If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

October Interviews
10/2 Debra H. Goldstein, Two Bites To Many
10/10 Connie Berry, A Legacy of Murder
10/17 Lida Sideris, Double Murder or Nothing
10/23 Toni L. P. Kelner writing as Leigh Perry, The Skeleton Stuffs A Stocking
10/30 Jennifer David Hesse, Autumn Alibi

Saturday Guest Bloggers:
10/5 Ang Pompano
10/12 Eyes of Texas Anthology Writers
10/19 Neil Plakcy

WWK Bloggers: 10/26 Kait Carson


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Lyrical Press will publish Kaye George's Vintage Sweets mystery series. The first book, Revenge Is Sweet, will be released in March. Look for the interview here on 3/11.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!

Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.

KM Rockwood's "Frozen Daiquiris" appears in The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk. The anthology was released on June 18th.

Fishy Business anthology authors include KM Rockwood, Debra Goldstein, and James M. Jackson. This volume was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Please read Margaret S. Hamilton and Debra Goldstein's short stories (don't ask about their modus operandi) in a new anthology, Cooked To Death Vol. IV: Cold Cut Files.

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Interviewing Intimidating People

My main character has retired from her defense-attorney practice. Although she’s retired, I think her first reactions to the case and investigation I’ve presented to her, will be those of a defense attorney. So far, I’ve sought out and read two series featuring female defense attorneys, which I’ll review for you next week. But I know just reading another author’s interpretation of what a defense attorney does, thinks, says, etc., isn’t enough, even though the one author was a defense attorney prior to her writing career. A portion of each book in those series focuses on courtroom procedure, which doesn’t apply because Denise has retired and will act as an investigator. What I have to do is interview a female defense attorney.

 I’m intimidated. I’ve picked my interviewee from online defense attorney websites. She’s a bit older than my main character, but she looks like she’d be hell on any DA that was paired against her. She’s someone who I want Denise, my main character, to be. How would you go about calling an attorney for an appointment to interview her?

Offer to pay her going rate per hour? Offer to interview her over dinner in a nice restaurant where, of course, I pick up the tab?

Do you think bypassing her secretary will be a problem?

Why do I approach this with so much trepidation? I doubt she’ll chew me up and spit me out, and of course better her than book reviewers. But I still am wary. For my second manuscript, I interviewed the head of hotel security at a major resort in Naples, Florida. He was a retired police chief from somewhere in Michigan. Police chiefs evidently have their pick of Florida resorts to chose from when they retire. How utterly logical, and why hadn’t I picked up on that perfect match. He admitted that most of the resort personnel had far more experience than the local police department, which set up a nice antagonism in my script.

When should I interview her? Knowing my luck, whenever I finally get the nerve to call her office, the bitchy secretary will tell me that she’s in the middle of a big murder trial (how could I be so obtuse?) and the attorney has scheduled a tour of the South Pacific for three months after getting her client off the hook.

I’ve written the first act and have a page of questions, but I haven’t written my investigation yet. Will she want to read the script? If it’s not finished and I have to confess that to her, it may be embarrassing if she refuses to see me, and yet, I’d rather not get too far along in the book, write a major gaff and have to revise. Should I wait until I have more questions in my investigative part of the book, or wait until I’ve finished, let her read my script, and then let the punches land where they may?

I’m trying to do my research. I’ve read Leslie Budewitz’s award-winning Books, Crooks and Counselors so I don’t make a total fool of myself. It’s helped me conduct legal research, but I know that this interview will make my book so much better.

 Have you researched and interviewed intimidating people? Can anyone answer my questions?


James Montgomery Jackson said...

My advice is easy for me to say and harder for me to incorporate in my actions.

You cannot control their reaction to your request, only your reaction to their reaction. Imagine the worst thing she could do to you and who else would know? Answer: Not much and no one.

I interviewed a local defense attorney and took him to dinner. I did not offer to pay his rates -- if he had said no, I would have found someone else who was interested in helping an author. I don't think it is at all important the stage of your project (from their perspective); they aren't going to want to read what you have so far written. Certainly you can give the general idea of how you plan to use your fictional attorney and they might have suggestion that can help shape your concept.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

I just have to screw up my courage and make that phone call. I think after Malice I'll be in a different frame of mind (and after our renovations are finished). Those two factors aside, I also sent my ms to Ramona Long. Once I get her "take" on my story, I will also be able to refine my approach and have another set of eyes through which to form my questions to the attorney. Thanks for your advice. How did the interview go for you? Was the attorney candid? Did you get what you needed?

James Montgomery Jackson said...

We had an enjoyable dinner. The attorney was completely open - no reason not to be - and I got a feel for his personality, which I have included bits and pieces as characteristics of the defense attorneys I've had Seamus McCree deal with in BAD POLICY and CABIN FEVER.

~ Jim

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Offering dinner sounds like a good idea. But make certain the attorney isn't charging you for his/her time in advance of the meeting. Many lawyers charge for phone calls as well. Ask in advance unless you're prepared to pay. Remember, you're dealing with a professional.

E. B. Davis said...

Good idea, Jacqui. I won't pay for dinner and for her time. Either, not both! I wish I could email her, but her website has no address listed. I'm more comfortable writing than talking--hard to believe--not!

Anonymous said...

As a lawyer, I thought I'd chime in here. I agree with the above comments. I am not a defense lawyer so cant help you there but I do get questions that people dont want to pay for. Dinner or lunch is a nice touch. Lets the person know you are serious and respect their time. The one thing that probably bothers me the most are people who want me to help them for free but havent done any of the legwork or thought about it. Have a couple of thoughtful questions that show you have done your homework - either about the attorney or your subject. I agree that you should be sure they are not charging you for the meeting and while lawyers do charge for phone calls, its usually once they accept an engagement but doesnt hurt to ask up front to be sure. Lawyers do lots of client development and other things including volunteer work for free - it goes with the territory. Also, if you want to use them in the future, ask about that and let them know if you plan to include them in the acknowledgements, etc. Again, its a matter of understanding that our time is our commodity and you provide a return value that we can point to.

Also, dont take it personally if someone turns you down. I turn down things not because I'm not interested or willing to do it, but because I simply cant at that point in time. For a defense attorney, if they are preparing for or in a major trial, they may not have time. If that's the case and you can wait, you can always ask if you might check back with them at a different time. Another helpful item is that if you know someone that knows that person, we are like so many other areas, we respond to someone that comes to us from someone we know.

Good luck. We are professionals but we're also people - and any number of us write or would love to write - so lots of us like talking about writing or hearing about what someone is doing.

jan godown annino said...

This is a wonderful dilemma to have. It's a great post to read, too.

I have criminal lawyer pals & am married to an attorey who has argued (successfully) before the US Supreme Court, so I know their
schedules are often bumped/changed on a dime. Were it me, I would do the interview in an email - first.
So once that's over, with the defense atty. answering some (1-7 ) questions online (likely at 3 a.m.) you will likely lose your trepidation. And your needs will be clear.

Then you can foloup in person.
And let the attorney choose where to meet.
Some careful ones wont/can't talk honestly out in public.

Finally, once in my life as a news writer I was sent to a prison to interview an inmate on Death Row. If that cringe feeling about questioning a tough person comes up, tell yourself that you're glad to be with an attorney & not someone an attorney has put away for good & for our common good.

I love this post - & look forward to the book behind it.
Jan/ a Guppy

jan godown annino said...

On reaching an attorney through office emails -

Call the office & explain you want an email address (it could be the gatekeeper's email) to send a simple query.
The gatekeeper may say just go ahead & send a few questions.

After the query is answered, you send the email questions.
Perhaps the atty. will suggest meeting, rather than doing it i email.

To get an email address, other than calling, each state's bar association has that info. Lawyers are accessible that way. They need people to be in touch with them. (witnesses they can't find..)
They just may not answer back....

Another idea, every community has local bar associations & some are centered on special interests.
Ask the local bar association for the meeting dates of the women defense lawyers. Reach the contact for that group & ask if you can attend a meeting & ask a few questions. You may get more (free, except for your cost to buy your lunch) fabulous answers than you can handle!

Good good good luck.

If a;ll the advice doesn't work, catch up with me
in May or June (JGAoffice (at) gmail.com & I can help you, E.B. with a women defense lawyer contact or two.

E. B. Davis said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your help. I think that I have done my homework, but I qualify that because I won't be sure until I the attorney redirects the question and I mumble, "Sorry, I don't understand." Some of my questions are general, but then some are specific, like when going to the attorney's booths at the correctional facility, what does it look like, what do they pass on the way, what is security like?

I have a whole sheet full of questions that if I can't get the answer to--I'll write around.

Thanks for your help.

E. B. Davis said...

Thanks, Jan for the specific recommendations. If I could do this via email, I'd love it. But then again, I'm writing a character and getting a feel for the attorney would be helpful.

My MC is a retired defense attorney so I won't have court scenes, which are typical of many novels in which the MC is a defense attorney--but she has to know the lingo, the procedures and typical defenses by crime.

Thank you for the offer. If these don't pan out, I may take you up on your offer. I may be begging.

Lourdes Venard said...

I would think most people would be flattered you want to talk to them. All good advice here, but as a former reporter, I would NOT do the interview via emails. Especially an attorney -- you are asking them to put something in writing. But mostly they are not going to be as frank and open. Once you establish a rapport with a subject in a face-to-face interview (or even on the phone), they will open up to you more than you will believe.

E. B. Davis said...

I hadn't thought of that Lourdes. Yes, attorneys could be sensitive about putting anything in writing. I, too, feel that in some small way meeting me could assure them that I'm not some fly-by-night claiming to be a writer and getting "free" legal advice. Something to consider. I'm glad you brought that to my attention. Thanks!

Gloria Alden said...

Wow, E.B., you are getting some terrific advice. As for me, my MC being a gardener, is much easier since it's a hobby of mine and I have shelves and shelves of gardening books. I also have a sister, who is a botanist, and cleared up some things I wrote that weren't quite right.

In my next book, I'm having a Civil War Reenactment going on. Again I'm fortunate because a member of my local writers group is an authority on everything Civil War and she and her husband are active in reenactments.

E. B. Davis said...

Easy research, Gloria. My last main character owned a champagne and sparkling wine store. My research was quite enjoyable!

Alyx Morgan said...

I've interviewed a police chief in the town where my stories are set. He didn't make me sit in the interrogation room, either. We just sat in his office & I asked my questions. He was also willing to let me record the conversation, so I'd have it for later, rather than trying to write down all my notes. We did get interrupted, though, so I never got to finish the interview, but he left the door open for me to email him any other questions I had.

It did feel weird talking to the police like that & walking through the station, & I tried to remember everything I saw for use later in my books, but I was too nervous & focused on the upcoming interview.

You'll do great, though.

E. B. Davis said...

I hope I do great, but if I don't embarrass myself--that's a plus.

Kaye George said...

I'd try using what you wrote here, that you're writing a mystery with a lawyer and you'd like to use her as the perfect role model for your character. Once you use the rest of the advice here to actually get in contact.

E. B. Davis said...

Here, it sounds easy, Kaye. But in McLean, VA--I bet the receptionist takes your credit card number before she puts you through to the lawyer. I'll try. We'll see what happens. I wonder what other off the wall requests defense attorneys get?

Kaye George said...

Good grief! Is she going to CHARGE you? Maybe you should find someone else?

Polly Iyer said...

You have nothing to lose, Elaine. Call her office, explain your problem to her secretary, how much you admire the attorney, and that you used her as a role model for your character. Explain you understand her time is valuable, but could she meet you for lunch, or if not, could she answer some questions in an email. The worst that can happen is she says no. Then you move on. Sounds like you have a few alternatives from this blog post.

Good luck.

E. B. Davis said...

I don't know, Kaye. She might. I've never under estimated the dollar and cents around D.C. Time is money.

E. B. Davis said...

My first inclination, Polly, is to try to go with the email the questions route. But really, seeing her in person, listening to her language and understanding how she thinks would be more valuable. I hope that she will meet with me. I hope she gets a kick out of it. But, I'm in the dependent position and will have to take whatever crumbs she offers. Yes, there are a few other female defense attorneys around. But this one is a better age than the rest, and I feel has been in the spotlight more. So, she's my best pick. Wish me good luck. May seems like a good month to do this.

Anonymous said...

Interesting questions.

I have to admit that I've never had to interview someone I found intimidating. I have an old friend who spent years as a public defender in Los Angeles (he actually enjoyed going to jury trial, so he has lots of experience. He is also a non-club-affiliated biker in his spare time) and a member of my writing group is a lawyer who sometimes handles criminal cases & who will help me out in the course of our regular (monthly) meetings.

I also have family members who are cops (for instance, my baby brother patrolled Times Square on ten PM to eight AM for years. He now is a sergeant) who are happy to help.

And my work experience in a medium security state prison gives me access to some people on the other side of the law. The classification counselors were inclined to assign "old heads" with lengthy sentences to my work crew. And if you work with people 40 hours a week for a few years, you get to know them pretty well.

I'm sure the time will come when I have to do some real research, not just pick up the phone (or write a letter in the case of a still-incarcerated inmate) to contact someone I already know, and then I'll be in the same situation as you are. And probably thoroughly intimidated.

E. B. Davis said...

I'm really ticked off at myself for being such a weenie about this. It's always said "write what you know." I know the basics, but I'm no expert on the legal system. But I think my concept is a good one, and I want to write this so that it is realistic. How many writers are killers, police officers or forensic experts, but they still are able to write those characters with authenticity. That's what I need to do.

Your work background, KM, will be invaluable. Perhaps you should join the crimescenewriters group to lend them your expertise. It's a great group of experts for mystery writers.