I'm delighted to be joined on my blog today by author Elena Hartwell. Elena writes a great series that features a private investigator, and I was curious how she does her research to make her books (and detective) authentic.
I have a very eclectic work history. I’ve been an auto mechanic and a university professor. I’ve stage-managed children’s theater and one illustrious summer I delivered phone books.
What I have never done, is work as a private investigator.
So what do I write? A mystery series about a private investigator.
Nothing ruins a story more than having a character do something that you know they would never do in the real world. The downside of being an author is a whole lot of your readers know more than you do about an aspect of the world you’re creating. The upside is a whole lot of people in the real world love to talk about their areas of expertise.
To research for One Dead, Two to Go, I used a wide variety of methods. I read PI Magazine, a trade magazine for the industry. I read non-fiction books by private investigators, which gave insights into the real world of investigations. And I’ve asked private investigators about specific questions that came up during a draft.
My most useful resource has been a police detective with the Issaquah Police Department. Incident Commander Diego Zanella has been incredibly generous with his time. The best part of my experiences interviewing him is he doesn’t just answer my questions he also makes suggestions about things I haven’t even considered. His insights and ideas have been instrumental in the shape of books one and two, and I will be meeting with him about book three.
My process is to write the full draft of the book. Then I read through it and highlight every place where I have a specific question about how homicide investigations work in the real world. Then I sit down with him and go through my scenarios, jargon, legal issues, and how people behave — in his experience — in various situations. I love it when he says, “You’ve got that exactly right,” but I learn a lot more from, “Well … no … it doesn’t exactly work that way.”
Then I go back through and rewrite for accuracy. Usually these changes are minor, but sometimes it requires a major fix on my side. Changing a location for a scene or the outcome of an interaction or the behavior of a character. We try to keep my protagonist from out and out breaking the rules, but we happily let her bend some. It is, after all, fiction, and that means we get to have a little fun.
Usually a few more questions come up after I do the rewrite and I meet with him again.
Everyone I’ve ever interviewed in all my years as a writer has been generous with their time and knowledge. Prior to becoming a novelist, I worked as a playwright. I’ve written extensively about areas in which I have no personal experience: veterans, PTSD, combat, colony collapse disorder, dementia, and once a glass factory in the Midwest. For each of these projects I visited locations where my work was set to get the full flavor of the landscape. I spoke to experts in their fields, American veterans from Viet Nam and the Middle East, journalists covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I read a lot of non-fiction in the topics I’m researching. I also have experts read early drafts for accuracy. For book two, Two Dead Are Better Than One, I’m researching some specific psychological conditions, and I’m very lucky to have two beta readers who worked as therapists for over fifty years combined.
Insights from people in the field are invaluable, not just for fact checking, but also to give you paths to travel down you didn’t even know could be on the map.
Research before and during your writing process, that’s my suggestion. Before, to get you started and during, to fact check as things arise. But at some point, you also have to trust you’ve done what you can and let it out into the world. You will probably make a mistake, everybody does, but a reader who loves your work will still enjoy your book. And it gives them something to talk to you about at your next book signing.
Elena Hartwell worked in theater as a playwright, director, producer, and educator before turning her attention to fiction. Her Eddie Shoes Mystery Series starts with One Dead, Two to Go. Followed by Two Dead Are Better Than One and Three Dead, You’re Out. Elena lives in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, their dog Polar, and cats Jackson and Luna. She loves to spend time with her hubby and their horses Chance and Jasper, the world’s greatest Arab and the best Palomino Paint on the planet. For more information, please visit www.elenahartwell.com
I've written a little bit about 17th century sleuths, and 18th century thief-takers, and the rise of the 19th century detective, but I really know very little about what modern private investigators actually do. So when Daniel Clark, a private investigator based in the UK contacted me about writing a post on this topic, I thought I would learn something interesting. And I have!
In life, one may come across certain situations where the services of private investigators are required. Such situations include: finding a missing person, solving child custody, investigation or surveillance, matrimonial & infidelity investigations and conducting background investigations. Private detectives usually have to undergo a great deal of training. A private detective also lends a helping hand in solving private matters and anything which can potentially unearth criminal activities existing in your business. Now, one can find a number of private investigation agencies which employ several trained and skilled investigators to solve different cases.
When you hire a private investigator (such as one at Daniel's firm, privatdetektive) they should carry out their work in line with the laws of the land. At the time of hiring, make sure that they are specialized in the area which best suits your needs. It is important, too, to check their skills, expertise and experience, before finalizing anything with them. This will ensure you of approaching the best private investigator.
How experience proves helpful in investigation
Every activity carried out in the investigation process is based upon the experience and knowledge of the investigator. For instance, the type of camera filter that should be used and the proper techniques to avail information from relevant sources. The training and experience of private investigator give them sufficient time required to figure out which tools and methods work best for different types of cases. There may arise certain circumstances that arise while the investigator is trying to gather information, that requires the investigator to react quickly.
Benefits you get from hiring professional private detectives:
1. Advanced techniques – These professionals make use of their specialist information and technological expertise to solve the case. For instance, they can look through financial transactions to expose a business partner who is involved in unethical activities in a business.
2. Focus on your work – A team of professional investigators work on a case, giving their full attention. Hiring a trained and expert private detective will save you time, energy and efforts. You can focus on your other important activities, leaving the investigative work to them.
3. Get answers quickly – When you choose to hire professional investigators, you don’t have to wait around for any sort of evidence to crop up. They know how to effectively examine claims and create a well-planned and expedited strategy to uncover the truth. With experience in dealing with the court system, investigators are well aware about the type of evidence required to win your case.
4. Less risk involved – If you are seeking information on individuals, then you need to consider and keep in mind about investigative actions that should be taken within the limits of the law. Private investigators are aware of what action can be taken from remaining within legal limits. They are trained in a better way in conducting an investigation to provide valuable information to the clients.
Thus, it can be said that hiring professional private investigators offers true value for invested money.
Daniel Clark owns a leading privatdetektiv agency which aims at providing personal, corporate or financial investigation services. He provides quality investigation services in the UK and makes use of advanced equipment to solve different cases of clients.
Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.
Blogs I enjoy
Cozy Mystery List Blog (great conversations about mysteries!)
Jungle Red Writers (Eight crime fiction writers)