Today I’m welcoming my first guests: Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins, the authors of How to Write a Dick: A Guide to Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths. Shaun and Colleen are professional private investigators based in Denver, Colorado. Shaun is a former trial attorney, Colleen is a multi-published author. How to Write a Dick is their first co-authored non-fiction book, available on Kindle.
I’ve chatted with them by phone over the last week, and not only are these guys knowledgeable about private investigations, they’re fun to talk to! Below are snippets from our talks.
Brian: Colleen, what do you think is the most misunderstood part of being a private investigator?
Colleen: Probably that many people think all private investigators chase cheating spouses for a living. Actually, there are many specialized fields of investigations, from legal investigations to accident reconstruction to pet detection.
Brian: Shaun, what skill do you most admire in other private investigators?
Shaun: Tenacity. And the ability to work a case after everyone else has given up.
Brian: Shaun, private investigators in books always seem to have a best buddy in the local police department who slips the PI information. How real is that?
Shaun: Personally, I don’t know any private investigators in real life who work like this, primarily because neither police officers nor private investigators want to risk their careers.
Brian: Colleen, have you read any scenes in a recent private eye novel where you thought “That PI scene rings true to life!”
Colleen: Absolutely. I just read a mobile surveillance scene in Robert Crais’s book The First Rule where three private investigators, in three vehicles, conducted a “group” mobile surveillance following the villain. That’s more how it works in real life as mobile surveillances are difficult, especially if it’s one PI in one vehicle. If you need to follow someone in a car, the chances of successfully conducting the surveillance increase significantly with two or three private investigators in as many vehicles. In Crais’s book, the PIs also used a technique, which we call “leap frogging,” that’s common in multiple-vehicle surveillances. We discuss leap frogging and other surveillance techniques in How to Write a Dick.
Brian: Speaking of which, I’m currently reading How to Write a Dick and I’m really enjoying it. It’s not only educational, but entertaining! Back to writers, Robert Crais is one of my favorite writers. Shaun, I read that one of your favorite crime writers is Loren Estleman. What do you like about his writing?
Shaun: Voice and colorful characters.
Brian: Colleen, besides Crais, who else do you read?
Colleen: There’s many, including Lori Armstrong, Reed Farrel Coleman, Michael Wiley, others. Just started reading Domenic Stansberry and Ken Kuhlken, and I’m now a big fan of both.
Brian: So you two are going to be the subject of a newspaper cover story in August?
Shaun: Yes. The photographer is taking our pictures next week. He wants us to wear trench coats and fedoras. I’ve never worn a trench coat and I don’t own a fedora.
Colleen: Apparently, it’s going to be a story within a story. The reporter is writing it as a private-eye writer, weaving in our real-world investigations business. I think they want us to wear trench coats and fedoras because they’re illustrating our picture as a detective novel cover. I think they’re going to have to draw in the trench-coat-and-fedora part, though.
Brian: Cool! Let me know when it’s out and I’ll post a link to the article. Thank you for being my guests. You guys are great, your book is great, and come back again for an interview, okay?
Shaun/Colleen: Thanks, Brian. We were honored to be your first guests.
Check out How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths on Kindle.
“How to Write a Dick is a gift to crime fiction authors everywhere, a comprehensive and no-nonsense compendium of information, analysis and thought-provoking writing prompts that will help you create your own 21st century shamus with confidence and class. An absolute must for the library of any PI writer!”
-Kelli Stanley, critically acclaimed author of City of Dragons and the Miranda Corbie series
“If you want authenticity in creating a fictional private investigator for your stories, then this is a must-have reference book. Its authors, Colleen and Shaun, are living breathing PIs with years of actual experience in the PI game.”
– R.T. Lawton, 25 years on the street as a federal special agent and author of 4 series in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.