Thanks Colleen and Shaun for this interview.
Thank you for having us!
Tell us about your latest project and when can we expect it to hit the streets?
It’s a non-fiction ebook How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, which hit the virtual streets this month on Kindle and Nook. It is a compilation of our articles and suggestions to fiction writers writing sleuths, including examples from courses we've presented at regional and national writers' conferences. We also include dozens of writers’ questions, and our answers, about what a fictional sleuth might do in various scenarios.
What bugs you the most about reading PI fiction?
Colleen: When a fictional PI breaks the law and doesn’t seem to know or care. At least let me, the reader, know you’re committing a felony but that you’re doing it for a very good reason (to find a missing child, for example). It ups the stakes in the story when a PI is willing to break the law to do the right thing.
Shaun: Reading endless descriptions. We are conversation-driven in our work. Our jobs consist of talking to lawyers, clients, witnesses, police and other people about the case. I even have a dialogue with myself when I am alone in the field (and hear that dialogue in my head). I have read a lot of annoying PI literature that is not realistic because it consists of an author’s intellectual descriptive prose.
What true story or case would you like to fictionalize in a novel?
Two Tales of Self-Defense because the resolution of each made someone’s life better. One was set in the city, and another on an isolated ranch. The common thread between both was how hard we had to work to find exculpatory evidence. In our urban adventure, a young man was attacked by eight rival gang members. He stabbed two and claimed self-defense. No one would corroborate his story. He was charged with serious assault crimes. We handed out fliers and knocked on doors in a tough neighborhood in search of some anonymous witnesses (people didn’t want to come forward for fear of gang retaliation). Eventually, we found three neutral witnesses who we convinced to talk to us -- based on our interviews, the D.A. dismissed the case. In the second instance, out in the fields of eastern Colorado, our client was accused of shooting at some people who’d trespassed on his ranch. He claimed he fired warning shots away from the accusers; they claimed he tried to kill them. We spent hours with metal detectors on acres of barren ranchland before we found the bullets in a place that confirmed his story. The moral of the story: a PI has to work hard to get ahold of the truth.
Colleen: Max Alan Collins, who knows how to craft page-turning hard-boiled stories. Lori Armstrong blows me away with her gritty, complex ex-sniper investigator-protagonist Mercy Gunderson. The unveiling of Reed Farrel Coleman’s PI character Moe Prager is as compelling as the storylines. Marcia Muller’s “first female detective” Sharon McCone for her tenacity and smarts. I could go on, but I’ll stop here.
What special powers (legal or supernatural) would you like to have as a PI?
Shaun: For all of our clients to pay full retainers.
Colleen: To be invisible!
What came first? Being a PI or being a writer?
Colleen: Writer, then PI.
Shaun: Lawyer, writer, PI.
What new writing projects are on the horizon?
We’re currently writing another book in our “dick” series: How to Be a Lawyer’s Dick: Legal Investigations 101. Might be our last dick book, not sure yet. Colleen’s fiction book The Zen Man (a contemporary tale of Nick and Nora) is making the rounds of agents.
You’ve got an impressive career as a writer. Where can we find some of your titles?
Colleen: I’ve written 20 novels, published by Harlequin (and one by Dorchester). If you look up “Colleen Collins” on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, they’re all there. Or most of them, anyway.
Shaun: The Colorado Department of Corrections.
Who are your favorite authors (or books)?
Shaun: Loren Estleman, Hunter S. Thompson.
Colleen: Jay McInerney, Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Ken Bruen, Dennis Lehane, everybody I mentioned earlier, and many others…
What is your writing process? Pantser or plotter?
Colleen: Plotter. If Shaun wrote fiction, I’d put money on his being a pantser. Which in a way is how we handle investigations, too.
Do you get many “Aha!” moments for your writing? When do they usually happen and what do you do with this inspiration?
Colleen: Aha’s happen at any time. Because I don’t trust my memory, I grab anything available and jot down the idea.
One final question? If I’m paranoid that I’m being shadowed by a PI, what are some things I can do to cover my tracks?
Shaun: Walk or drive in the direction that you were going from when you noticed the tail.
Colleen: Look for (and toss) any GPS attachments under your vehicle. Take different routes in your daily routines. Drive a different vehicle. Dress differently (better yet, bring a change of clothes, hats and shoes with you so you can change on the fly). If you want to “one up” the PI, hire your own PI to track the PI and find out why you’re the subject of an investigation.
Thanks for the interview. Good luck gumshoeing!
Thank you, Mario, and Biting Edge! We enjoyed being your gumshoe guests.