Kari: Can you tell us a little about your Claudia Rose series?
Sheila: Claudia Rose is a modern woman entering her forties; a forensic handwriting expert who meets her LAPD detective lover in the first book. She has a politically incorrect best friend who’s a family law attorney, and a former lover/mentor who’s a semi-retired psychologist. And she usually gets into the stories because of work assignments, where her knowledge of handwriting analysis helps her understand the people who are involved—the good, bad, and even worse. My books are psychological suspense (not cozy), and people who enjoy reading Stephen White, Tess Gerritsen, and Deborah Crombie seem to like them.
The first book in the Forensic Handwriting series is POISON PEN, which involves a death that the police have ruled suicide. When Claudia is brought in to analyze the suicide note, she discovers that the dead woman’s enemies had good reason to hate her. In WRITTEN IN BLOOD, Claudia’s client is a young trophy wife whose children have accused her of forging their father’s will. While getting acquainted with her client, she becomes involved with a troubled fourteen-year-old girl with secrets of her own. DEAD WRITE takes Claudia to the Big Apple to work with the eccentric Russian baroness who owns a high-priced dating service where serious mistakes made by the previous handwriting analyst have led to disaster. The fourth book, LAST WRITES, (which was formerly titled Unholy Writ—but my publisher didn’t like it—I still think it’s the perfect title) coming out July6, involves Claudia and her friend Kelly in a desperate search for a missing three-year-old inside a religious cult.
Kari: Are your books based on real life experiences you've had, and how did you come up with such fun sidekicks?
Sheila: There is a kernel of truth in each of my books, but they’re not “about” that incident or that person’s life. LAST WRITES has some elements of a fundamentalist religious group in which I was raised, and which I now view as a cult. The theme of the books is how dangerous it is to give up one’s power to group-think. As for Claudia’s sidekicks, when I started writing POISON PEN, Claudia’s two close friends, Kelly and Zebediah, were also handwriting analysts who she worked with, but my editor felt that took too much attention off her, so I decided that making them an attorney and a psychologist would help me expand my stories, and that seems to have worked out well. Detective Joel Jovanic is too important to her to qualify as a sidekick J.
Kari: What's it been like testifying in actual forensic cases? Can you tell us how that works?
Sheila: Working in the court system can be like movie-making—a long, boring process that involves mostly sitting around, waiting to be called. Then I could be on the witness stand anywhere from ten minutes to ten hours. Testifying is the area of my practice that both Claudia and I like the least. If you’ve ever watched live Court TV shows you know that the opposing attorney’s job is to make the expert witness look stupid. It’s the witness’s job not to help them, and sometimes that can be a challenge! Most of the time when I testify it’s a case of forgery, where I give an opinion on whether a signature (or other handwriting) is genuine. Or I might be identifying who wrote a threatening note, for example. I’ve also testified about state of mind at the time of writing.
Recently I testified in a probate case, where one sibling was suing another for forging their father’s name on a will (like in WRITTEN IN BLOOD). The attorney I was working with qualified me through voir dire (an expert witness has to be qualified every time he or she testifies), then we went through direct examination where he asked me questions about the case. I gave my testimony, showed exhibits to illustrate my points, then the opposing expert cross-examined me. When he was finished, my client’s attorney did a re-direct to clarify points that the opposing guy raised. Then the opposing guy re-crossed, and it went back and forth like that for a while, til I felt like a ping pong ball. When you’re on the witness stand you never know what’s going to come up, and some attorney can make it pretty stressful. That’s why some experts charge much higher rates for courtroom testimony than for other work.
Kari: Who are some of the celebrities whose handwriting you've analyzed? What are some of the surprising discoveries you've made?
Sheila: The most recent celebrities have been Tiger Woods and Angelina Jolie, but one of my favorites is Barack Obama’s. I was really pleased when I saw his handwriting, which is generally well balanced and has many excellent qualities from a personality standpoint. My non-fiction book, HANDWRITING OF THE FAMOUS & INFAMOUS, has celebrity writings from Galileo to John Lennon to George Bush and dozens of others. I have scads of celebrity writings that people have shared with me, many of which have ended up in my non-fiction books. The COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO HANDWRITING ANALYSIS (2nd ed), has around 300 samples of famous people, including lots of authors like Dean Koontz and Michael Connelly.
Surprising discoveries? I approach every handwriting with objectivity because with famous people they may not always outwardly project the person they really are inside—Their handwriting always tells the truth.
Kari: Do you have any tips or links you'd like to share?
Sheila: Of course! I’d love to share my links:http://www.claudiaroseseries.com/ (for the mystery series)http://www.sheilalowe.com/ (for information about handwriting analysis)http://www.writinganalysis.com/ (if you’d like to analyze your own handwriting for free, I wrote software for it) The tip I always give aspiring fiction writers, the one thing I’ve found made an enormous difference in my writing: cut out as many adverbs as you can—those pesky “ly” words that weaken the writing. I found that when you use adverbs, you’re telling, rather than showing. Use a few well-chosen verbs that help the reader see the action, don’t tell them what they should see. Your writing will be stronger.
Kari: Thank you so much for being here!