Sheila Lowe interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Oct 20, 2017 5:17:03 PM
Sheila Lowe interview with David Alan Binder
Like her fictional character, Claudia Rose, Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting examiner who testifies in court cases. The mother of a tattoo artist and a former rock star, she lives in Ventura, CA with Lexie the Very Bad Cat. Despite sharing living space with a feline, however, her Forensic Handwriting mystery series is definitely not cozy. If you enjoy psychological suspense and in-depth exploration of characters, they may be for you. She also writes nonfiction about handwriting analysis. The seventh book in the series, Written Off, will be released on November 7th, followed by a launch party on the 14th. If you love mysteries and you’re near Ventura, you are invited.
1. How do you pronounce your name?
Sheila (not Shelia)
2. Where are you currently?
Ventura, California, otherwise known as paradise. It’s on the Pacific Ocean 30 miles south of Santa Barbara, 60 miles west of Los Angeles. When I moved here in 2004 it felt like coming home. Every day I wake up grateful to live here. I’m originally from the UK, but have lived in the US for most of my life. Still, I consider myself a Brit (I have a green card).
3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
1. Writing fiction is very different from nonfiction. I had 2 nonfiction books published about handwriting, and thought that it would be easy to switch over to fiction. Not! It’s literally a very different story. I had to start the learning process all over again—characterization, setting, voice, dialogue, etc.
2. Writing is hard. Selling it is harder. Marketing it is the hardest of all.
3. You have to do most of your own marketing, even with a big publishing house (I started with Penguin’s Obsidian imprint. The publicist there told me she had 200 authors and could give each one 10 minutes a month).
4. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
I suppose it has to be that my platform is handwriting analysis, so I have to find ways to bring in information about handwriting and personality without making it sound like a lecture. Apparently, it works. At least, that’s what my readers tell me.
5. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
I’ve only self-published one book, WHAT SHE SAW, which explored a couple of themes that have always fascinated me (One is amnesia. I can’t tell you the other, or it will spoil the mystery). When my four-book deal with Penguin ran out my editor left the company and her replacement didn’t make me an offer (which really sucked!). My then-agent said that other publishers would not take a series in the middle, so I wrote a standalone in which my series characters were present, but in a minor role. Then I found a small publisher who, it turned out, was very interested in taking my series in the middle. They published two books, then I was able to get my rights for the first four books reverted, and they published them, too, with wonderful new covers and format.
a. What is the name of your publisher and in what city are they located?
Suspense. They’re the same people who also publish Suspense Magazine. They’re in Camarillo, CA, which is convenient, as it’s right next to Ventura. Once in a great while, my editor and I get to meet for lunch.
6. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
My books are all available as eBooks and paperback originals, as I personally like reading both. When I’m traveling or reading in bed, my tablet works well. But I still love to hold a book, especially when I’m reading while eating. So I guess I don’t have any great insights, just that I believe there will always be room for both. It’s like what happened to cursive writing—it wasn’t taught in most states for several years, but is now resurging (the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, of which I’m currently president, has had a hand in that). Technology is important, but so are the basics, of which writing in cursive is one. Reading books you can hold and turn the pages is another.
7. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
It’s said that there are three secrets to good writing, but nobody knows what they are. So, first, write a really good book. Then make sure you did by hiring a professional substantive editor to read and critique it (your friends and family will lie to you and tell you how wonderful it is, even if it stinks). Join organizations in your genre. Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers are some of the good mystery groups. Romance Writers of America is for romance. No doubt there are SciFi groups and groups for everything else. Attend their meetings, network, get to know people. Who you know is often more important than anything else, even how good your work is.
8. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
Go to the conferences in your genre and attend agent panels. Have a 20 second elevator pitch ready for the agent. When you get rejected, and you will, figure out why (if there is a reason—it may just be a matter of the agent’s taste, and there’s not much you can do about that). Work on whatever it was that they didn’t like. Or at least seriously consider it. I once heard very good advice at a conference where Amy Rennert, an excellent agent gave this advice:
Make an A, B, and C list, then send your query to your C list. If you get a lot of rejections, listen to them and work on the book some more. Then send the query to your B list and do the same. That way, you don’t burn your A list on something that’s not ready to publish.
9. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
Learn your craft and hone it. Part of that is to excise as many adverbs as you reasonably can; it will strengthen your writing. You know, adverbs? The “ly” words tell emotion rather than showing it. “ing” words (the gerunds) could go, too. Read good books on writing, such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne (I have a shelf full of them), and apply what you read. Find or create a good critique group—that would take a whole article to discuss—but for now, just make sure you have a No Cruelty rule. People need to express their criticisms constructively, not meanly.
10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned with your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
How damned hard writing is. I don’t like writing; I like having written. The editing process is my favorite part. Dashiell Hammett said something like, “I could edit a book down to one line if given the time.” I get that.
11. How many books have you written?
I have ten books in print. Two non-fiction (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous), the Forensic Handwriting mystery series, with book #7 coming out November 14, 2017, and the standalone that I mentioned above.
12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
I did that in #9. Was it enough?
13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
We are told to make sure there is tension on every page. And someone once said that if things are sagging, bring in a man with a gun. I attended a seminar given by bigtime agent Donald Maas, who basically said to make the situation as bad as you can for your protagonist. Then make it worse. Then make it even worse. Then really make him or her suffer. Than make it worse. Personally, I don’t enjoy reading that kind of torture, so I don’t write it. But I do like to add surprises. In Dead Write, the surprise I had planned for the end of the book surprised me by showing up in the middle. I had to find another ending, but that’s why we have to be flexible. Sometimes the writing just takes you where it wants to go.
14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
Good writing and integrity as an author. I’m always astonished when I read a book by a big-name author and it’s just crap because they didn’t stay true to their characters. I believe that one important aspect of making your book stand out is to have integrity in the way you portray your characters. They can and should grow, but don’t turn them into caricatures of themselves like one formerly favorite author of mine has. And another pet peeve: don’t get to the end of a 300-page book and make it a cliffhanger, so the reader has to buy your next book to find out what happened. That’s not the same as a trilogy, which even though it may follow some of the same people, is within itself a complete story. I won’t buy the next book in that case, just as a matter of principle.
15. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
Social media is a good, free way to promote. Just don’t do it so people notice. In other words, be social and occasionally your followers will be okay with you doing some blatant self-promotion. That means announcing it when you have a book coming out or are giving a talk somewhere, etc. I give 25-50 lecture/presentations a year and always find a way to at least mention my books. I sometimes give away books, speak at local book clubs or via Skype or Zoom (preferable). And I take out ads in BookBub or one of the smaller book subscription services. BTW, I flout conventional wisdom, as my Facebook page is filled with my opinions on politics and gun control, so don’t ask to friend me if you are ultra-conservative. Neither of us will be happy.
16. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
I would hire an editor to work with me at the beginning, rather than sobbing through seven years of rejections. It’s an investment and if you are serious about writing as a career; it’s one I recommend you consider making. Of course, if you’re just writing for fun, it doesn’t matter what you do. Just have fun. Ten years into my series I still work with Ellen Larson, who helped me understand why POISON PEN wasn’t being picked up by a publisher, despite having won in a good contest. Before my manuscript goes to the editor at my publisher, I always work with Ellen to make it the best it possibly can be.
17. What saying or mantra do you live by?
With great power comes great responsibility.
18. Anything else you would like to say?
Haven’t I said enough? 😊
Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity. I hope my answers have made sense and are not too mundane.