So, Pamela—a writer, a PI, and a backhoe operator? That’s truly a unique combination of careers for a woman. How did these careers come about?
Yeesh, I have to admit to my checkered past right off the bat? I've had many different careers, largely as a result of having a lot of doors slammed in my face. I graduated college with a degree in Latin American Studies, and the only organization that wanted to hire me was the CIA, and after interviewing with them, I decided they were just too weird to deal with. I've worked as a translator, a geologic research technologist, a mechanical/architectural/electrical drafter, a technical writer/editor, and now a private investigator. Writing has played a big role in many of my jobs.
The backhoe driving was a sideline. Years ago, we were doing some landscaping on our property and while my husband could rent a backhoe cheaply, it didn't come with an operator. So I learned how to drive the monster. It's a lot of fun to hurl around boulders and dig trenches, but backhoes are not precise machines, it's easy to whack something or someone you didn't intend to, and getting bonked with a backhoe bucket can be lethal. I put a backhoe accident in On Shaky Ground because I thought it would be dramatic, funny, and a very unusual love scene for a romance.
I bet that backhoe bit does make a great scene. Do you have a background in law enforcement?
If you could see me, you wouldn't have to ask that. I'm five feet tall. (But don't mess with me, I was on the judo
team in college and being shorter than your opponent is an advantage.) Believe it or not, I became a PI because my tech writing work was disappearing to India, and I knew I could use my various skills and experience in the investigation business, which cannot be outsourced to another country. Also, I once decided I wanted to go to law school, studied and took the LSAT and did very well on it, but then I got smart and interviewed a bunch of lawyers and decided that while I was good at legal thinking, I didn’t want to spend my days shuffling papers written in an obscure and obtuse language. Maybe that's the editor in me; every time I get hold of a legal document, I want to rewrite it into plain English.
I figured that being a private investigator might help my mystery writing career, too. I usually don't tell my investigation clients that I'm a mystery writer, though; they might fear that their secrets would end up in my books. (If any of my clients are reading this—your secrets are safe with me; I swear!)
How does one become a PI?
That varies tremendously from state to state; a few states have no requirements at all! I'm in Washington State, where you have to pass a pretty stiff exam to be licensed. I studied for three quarters in a certificate program at the University of Washington—it was intense. You need to know
the state laws, federal laws, the court system, and a lot of details about where to find various types of information. I also worked as an intern for a public defender for awhile, honing my interview and surveillance skills. After you get your license, you have to carry a ton of liability insurance. You need to be very careful when taking on cases; especially locates—you have to be sure you're not enabling a stalker. You have to be discrete, too. People trust you with their secrets, and some are pretty ugly.
What’s your most interesting case to date? You can change the names to protect the innocent. Lol!
A lot of cases have interesting elements to them. I've worked on cases of internal theft within companies; it's fascinating to interview all the employees and try to put all the clues together to determine 'who dunnit.' Some criminals are pretty entertaining, too—I remember one drug dealer who argued for his 2nd amendment rights because he needed his guns to defend his drug stash.
Probably the most amusing case I ever worked on involved an incident where everybody had a completely different story about who the perpetrator was and what happened. Finally I asked the arresting officer point blank, "Do you know what was going on?" "Not a clue," he answered.
Are any of your manuscripts based on any of your cases?
No. I don't want to run the risk of being sued, and frankly, a lot of PI work is depressing—nobody calls a PI when everything is going well. So I really don't want to revisit cases I've worked on. I do use my knowledge of investigation and many of my experiences in my stories. One of my themes in my mysteries is the way that public opinion and personal bias can influence the outcome of any situation. Law enforcement officers, attorneys, judges, and jurors are all people; they are influenced by their personal histories and by what they see and hear in the media.
When I wrote On Shaky Ground, I used an observation that I got from investigation work: it's very easy to make an accusation, the public is all too willing to believe it, and it's darn hard to defend yourself after you've been accused. My heroine, Elisa, is accused of insurance fraud and the circumstantial evidence keeps stacking up against her.
What kind of books do you write?
I write romances and mysteries. I'm naturally more inclined toward mysteries, so my romances are definitely nontraditional. A major publisher who shall remain nameless rejected On Shaky Ground because it was 'too big,' meaning that it had too many elements in it. I like rich, complicated novels, and it's hard for me to simplify a story too much; I always have to insert subplots and lots of interesting characters and some suspense and mystery. I like to add dashes of humor, too. On Shaky Ground has a lot of funny scenes between short dark Elisa and her tall blond stepsister Charlie and between Elisa and the investigator hero, Jake. If On Shaky Ground does well, I'd love to write a book focusing on Charlie and another on their mother Gail—they're a quirky Anglo-Saxon family with a Guatemalan connection.
My mystery series has just been purchased by Berkley Prime Crime. I self-published the first book, WILD—you can still find a few copies floating around on the internet.
All my books have Nature and animals in them. Wild is full of cougars; the sequel has a bear; On Shaky Ground has a snake, a tree frog, a raccoon, and a cat.
What kind of books do you read?
It would be easier to say what I don't read, which would be books about politics and celebrities and sports. The only nonfiction I read (aside from research done for work) is true adventure or compelling biographies about people who have overcome major obstacles in life. As for fiction; I read in every category—it just has to be a good story and I'm glued to it. My only requirement is that it can't be too much like my life: I read to escape.
How long have you been a PI?
I've had my own agency (with my business partner Molly) for three years now. I did some investigation work years ago for a public defender agency.
I've always written. In college, I could pass an essay test on any subject. For clients, I've written everything from scripts for voice actors to a help system for a cardboard manufacturing plant. But I started getting serious about novels and publication in 1996, and I've been working hard at it ever since.
How many published books do you have to your credit?
Like most writers, I have more written books than published books. I published 11 'how-to' books (mostly computer-related) years ago, but they're all out of print now. Currently, I have Wild and On Shaky Ground, and more to be published by Berkley in the next couple of years. I studied screenwriting and I write screenplays, too, and I keep hoping Hollywood will come knocking on my door.
It's not your traditional romance—it starts with an earthquake and proceeds thru vandalism and arson and explosions. The heroine, Elisa, is half-Guatemalan. One publisher said she didn't know what to do with a half-ethnic character. I thought (but didn't say), Gosh, lady, have you looked around at your neighbors lately?
Can you give us a blurb and an excerpt?
Here's the blurb: When Terrence Langston ran Langston Green, the plant nursery sailed along like a well-run ship. But when his daughter Elisa takes charge after his sudden death, she feels more like the captain of the Titanic. First, vandalism, then a major earthquake, then arson. And now a handsome insurance investigator believes that she's behind all the destruction? Will she have to get killed to prove him wrong?
For an excerpt or to buy the print book or ebook, go to http://www.thewildrosepress.com/pamela-s-beason-m-848.html It's also available at Amazon and other online stores.
Do you have a blog or website for your writing? How about for your private investigative work?
I just started a blog that's about a little bit of everything I do, but mostly about my love of nature. It's at http://psbeason.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/who-am-i-today/
I'm just learning how to use WordPress, though, so if you have any tips for blog wonderfulness, please share. You can also get there through my website at http://www.pamelasbeason.net
What an interesting life you lead! Thanks for stopping by and sharing!
I need a nap now. Bye!