HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: There’s no question that writing a wonderful novel requires a lot of sitting down at your desk and just writing the darn thing. But there’s a lot more, especially when an author is devoted to the story.
I’m so enchanted by Susan Breen’s novel. I wouldn’t have predicted that I’d be drawn to something so…sweetly thoughtfully sensitive. But Maggie Dove is a treasure. And I am so delighted to hear the bravery and risk-taking that went into it!
And the self-awareness.
Today, Susan Breen shares her adventures! Could you be the main character in your own book? Susan decided to find out first hand. And see below for a wonderful giveaway!
AN AUTHOR’S EDUCATION
By Susan Breen
When I finished writing my first mystery, Maggie Dove, I discovered, to my surprise, that I had ended the book with Maggie opening a detective agency. This seemed like a fabulous idea until I started writing the second book and realized I had no idea what being a private detective entailed, beyond having watched a significant number of Thin Man movies some time ago. It was a conundrum, especially because the book deadline was in six months.
I did the obvious thing. I googled private detective and came up with a lot of useful information, but what I really wanted to know was what it would be like for a normal person (using the word normal in the broadest sense of the word) to open a detective agency. So, I decided to become a detective myself, which it turns out you can do on line.
Every month or so, a brown-wrapped package shows up in my mailbox with readings on such topics as “Becoming a Process Server, “Conducting Marital Investigations,” and my favorite: “What are Gut Feelings?” Every session ends with a test. (I’m happy to report I’ve aced each test!)
Best of all, each session includes a number of detective exercises. These included such things as how to go through your neighbor’s trash (which I refrained from doing) and how to conduct surveillance, which I did. Along the way, I’ve learned a number of intriguing things, about myself and about detectives.
Less surprising, I discovered I am terrible at car surveillance. Somehow, turning on an ignition makes things more serious. The exercise was to follow someone in a car and take pictures, “when convenient.” I can tell you that it is never convenient to drive and take pictures. By the time I entered the password to turn on my phone, the “suspect” was long gone. However, I did put that experience to good use in Maggie Dove’s Detective Agency.
3 Maybe the most surprising thing I’ve learned is how much information is public. You would not believe what you can learn about yourself, or your relatives, or your boss. Just starting with the stuff that’s easy to find, and free, there are real estate records, title records, criminal records, divorce records. Things that you would cringe to have other people know are right there, and I’m leaving out the special PI data banks, that you have to pay for but give you access to even more.
4 Finally, I was surprised to discover how many opportunities there are for women in this field. I thought there would be a lot more physical intimidation involved (which is not an area in which I excel.) But most of being a private detective is about gathering information—interviewing people, phoning them, following them. In fact, the primary requirements seem to be intelligence, patience and creativity.
Perhaps my main take-away from all of this is how much I enjoy being a private detective. Should things go south with Maggie Dove, you may find me stalking you. But you won’t notice. So don’t worry.
Have you ever had to learn something weird in order to be able to do your job?
HANK: Yes. Every day. And happily so. How about you, Reds? And leave a comment to be entered for a copy of MAGGIE DOVE'S DETECTIVE AGENCY! But Susan, I have to say, your personal story is hilarious. An on-line detective? Who'd have thought?
But Reds and readers, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever tried? (Debs, peanut butter and mayonnaise doesn’t count…)
Susan Breen is the author of the Maggie Dove mystery series, published by the Alibi digital imprint of Penguin Random House. Her short stories have been published by a number of magazines, among them Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, American Literary Review and Best American Non-Required Reading. An upcoming Maggie Dove mystery story will be published by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Susan teaches creative writing at Gotham Writers in Manhattan. She lives in a small village in the Hudson Valley with her husband, two dogs (cockapoos) and a cat. Her three grown children are flourishing elsewhere.