We are proud to present our Monday Guest Series, where we will be interviewing authors, web mavens, personal coaches, and other professionals who can bring you valuable information about writing, whether it’s enthusiasm, encouragement, tips, or advice.
Our first guest, Sheila Lowe, is a court-qualified handwriting expert who testifies in forensic cases. Sheila’s handwriting analysis practice, Sheila Lowe & Associates
, covers a wide spectrum, from personality evaluation to handwriting authentication, to lecturing, teaching, and writing about handwriting.
So it’s no surprise that her protagonist, Claudia Rose, works in the same field, though with more deadly results. In Poison Pen, the mystery begins with the suicide note of an ex-friend. In Written in Blood, Claudia is asked to prove that the signature on a will is a forgery. This time, Claudia is headed to New York in Dead Write, where dating can be hazardous to your health.
And now…author Sheila Lowe.
Sheila, you have been a qualified handwriting expert with the California Court System since 1985. Your first venture into publishing was non-fiction with “The Complete Idiot’s Guide — Handwriting Analysis” in 1999 (which I’m going to purchase and use on my fellow WinR’s). When did you decide it was time to move on to fiction? Was there any particular incident that edged you in that direction?
The fact is, it was the other way around. I always wanted to write fiction, but got busy raising three kids on my own, and scratching out a living. It wasn’t until the kids were grown and on their own, and I had finally succeeded in creating a successful handwriting analysis practice, and had my two non-fiction handwriting analysis books published, that I came back to my first love, mystery.
In your third and most recent book, Dead Write, Claudia is hired by a world-class matchmaking service for the rich and powerful to screen their applicants. This seems especially relevant in the wake of the recent Ryan Jenkins tragedy. For those who don’t know, alleged murderer Ryan Jenkins was a contestant on the VH1 show “I Love Money”. How did the idea of a graphologist vetting matchmaking applicants come to you?
Having Claudia work for a matchmaker was a natural for me. For about fifteen years I had a client who was herself a high-priced matchmaker. She used my analyses to help her understand the members of her introduction service better, and often said it helped her to create successful marriages (she is not Grusha, however!). If everyone would use handwriting analysis as a tool, it could help avoid many unhappy relationships (this is a not-so-subtle plug for the non-fiction book I’m writing now on that very subject—Rotten Relationships, why we choose them). I don’t know anything about Ryan Jenkins, but the sad truth is, unless the client listens to any warnings about red flags in the handwriting, it doesn’t help. My own daughter is a case in point. She was the victim in a murder/suicide by a man whose handwriting contained some major red flags which sadly, she chose to ignore.
Dead Write takes Claudia out of California and into New York’s Manhattan. What was it like taking Claudia out of her usual environment? Was it an enjoyable experience that you plan to repeat in the future? Or was it difficult to create both a new mystery and a new environment?
I think it’s a good idea to change environments from time to time, or readers will begin to think I’m writing cozies J (I consider my books psychological suspense). Claudia lives in the almost fictional beach town of Playa de la Reina. In Poison Pen there are scenes in Palm Springs, and in Written in Blood, Claudia goes out of state. New York was a bit of a challenge because I haven’t spent a lot of time there. But Google and Youtube, are my friends and provide lots of good, usable stuff: sights, sounds, local color. Of course, there were a few missing senses, but a writer’s imagination can make up for that, and some of the smells I could do without anyway. I was lucky enough to make contact with a police detective in the precinct where the story took place, and he kindly filled in some of the blanks.
If you were to analyze your protagonist Claudia Rose’s handwriting, what are a few of the characteristics that would show up?
Claudia’s handwriting would have strong rhythm, a balanced spatial arrangement on the page, be moderate in size, with well developed lower loops, good simplification, and a few angles. Now you’ll have to look all that up in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis to find out what they mean (will the BSP never stop?!).
What is the strangest assignment you’ve had?
Having analyzed well over 10,000 handwriting samples over my career, that’s a really hard question to answer. I recently provided Graphological input on a company logo. I’ve been asked by foreign police to examine the handwriting of a potential copycat serial killer. I’ve had genealogists ask me to prepare a Graphological autopsy on their ancestors. But mostly my work is fairly humdrum and involves analyzing handwriting for employers who are interviewing applicants, and on the other side of my practice, authenticating handwriting in cases of forgery.
Do you find that you subconsciously analyze the handwriting of everyone? Your agent, your mother, your friends?
I certainly get impressions about handwritings when I see them, favorable or otherwise. Way back when I was a beginner (in the 1960s), I would sit down and properly analyze them. Like Claudia, I don’t do that anymore, unless I’m getting paid for it. These days, although I do still maintain an active handwriting analysis practice, I’d rather be writing about Claudia Rose analyzing handwriting than doing it myself. Like I said, more than 10,000 samples…
Is there one obvious trait or set of traits that would make you just walk away from a person or situation?
An important fact about handwriting analysis is, there is no “this means that” relationship. The handwriting must be seen as a whole, as the context can make a difference to the interpretation of the individual parts. But some ‘red flag’ characteristics that can add up to potential for pathological behavior are extremes in pressure (heavy or light) plus extremes in slant (left or right); too many angular formations, extremely tall upper loops. Heavy, filled in punctuation. Many tiny hooks (seen under magnification). In fact, extremes of any type can usually be interpreted negatively.
What’s up next for you?
I’m madly working on the next Claudia Rose mystery, Unholy Writ, for release next year. Claudia’s friend Kelly Brennan is approached by her estranged younger sister Erin to help her find her missing child, who has been taken by her husband. Claudia and Kelly go “undercover “ in the religious cult of which Erin and her husband are members and where things are not always what they seem. And, of course, there’s that non-fiction book on relationships waiting to be finished.
Many thanks to Sheila for coming to us on this Monday moring.
Dead Write is available in bookstores or by clicking on the book cover to the right.
You can find out more about Sheila Lowe and Claudia Rose at Sheila’s web site.