The Writing Life with Sheila Lowe, Author of 'Written Off'

Title: Written Off
Genre: Psychological Suspense/Mystery
Author: Sheila Lowe
Publisher: Suspense
Find out more on Amazon

Like her fictional character Claudia Rose, Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert. As the mother of a tattoo artist and a former rock star, she figures she’s a pretty cool mom. Sheila lives in Ventura, CA with Lexie the Very Bad Cat, where she writes the award-winning Forensic Handwriting series. But despite sharing living space with a cat, Sheila's books are psychological suspense, definitely not cozy. So if you are offended by profanity, some violence and a sprinkling of sex, they are probably not for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy delving deep into the psyche and motivations of the main characters, give them a try.

Sheila also writes non-fiction books about handwriting: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, and Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software. Stop by the dedicated website and sign up for notices: For information about handwriting analysis:

About the Book:

Written Off:  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—and makes it her mission to hunt down Madeleine’s killer.  But Claudia soon realizes that Madeleine left behind more questions than answers, and no shortage of suspects.  Seems 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.

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

What’s inside the mind of a psychological suspense/mystery author?
Mysterious stuff that would scare readers to bits if they could actually see it. Means, methods, and motives for killing. If the police ever raked through my Internet history they would arrest me on the spot. A particularly grisly crime in the news immediately becomes fodder for story ideas. For me, motive is the most interesting parts. As a forensic handwriting examiner, I deal with a wide range of personalities, finding out what makes them tick. Inside this author’s mind, you would find all that swirling around, as well as questions of how to best market my books and increase readership—that’s the pragmatic side of authorship.

What is so great about being an author?
Opening a box of books with your name on them. Seeing them on bookstore shelves. Receiving 5-star reviews. Winning “Author Idol” at the California Crime Writers Conference, which I did recently (sorry, couldn’t help the blatant self-promotion). That was pretty great.

When do you hate it?
When I don’t have a good idea for a new story or when a character decides not to do what I want them to. Plotting is anathema to me. Oh, and then there’s writing. Sometimes I hate that part. The truth is, I’m happiest once a chapter or scene is down on paper (screen) and I can go back and edit it. I don’t love writing, I love having written.

What is a regular writing day like for you?
I don’t have regular writing days. Because forensic handwriting examination currently pays the bills, writing has to be scheduled around those assignments. If I have to testify in a trial for example, it takes many hours to prepare my testimony and exhibits. Or if I’m going to present a lecture (25-40/year) or a class, putting together a Powerpoint takes a significant amount of time. So, usually, it’s late in the evening by the time I start writing, and that’s only after I’ve spent hours on the internet (procrastinating) going through Facebook (procrastinating), and writing dozens of emails (procrastinating). Usually around ten pm I’m ready to start doing something productive. I’m a bit late tonight. It’s 11:30.

Do you think authors have big egos? Do you?
Just like in any other field, some do. I’m a midlist author, not at the level of success that would inflate my ego to any great degree. When I get there (thinking positive!) I intend to remind myself to always remain humble. Success is fickle; you’re only as good as your last book. Even big-name authors I’ve followed for years sometimes write books that I would like to throw across the room. It’s as if they have become too big for an editor to correct them. No doubt they get tired, maybe temporarily lose interest after ten or fifteen or twenty books. One can always hope that the reviews will deflate the big ego and the next one will be back to their old standard.

How do you handle negative reviews?
Most of the time I say bad words at the monitor, then re-read some of the good ones. If a review is particularly nasty, I go against common wisdom and leave a comment that says, “I’m sorry you didn’t like the book, but thank you for reading it.” At least that way they’ll know there’s a live human being reading what they wrote. Happily, I don’t get a lot of negative reviews. When I do, it’s usually because the reader was expecting a cozy mystery, which my books are not (they’re psychological suspense with some profanity, a little violence, and a smattering of sex), and they objected to the use of some profanity or sexuality.

How do you handle positive reviews?
I grin and Like them. If they’re really nice, I’ll share them to my Facebook page.

What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?
When someone learns that I write books, a typical response is an excited, “That must be so much fun! I’ve always wanted to write a book.”  

What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?
If I have a deadline, I force myself to write something, even if it’s crap that has to be completely rewritten the next day. Other times, I just do something else, like lie on the love seat on my porch and read. Sometimes I do graphotherapy exercises to unblock the creative channels. (In Written in Blood, Claudia Rose teaches graphotherapy to a troubled fourteen-year-old)

Any writing quirks?
Except for making notes for an outline or working on character backgrounds, I can’t write anywhere but my desk. I’ve tried taking my laptop on planes or in hotels, but I can’t seem to get the words to come out unless I’m right here. My friends call my semi-circular desk and three monitors the Command Center. I also have Pandora channels playing when I’m writing—from classical to jazz to reggae, to new age and several genres in between (no vocals).

What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?
I probably wouldn’t be around them for long. Since I have been lucky enough to have been picked up by a major publishing house for my first four books, not to mention the smaller house who has published the ones that followed, have won competitions and a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, I would happily throw that information back at anyone who accused me of being a hobbyist (is that what you meant by a big ego? 😊).

Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate? 
Oh, yes, I can. Writing can be excruciating, yet, if you are a writer, you must write. It’s a compulsion. I have a couple of friends, one unpublished, the other self-published, who have ideas up the yin-yang. I, on the other hand, have ten books in print, but struggle every time with finding the perfect idea that lends itself to the story I want to tell. Writing is freaking hard work. But when it pays off, it is glorious.

Do you think success as an author must be linked to money?
Some authors write for fun. Some are independently wealthy. Others have a spouse willing to support them while they write. None of those is true for me. Money is definitely an important component of my success as an author. But success is tied just as much to the enjoyment I hope to bring to my readers. If people aren’t liking what I write, there’s no point in publishing it. So, there are many parts to success. The money I make from writing, while not currently enough to live on, allows me to continue producing the Forensic Handwriting Mysteries and building my reader base. Happily, that base continues to expand.

What has writing taught you?
Writing has taught me that not everyone is going to like what I have to say, but enough people do so that my publishers have found it worthwhile to bring into print. I have learned from writing both that nonfiction and fiction are, literally, very different stories and require different knowledge.

Leave us with some words of wisdom.
Writing is hard. Finding a publisher is harder. But the hardest of all is the marketing. Any aspiring writer needs to understand this and unless they are writing as a hobby, approach it as what it is—a business. There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy that business, but it’s pretty rare for a new author to make a huge splash. There are very many little fish in a very big pond. When you get discouraged by rejection letters or the difficulty of getting your work seen, remember that most of the big, uber-successful authors probably went through the same thing.

Neil Gaiman gives the best advice: “If you’re going to be a writer, you have to write…and having written it and finished it, you should send it off to somewhere that might publish it, and not get discouraged if it comes back.”

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