Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

  • Writing a Sleuth?

    A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

    "How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike."

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Posts Tagged ‘online writing classes’

Answering Writer’s Question: Why Is It Okay for PIs to Forward People’s Personal Information to Lawyers?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 27, 2010

This is a great question, one we’ve learned sometimes stymies writers.  Although lawyers aren’t known to have “bad intentions” in such real-life scenarios, just think of the complications and fun twists if one did in a fiction story.

Writer’s Question: I’ve read that PIs shouldn’t forward a client’s personal information to a civilian-client (versus an attorney-client). Does this mean that giving the info to an attorney is perfectly all right? Provided you’re working for one, of course. What if you suspect the attorney has personal involvement and, maybe, bad intentions?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: The fact that an attorney is licensed means that he/she answers to a higher authority (the attorney regulatory agency for that state).  In addition to their responsibilities as citizens, attorneys have additional ethical responsibilities imposed on them by the agency.  The regulatory rules governing attorneys generally require higher standards of conduct than those required by the laws on citizens in our society.  For example, there are many regulatory rules that require lawyers to report misconduct of their fellow attorneys and sometimes even clients, whereas there are no such rules imposed on citizens.  Therefore, an ill-intentioned lawyer is more likely to be discovered and punished than non-lawyers.  Not to say there aren’t crooked or ill-intentioned lawyers who will break the law, but they’re risking their licenses and livelihood to do so, which makes chances slim that they’d act out “bad intentions.”

Have a great week, Writing PIs


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Can law enforcement legally put a GPS on a vehicle?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 20, 2010

This article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That?


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Answering Writer’s Question: Are There International Investigators?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 2, 2010

Today’s investigator typically works cases that involve tasks in other countries–maybe you’re asked by an attorney-client to serve a subpoena in another country, or you need to locate the whereabouts of someone who neighbors claim moved overseas, or you need to find a witness who’s left the country.  Most PIs sub-contract such investigative tasks to a PI licensed in that other country.  How to find PIs in other countries?  Most of us belong to international investigators associations, so it’s easy to look up the country and find a fellow PI who specializes in the type of work you need.

A writer recently asked a question about international investigations, which we’re posting below along with our answer.

Writer’s Question: I’d like to have my fictional PI specialize in international investigations.  How realistic is this? Are there PIs who specialize in this?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: In our experiences with international investigations, we will sub-contract with a PI/s in another country for work we need done there (from locating people to serving legal papers).  We have worked personally with a PI who specializes in international investigations–he has offices in L.A., New York, London, and another city or two in Europe.  When case work comes in for a locate in France, for example, he sub-contracts with a PI in that country.  One big reason that a PI doesn’t travel to different countries are the restrictions created by local licensing.  Even here in the U.S., we can’t travel to New Mexico (a neighboring state) and conduct investigations unless we’re licensed in that state (which we aren’t).  So we sub-contract with a PI from New Mexico when cases come up that require work in that state.

So with your story idea, a PI who specializes in international missing persons would most likely have an extensive network of PIs around the world with whom he/she sub-contracts.  It’s plausible that he might work with them (by flying to his associate PI’s country and working under that PI’s supervision).  Along those lines, we’ve had instances where a PI flies into our state and works “under our authority” for casework in our region/jurisdiction.  Or, your international PI might be licensed to work in different countries (it’d be surprising if he/she had licenses in more than three or four countries)–in this scenario, your PI doesn’t need to work under other PIs’ authority/supervision because he/she is licensed in that country.  Of course, this international PI needs to be conversant in languages for any countries he/she is licensed in (which you’ve probably already thought of).

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When a PI Might Be Involved with a Homicide Investigation

Posted by Writing PIs on July 13, 2010

This article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook.

Posted in Homicide investigations, PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on When a PI Might Be Involved with a Homicide Investigation

Tips for Developing a Trial Attorney Character

Posted by Writing PIs on December 19, 2009

Tips for Developing a Trial Attorney Character


How to Take Popular Prejudices Against Sharks and Use Them in Characterization

“Apologists for the profession contend that lawyers are as honest as other men, but this is not very encouraging.”
-Ferdinand Lundberg, American author

We just wrapped up teaching “Trials 101,” an online class geared to writers developing legal characters, courtroom scenes, and more.  In part of the class, we offer tips for developing trial attorney characters (as one of our instructors is a retired trial attorney, we feel confident discussing this topic).  Today’s post shares some of the class material.

It might be interesting, as a point of character development, to keep in mind the prejudices already in place against your fictional trial attorney when she first meets people (clients, jurors, even social acquaintances). Here’s a telling quote from Gerry Spence about one dark prejudice:

”Today the trial lawyer could be as pure and honest as Jesus in a pin-striped suit—and still the jurors will see him through jaundiced spectacles. Or the woman, as trial lawyer, could be Mother Teresa in a conservative business dress—dark worsted wool, a small string of no-nonsense pearls at her throat, a tiny gold cross pinned at her lapel, her face that of a saint—and still the jurors would undress her to her soul to see if, indeed, she has one. Suspicion. Worse. A thin fog of hate surrounds all lawyers for the people, these warriors for the people’s justice.”

So how does your fictional attorney deal with this? Does she take on a false bravado to compensate? Does he ignore it, or enter most situations (whether personal or professional) with an irritating bluster? Or, like Gerry Spence, perhaps it encourages him to reach out, be human, and correct the misconception when opportunities arise. Of course, the last thing you want is a saint for a trial attorney, so such a Gerry Spence-like character would need an admirable flaw or three in his shining-knight characterization.

Another popular misconception is that all trial attorneys are “aggressive.” It’s a loaded word, one many attorneys love to use in their own ads, as though an attorney behaving like a pit bull on crack equates to sure wins for her client.

Check out ads yourself to see how attorneys love this word. For example, we just looked on the back of a fat telephone book—and surprise! There’s a full-page ad where the attorney promises “Aggressive Representation.” We flipped to the yellow pages under Attorneys and saw these words and images in ads: “Affordable and Aggressive” (this one seemed especially popular as it was used repeatedly in different ads), a photo of a lawyer smiling next to the words “TOUGH and AGGRESSIVE Lawyer” (capitalized just as it is in the ad), “Aggressive Representation” is used in multiple ads, then finally one lawyer who decided to soften the term a bit with these words next to his smiling photo “DILIGENT AND ZEALOUS REPRESENTATION” (capitalized again as in the ad).

Here’s a definition of aggressive: Inclined to behave in an actively hostile fashion. Is it really a given that an attorney must behave this way to be a winner in the courtroom?

According to a local respected trial defense attorney, the answer is no. Below is his take on the term:

“In most cases, it simply is better not to be overly ‘aggressive’ either in pre-trial matters, or at trial. Much of criminal law practice before trial consists of careful investigation and skillful negotiation. This is no place for an attorney to behave aggressively or unreasonable… at least not if they know what they are doing! Even at trial, most experienced trial lawyers know that being aggressive and unfriendly is likely to turn off the jury and everyone else.

While there certainly are situations that call for an aggressive cross-examination of an accuser or other witness, an experienced trial attorney knows that under most circumstances it is better to appear to the jury as a professional and reasonable defense attorney because that makes it much more likely that they will adopt the defense’s version of events and acquit their client. Usually if the jury doesn’t like the attorney, it’s bad news for the client. In fact most prosecutors want obnoxious, aggressive defense attorneys because they know the jury will not like them or their client.

It’s a tough lesson to learn for the first time after your trial is over.”

Think about this notion of “aggression” in terms of your fictional trial attorney. Does she buy into that behavior? Does he use this term in her advertising, when deep down, he knows it’s for marketing only? How about the fictional trial attorney who learns the hard way that aggression and bluster just lost the case for his client?

Hopefully these tips help add fodder for your development of fascinating, true-to-life legal characters.

Posted in Developing Trial Attorney Characters, Writing Mysteries | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Slew of Sleuth Articles

Posted by Writing PIs on December 3, 2009

First, a freebie: To win a free registration for “Trials 101” post a comment by December 12 (winner’s name to be picked December 13).  To read more about the class, go to end of this post *

Investigative Articles

Below are some of our current articles–handy tips for both real-life PIs and writers writing their fictional counterparts. 

How to Start a Private Investigations Business:

Protecting Yourself Online:        

When Does Surveillance Become Stalking? 

How to Protect Your Cell Phone from Spyware: 

How to Quickly Interpret Another’s Language via a Telephone:


* December 14-21, 2009: Online Class “Trials 101”

Writing a story with a courtroom scene and need to add some realistic touches? Or perhaps you’re fleshing out a trial attorney, or maybe just want a handle on a few terms for when your protagonist makes a court appearance? This class is an introduction to trials (U.S. legal system), outlining the key players in the courtroom, the history of trials, a few reasons why trials happen (as well as some wrong reasons trials happen, which could provide great story conflict), and ends with several examples of outstanding trials in books and movies. One week, 2 classes, questions answered by email in-between. 

Instructor Bios

Shaun Kaufman has worked in and around the criminal justice field for nearly 25 years, as a former trial attorney and a current legal investigator. He’s published articles in PI magazine, the Denver Law Review, and authored numerous briefs for the Colorado Court of Appeals, Colorado Supreme Court, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Shaun is a popular speaker at conferences, entertaining and educating writers with his insights and expertise about investigations, crime scenes, how PIs effectively testify in trials, and more. His father always told him to be a writer, not a lawyer.

Colleen Collins is a PI by day, a multi-published author by night. Her articles on private investigations have appeared on various sites on the Internet as well as in PI Magazine, Pursuit Magazine, NINK (Novelists, Inc.), and other publications.  A member of the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA), Mystery Writers of America (MWA), and Romance Writers of America (RWA), she’s written 20 novels, and has spoken at regional and national writers conferences about writing private eyes in fiction.

Trials 101 registration:

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Links to articles on catching cheaters, ordering background reports & safeguarding your Internet ID

Posted by Writing PIs on November 1, 2009

Today we’re posting links to articles we’ve recently written on catching cheaters, ordering tailored background reports, and protecting your identity on the Internet.   The techniques are good for real-world application as well as fictional stories.   Have a great week!



How to Outwit Your Cheating Spouse and Catch Him/Her in the Act:


couple dating

How to Check if Your Date Is Telling the Truth:


reportHow to Select a Tailored Background Report:



woman at computerHow to Safeguard Your Identity on the Internet:




Online Class: Quick Studies on the Shady Side: Tips and Techniques for Writers Developing Sleuths and Villains

November 16-23, 2009: Surfing the Web & Digging for Dirt
Ways a sleuth uncovers data, from Internet/database searches to getting down and dirty in someone’s trash. One week, 2 classes, questions answered by email in-between.

To register, go to

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Marketing the Private Investigations Business

Posted by Writing PIs on October 30, 2009

“Let me explain something to you, Walsh.  This business requires a certain amount of finesse.”
Jake Gittes in Chinatown.

A private eye is a business person.  Has to be.  It’s not all about running after felons and solving cases, it’s also about paying the bills.  Even Sam Spade carefully extracted money from his clients, and Phillip Marlowe spent a lot of time worrying about money. Although writers shouldn’t write pages and pages about their fictional sleuth filling out a business credit card application, checking in with his/her CPA, revising contracts, ordering business cards (all that humdrum stuff!), managing a business is still part of the sleuth’s world.  Understanding this means a writer can add a touch of reality/plausibility here and there.  If the PI is wrangling with a testy bill collector, a critical CPA, or a disgruntled subcontractor, it could even be a humorous sub-plot.

Let’s take a brief look at how a private investigator (PI) markets a business.

Marketing the PI Business

As writers, think about all the ways you market your stories: ads in hardcopy and online publications, websites, blogs, electronic newsletters, giveaways to readers, etc.  Pretty similar to what a PI does to market his/her business.

When we decided we wanted to start an investigations company, the first thing we did was sit down and brainstorm two plans: a business plan and a marketing plan.  We worked both of these plans concurrently because we knew as soon as we were ready to open our doors (after following the business plan) we wanted to have customers knocking on those doors (hopefully, thanks to our marketing plan).

In our marketing plan were tasks such as:

  • Designing and printing brochures, letterhead, and business cards
  • Writing/mailing introductory letters about our business and services to attorneys
  • Analyzing what information and focus we wanted on our website
  • Hiring a webmaster we believed could fulfill our vision
  • Advertising with numerous Internet PI sites
  • Joining reputable PI organizations, some of which offered free advertising for its members
  • Making cold calls to different courthouses and attorneys’ offices (with brochures and business cards in hand)
  • Writing articles (with bios that advertised our business)

business cardWe’re living in a digital world, but interestingly enough, our first few clients came to us after receiving one of our letters or our brochure/business cards from a cold call.   The latter is still one of our favorite marketing approaches whenever work gets slow–we’ll visit attorneys’ offices and/or hit the courthouses and pass out our business cards (think about your fictional PI–maybe he/she picks up a case while shmoozing in the halls of justice, or maybe he/she sees a criminal they once investigated–both have happened to us).  

Marketing Never Ends

Advertising never stops, even after the PI business is up and running.  Frank Ritter, a well-known California PI who specializes in personal injury investigations, regularly sent out newsletters to attorneys (he swears his cartoons are what pulled in new clients).  One local financial investigator gives workshops on how to detect financial fraud, after which he personally hands out his business card to every single person in the room.  Another local PI, who’s built an extremely lucrative business over the years, courts the newspapers with articles about his successful investigations (free PR!).

Branding the PI Business

What about brands?  Does your fictional PI have a brand for his/her business?  There’s power in a brand—the first American private detective agency, Pinkerton National Detective Agency, had the “all-seeing eye” as their logo (with the motto “We Never Sleep”).  The term “private eye” came about because of their brand:

Pinkerton Logo

Marketing to an Audience

Just as writers should know their audience, so should PIs.  Because our firm specializes in legal investigations, we primarily market to law firms and attorneys.  A loss prevention investigator might market heavily to department stores.  Or maybe an investigator uses his physical location as a launching pad for marketing—for example, an investigator who lives near a large, recreational lake or other large waterfront area might market to insurance companies who specialize in marine insurance (boats and watercraft).

Maybe Jake Gittes should’ve said, “This business requires a certain amount of finesse…and a lot of marketing.”


Posted in Marketing the PI Business, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bored to Death: Tips from a Couple of PIs Who’re Also Writers

Posted by Writing PIs on October 16, 2009

private eyeWe’re hooked on Bored to Death, the new HBO series about a writer moonlighting as an unlicensed private eye in a state that requires licensing (ahem).  The latter point is a stickler with us because no way a person in any state that requires PIs to be licensed can simply place a craigslist ad that says “Hey, I’m unlicensed, hire me” as though that makes it all okay.  Sooner or later (more like sooner) a real PI, or someone associated with the regulatory agency, will see that ad or hear about the unlicensed PI’s activities, and the moonlighting will come to a cold-hearted, screeching halt.

But that aside, we love the show.  Love the goofy premises, love the pot-smoking magazine-editor boss George Christopher (played by Ted Danson, who steals the show), dig the PI’s sidekick pal Ray (played by Zach Galifianakis of The Hangover).  Being a couple of PIs who also write, we emphathize with the PI-protagonist who steals time from his writing to sleuth.  But being real-life PIs, we have to offer him these tips on being more professional:

Stop drinking with clients.   Most of your clients need PIs because they got themselves into a mess if not completely because of alcohol/drugs, at least partly.  Maybe Sam Spade drank with his clients, but why get fuzzy-brained when you need your brains the most?  And, oh by the way, don’t carry weed on your investigations.  The smell attracts more trouble than it’s worth.  Of course, this is part of the charm and funk of your fictional world–and where would that Ted Danson character be without that skunk?

Stop viewing clients as potential girlfriends.  Entanglements with troubled women will only drag you down.  Cases are tough enough to work, you don’t need the extra baggage of your heart on your sleeve.  Saying that, your fooling around with fair-haired damsel clients harkens back to the fictional greats (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe), although it’d be nice if your writers let you occasionally score like the fictional greats, too.

Lose the trench coat.  It worked for Columbo back in the 70s, but this is the digital age.  Pitch it to the Salvation Army.  Try camel hair or a nice Gor-Tex.  But then, this is an offbeat comedy, and a trench coat is so cliche, it’s funny.

Try getting a retainer that reflects the difficulty of the work.  You’re going for desperate retainers–a hundred bucks on a whim, or a freebie because you got a crush on the client.  Thought you were moonlighting to make money, bud.  Fix an hourly rate, figure the hours and expenses to be worked, and get that upfront in cash, not kisses. 

Buy a camera.  So far, we’ve only seen you documenting cases with your eyes–that’s not convincing proof.  A visit to a pawn shop for a digital camera can go a long way toward convincing a judge or anyone else that your claims are truthful.

Speaking of a judge, back to your licensure situation.  You got a problem proving any case because you’re openly breaking New York state law.  If you work a case that goes to court, you’d be in a pickle.  The court may report you to the police or even disregard the evidence you’re presenting.  After all, New York state has a very active lobby for licensed private investigators and they don’t like interlopers, even cute ones with surfer boy haircuts.  On the other hand, you’re building some great conflict for future stories–can’t wait to see how you handle explaining to the judge that being unlicensed is just part of your charm as a character.

But fiction is fiction, not reality, so we’ll be back next week, watching our favorite new fictional unlicensed PI cavorting with babes, haggling for retainers, and dressing like a surfer-boy Columbo.  Here’s watching you, kid.


Posted in Bored to Death: Tips from a Couple of PIs, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Answering Writers’ Questions about PIs: Crime Scenes, Naming Sources

Posted by Writing PIs on October 13, 2009


This post, we’re answering writers’ questions about crime scenes and naming sources.

Crime Scenes

Writer’s Question:  Is there a time frame that an area remains a crime scene? I’m picturing the yellow caution tape in a public place and wondering how long that remains up.  What kind of time frame might apply to a crime scene in a residence (for example, if someone is found dead in a family room, how long do the residents of the house need to stay out of the room?)  I’m thinking that from the time the police leave to when a PI shows up, a lot could happen in that room if a family member so desires.

Guns Gams and Gumshoes’s Answer::  A police crime scene excludes all but those who are trained to respect procedures for preservation and collection of evidence.  Generally speaking, after a period of approximately 1-24 hours, the area is returned to normal use.

Regarding a crime scene in a residence, specifically (per your question) a dead body found therein: Be mindful that police will remove those parts of the family room that they consider important evidence (for example, blood-stained carpeting and drywall spattered with blood).  Also, police will photograph/videotape the family room in the exact state in which they found it.  In other words, by the time the family returns and changes anything, the PI will have copies of police photographs as well as access to physical evidence that’s within police custody.  There are certainly instances where PIs would still seek access to the home (for example, to photograph the layout, measurements, etc.) but that is accomplished through court order or consent of the victim’s family.

Naming Sources

Writer’s Question: Do PIs always need to name their sources? You know how reporters don’t need to name theirs?

Guns Gams and Gumshoes’s Answer: PIs working for attorneys cannot reveal sources without the attorney’s permission. If a PI isn’t working for an attorney, and there is no state statute protecting the PI (for instance, some state statutes create a legal privilege ensuring confidentiality for PIs and their investigative sources), then the PI can be ordered by the court to reveal her source. Under these circumstances, if a PI is on the stand and she refuses to identify how she obtained said information (the source), she could be held in contempt of court and jailed (similar to what’s happened to reporters).

holmes silhouette

October 19-26, 2009: We’re teaching Crime Scenes, Homicides, & DNA at  Class blurb below:

Crime Scenes, Homicides, & DNA: An introduction to crime scenes and homicide investigations (topics include key tasks covered by law enforcement, a general introduction to estimating time of death and types of wounds, and how a PI might be called upon to aid in a homicide investigation). Class concludes with a discussion of DNA, its testing, how it might be deposited by a suspect, and how it’s used in court proceedings. One week, 2 classes, questions answered by email in-between.

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