Misdemeanors to Murder: Nothing but the Truth from a Criminal Lawyer and Private Eye

Below are categories of slides from our April 27 2017 presentation "Misdemeanors to Murder: Nothing but the Truth from a Criminal Lawyer and Private Eye" at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

All slides are copyrighted by the author. Do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use, thank you.

To move forward through a slide show, click on slide image. At end of slides is a PI resource list for writers and others interested in the world of private investigations. There are also a few links to sites dedicated to the mystery & private eye fiction genres.

PI Resources for Writers

Cold Case Squad: A blog by Joseph L. Giacalone, retired NYPD Detective Sergeant, former Commanding Officer of the Bronx Cold Case Homicide Squad, and author of The Criminal Investigative Function. His blog covers such topics as forensics, law enforcement’s use of social media, police body cams, and more. 

Defrosting Cold Cases: A resource blog about cold cases, authored by former human rights lawyer, cold case blogger, and crime fiction author Alice de Sturler. Defrosting Cold Cases has placed #1, category criminal justice, in the American Bar Association’s Top 100 Blawgs for 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Diligentia: A blog by New York private investigator Brian Willingham, CFE – President, who specializes in background investigations, due diligence, and legal investigations.  

eInvestigator: A resource website for private investigators, police officers, crime scene investigators, security specialists, legal professionals, and those researching the internet for people and information. This site has it all: PI specializations (including ghost hunting services for haunted facilities), spy gear, research books and tools, even a “List of Lists” page with lists such as US airports and their official codes, all US Presidents, criminal competencies and corresponding court cases, list of US insurance companies, and more.

Kevin’s Security Scrapbook: Spy News from New York: A blog by Kevin D. Murray, an independent security consultant who specializes in surveillance detection, security, and privacy problems.

PIBuzz: A blog by California private investigator Tamara Thompson, well known for her expertise in internet data gathering, genealogical and adoption research, witness background development, and locating people. 

PI Magazine: A trade magazine for professional private investigators. You can read articles via a subscription or by ordering an individual issue. The website also provides links to podcasts by professional PIs, US PI organizations and conferences, a bookstore, and spygear shop.

PINow: An online directory of pre-screened, professional private investigators. Click on Investigator Center at top of screen to read articles written by PIs on a variety of investigative topics.

Private Eye Confidential: A blog by California private investigator Mike Spencer of Spencer Elrod Services, Inc.  Mike has been a private investigator for nearly two decades, in the course of which he worked with legendary Hollywood private eye John Nazarian. Mike's book, Private Eye Confidential, is being released this summer (great resource for writers!).

Pursuit Magazine: An online community of professional sleuths that “opens a door to a world of mystery and intrigue, a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the lives of real spies and PIs.” This site is a rich source of research with dozens of articles by experts in the fields of private investigations, security, bail enforcement, skip tracing, and more. No subscription fees—all articles available for public viewing.

The Rap Sheet: A blog by J. Kingston Pierce, author,  senior editor of January Magazine, and the lead crime fiction blogger for Kirkus Reviews. The Rap Sheet dishes the news in the world of crime fiction, both recent and vintage, and lists links to several hundred (at least) crime fiction blogs and author sites.

The Thrilling Detective: Everything you ever wanted to know about private eyes in books, radio, movies, television, even the real world. Founded by author/editor Kevin Burton Smith.

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National Library Week: Photos of US Libraries by Carol Highsmith

Renowned photographer Carol Highsmith donated her entire collection of photographs (approximately 150,000, and that number is still growing) to the Library of Congress. One subset of this collection are her extraordinary photographs of libraries across the US.

Ms. Highsmith has gifted these photos, copyright-free, to the American people. An index of these libraries is below the slideshow.

(Click on photo to slide to the next one—some computers might require a double-click to move to next photo)

  • Interior of the William H. Welch Medical Library Baltimore MD (photo with long rectangular table, glass cabinets filled with books on either side)
  • The John Work Garrett Library, part of the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries. Baltimore, MD (red-upholstered chairs and couch, fireplace in room)
  • Welwood Murray Memorial Library: Once the main branch of the Palm Springs, California, public library system, the 1940 Welwood Murray building became a private, non-profit library run by volunteers
  • Library on the Go and Read Rover, part of the mobile library service for the Public Library System in Baltimore County, MD
  • The Carnegie Public Library in Bryan, the oldest existing Carnegie Library in Texas
  • George Peabody Library, formerly the Library of the Peabody Institute of the City of Baltimore (interior of library, looking at several floors of walkways and books)
  • San Francisco Library, San Francisco, California (woman sitting outside, looking at library building)

Have a great week, Colleen


Six Research Tips for Writing a Private Detective Character

 Online resources, books & conferences can aid a writer's understanding of real-life P.I.s

Online resources, books & conferences can aid a writer's understanding of real-life P.I.s

I recently wrote a series of romantic-mysteries—The Next Right Thing, Sleepless in Las Vegas, and Hearts in Vegaswhich featured private eye heroes and heroines. Because I am also a private investigator in real life, I didn’t have to research their investigative careers all that much. But even if I weren't a P.I. there are ways I could have learned some basic techniques and tools of the trade to help me write a realistic private eye or sleuth character.

Six Research Tips For Learning about PIs
(New Resources & Links Added March 2017)

Tip #1: Read books on investigations. There are hundreds of books on topics, from background investigations to identity theft to personal injury investigations. One resource for investigative books is PIstore.com. My husband and I, when we ran a private investigations agency for a decade, also wrote a nonfiction book for writers, How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, which includes presentations we gave at writers' conferences, Q&As with writers, a gumshoe glossary and much more. The newest addition to this list will be released in June 2017: Private Eye Confidential by California PI Mike Spencer. Check out Mike's blog to learn more about the book and buy links when it's available.

Tip #2: Review online magazines. There are free, online magazines that outline investigative techniques, resources and tools, such as Pursuit Magazine (my personal favorite), Fraud Magazineand Evidence Technology Magazine.

Tip #3: Research investigation websites and blogs. Numerous private detectives write about investigative practices and case studies on their websites and blogs. For example, my private investigator-attorney husband and I co-author Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, which has articles geared to writers as well as researchers and investigators. Other PI blogs include PI BuzzPrivate Eye Confidential, and Diligentia Group. Also, check out The Art of Manliness site interview with a P.I. as part of its ongoing series "So You Want My Job" -- read it here: "So You Want My Job: Private Investigator"

Tip #4: Attend a PI conference. Some professional PI organizations sponsor conferences that are open to the public. Here you can network with other PIs, attend seminars, visit vendor booths that sell surveillance and other types of investigative equipment as well as manuals (I still use a telephone-book-thick manual on investigating personal injury cases that cost me $125.00 and is worth every penny -- other manuals are typically much less). PI Magazine lists upcoming conferences on its online site.

Tip #5: Register for a PI course. There are numerous online classes and local workshops geared to those interested in becoming private investigators. These classes are typically open to the public and cover such topics as basic investigative tools and techniques, how to research public records, and the legalities of the profession. For example, Colorado private investigator Rick Johnson teaches a classroom course at The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies. Topics include interview techniques, process services, as well as field exercises in surveillance. Contact your state professional private investigator association for additional recommendations to courses that offer training in private investigations (PI Magazine lists all U.S. organizations by state.)

Tip #6: Take a PI to Lunch. Many private investigators would be happy to answer a few questions about your private eye character or story over the phone, but if you’d like a longer question-and-answer session, consider inviting a P.I. to lunch. In the past, I've sometimes invited an expert, such as a fire fighter or a bailbonds person, to lunch to pick his/her brain on a specialization that I needed for a story. It’s a pleasant way to conduct an interview, it gives you an hour or more to ask questions, plus who doesn’t like a free lunch? If you need a referral to a local PI, contact your local state professional private investigator association.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. All images in this article are either licensed by the author, who does not have the authority to forward to others, or they are copyrighted by the author.

World Book Day: Humphrey Bogart, Movie Star & Avid Reader

 Humphrey Bogart in the 1934 film trailer for  Petrified Forest  (image is in public domain)

Humphrey Bogart in the 1934 film trailer for Petrified Forest (image is in public domain)

Bogie And Books

Did you know Humphrey Bogart loved to read? Although he was a poor student, and was eventually expelled from the prestigious Phillips Academy, he had a lifelong love of reading, and could quote Plato, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Shakespeare.

Some of his best friends were screenwriters, such as Nunnally Johnson and John Huston. I've always admired Huston for his directing, even his acting, but did you know he also wrote over 20 screenplays, including the adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon

 Humphrey Bogart in movie trailer for  Casablanca  (image is in the public domain)

Humphrey Bogart in movie trailer for Casablanca (image is in the public domain)

By the way, here's a wonderful write-up about John Huston and his writing and directing of the The Maltese Falcon (via Word&Film): John Huston and the Making of the Maltese Falcon.



"A must-have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff."

~Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

Online Writers Class: Misdemeanors to Murder: Nothing but the Truth from a Criminal Lawyer & PI

For Crime Fiction Writers/Readers, Fans of Legal Thrillers, and Armchair Legal Eagles


February 1-28 “Misdemeanors to Murder: Nothing but the Truth from a Criminal Lawyer and Private Eye"

Course focuses on US criminal crimes—lowest misdemeanor to highest felony offenses--from a criminal lawyer’s and PI’s perspectives.

For more info/registration: Misdemeanors to Murder: Nothing but the Truth

Christmas Giveaway: Enter to Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card and a Romantic-Mystery eBook!

Click on the "21 Days of Christmas" image or the below link to enter my Christmas giveaway (a $25 Amazon Gift Card & an ecopy of Mistletoe and Murder in Las Vegas).

Contest is hosted by Hello Chick Lit, and closes December 23, 2016 (winner to be announced the week after Christmas). Happy holidays!

Colleen's Christmas Giveaway


What to Do When You Get a Bad Book Review

Today is National Author's Day, a good time to celebrate writers writing...and a good time to go over how to handle this particular nasty thorn of the writing life: bad reviews. Just like taxes and death, bad reviews are inevitable. Not that a book is necessarily bad, in fact it might be quite good, but judging a book is always a subjective experience. One reader might love stories with multiple points of view, while another gets crazy with all that "head hopping." Or a reader glosses over key points in the story, feels confused, and blames the author. Or maybe a reader has a personal agenda—he/she wrote a book that was rejected, so they become hyper-critical of other authors' success.

I recently got a not-so-nice review on a book that had consistently received good to excellent reviews, and had placed in the top five for its category in a national writing contest. The reader snarked about my letting a character (federal agent) go "MIA" (missing in action) for weeks. Missing in action? Obviously the reader had forgotten, or maybe skipped over, an earlier scene in the book where the character is preparing to leave for his 2-week paid vacation at Christmas time, and asks his supervisor if he can take an extra two days unpaid leave, which the supervisor approves.

I've belonged to a writers' group for 20 years. When I told them about this mean-spirited review, they reminded me that it's not worth it to read reviews...not if I wanted to be a happy writer. LOL! A lesson I learned after a Bad Review Experience many years ago...

A Bad Review Twenty Years Ago

I got it at a very bad time: Right before I left to attend a national writers conference. My fiction novel, my baby, got a dastardly 1-star review. Worse, from a  reviewer for a magazine. I ate an entire bag of M&Ms. Not the small size bag, the drown-your-sorrows-and-flirt-with-hypoglycemia size.  

 What, a 1-star review? (Image is licensed; please do not copy)

What, a 1-star review? (Image is licensed; please do not copy)

Then I called my editor. This was the editor who'd purchased my first novel in 1996, and had purchased and edited the next three novels as well. My first novel got splendid reviews, as did my second and third. The fourth got the 1-star review.

Wise Words From An Editor

She listened as I told her in a shaky voice that I had received a bad review. One star. Then she laughed. A kind laugh, I'll add, because she herself is also a multi-published author, as well as being an editor, so she well understood the writers' life.

She said, "Your readers love your books and they're buying them. That's all that matters."

This editor, by the way, now heads up a division at that publishing company. She's smart and savvy about the book biz.

Didn't mean I wasn't still angsting about that bad review.

I Spilled My Guts to an Auditorium of Strangers

I don't recommend this to anyone. Really, it's not my style to stand up in a crowded room and tell several hundred people, most of them strangers, how devastating it is to get a bad review.

I hadn't planned on doing this. In fact, I had kept a low profile the entire conference, that is until I attended a workshop where a nationally known writer, one of those New York Times bestselling types,  was talking about—guess what?—surviving bad reviews.

At one point in her talk, she asked if anyone in the audience had ever had a bad review and what did they do about it?

Some unseen force drew me to my feet. I stood there, my voice quaking, and told an entire auditorium full of people, many writers, how a bad review had gutted me. How it was in a magazine, so hundreds, maybe thousands, of people had or would read it. How I'd consumed so many M&Ms, I had been shaking for days.

 I am Spartacus! (Film poster, 1960) is in the public domain)

I am Spartacus! (Film poster, 1960) is in the public domain)

What happened next was like that scene in the movie Spartacus. Not the recent series, the 1960 movie starring Kirk Douglas as Spartacus. Remember the scene where the Romans ask a throng of slaves, hundreds of them, which one is Spartacus, and Kirk Douglas stands. "I am Spartacus," he announces loudly. Then another slave stands, "No, I am Spartacus." Another stands and says the same thing, then another...until the entire crowd of slaves are all standing, each proclaiming loudly to be Spartacus.

It was kinda like that in the auditorium. After I poured my guts out, a writer in the front row stood up and said the same thing had happened to her. She's now a New York Times best-selling author, and a friend, and she recently told me that since her books have hit the NYT and other bestseller lists, even more negative reviews crop up on Amazon for her books! She's a professional, keeps a cool head, never responds to negative reviews.

Another well-known author stood. She announced loudly to the auditorium that she, too, had received her share of bad reviews, including several 1-star reviews, and by the way, would I please tell the auditorium the title of my book so people could buy it? That's right. She invited me to tell everyone the book title. I did. She then told everyone she was going out to buy it right after the workshop was over.

Other writers did the same thing. I got to see, first hand, that bad reviews happen, even to successful NYT best-selling authors. It's part of the package of being a writer and putting your work out there. 

My Two Cents on What to Do When You Get a Bad Review

1. Buy the small bag of M&Ms.

2. Commiserate with other writers, friends, family. You're allowed to wallow in it for 48 hours. After that, put on your big-boy or big-girl pants and get back to writing.

3. Don't respond to the bad review.

Let's chat a bit about not responding to negative comments and other less-than-complimentary write-ups. I wrote an article about that ("Four Tips for Minimizing Bad Reviews on Google"). In it, I explain how replying to bad reviews on the Internet, or even clicking them to re-read (or forwarding the link to others to click on and read), sends signals to Google and other Internet browsers to bump up that review's ranking...which means it's easier to find on the Internet. You don't want that.

As Tony Soprano might say, it's best to fuggitaboutit.

Now get back to writing!