Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Posts Tagged ‘writers’

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

Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Interview with Dennis Palumbo, author of Mirror Image

Posted by Writing PIs on August 17, 2010

“Dennis Palumbo establishes himself as a master story-teller with his first crime novel, Mirror Image.  Using his background as a licensed psychotherapist to good advantage, Palumbo infuses his fast-moving, suspenseful story with fascinating texture, interesting characters, and the twists, turns and surprises of a mind-bending mystery. Very impressive.”
~Stephen J. Cannell (writer/creator of The Rockford Files; New York Times best-selling mystery author)

From Colleen, one of your Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s author-PIs:  I first met Dennis Palumbo over thirty years ago when we toiled together on a Hollywood sitcom (I was the “script girl” and he was a staff writer).  Afterward, he continued building a successful career as a Hollywood writer, eventually co-writing the Oscar-nominated film My Favorite Year.  After working through a mid-life crisis by living in and trekking through Nepal, Dennis became a licensed psychotherapist specializing in creative issues while writing non-fiction (Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within, articles, blogs) as well as mysteries (From Crime to Crime by and his current release Mirror Image by Poisoned Pen Press, the first in a series featuring psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police).  Thanks to Dennis for virtually sitting down with Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes for this interview!

Book Giveaway: On Sunday, August 22, a name will be picked from everyone who posts a comment–that person will receive an autographed, hardcover copy of Mirror Image. When leaving a comment, be sure to include your email address so you can be easily reached if you’re the lucky winner!

Interview with Dennis Palumbo

You’ve had a heady string of life experiences and successes…how did you end up writing mysteries?

As a reader, I’ve loved mysteries since my Dad bought me an illustrated collection of Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a kid (I can still smell that crisp hardcover binding!). Anyway, I’ve enjoyed reading mysteries and thrillers over the years, especially those of authors capable of blending puzzling stories with rich characters.  One of my first published short stories appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and I’ve been writing whodunnits ever since. Though I did publish a novel before (City Wars, Bantam Books), it was a sci-fi thriller.  Mirror Image is my first crime novel, as well as the first in a new series set in Pittsburgh, my home town.

You started out performing and writing a stand-up comedy act.  This led to Gabe Kaplan asking you to write jokes for him, which led to your writing for the sit-com Welcome Back, Kotter, among other TV writing jobs.  If a writer has a funny streak and has an eye on a Hollywood writing career, would you still recommend stand-up comedy as a possible showcase as a writer?

Absolutely, since, as a newcomer, it is always hard to get people in the industry to read your work. In fact, I only did stand-up because I wanted some producer or network exec to see my act and hire me to write for a show. Believe me, I wasn’t a very good comic, though a few of my routines were funny enough to get Gabe’s attention. Though by then I had joined with another (much funnier) writer named Mark Evanier, with whom I went on staff on Kotter as part of a writing team.

In your profession as a psychotherapist specializing in creative issues, you’ve worked with many writers, both unpublished and published.  What is one often-heard concern writers have about their profession, and how do you address it?

That question has two prongs to it: in terms of the craft of writing itself, I usually hear from writer patients dealing with writers’ block, procrastination, fear of failure, etc. In terms of the business, there’s the ever-present concerns of making a living, staying viable in a rapidly changing business, getting the opportunity to do the kind of work you really care about. Both these aspects of the writing life are stressful, and, as we work together in treatment, we find they are inevitably entwined with long-standing personal issues.

A fiction writer forwarded this question: “Do you have any advice for surviving and thriving in the totally unpredictable world of writing — where you’re up one day and out the door the next?”

Well, the worst thing you can do is try to predict or latch on to the latest trends. The marketplace is so fickle, it’s always best to write that which moves and excites you, and hope that others agree. Darryl Hickman, a wonderful acting teacher, once said something about the difficulty of breaking in as an actor…and I think it applies equally well to writers. He said, “Keep giving them you, until you is what they want.”

In this month’s review of Mirror Image on Book Bitch (, the reviewer applauds the “great main character” Dr. Rinaldi and compares your efforts to Jonathan Kellerman’s.  Lovely compliment, and do you agree: Is your style similar to Jonathan Kellerman?

It is a nice compliment, since Kellerman’s books are both well-plotted and enormously successful. However, our writing styles are not much alike. Nor are the stories we tell. Plus, while Daniel Rinaldi is also a consultant with the police, he’s somewhat more tortured than Alex Delaware!

In your article “Taking the Mystery out of Writing Mysteries” you refer to a quote from Michael Connelly (“The best mysteries are about the mystery of character”).  Tell us about the mysteries of the protagonist in Mirror Image, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi.

Well, without giving away too much of the story, Daniel Rinaldi’s own struggle to recover from a trauma in his personal life inspires him to treat other victims of violent crime. Add to this his uneasy, somewhat haunted relationship with his late disapproving father, his own quick temper and maverick approach to doing therapy, and you have a recipe for a strong though complicated lead character. I hope!

Thank you for your answers, Dennis, and for offering an autographed, hardcover copy of Mirror Image to a name selected from this week’s comments!

Praise for Mirror Image

Mirror Image is a rich, complex thriller, built around a sizzling love affair. A compelling read, with surprising twists and characters that leap off the page.”
~Bobby Moresco (Oscar-winning writer/producer of Crash and Million Dollar Baby)

“Mirror Image is a deviously plotted thriller with lots of shocks and surprises you won’t see coming, and a smart, sympathetic hero-narrator who takes you along as he peels back layers of lies and wrong guesses to get closer to the truth.”
~Thomas Perry (Edgar-winning, New York Times best-selling crime novelist)

“Dennis Palumbo’s experience as a psychotherapist hasn’t just helped him make his hero, therapist Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, authentic, human and a man in full, it’s endowed him with the insight to craft a debut thriller filled with action, deduction and romance, expertly paced for maximum suspense.”
~Dick Lochte, award-winning author and critic

“Dennis Palumbo’s novel is stark and disturbing but there’s a humanity running through the core of it that makes this book special.  Maybe it’s Palumbo’s dual training – as a writer and as a psychotherapist – that allows him to plumb the depths and bring up not only darkness but those occasional diamonds of light that sparkle and illuminate and make a book worth reading.”
~T. Jefferson Parker (Edgar-winning, New York Times best-selling author of The Renegades and Iron River)

Mirror Image is a standout mind-bender! A wonderfully constructed novel that has you seeing double — and all through the eyes of an intriguingly fresh character: a psychologist.  Dennis Palumbo knows his craft.  This guy can write.”
~Ridley Pearson (New York Times best-selling crime author)

“A gripping thriller, chock full of the desired twists and cliffhangers, with the added layer and intriguing access of a therapist  narrator/detective.  A page turner!”
~Aimee Bender (New York Times best-selling author of An Invisible Sign of My Own)

Mirror Image Synopsis

MIRROR IMAGE, a complex, erotic novel of suspense, is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. His specialty is treating victims of violent crime—those who’ve survived an armed robbery or kidnapping, but whose traumatic experience still haunts them.

Kevin Merrick, a college student and victim of an armed assault, is one of these people.

A fragile, troubled kid desperate for a role model, a sense of identity, Kevin has begun dressing like Rinaldi, acting like him, mirroring his appearance. Before Daniel has a chance to work this through with his patient, he finds Kevin brutally murdered. Stunned, he and the police suspect that he, not Kevin, had been the intended target.

Feeling responsible, Rinaldi is determined to help find the killer, who’s begun leaving death threats for the psychologist. His journey takes him through a labyrinth of friends and colleagues, any one of whom may be the killer. It also includes an affair with a beautiful, free-spirited Assistant DA with secrets of her own. And when Kevin’s identity as the estranged son of a Bill Gates-like biotech giant is revealed, the investigation of his murder turns into a national story…even as another person turns up dead.

Mirror Image at Amazon:

Mirror Image at Poisoned Pen Press:

Posted in Dennis Palumbo, Interviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Writing Legal Characters/Stories: History of Trials

Posted by Writing PIs on April 21, 2010

Besides teaching classes about writing private investigators, we sometimes also teach classes about writing legal characters/stories (thanks to one of us being a retired trial attorney, and to various attorneys and judges who’ve graciously offered additional material for the classes).  We thought we’d share some of that class material, starting with some background of how trials came to be.

History of Trials

“A trial is still ordeal by battle. For the broadsword there is the weight of evidence; for the battle-axe the force of logic; for the sharp spear, the blazing gleam of truth; for the rapier, the quick and flashing knife of wit.”
-Lloyd Paul Stryker, American attorney, quoted in reports of his death June 22, 1955

Our modern system of justice has roots in medieval Germanic and Anglo-Saxon conflict resolution, which these people of yesteryear called trial by ordeal.  Trial by ordeal was a battle that pitted appointed representatives of two disputing sides against each other. The entire premise behind this institution was based on the belief that God would not allow the guilty or the wrong to prosper. Like today’s trial system, the parties to the dispute did not enter the “field of combat” but instead, each chose “champions” to fight in their place (see the similarity to modern trial lawyers?).  Each champion would take an oath and swear that the cause they were undertaking was in the right, with the medieval belief being that God would strengthen the arm of whoever had sworn to uphold the more just position.

Trial by ordeal persisted in the English system of laws until its abolition in the nineteenth century. The basic principles and some of the details (for example, that the trial by ordeal was presided over by the coroner in English law, and that all trial systems provided for a presiding judge of some kind) persist in modern systems in America and England.  Imagine this system in today’s world—perhaps a television series where WWF champion wrestlers become trial lawyers!

Just like combatants in trials by ordeal, characters in the law still remain arrogant, independent, and ready for battle.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in History of Trials, Writing Legal Characters/Stories | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Answering Writers’ Questions: Overseas Assets and Finding People

Posted by Writing PIs on March 21, 2010

Today we’re posting questions from writers about assets and finding people, and our answers.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Regarding PIs searching for assets.  What if these assets are set up in countries outside the US?  What if your client lives in the US, but the account is in Switzerland or the Isle of Man?  Actually, I thought tax-free accounts were supposed to be cracked down on by the IRS.  How could a wife find out if her husband was hiding money during a nasty divorce?  Can it be undetected without a bank number?  I don’t think those types of banks use regular name and account numbers like here, but I’m not sure.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: This question applies to finding overseas assets.  A lot of countries now participate in reporting offshore bank accounts.  To the best of our knowledge, Guernsey, England is still very private (i.e., not reporting offshore accounts), but in this case a U.S. citizen could hire a local U.K. attorney to open an account in Guernsey and act as an agent in that country.   Bahamas, once a popular place in reality and many fiction stories as a place to hide assets, is no longer such a financial haven–after the U.S. threatened them with trade restraints, they agreed to disclose information about bank accounts.  There are probably other countries/regions that are also private, but one would need to research that.

Oh, one more country that is private.  It’s a small country named Nevis (an island nation in the West Indies) that has extremely tight privacy laws.  Check out, which is located there.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Regarding Skips.  What if a person skips while out on bail and somehow manages to leave the country?  Could a family hire you to find them before the FBI does?  Of course, if you were hunting for a criminal, you would have to turn them in if you found them, wouldn’t you?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: We’ve been hired by families and attorneys to find people in other countries.  However, we’ve never tracked someone who had skipped out on bail (this is what bounty hunters, like Dog, are hired to do).  So if a bounty hunter is tracking someone who’s skipped bail and there’s indications this person is in another country, the bounty hunter would have to work closely with that country’s local and national enforcement, the U.S. Embassey, and any private individuals who also specialize in bail/skip recapture.  This is an extremely technical area, bound up in a mess of treaties concerning extradition, as well as that country’s local law and international law (including the Hague Convention).  Remember all the trouble Dog got into a few years ago (for those who might not know, Google Dog the Bounty Hunter and Mexico)?  In that scenario, one man’s bounty hunter was another man’s kidnapper.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Under a similar scenario:  Suppose a woman hired you to find a long lost love and you were able to locate him, but unbeknown to her, he had a criminal record and was wanted.  Are you obligated to tell her this information?  Are you obligated to turn him in?  I think this could make for a great book.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: We would tell her, and we would tell law enforcement.

Posted in Q&As | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Snitches: Truth for Hire?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 20, 2009

snitchYesterday we saw the movie The Informant! starring Matt Damon.  It’s an interesting and entertaining trip into the psychology of a snitch, one Shaun (who’s cross-examined dozens of snitches in the courtroom) thought mirrored reality.  Of course, not all snitches have the mental issues Matt Damon’s character had in the movie, but in general snitches are self-motivated, frightened criminals who will do or say anything for something in return.  The currency paid to informants is, in a great majority of the cases, dismissal of charges, shortened prison terms, and/or promises of probation.

“Years ago in a multi-defendant murder trial,” says Shaun, “the prosecution made a deal with the acknowledged shooter, we’ll call Informant X, to dismiss the death penalty in exchange for his testimony against our client.  Informant X was also looking at federal kidnapping charges for abducting and harming a witness.  One of the first questions we asked Informant X in our cross-examination was whether he would lie to spare his own life.  In a moment of disarming honesty, he smiled at the jury and agreed he would.”

It’s extremely rare for a snitch to as honest as in the above example.  So why are they used?  Prosecutors consider using snitches or informants to be a necessary evil because it’s awkward if not impossible to place law enforment in the middle of numerous ongoing, concurrent criminal enterprises, from drug dealing to extortion to homicides.   Therefore, snitches become necessary, and prosecutors roll the dice in a gamble that a jury will believe the informant. 

Using a snitch in your story?  They’re great characters for throwing a wrench into a plot, frustrating a seasoned prosecutor, even adding some comic relief.  Snitches are, like the people they testify against, dishonest, typically drug/alcohol addicted, and self-interested.  It is no wonder that the truth suffers at their hands.   Anyone looking to catch a snitch in a lie (such as a PI working for the defense attorney) will look carefully at the snitch’s conduct in the months before they take the stand.  Inevitably, snitches get into even more criminal trouble after making deals with the government. 

We’ll end this post with an article on the psychology of snitches and a defense lawyer’s no-snitches clause:

‘Courthouse Snitches’ Likely to Provide False Information:

“The No-Snitches Clause”:


Posted in PI Topics, Snitches: Truth for Hire? | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Answering Writers’ Questions About Surveillance and Law Enforcement & PIs Working Together

Posted by Writing PIs on July 6, 2009

To all those who celebrate the 4th, hope you had a great one!

It’s nearly July 6, next to the last day of Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes virtual open house. Everyone who comments July 1-July 7 is eligible for gifts, from books to T-shirts to a book-safe-storage (see picture of one in July 1 post).  Winners names to be picked July 8!

bullFor those keeping track, I’m now “outta the wild” (see last post).  Lost cell transmission for hours (and hours) which concerned Shaun to the point that he contacted the sheriff’s office of the region I was in.  Before I’d left “into the wild” on this rural surveillance, I’d had a lengthy meeting with several of the sheriffs for that region…however, when Shaun called their office, he got someone new and they said they’d never heard of me.  One of those small-town mis-communications, funny in retrospect, although it wasn’t very funny to Shaun at the time (hence Grumpy, grumpywhich is how Shaun got). For those writing sleuth tales, think of the ramifications of such a disconnect in your own stories.

Meanwhile, we thought it’d be interesting to post some more recent writers’ questions about PIs, from a client “riding along” on a surveillance to whether law enforcement and PIs ever work together. 

WRITER’S QUESTION:  I’ve heard it’s illegal for a client to ride along on a surveillance with a PI in some states. How would we know which states it is illegal in? I’m sure there will be other things that come up that vary from state to state?  Should we call a PI from our state to ask?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES ANSWER: Calling a PI in your state is a good resource. If you are in a state where PIs are licensed, contact the licensing authority for guidance on these  matters (typically this licensing authority will be within the state dept.  of regulatory agencies or the state police).

WRITER’S QUESTION: Do police hire PIs for help?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES ANSWER: More likely, the police would cooperate with PIs on a case (although this isn’t common, it’s certainly occurred. For example, a few years ago, the NY police cooperated with local PIs to break a theft ring in the garment district). A key reason the police wouldn’t hire (versus cooperate w/) PIs is that by their employing a private citizen (such as a PI), the police lose “the color of government authority” including the ability to obtain warrants, rely on rules for search/seizure (such as the fellow officer rule), and finally the law enforcement agency concerned does not want the liability of a contract employee who is more than likely carrying a weapon and who very well may not carry enough insurance.

Saying all this, it’s plausible that a government agency other than a law-enforcement agency might hire a PI to do an independent investigation. Here in Colorado, a county commissioner office hired a Denver PI to conduct an investigation of sexual harrassment and financial misappropriation by an elected county official, who could not have been independently investigated by the sheriff’s office for that county (because of the close ties between the 2
offices, both elected offices).

Post a comment/questions, and we’ll be happy to answer.  Next post will be July 8 with the “virtual open house” winners’ names, so stay tuned…

Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 75 Comments »

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