Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Interview with mystery author Sheila Lowe

I'm happy to welcome Sheila Lowe back to Reviews and interviews. She had a guest blog here last month to talk about series versus standalone novel writing.

Today she's going to share a bit about herself and talk about her latest Claudia Rose novel Last Writes.

Like her character Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, Sheila Lowe is a real-life handwriting analyst who testifies as an expert witness in court. She’s a frequent guest in the media and was invited by Lifetime Movie Network to provide information and analyses of criminals on their website as a tie-in for Jeffery Deaver’s The Devil’s Teardrop movie. Sheila holds a Master of Science in psychology and is the author of the internationally acclaimed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, and Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software.

Sheila, welcome back. Please tell us about Last Writes.
Last Writes answers the question: What does an old stuffed bunny have to do with a fundamentalist religious cult?

Erin Powers and her husband have been living as members of The Temple of Brighter Light in an isolated religious compound call the Ark. Now Erin’s husband and toddler have disappeared, leaving behind Kylie’s favorite stuffed bunny and a cryptic note. Desperate to find her child, Erin seeks help from her estranged half-sister Kelly Brennan, a close friend of Claudia Rose. Using her skills as a forensic handwriting expert, Claudia manages to gain entry to the Ark, where she has only a few days to uncover the truth about Kelly’s missing niece before the child’s life is written off for good.

What inspired you to write this book?
From the age of seven I was raised in a fundamentalist religion that I now view as a cult. This book was my opportunity to work out some of the scars my experiences left behind. Well, to be honest, I was kicked out on my 25th birthday, told that I was a danger to the congregation. So I was able to use what I had learned about cult behavior to make this story more real. Last Writes is a story about what happens when people are willing to hand over their personal power to another.

If you can continue the series, do you know what type of story Claudia be involved in next? Anything you want to share?
The backdrop of the next Claudia story, Inkslinger's Ball, is a tattoo convention. However, in the meantime, I’ve just completed a standalone psychological suspense/thriller in which Claudia, her boyfriend detective, Joel Jovanic and her friend, psychologist Zebediah Gold appear. It’s called Lying in Bed, and is the story of a young woman who wakes up on a train, not knowing who she is. I’m hoping that even though it’s not part of the Forensic Handwriting Mystery series, Claudia fans will want to read it because she is in it.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably when I was first conventionally published (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis), even though I had self-published numerous monographs and articles for handwriting analysts, and as a kid, I wrote a lot of bad poetry and short stories about the Beatles (I was always married to Ringo).

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I have two careers to split my time. I still make most of my living as a forensic handwriting analyst, which involves identifying cases of forgery and occasionally testifying in court, and preparing behavioral profiles for employers, couples, individuals, etc. I don’t have a regular schedule, so it really depends on what comes across my desk and depends on what deadlines I’m working under. For example, an attorney called last week and sent me some handwriting in a forgery case, telling me that my testimony might be needed the next day(!), so everything else had to be put aside to work on that urgent case. I ended up not having to testify, but the attorney refused to pay me for the work I did on the case.

Usually, I start writing late in the day, when I can procrastinate no longer. Around 10:00 at night I tell myself that I have got to do something productive, and after emailing all day long, it’s time to write. I write something new almost every day, but it’s not always fiction. For example, I’ve just written a new monograph on graphotherapy, which are handwriting exercises to change undesirable personality traits. And right now, I’m writing a certification examination for handwriting analysts before getting back to work on a new non-fiction book about relationships and handwriting that I put aside to write Lying in Bed.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
It’s not particularly interesting, but I can only write at my desk. I envy other people who can work at the beach or at Starbucks. What are other people’s quirks? They have to use the same coffee mug when they write? Only work in men’s underwear? I need to find a good quirk!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The aforementioned religion discourages higher education or a career in favor of “seeking first the kingdom,” spending one hundred hours a month in preaching and working part-time at a menial job to support yourself, so I never gave the future much energy. We were taught that the end of the world was imminent, so there was no point in “building up riches.”

Secretly, though, I always wanted to be a mystery writer. It took until my mid-fifties to actually achieve that dream.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
If you want to be a published writer, don’t give up. It took me seven years to get my first mystery published after it was finished. And that was after I’d already successfully published in non-fiction and Poison Pen won in a competition. Persistence is the key, and critically reading the authors you enjoy to understand what makes their writing zing.

Sheila, thanks so much for stopping by again. I look forward to more Claudia stories.


Peg Brantley said...

Great interview! I always like to find out what Sheila Lowe has been up to.

Can you imagine what that attorney might do if he or she put in some work and the client decided he wasn't really necessary? Sheeshkabobalino.

Good luck on that standalone! I know it will do well.

Anonymous said...

Nice interview, Sheila. I can't write at Starbucks, either. I need quiet and solitude to lose myself in a fictional world. Looking forward to your standalone.

Sally Carpenter
"The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper"

Sheila Lowe said...

Peg, considering some of the attorneys I've worked with, nothing would surprise me.

Thanks, Sally. The title is apparently going to change, but I'm hard at work on the final draft.

Cindy Sample said...

Hi Sheila. I've enjoyed your series so it will be interesting to read the standalone.

As far as quirks, I had a cha cha injury (honest) and couldn't sit comfortably so I moved my laptop to my wet bar so I could stand and type. That was 18 months ago and now I can't write sitting down!

Peg Brantley said...

Cindy, Jeffrey Deaver often writes standing up at his kitchen island. You're in good company.