Sheila Lowe, MS, CFDE, is the author of the Claudia Rose series, and the Beyond the Veil series. She’s also one of my pals from Sisters in Crime, and I was lucky enough to be on a panel with her, as she talked about handwriting analysis with some school kids. Here, she’s writing about her Claudia Rose series, which just happens to feature a handwriting analyst who gets caught up in cases.
After writing more than fifteen thousand professional handwriting analyses over more than thirty years I was ready to kill someone. Not wanting to spend time in prison, it seemed a good idea to do it on paper. I had two non-fiction books about handwriting on the market, plus the Handwriting Analyzer software. But mystery had been my first love since childhood—long, long ago (we’re talking 1950s).
One day, I was trying to take my mind off the dentist’s drill (I’m a devout dental chicken), when the idea for Poison Pen popped into my head. A woman I knew had died suddenly and mysteriously in her mid-30s. Nobody believed it when the police ruled it suicide. The 300 butter wrappers and the little black book found in her house revealed her to be an international madam who had a high-level clientele with some “interesting” proclivities.
As she was the type who smiled sweetly to your face while jamming a knife in your back and twisting it, I turned her into Lindsey Alexander, a Hollywood publicist with a long list of enemies. Her business partner hires Claudia Rose, forensic handwriting examiner (yep, just like me—but not me) to answer the big question: did Lindsey write the supposed suicide note: “It was fun while it lasted,” found next to her body?
Although I’d had no plans to write a series, when Poison Pen didn’t sell to a publisher for seven years (and after numerous revisions), I started writing Written in Blood. This story also had elements of a real-life murder of a colleague—who knew that handwriting analysis could be so dangerous!
So, Poison Pen finally sold, got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, won a couple of awards, which led to a four book deal with Penguin. Book three was Dead Write, which took Claudia to New York to work for the eccentric owner of an insanely expensive dating service where people were dying. I actually did a lot of handwriting analysis for an expensive dating service, but as far as I know, none of the clients were murdered.
My last contract book, ironically named Last Writes, centers around the search for a missing three-year-old in a fundamentalist religious cult. Before the book was done, my wonderful editor left Penguin and the new one dropped me. I spent a while being hurt and sad and wondering what next. My then-agent said no publisher would pick up a series in the middle. So, I wrote What She Saw, about a young woman with amnesia (I love that theme!) I thought it would be a standalone but it became the prequel for Proof of Life.
Lucky for me, around the time of my split with Penguin, the good people at Suspense Magazine started publishing books. They repackaged my first five and have subsequently published the next four. Their cover designer is amazing, and unlike with Penguin, I actually get a say in how the cover looks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super-grateful to have been published by a major house, but smaller publishers pay way better royalties and treat their authors like family.
Handwriting analysis plays an important role in my books—it’s my platform after all—but Claudia doesn’t solve crimes with it. She’s not a detective and usually is drawn into the stories through her clients, using her knowledge of psychology and handwriting to better understand the people who populate the books. Readers often say they’ve become fascinated with handwriting analysis by reading them.
The few negative reviews I get tend to be like an email that arrived today: “I would have enjoyed Written in Blood a lot more if it didn’t have crude language.” Seriously? There’s not a lot of violence on the page, but I don’t write cozies. There is “language” when it’s appropriate. I mean, a 6’5 goon who’s threatening a young woman is gonna drop an F-bomb or two, right?
My handwriting analysis practice continues to be my day job, but with thousands of handwriting samples in my files, there’s always fodder for future books. I will happily produce as many Claudia Rose stories as my readers allow me to. Dead Letters, book number eight, takes her on an international trip in search of her young niece, and will release in 2020. Then, I’ll start the next book in my new Beyond the Veil supernatural suspense series. But that’s another story.