Tuesday, November 07, 2017

A Conversation with Mystery Author Sheila Lowe

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Sheila Lowe

We are delighted to welcome author Sheila Lowe to Omnimystery News today.

Sheila's seventh mystery in her Claudia Rose, Forensic Handwriting series, Written Off (Suspense Publishing; November 2017 trade paperback and ebook formats), is published today and we had the chance to catch up with her to talk a little more about it.

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Omnimystery News: How would you tweet a synopsis of Written Off?

Sheila Lowe
Photo provided courtesy of
Sheila Lowe

Sheila Lowe: Forensic handwriting expert goes to Maine in dead of winter, finds mentally unstable students, female serial killer, murdered professor.

OMN: Suppose your series character, Claudia Rose, were to interview you. What would her opening question be ... and your response?

SL: Claudia: “Why do you keep putting me in so many dire situations where I could get killed?”
Sheila: Because if I didn’t, there wouldn’t be a story, silly.

OMN: When starting a new book, what comes first: the storyline, the cast of characters, or something else?

SL: The title is always first and I build the story around the titles to some degree. Since I write a series, the main characters are always there: Claudia Rose, the protagonist, who is a forensic handwriting examiner. LAPD Homicide Detective Joel Jovanic, Claudia’s guy. Kelly Brennan, a family law attorney and Claudia’s BFF. Dr. Zebediah Gold, a semi-retired psychologist and Claudia’s former lover. Anabelle Giordano, the trouble teen who first appears in Written in Blood. They may not all show up in all the stories, but they will have an impact on the storylines.

OMN: You and your character are both handwriting experts. How much of your  professional life appears in your books?

SL: My character, Claudia Rose, is a forensic handwriting examiner whose work mirrors mine, so there are some situations that lend themselves to some scenes. For instance, much of a courtroom scene in Written in Blood was taken from a transcript in a case where I testified. Claudia faces an opposing document examiner who behaves unethically, which is something I have encountered. However, that’s not to say the bad expert in the book is actually based on a real person. On the other hand, the plots in each of the first four books started with a kernel of truth. I think of Dead Write (book four) as my revenge book. It’s about a religious cult that is very much like the religion in which I grew up—and thankfully got away from. I created a cult named the Temple of Brighter Light because whenever the original group was wrong in their predictions, their excuse was, “the light is always getting brighter.” I even gave an unattributed quote from their literature: “Brothers, we would not want to engage in independent thinking.” How scary is that?! And that was from real life.

OMN: Where do you most often find yourself writing?

SL:  As I write this I’m sitting at my desk, which my friends have dubbed the Command Center. That’s because my desk looks like it came out of Star Trek. It’s a large semi-circle with three big computer monitors. I don’t have a separate office, but work at one end of my fairly large kitchen. Behind me is a long counter with shelves above it and above that are cabinets that hide a lot of untidy office supplies. The window is to my left, and under that is my printer, a small filing cabinet, and a cabinet I lucked out on at Bed, Bath & Beyond. It’s got two shelves and a glass front. I’d seen it on line and thought it was a pretty good price, but when I went to pick it up, it was being discontinued and slashed to around $50. Can’t beat that.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests or hobbies? And do any of these find their way into your books?

SL: Hobbies? Everything in my life has to do with handwriting. I’m an all-work-little-play type of person. I know, I know, I should be more balanced. I did used to play a lot of Scrabble with the man in my life, but he died suddenly last December, and since then I only play occasionally with a girlfriend. I did recently go to a symposium out of state, where I wasn’t in charge. For me, that was relaxation.

OMN: You mentioned the titles of your books always come first. Tell us a little more about that.

SL: The titles are all puns on writing: Poison Pen, Written in Blood, Dead Write, Last Writes, Inkslingers Ball, Outside the Lines. The new one is Written Off. It actually started out as Unholy Writ (there’s a long story behind that), but as I was writing about Roxanne Becker, a female serial killer who had been in prison for about twenty years, the new title came to me and felt like it fit. Roxanne had literally been written off by society. It’s my hope that when the reader gets to know her they see her as a human being—which does not mean ignoring the terrible acts she committed, but recognizing what led her down that path.

OMN: How much input did you have in the cover design?

SL: My publisher, Suspense Publishing, has a wonderful and talented cover designer, Shannon Raab. I told her my concept and she ran with it. The book begins with a short prologue that describes a ramshackle cabin in the Maine woods in the winter, the place where the body of a missing professor is found. I thought that would be a good scene to depict. Because my books are psychological suspense, I’m always conscious about them not looking cozy (there’s nothing wrong with cozies, but cozy readers probably would not like the profanity, some violence, and a smattering of sex in my books).

I thought the first pass of the cover looked a little Christmassy with the title in red against the background of green trees and the cabin in the background. So Shannon darkened the edges and voila! A more menacing look; definitely not cozy.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from readers?

SL: My favorite comments are readers telling me I kept them up all night because they couldn’t stop reading. It’s also gratifying when they say they’ve learned something about handwriting without it being preachy or intrusive. Least favorite are those emails saying, “that would never happen!” when they’re referring to something that actually did take place and I’ve incorporated it into the story. One reader took me to task for not capitalizing “god” (it wasn’t appropriate in that sentence). She wrote, among other things: “You are WRONG!”

Some readers will give a one- or two-star review on Amazon when they find typos, which is unfair to the author. It’s the publisher who is responsible for final copyediting. Besides, sometimes things go wonky in the translation to the many formats and platforms, and the author has no control over that.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

SL: I clearly remember on my 8th birthday the pile of gifts I received. Yet, the only one I could tell you about today was a book titled The Rockingdown Mystery by Enid Blyton (I was born in England, where she is a very well-known children’s author). I loved this story of four children, especially the one named Snubby, who got themselves into some very interesting scrapes. I quickly branched out to another of Blyton’s series with The Sea of Adventure, which featured four different children. I devoured all the books in both series, but when my family came to the US in 1963, I had to leave them behind. I loved those books so much that I recently searched online and ordered a couple of them, old friends to keep nearby.

OMN: Have any specific authors or books influenced how and what you write today?

SL: John Sandford—love his characters and dialogue, they’re all so real. Tess Gerritsen—her style reminds me of my own, so I guess there’s a bit of narcissism in that. Tami Hoag writes wonderful “beats.” Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Deborah Crombie, Jonathan Kellerman, Steve Martini. They all write compelling stories that make me want to turn the page. I aspire to do the same for my readers.

OMN: When selecting a book to read for pleasure today, what do you look for?

SL: I read within a fairly narrow circle of mystery/suspense writers; mainly the ones I listed above, though sometimes take recommendations. I especially enjoy courtroom dramas because I work in the legal field and it’s all familiar. And since I prepare behavioral profiles from handwriting, I also enjoy books with psychologists as protagonists. My nonfiction reading leans toward spiritual (not religious) books about life after death.

OMN: What do you watch on television or at the theater for entertainment?

SL: I watch two series: Designated Survivor and Grey’s Anatomy (which I’ve been in love with since the beginning). When I go to the movies I avoid blow ‘em up, shoot ‘em ups and prefer feel-good movies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or Love Actually. I’m looking forward to seeing Judi Dench’s new film, Victoria and Abdul, which looks wonderful.

OMN: Suppose your series were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the lead roles?

SL: This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to, as several producers have been interested in my series and one seems quite serious at the moment. Minnie Driver was always my first choice to play Claudia. Amy Adams would be terrific—she has the looks—that auburn hair—and the demeanor of Claudia. It just occurred to me that Kate Winslett would be great, too. And for Claudia’s partner, LAPD homicide cop, Detective Joel Jovanic, there’s just one guy I have in mind: Gerard Butler. Anyone have a connection?

A few months ago I learned the basic conventions of screenwriting and adapted Poison Pen for film. It took about a week to work through the book and figure out which scenes to cut—that was the hard part.

OMN: What's next for you?

SL: Next, I intend to write a supernatural story. Yes, I’ve already got the title. I’m considering using one or two of the characters from my previous standalone, What She Saw. Several readers have asked me about these characters and whether I intend to bring them back. Maybe I will! The great thing about writing fiction is, you have the freedom to do what you want, and in the case of mystery, kill who you want. My older son and his girlfriend gave me a travel mug. On the side it says, “Do not annoy the author. She may kill you in a book.” But I digress…

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Sheila Lowe is a British-born award-winning novelist and handwriting examiner who, after writing numerous non-fiction books, monographs, handwriting analyzer software and a self-study course, began a second career as a mystery writer. Sheila has lived in the United States since she was a young teen. She resides in Southern California with Lexie, the Very Bad (sometimes Evil) Cat.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at ClaudiaRoseSeries.com and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Written Off by Sheila Lowe

Written Off by Sheila Lowe

A Forensic Handwriting Mystery

Publisher: Suspense Publishing

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)

In the dead of winter, handwriting expert Claudia Rose journeys to Maine to retrieve a manuscript about convicted female serial killer, Roxanne Becker. The manuscript, written by Professor Madeleine Maynard, who was, herself, brutally murdered, exposes a shocking secret: explosive research about a group of mentally unstable grad students selected for a special project and dubbed “Maynard’s Maniacs.” Was Madeleine conducting research that was at best, unprofessional—and at worst, downright harmful, and potentially dangerous? Could that unorthodox research have turned deadly?

Claudia finds herself swept up in the mystery of Madeleine’s life—and death. But she soon realizes that Madeleine left behind more questions than answers, and no shortage of suspects. The professor’s personal life yields a number of persons who might have wanted her dead—and her academic success and personal fortune clearly made her the envy of fellow faculty members. The University anticipates being the beneficiary of Madeline’s estate—but that seems in question when a charming stranger, claiming to be Madeleine’s nephew, turns up brandishing a new will.

The local police chief prevails upon Claudia to travel into town to examine the newly produced, handwritten will. Rushing back to Madeleine’s isolated house to escape an impending storm, Claudia becomes trapped in a blizzard. With a killer.

Written Off by Sheila Lowe

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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