing too (you thought I never would get to the point about writing didn't you?).

The only way to ever learn to be a better writer is to keep writing. When someone who knows about writing and is willing to pay you for writing gives you a critique or suggestion about your writing, then pay attention and learn. Few people are born with enough talent to be a good writer. However, you can learn how to write and how to write very well, but you have to learn from your mistakes.

Actually all the great writers that I know were not "born" writers. They were just persistent and willing to learn the craft and then learn the business or lean on someone who could guide them to the right way to become published.

So today, I say, Happy Father's Day to my dad, Thomas Lee Barrow. I love you and I miss you.