Ever wish you had a Private Detective at your disposal? As a mystery writer, I do, and often. Today, The Five Scribes welcome Author Colleen Collins and her gumshoe Partner Shaun Kaufman, owners of Highlands Investigations www.highlandsinvestigations.com. They'd also like to introduce their blog, Guns, Gams and Gumshoes: http://writingpis.wordpress.com/ Say hello to Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman.
D.B.: You've both had successful careers--in publishing and in the law. What about each drove you to take up full-time investigative work? And then let's turn that question. What about private investigating makes you want to go back to full-time novel writing and the practice of law?
C.C.: Approximately 5-1/2 years ago, one of the lines I was writing for Harlequin closed down, which left me wondering what steps to next take. At the same time, the law firm where Shaun was contracting as a legal researcher downsized that position. I'd always told Shaun he'd make a fantastic legal investigator, so I said, "Now's the time to open that legal investigations business," and within six months we were off and running. What makes me want to go back to full-time novel writing? Easy answer: I love writing. But even if I had the opportunity to write full time, I'd still keep a toe in investigations because I enjoy the work.
S.K.: What drove me to full-time investigative work is what Colleen said, plus my desire to go to the source of evidence after having worked with evidence in a legal and abstract manner for many years. What has made me want to go back to the practice of law? I'd rather be a lawyer than work for one.
D.B.: Talk about a typical day, a typical assignment. How do you divvy up your workload when you take on a case?
C.C.: We currently run two investigative businesses (Highlands Investigations, which specializes in legal investigations and other types of investigations, and Cheater Finders, www.cheaterfinders.com which specializes in infidelity investigations). In the next month, we'll be opening a third investigative business that specializes in background checks. I'll let Shaun discuss our breakdown of work.
S.K.: In our legal investigative work with Highlands Investigations, I tend to be the field and front man with both clients and live interviews. With Cheater Finders, we're both "front men" depending on which of us first intakes the case. Our legal investigative work typically emphasizes evening work because that's when people are available to talk to us. With Cheater Finders, the work day can be any time over a 24/7 period.
D.B.: Who is your average client?
C.C.: With Cheater Finders, our average client is an individual who wants evidence that a significant other (typically a spouse) is being unfaithful. Funny but a true story: Our very first client at Cheater Finders was a rock star who wanted us to serve a restraining order on an old girlfriend.
S.K.: At Highlands Investigations, our average client is an attorney or a law firm.
D.B.: What is the most unusual job you've ever taken on?
C.C./S.K.: This whole business is unusual. But since you asked, one of the more unusual cases [is] when a wife called and asked if we could discover why her husband of many years was suddenly acting differently. After tracking his activities, we learned he was moonlighting as a male "call girl." Another unusual job was a dad who kidnapped his own daughter--the little girl was unharmed, but by the time we located her, she was 2,000 miles from home.
D.B.: Say I'm hiring you, can I pick up the phone and call, or would I come to your office? Would I pay you a retainer, and given that I'm a poor struggling writer, would you offer me a sliding scale;) ?
C.C./S.K.: We intake clients via the telephone, or sometimes initial business conversations are conducted via e-mail. We rarely have people come straight to our office, and only then if we personally know them. Yes, we require a retainer, and, yes, we work on a sliding scale with civilians. With attorneys, we have set fees, but even then we'll work a sliding scale, if necessary.
D.B.: Are your primary clients, individuals, corporations or law enforcement? Do you ever assist law enforcement in solving crimes?
C.C./S.K.: Our primary clients are 50/50 individuals and attorneys at this point. When we open our background check business, we expect more corporations. We've never assisted law enforcement, although there are cities where law enforcement is starting to work closely with PIs (there was a recent case in New York where a team of police and PIs, working together, solved a major crime in the garment district).
D.B.: Do you carry weapons? Why or why not?
C.C. : We have a stun gun (350,000 volts) that we used to carry under the driver's seat of our car, but we don't carry it anymore. Probably because we never used it, and after a while we started thinking, "Will this escalate a situation to unnecessary violence?" Saying that, I know a female PI in another state who always carries a gun, even to answer the front door of her own home. But then, she specializes in executive protection, so she's accustomed to resorting to flashing a gun in critical situations.
S.K.: Rarely, and why not is because we're more likely to hurt ourselves than to hurt anyone else. Also, one doesn't need a weapon if one is smart enough to avoid situations where a self-defense device is needed.
D.B.: Have you ever been asked to work undercover?
C.C./S.K.: We were hired to work undercover for a major retail chain who wanted us to investigate if one of their managers was misappropriating corporate property. Also, we often work undercover in infidelity investigations.
D.B.: In novels, investigative work is glamorized. What part of the job would you consider glamorous; what part is mundane?
C.C.: The part that 's "glamorous" to me is cracking the case. It's a rush to find that piece of evidence that solves a case. As far as what's mundane, I think surveillance. Sitting for hours, staring at a location, can be mind-numbing. One PI I know said she'd rather poke a stick in her eye than do surveillance--LOL!
S.K.: What's glamorous? If we define glamorous as intellectually compelling and physically taxing, I'd call infidelity investigations glamorous. At times, we also work in glamorous places (ski resorts, fine restaurants), and we get to use interesting equipment (covert cameras). Mundane work: record retrieval from courthouses and public offices.
D.B.: Would you tell us about what a writer can expect when taking your online workshops through Writing PIs in Novels?
C.C.: Beginning in June 2009, we're starting up classes again after not teaching for almost two years. This time, we're offering smaller, more topic-focused classes for writers wanting to learn about an investigative specialty, such as surveillance or finding missing persons or homicide investigations. We're calling the classes, "Quick Studies on the Shady Side: Tips and Techniques for Writers Developing Sleuths and Villains." For more info, go to: www.writingprivateinvestigators.com
Also, Shaun and I decided to publish a nonfiction book of our course material, which we're titling GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES. Our goal is to have it ready in spring/early summer 2010. Along these lines, we kicked off a blog GUNS, GAMS AND GUMSHOES that caters to mystery writers wanting to learn about investigative trends, read articles about writing sleuths, and ask questions about sleuths and investigative techniques/tools. That blog is up and we'd love your readers to drop by and comment.
GUNS, GAMS AND GUMSHOES BLOG: www.writingpis.wordpress.com/
D.B.: I'm looking forward to it. Besides online courses, I also know you do in-person workshops. I attended one a few years ago, which was put on by Pikes Peak Writers, www.pikespeakwriters.com. Shaun did a fabulous job talking about defense attorneys. If anyone has a chance to see Shaun or Colleen speak, I recommend them highly.
Recently, you helped my friend Christina Herndon at the 3-day Coroner's Conference, where you presented "The Top 10 Reasons Why Coroners Make Killer Heroes/Heroines." Will you tell us how that presentation went?
C.C.: To be honest, we were worried our "Top 10..." (a la Letterman) list might be a bust (would coroners appreciate our dark humor?). I warned Chris that our presentation veered toward "squirrely" and she assured me squirrely was perfect for that audience. And I'm glad to say, it went over very well. So much so, one of the coroners wants to make a bumper sticker of one of our reasons. I've also heard the presentation might be posted on the Colorado Coroner's Association website.
D.B.: Oh, I hope they post it, and I'm so glad it went well. Chris and I wrote a skit together for Sisters in Crime, and it was about as squirrley as it could get, so I suspect your act on the road worked great. Back to doing in-person workshops, are you open to doing more? If so, how do people contact you, and how much notice would you need?
C.C.: We love doing workshops. People can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If someone wants one of our already prepared workshops (check www.writingprivateinvestigators.com for a listing) we can do those with a few days notice. If someone is wishing for a customized talk/workshop, a few weeks notice is appreciated.
D.B.: (Question for Colleen). Are you writing fiction these days? What is your current project and release?
C.C.: I have two proposals ready to submit--one's a paranormal PI series, the other's what I call "Nick and Nora in the 21st Century" contemporary PI series proposal. They're in the submission phase, so no release dates.
D.B.: (Question for Shaun). Are you interested in fiction writing?
S.K.: Absolutely. (Note from C.C.:) Shaun's currently studying for the bar exam, studying 5-8 hours a day, so he actually laughed when I read him this question. Currently, his focus is on surviving the bar exam, which is why more of these questions were answered by me).
D.B.: Good luck, Shaun!! Finally, Five Scribe readers, many might not know this, but not only are Colleen and Shaun professional partners, they recently entered into a matrimonial relationship. How is that transition working so far?
C.C.: We've been together almost seven years, but making it official carries significance. We eloped, so we still haven't bought wedding rings, although we found a $24.95 gold-sprayed plastic band for Shaun right before we got married :) We laugh about it, but Shaun swears he'll keep it always.
S.K.: After you've sat outside a home at 4 a.m. holding a cup of cold coffee and wondering if some unfaithful person is going to come out of the building you're watching, it's easy to share everyday life with someone special.
D.B.: Congratulations and our best to you. Thank you for being with us to day to talk about your exciting new ventures.
C.C./S.K.: Thank you, Donnell! We'd like to offer several giveaways to your readers. For everyone who posts a comment or question, we'll toss their name into a virtual hat. Next week, we'll pick three names: two for a class of their choice from www.writingprivateinvestigators.com and one for Writing PIs in Novels T-shirt.
We're looking forward to readers comments and questions!