WAG: You did heir-finding for ten years before
writing The Heir Hunter. How (and why) did
you become an heir finder?
Essentially, I became an heir finder
back in college. A good friend and I acquired a
list of unclaimed bank accounts that the state of
California was holding. These accounts landed on
the list because they had been inactive for a number
of years. We determined which ones were owned by
deceased people, and then we did genealogical research
to determine who the legal heirs were. After my
friend got out of college, he started a PI firm
which I promptly joined. The firm expanded the scope
of the business to include unsettled estates. I
decided to take this as a career because I was fascinated
by the challenge of each particular case—finding
missing people, the research involved, all the "digging
under rocks," so to speak. It fed my natural
curiosity and need to uncover mysteries. I always
felt the work was satisfying in the sense that it
helped people by providing them with money they
never knew they were entitled to. It makes people
happy to bring them money, and that always felt
good on my end.
Private investigators always say that their
jobs are nothing like the endlessly exciting, shoot-'em-up
experiences thrillers suggest. Does heir-finding
have its dangerous side?
Although much of our work is quite safe,
there is a dangerous side. We sometimes need to
search for felons in our heir searches. For example,
we were working a case once where the heir was a
convicted rapist (we eventually dropped the case,
not wanting to provide a rapist with money.). We've
performed extensive searches in the very worst parts
of many major cities for missing heirs. In Italy,
a local mob boss threatened to kill one of our investigators.
People are generally mistrustful of heir finders,
and when these people are hiding from the law, they
will sometimes take desperate and violent measures
to protect themselves.
What made you decide to write a book?
I've always enjoyed writing. English
was probably the only subject in which I ever got
consistent A's back in my school years. I have an
innate desire to write. It's a outlet for me where
I can just let creativity flow. It's very liberating,
and there are no rules to it except for those you
establish in your own mind. Writing a full-length
novel seemed to be the ultimate challenge so I took
a crack at it.
Did you know immediately that you wanted
the book to be about heir-finding?
Yes, I knew immediately I wanted the
book to be about heir-finding. I had never heard
of an heir finder being portrayed in a fiction book
before, and I recognized a unique opportunity to
present the subject from an insider's perspective.
I had a good feeling that the concept would be well-received
because it presented a niche of private investigation
which few people know about. I knew fiction readers
would be interested in the subject if they just
had the chance to learn more about it. It really
does happen—every day, my firm finds missing
people and gives them money. Sometimes it's one
heir, sometimes it's one hundred. Just depends on
the family tree.
Why do you think heir-finding hasn't been
mined for thriller material before?
I think it's because so few people know
about the industry. Heir-finding is a very specific
niche in private investigation, a very competitive,
stressful rat-race that few PI's have the stomach
for. I'm actually surprised that a book hasn't been
written on the subject before; it's something that's
rich with possibilities.
Did writing come easily to you?
Writing never came easily for me. Although
I felt I had a certain aptitude, each paragraph
was a struggle. Much of my early material was too
rough for publication, but I continually reminded
myself of something—writing is rewriting.
Words can be changed, sentences rewritten, and chapters
reworked. I don't know how some of the masters do
it, but for me it was just an awful lot of rewriting.
Writing a book really is a perfectionist's nightmare.
You never feel like a book is "perfect,"
even when you're done, but at some point you just
have to let it go.
Did you find yourself modeling your writing
(depth of character, cliffhanger chapter endings,
mix of narrative and action, etc.) on any particular
I didn't find myself modeling myself
on any particular writer, at least not consciously.
I must say that I'm a big fan of James Clavell and
his Shogun series, as well as James Lee Burke, Stephen
Hunter, and Thomas Perry. These are three very superior
Is your next book going to be another heir-finding
My very next book will not be another
heir-finding book. I've decided to try something
a bit more daring, although it will involve a few
of the same elements of The Heir Hunter such
as changed identities and such. I plan on writing
another heir-finding book soon, however; I'm seriously
thinking of making it a prequel to the original.
There's certainly a wealth of material to draw from.