Friday, October 12, 2012

From a Crime Writer’s Library—How to Write a Dick

I don’t know many writers who live in a house. Most of the writers I know live in a library that just happens to have a kitchen, bathroom, and important furniture like a bed. If you are a writer, you have heard the old cliché of “write what you know.” If you are a reader you might often wonder where the ideas and the information for the story came from. They came from the home and the public library—from the web and from the conversations and research a writer does.

Crime writing is one of the genres I write and it is the focus of my corner of The Writers' Lens. As such,  I have decided to share on my “For the Reader Friday” blogs one of the many reference books that I use for my stories.

I am currently working on a Private Investigator (or PI) novel. While as a high school student I fantasized of being one of those hard boiled detectives. The real life of a PI doesn’t often resemble the fantasy world. So, how does a writer learn about the PI life? There are many ways (books, podcasts, websites, blogs and following the real ones on twitter).  One of the resource books I find useful opens the door on this profession and is writing by writers who are PIs. The book is How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, by Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins.

About the book (written on Barnes and Noble’s synopsis):
“The private eye genre has come a long way, baby, with new subgenres – from teenage PIs to vampire gumshoes to geriatric sleuths – attracting new readers every year. Although it can be safely said that all fictional sleuths, or private dicks, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, are thinking machines, depending on their powers of observation, analysis and curiosity, the 21st century has opened up a brave new world of investigative technology, tools and Internet resources that would have made Sherlock Holmes weep with joy.

“Unfortunately, most writers are not aware of the state-of-the-art developments that shape today’s professional private investigator, which sometimes leave writers floundering with impossible and antiquated devices, characters and methods in stories. Which is why we wrote How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, whose material we culled from our working a combined 14 years as private investigators (and for one of us, several decades hiring and managing private investigators). As a team, we have taught online classes and presented workshops at writers’ conferences about writing private investigators, and we write the blog Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes on a wide variety of investigative techniques and tools. How to Write a Dick isn’t about how to write a novel, but what you need to know to write an authentic, compelling 21st-century sleuth character or story.

“Writers, readers, researchers, investigators and publishing professionals can use How to Write a Dick as an aid for:
• Writing stories/characters in the PI, mystery, suspense and thriller genres
• Understanding the real-world of PIs and their fictional counterparts
• Using the book as a reference resource for writing articles and other research
• Researching the techniques, tools and legalities used by your favorite private eyes in film, books and other media

‘Forget Google and Bing. When you need to research PI work, go to the experts, Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman: they live it, they teach it, they write it. 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. This will be the industry standard for years to come.’
- Reed Farrel Coleman, three-time Shamus Award winner for Best PI Novel of the Year and author of Hurt Machine

‘If you want authenticity in creating a fictional private investigator for your stories, then this is a must-have reference book. Its authors, Colleen and Shaun, are living breathing PIs with years of actual experience in the PI game.’
- R.T. Lawton, 25 years on the street as a federal special agent and author of 4 series in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.”

This book is a recent addition to my crime library and it has already taken a prominent place on my desk.  It gives the writer the business side as well as well as an up-to-date guide that allows a writer to really understand the world of the PI. If you are a writer writing about PIs and want to take your story across the threshold into the grit of the real world, I would suggest that you check out this book.

Thank you for reading and please visit and You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

1 comment:

  1. I applaud you for writing a PI novel--I think these are much harder than people think they are going to be! It sounds like an interesting book. :) Thanks for sharing.