We’d like to welcome Sheila Lowe to MotiveMeansOpportunity. Shelia is a long-time friend from Guppies and Sisters in Crime and I’m thrilled she is here with us today to celebrate the release of her sixth book, OUTSIDE THE LINES.
In addition to writing a page turning story, Sheila is a world-renowned graphologist who has practiced handwriting analysis for more than 30 years. It’s a fascinating science and a great springboard for murder mysteries.
Tell us about your new book.
OUTSIDE THE LINES is the 6th in my Forensic Handwriting series featuring handwriting expert Claudia Rose. After suffering a brutal attack in a courtroom, Claudia takes a getaway trip to the UK, where she has been invited to lecture. While there, she runs afoul of both the FBI and New Scotland Yard, and becomes involved with a suspect in a homicide her fiancé, Detective Joel Jovanic is investigating back home.
What inspired you to write it?
Because of some health issues I had been reading a lot about GMO foods and big pesticide companies. What I read about protests against Monsanto and others got me interested enough to build that as an underlying theme in this book.
What is your favorite/least favorite thing about the writing process?
Writing the first draft is my least favorite thing. I most enjoy the editing part. Each day I’m writing, I start by going back over what I wrote the day before and rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting some more until I’m happy with every word. Only then do I move forward and write new material. Of course, that doesn’t mean I write only one draft. But unlike those writers who are able to just write straight through to the end, I prefer to make it the best I can as I go. Then I go back and do it again. And again. Seems like a hundred times.
What do you think makes a good story?
I just finished reading several really good books. For me, what made each one so enjoyable was the character development, the interactions between the characters, and the “realness” of the dialogue. All that appeals to me because I like to read (and write) character-driven books, as opposed to plot-driven books where you are taken on a breathless nonstop ride from one big plot point to the next.
How do you incorporate that into your books?
My books are written in very close 3rd person, which is like looking over the characters’ shoulders. You get to know them and their motivations very well, even the villains, who are usually ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Thus, when they commit horrific crimes, the reader will understand the reasons why.
How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first stories when I was a young teen in England. I used to write about The Beatles—I was a Beatlemaniac, madly in love with Ringo. It wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I finally did what I had always wanted to do, write my first mystery.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out?
I wish I had known that adverbs tend to weaken writing. It might have saved me seven years of trying to sell my book. I had no idea how important it is to leave out most of those “ly” words (and the gerunds, too—“ing” words). The other thing is how hard it is to sell, then market books. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t know that, or I might never have started. Nah. Writing is a compulsion; gotta do it.
Has that changed the way you write or market your books?
Yes! I’ve become a far better writer since learning how to make my writing stronger. The marketing thing, well, I’m still working that out.
About the marketing thing—love it, hate it?
As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert who has learned how to behave like an extravert when I need to, I cannot honestly say I love marketing. I know very few writers who do, but it is a necessary evil. Even the big publishers usually won’t do it for you (unless you’re already a big name). At least in the Internet age much can be done low cost or free.
Outside the Lines is the sixth in the forensic handwriting series. How do you feel about writing a series?
When I wrote Poison Pen, the first book, I wasn’t thinking about writing a series, but when it was finished and won 3rd place in the Southwest Writers competition for mystery (out of more than 90 entries), I got excited enough to start on the second book. All of a sudden, it was a series.
How far ahead did you develop an arc for the series? Do you have more plotted? How far?
I’m currently outlining book #7. Whether the series goes beyond that depends on the fans.
Handwriting analysis is one of those intriguing topics. I’d love to know what mine says about me (I think), but that isn’t what Claudia Rose does. In my day job, I’ve worked with forensic handwriting examiners and their job fascinates me. With today’s high tech copiers, if I handed Claudia a color photocopy of a Will and an original Trust signed by a forger what would she be able to tell me?
Actually, Claudia does both sides of handwriting analysis. Like me, she works as a document examiner in cases of handwriting authentication, and she does behavioral assessments, too. If you handed her the document you described she would ask you to provide exemplars of the signatory’s genuine handwriting to compare. If they were consistent with the signature on the copy she would tell you that the signature might be genuine, but without an original, it is not possible to determine whether the document is genuine. These days, it’s too easy to create a spurious document and copy and paste a signature onto it.
Claudia puts her life and her psyche in peril in Outside the Lines. Will she recover and return to her beloved California and her job?
Of course! Otherwise there would be no book 7.
Would Claudia like you for a friend? Dish the details here.
I certainly hope Claudia would like me. But she goes places and does things I’m not brave enough to do. She’s nice enough not to sneer at me, though. I can see us hanging out together, comparing handwritings over a glass of wine. Or maybe a screwdriver—that’s her favorite grownup drink.
What advice would you like to give Claudia?
Don’t let Joel tame you. Keep following your gut. He worries that he’s going to lose you, but if you stop what you’re doing, you’ll lose yourself.
You share a profession with Claudia. Are your plots drawn from life (names changed to protect the innocent of course) or are they complete fiction?
All of my plots have a kernel of truth in them, but they’re not “about” that inciting incident. For example, LAST WRITES (#4) is what I call my revenge book. It’s about a religious cult that share a lot in common with the one I grew up in.
If you couldn’t write, what would you do?
I guess I would be what I am—a forensic handwriting examiner. If I had to choose another career, I would be a psychologist. My father wanted me to be a lawyer—no way, no how! But I do work with a lot of them, so maybe that counts.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m the mother of a tattoo artist and a rock star, and a daughter who in 2000 was the victim in a murder-suicide. The red flags in her boyfriend’s handwriting were alarming, but she didn’t want to listen until it was too late. I started studying handwriting when I was in high school, which is a very long time ago (50 years). Got married, had kids, got divorced, got fired from my job and started my fulltime handwriting analysis practice. Remarried, divorced, remarried the same guy, divorced again. Now happily single, getting older and hopefully, much wiser.
Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!
Well, if I were dreaming big, I would be a New York Times bestselling mystery aut
hor, maybe with a movie franchise starring Minnie Driver as Claudia and Gerard Butler as Joel (the series was optioned for a while).
Is there a question(s) you would like to be asked? There is always the one question
everyone misses that the author is aching to answer. Tell us about it here, and answer it of course!
Nope, I think I’ve said more than enough.