Friday, August 20, 2010

Interview with Writer, PI, and Backhoe Operator, Pamela S. Beason

Today isn’t part of The Wild Roses Blog Tour, but I do have a unique guest on my blog today.

Pamela S. Beason lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she writes novels and screenplays and works as a private investigator. When she's not on the job, she explores the natural world on foot or cross-country skis, in her kayak, and underwater as a scuba diver. And like the heroine of her new romance, On Shaky Ground, she knows how to rearrange the landscape with a backhoe.

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.

A writer?

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.

Who doesn't? But tell me something about your most recent release, On Shaky Ground.

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  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
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

What an interesting life you lead! Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

My pleasure.
I need a nap now. Bye!


  1. This is a great blog post. Interesting things.

  2. Gayle, great blog. And Pamela, you make my life totally boring. I would LOVE to play with a backhoe! It sounds like you stay busy. I'm curious. How do you begin an interview with possible suspects (I don't even know whether you call them suspects)? Do you start with a generic-type list of questions, or are your questions more case specific? And how do you get those people to open up to you?

  3. This is a great interview! I love hearing how writer's come to the realization writing is what they want to do. What a delightfully crooked path!

  4. Thanks for visiting, Beth, Diane, and Andris. And Diane, great questions! I'm curious to see Pamela's answers too.

  5. You have interesting life and a busy one. I wouldn't minds being PI. Good luck.


  6. Tried to post a bit ago, and it wouldn't go. I'm trying again.

    Diane, I actually lust after a personal trackhoe. Backhoes are hard to maneuver, but trackhoes have those great tank-style treds that can turn on a dime. I figure the noisy neighbors would pay attention when I tell them to turn down the music or I'll be over there in ten minutes with my trackhoe! Ha. (Actually I have only sweet quiet neighbors now, but in the past I could have really used that trackhoe threat.)

    Re: interviews and being a PI. For interviews, it's best to solicit information with open-ended instructions or questions, such as "Tell me what you know about the incident." It's important not to give the subject any information, and that can be hard, because they're frequently asking you questions about the case, about your personal life, your history, etc. You don't want to tell them anything; you want to see what they tell you.

    Think it would be fun to be a PI? Consider these situations:

    - Sitting surveillance for hours in the cold waiting for the 10-second opportunity to snap the perfect picture. You can't read or do anything except stay ready, watch and wait. And the resulting photo better be good enough to use in court. Often, neighborhood watch or the cops are knocking on the car window after fifteen minutes. The cops are better, because I can explain to them what I'm doing. I can't tell neighborhood watch anything close to the truth, because I don't know who they are or what they might tell the subject. I usually pretend to be on an extended phone call or trying to locate myself on a map.

    - Knowing that someone with a long criminal record and gang affiliations, whom you helped to wrest child custody from, has your name on his court documents.

    - Tailing a subject who is driving 85 miles an hour down the highway.

    Sadly, being a PI is not as glamorous as it looks on TV. But it's a living. Sort of.

    Best wishes to all.


  7. Really great interview with a lot of good stuff in it, rather than fluff. Intellectual interests combined with outdoor activity can't be beat. Just reading about that busy life wears me out!
    I'm certainly going to check out the book.

  8. Pam,
    Thanks for taking the time to join us and answer questions. And thanks to everyone who stopped by to read and/or post a comment.