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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Kerry Brown’

Interview with Steven Kerry Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating”

Posted by Writing PIs on December 29, 2019

December 29, 2019

Saddened to learn today that Steven Kerry Brown passed away on Christmas day. I knew his name and reputation before I met him, first over the phone when he called to hire us for a case in Colorado. Later, we met in person at a writers conference. Over the years we’d occasionally chat about fiction writing as both of us were crafting private eye novels.

Below is a piece I wrote about Steven around 2013 when he was battling cancer, followed by a two-part interview I did with him in 2009.

Steven Kerry Brown

Steven Kerry Brown is a former FBI special agent and supervisory special agent, founder and president of Millennial Investigative Agency in Florida, novelist, author of magazine articles and nonfiction books, blogger, and has spent two years as captain of a sixty-foot ketch running sailing charters in the Bahamas.

He’s appeared on such television programs as Hard Copy and 60 Minutes, and is the author of one of the best books on private investigations around (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating — its third edition was released March 2013). He is also the author of 5 Things Women Need to Know About the Men They Date, released in April 2013.

The Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating

The first time I met Steven was back in 2004 when he called our agency and retained our services for an investigative task in Colorado. The prior year I had attended an intensive, 16-week on-site investigative course that used the The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating in its course material. I had read that book front to back, then back to front, scribbled notes in the margins, re-read — and then re-read again — numerous sections to ensure my grasp of a topic. Steven writes in a clear, straightforward manner, and sprinkles factual material with his own personal experiences.

That same year, I took another course on process service.  One day, the instructor played a Q&A game with the class — the prize for the most correct answers was a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating. 

So a year later, when the author called out of the blue and requested our P.I. services, I was honored.

Writing the Private Eye Novel

Years later, Steven’s and my paths crossed again, but this time as novelists. We both have written private-eye genre novels, and have chatted off and on about agents, publishers, even WordPress. He co-authors the blog Handcuffed to the Ocean with several other writers, one being James N. Frey, a novelist and author of one of the better books on fiction writing, How to Write a Damn Good Novel.

Undergoing a Bone Marrow Transplant

Over the past few years, I’ve grown to admire Steven even more for his gutsy perseverance as he’s undergone a bone marrow transplant. Below is the beginning of a post he wrote last June:

I’m sitting here at 11 pm eating out of a carton of Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie ice cream. Got to love life. On Saturday June 15 I passed the one year mark since some nice guy over in Germany donated his bone marrow stem cells to me. I haven’t checked the statistics this year but when I agreed to enter the BMT Clinic at Shands Cancer Institute in Gainesville, Florida the mortality rate for bone marrow transplant patients was fairly high. 

Many of Steven’s friends and colleagues in the P.I. industry have contributed to his Bone Marrow Transplant Fund to help with the $500,000 in expenses for this procedure. Recently, there have been complications, which Steven wrote about in September 2013 — below is the beginning of that post:

I really thought I would have my immune system back by now. Most of the BMT transplant patients I’ve met received their shots by the end of the first year. But, now I’m convinced that I may never get it back. I’ve had a few set backs these last few weeks. I encountered a big flare up of GVHD that took over my entire torso. The doctors put me back on prednisone and other immune suppressant medication. I told the doctors I’d rather have the GVHD than the prednisone. But they said this flare up was life threatening, so I really didn’t have a choice.

Despite what he’s going through, his humor shines through—check out this poem to his doctors (posted on his September 2013 blog):

I wrote a little poem for the doctors about GVHD.

GVHD

Itch, itch, Itch,

Like a son of a 

Bitch, bitch, bitch.

By the way, this post includes photos of his symptoms (he does this to help others who might be contemplating a bone marrow transplant). Be forewarned—these photos are graphic.

At the end of this post, Steven writes:

Thanks for the well wishes and the donations. I promise as soon as I can I’ll get back to investigating the Haleigh Cummings case. I do have more posts on that coming up soon.

Amazes me that while dealing with his health challenges over the last year+ he has also self-published one nonfiction book and revised another. Puts the notion of “writer’s block” to shame.

Now to the 2009 interview with P.I.-author Steven Kerry Brown…

Steven Kerry Brown post 2-16-2014

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Good morning, Steven, and welcome to Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes. First, we have to say that The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating  is one of our favorite resource books. As we haven’t seen this second edition, we imagine you’ve updated it with more technology and tools–saying that, what is one of the more useful technological techniques you’ve recently started using in your investigative work?

Steven: There are three really useful techniques that are relatively new that I use a lot.  Two of them I describe in detail in my book. The first is the GPS tracking device. Below is a photo with the unit in a waterproof Pelican case and a 50 pound pull magnet and a long life lithium-ion battery pack. (Not much larger than a man’s hand.)

(Photo no longer available)


I set this unit (I have two of them) to report in every 10 minutes. I change the batteries out once a week. I also have the capability of clicking on “tracking now” on the unit’s website and receive a real-time location of where the unit is. So you or your client can sit in front of their computer and see where the unit is at any given time.  Of course, the primary use of this is in family law cases. Even though Florida is a “no fault” divorce state (meaning that proof of adultery doesn’t have a real impact on property settlement), still the client needs to know the facts of their situation before they can make an informed decision. Hence, using the GPS to track the spouse.

We follow-up the use of the GPS with a little judicious surveillance. Even though the GPS will tell us where the spouse is, it won’t tell us who he/she is with, so a few photos of the spouse and the other party will usually do the trick. And don’t be fooled by clichés. There are not more men than women committing adultery. We find it splits about 50-50.

The second technique I like a lot is Spoofing Caller ID. Now you have to be careful with this as it is now illegal in some states, like Florida, if you spoof a caller ID with the intent to deceive. How does it work and how do I use it? You can do a web search on Spoofing Caller ID and find lots of folks who will sell you spoofing time. I use Spoofcard.com  For $5.00 you get 25 minutes of spoofing time. Basically spoofing caller ID means that you can use this service to call a target number and the incoming caller ID will display any number you want it to show. The technology behind it is the spoofing company uses Voice Over IP (VOIP) to make the call and in doing so can send whatever Caller ID data you want sent. (You can find full details in the CIG to PI pages 184-188)

How do you use caller ID spoofing? Well, you might for instance, want to see if a certain person is at a particular residence. Before the law changed in Florida, I called a witness to a case that I needed to talk to. He wouldn’t answer my calls so I spoofed my number to look like his mother’s phone was calling him. He answered the call.

The third technique I like only works on cell phone numbers. You can use this service and it will bypass the phone and go directly to the cell phone’s voice mail. That way you can hear the message on the voice mail and sometimes figure out who the phone belongs to without them ever knowing you called the phone. It’s not perfect and your number might show up as a missed call on their phone. The service is called Slydial and their number is 267-759-3425. It’s free, give it a try. A database only available to PIs called Skip Smasher, has a much improved version of this service which will not leave your number on the target’s phone as a missed call and it will record the voice mail message for you. I love it and use it often. Kudos to SkipSmasher.com.

(Note from WritingPIs: Because of Steven’s recommendation, we began using Skip Smasher, too. Still use it to this day. It’s owned and operated by Robert Scott, a licensed private investigator.)

End of interview, Part 1.  In Part 2, Steven discusses the recession and private eyes, crafting non-fiction vs. fiction, and how much real-world PI dirt he puts into a fictional-world PI story.

Link to his book:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, Third Edition

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Part 2: Interview with Steven Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating”

Posted by Writing PIs on December 29, 2019

Today is part 2 of our interview with former FBI agent, private investigator and author Steven Kerry Brown where we discuss the world of real-life private eyes and their fictional counterparts.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: Some people view private investigations as a “recession-proof” business.  Do you agree?  If not, how has the economy affected private investigation businesses, and in what areas of investigative work?

STEVEN: All of the private investigators I know are suffering from loss of business. I would guess there are some that might be prospering, those doing process service with mortgage related clients perhaps. But while we too, do serve process, I don’t consider process serving as “real PI work.” It doesn’t require a PI license to serve process.

My criminal defense workload is up, so maybe there’s an upside to the downturn in the economy. More crime, more criminal defense cases. A lot of those are “indigent for expenses” so I get paid, but less than my normal rate. Generally my family law clients have less money to spend. I’ve had several that wanted to continue with their cases but were forced to stop because their own businesses were losing money and they couldn’t afford us. The pre-employment background screening business is way down as you can imagine. Fewer people being hired so there’s less need for background screening. So if there are some PIs whose business profits are up, I’d like to know their secrets.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: You’re also a “writing PI.” How long have you been writing fiction? And please tell us about your PI fiction novel that’s currently being shopped to publishers.

STEVEN: Just because I enjoy listening to classical music doesn’t mean I can write a concerto. Likewise, because I can read and write English, it doesn’t mean I can craft a novel. There is a craft to writing fiction that must be learned before your writing is going to be publishable. I’m a slow learner. I’ve been writing fiction for 15 years and haven’t made the grade yet. I have a mentor that says you have to write at least a million words before you can produce a well-worked novel.

People ask me how long it took me to write The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating. With tongue in cheek I tell them 20 years. Non-fiction I find much easier to write. I wrote the CIG to PI in about 3 months. The Second Edition (which you said you don’t have and you need to buy it) took me less time. It has about 40 percent new and different material than the first edition.

My first novel was about an ex-FBI agent working a one-sailboat charter business in the Bahamas. It was pretty damn good if I say so myself and it was good enough to land me a fine literary agent. We’re both surprised that book didn’t sell. It took me eight years to write it.

The second novel, a Mormon PI murder mystery set in St. Augustine, Florida is being shopped now by my agent. It took me about three years to write it so I guess I’m getting faster. In this novel, the PI, Winchester Young, risks jail time, fights though a midnight tropical storm, and explores ancient Timucuan ruins to expose the genesis behind multiple murders. We’ll just have to wait and see if it sells. Winchester, by the way was one of the few “gun” names I could come up with that hadn’t been used already. Magnum, Beretta, Cannon, Remington.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES:  In your fiction writing, do you feel it’s necessary to portray, down to the “last scrap” so to speak, the work of private investigators?

STEVEN: I had a fellow PI call me yesterday and wanted to know if it was difficult to find a publisher. I asked him if he was writing fiction or non-fiction. The book he had in mind was really a novel but with “actual details” of how he went about working his cases. But he said it was both fiction and non-fiction. I told him he had to choose unless it was a memoir which is really a bit of both. Bottom line was he didn’t have a clue as to what he was doing.

In the PI novel that is being shopped now, I tried to include as many “real life” PI details as possible. I think one of the joys of reading is entering and learning about a world that the reader knows nothing about. So I tried to let my readers enter the PI world. One of the great things about writing is you can condense time, so it doesn’t take four hours to read about a four hour surveillance. But other than that, I think it pretty well immerses the reader in the world of this PI who has to solve a present day murder in order to solve one from twenty-five years ago.

I also tried to stay away from the stereotypic PIs, ex-cops, ex-military etc. My guy is ex-nothing and inherited the agency from his uncle. He is smart and resourceful but he’s not ex-CIA. I also tried to stay away from a lot of gunplay in the book. This PI doesn’t shoot anyone. There is a lot of action and the body count is pretty high but he is not directly responsible for any deaths. Really, how many real-life PIs do you know that have shot someone? I’ve been in the PI business for 25 years and I don’t know any. I do have some real-life clients that have committed multiple murders though. I’m a frequent visitor to death row at the Florida State Prison so I think I have a pretty good idea of how to portray crime and those who commit it. I guess we’ll see if any publishers agree.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES: We look forward to reading about Winchester Young in your to-be-published novel because some smart publisher will snap it up. Thank you, Steven, for being part of Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes.

Amazon link to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating: http://tinyurl.com/guide2privateinvestigating

 

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Readers’ Favorite Articles in 2014

Posted by Writing PIs on December 25, 2014

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

As 2014 draws to an end, we’d like to share our readers’ favorite Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s posts from this year. Some of you have been along for the ride since we kicked off this blog in 2009, and we thank you for your support!

Readers’ Top 10 Articles

Starting with number 10…detective with flashlight

#10: “Private Investigators and Murder Cases” Colleen wrote this article for former lawyer/mystery-book-reviewer/editor Elizabeth A. White’s blog in 2012.

Sherlocks

#9: “Historical Research: Finding People From Over 40 Years Ago” In this techno-digital age, people often think private investigators just sit at their computers all day, digging up dirt on the Internet and databases. Not so. Even in the 21st century, some cases can only be solved the old-fashioned way: On foot.

Sherlocks

#8: “Interview with Steven Kerry Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating” We’re happy to say that Steven Brown is doing well since his bone marrow transplant…in fact, so well that a month ago he contacted Colleen about posting information about his new private-eye book here at Guns, Gams and Gumshoes.  Steven–a former FBI special agent and president of Millennial Investigative Agency–knows his stuff about investigations and then some. We’re looking forward to previewing his upcoming novel, so stay tuned.

Sherlocks

#7: “Private Detective Couples in Fiction and Real Life”

This image is protected by copyright - do not copy or distribute.

This image is protected by copyright – do not copy or distribute.

Sherlocks

#6: “What’s the Importance of a Crime Scene?”

Sherlocks

#5: “Tips for Hiding Your Home Address from Online Searches”

Sherlocks

#4: “Marketing the Private Investigations Business” We wrote this in 2009, and the tips remain valid. Yes, even print items such as letterhead and business cards. We had a well-respected criminal lawyer who set aside our letter and business card for two years, then one day he picked them up and thought, “Hey, I should call these guys.” Our letter/card stood out over all the online pitches he regularly received. Six years later, he’s still one of our best clients, although now he also sends litigation cases to Shaun, who has returned to practicing criminal law.

Sherlocks

#3: “How to Conduct a Trash Hit: A Private Investigator’s Dumpster trash hit man in dumpsterSecrets” This remains another popular article, year after year, since we wrote it in 2011.

Sherlocks

#2: “Can You Put a GPS on My Boyfriend’s Car?” Remains one of our top 5 favorite articles since 2009.

Sherlocks

#1: “Private vs. Public Investigators: What’s the Difference?” Amazingly enough, this article has remained readers’ #1 favorite, every single year, since we started the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes blog in 2009.

A tip of the fedora to 2014, Writing PIs

fedora black and white

 

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority.

Posted in Best Articles 2014, PI Topics, Private Eyes and Crime Scenes, Private Eyes Handling Crime Scenes, Steven Kerry Brown | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Readers’ Favorite Articles in 2014

Motivations and Power Plays in Murder

Posted by Writing PIs on August 17, 2011

 

On Thursday, August 18, we’re guests at Handcuffed to the Ocean, a blog about “crime, mysteries and adventures on the high seas.” One of the blog authors is our friend and peer, Steven K. Brown, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating. Steven Kerry Brown began his investigative career as a special agent for the FBI. For the past 18 years, he has successfully managed his own private investigation firm, Millennial Investigative Agency. He’s also appeared on such television programs as Hard Copy and 60 Minutes, and speaks frequently before civic and professional groups.

On our guest blog at Handcuffed to the Ocean we’ll be discussing several real-world examples of motivations for murder, along with our lessons learned as PIs. Because mystery writers sometimes use organized crime as a tool for creating compelling plots, characters and conflicts, our case examples focus on organized crime and how it employs power plays in murder.  Click below link to read the article:

Handcuffed to the Ocean: Motivations for Murder

 

Have a good week, Writing PIs

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PIs Talk About Mistakes in Private Eye and Crime Fiction

Posted by Writing PIs on July 20, 2011

Below are a few blogs over the last few days where PIs talk about mistakes they’ve encountered in private eye and crime fiction.

Steven Kerry Brown (former FBI, current PI), author of Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating talked about “Mistakes Crime Fiction Writers Make” at Jungle Red Writers: Click here to read

Today the Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes PIs talk about “Avoiding Mistakes in Private Eye Fiction” at Poe’s Deadly Daughters where we talk about mistakes we’ve encountered in recent private eye books and suggest fixes: Click here to read

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Writing about PIs: Catching the Cheater

Posted by Writing PIs on February 25, 2010

Many people think all private investigators spend their time chasing cheating spouses. Actually, private investigators often specialize in different kinds of investigative work (such as accident investigations, fraud investigations and more).  Some investigators specialize in domestic relations (which includes chasing down cheating spouses/significant others) or include such work in their repetoire of services.

Colleen wrote about infidelity investigations in an article (“Your Cheatin’ Heart: Infidelity Investigations”) for the Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. You can check it out at:

“Your Cheatin’ Heart: Infidelity Investigations”: http://mysterymuse.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/26/

One of our favorite PIs (and a fellow “writing PI”) Steven Kerry Brown was interviewed this month by a news team, with the story also running in the Jacksonville News, about catching cheaters. In the link to the story (below) scroll down to the video segments, which include footage of Steven Brown in action while conducting a cheating spouse case:

Channel 4 Investigates: Cheating Spouses: http://tinyurl.com/ykm6z28

You’ll probably notice a reference to Steven Brown’s book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating at the beginning of Video 1.  It’s a great reference book, not only for private eyes, but also for writers writing about PIs/sleuths and investigations in general. In our interview with Steven Brown here on Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes last month, we talked about this book, as well as other investigative topis and tools.  Check it out at https://writingpis.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=614

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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Interview with Steven Brown, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating”

Posted by Writing PIs on January 11, 2010

Click here to read this interview.

Posted in Interviews, Steven Kerry Brown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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