Today is John Hancock's birthday-- National Handwriting Day-- so it is more than fitting that this week's Scene of the Crime interview is with Sheila Lowe, author of the Claudia Rose mystery series. Not only is Sheila a handwriting expert herself, but so is her character, Claudia Rose. Lowe's series is a natural draw for me. I've been fascinated with handwriting since the eighth grade when I helped my English teacher grade handwritten papers. Since there were less than forty students in my class, I knew each one of them, and it wasn't long until I began matching up various aspects of their personalities with the way they wrote. Years later when I began hearing things about handwriting analysis, I read articles about it and discovered that many of the assumptions I'd made were correct.
I really enjoy Sheila Lowe's Claudia Rose series, and if I had the chance to ask this author another question, it would be: With the emphasis on communication through keyboards, and schools planning to stop teaching handwriting skills, what sort of impact do you foresee in the field of handwriting analysis? (I have to admit that this makes me feel a but like Columbo-- "Oh, one more thing....")
Now it's time to get to the fun part-- the interview! Let's get started!
What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?
It was either The Sea of Adventure or The Rockingdown Mystery, both from series by Enid Blyton, for my 8th birthday. Each series had four young characters who solved mysteries. I had to leave them behind when my parents moved us here from England, but have since found some of them online and they’re now occupying the top shelf of my breakfront along with some other well-loved books from the distant past, which makes me happy.
Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?
Free time? Surely, you jest! I’m embarrassed to confess, I spend most of my time right here at my keyboard. My “day job” is as a handwriting examiner, working with attorneys on forgery cases, and with employers who hire me to analyze their job applicants, so that takes up the rest of my time. Clearly, I need to get a life. Maybe I should start taking applications for a new Love of my Life…
If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)
My hometown is London, England, but I’ve only been back three times since moving to the US in 1963, so maybe I’d better use Ventura, the town where I live now. I feel grateful every day that I get to live here. This isn’t particularly exciting, but I enjoy driving all the way out Victoria Avenue (the heart of Ventura) to a tiny village (I’ve never been sure whether it’s Hollywood Beach or Silver Strand). Every home there is unique. At the entrance to the enclave is a house built rather like a castle. One of our proud landmarks is Two Trees, which many people hike to see, though the trees are on private property (tsk, tsk). I’m not sure why two trees standing together on top of a hill behind the Poinsettia Pavilion is so fascinating, but you can see them from almost anywhere in Ventura and Oxnard, the next town. Two or three years ago they were threatened by a brushfire and we all panicked. But maybe the trees have a guardian angel, as they were saved. Whew! There’s a Two Trees Café that’s nowhere near site, but they have great breakfast. Let me know if you come to Ventura, Cathy. I’ll take you there.
You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?
I started to choose the actor I would have play my main character, Claudia Rose (which is Minnie Driver). But I’m not Claudia. So, to play me, another of my favorites, Emma Thompson. She’s so English (I’ve lost a lot of my Englishness), yet vulnerable, and a bit spiky when necessary.
Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?
Does it have to be just one? Can’t it be Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers (John Sandford), Gemma James (Deborah Crombie), and Dr. Maura Isles (Tess Gerritsen)? Then of course, there’s Elvis Cole and Joe Pike (Robert Crais) and Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly).
Name one book that you've read that you wish you had written. What is it about that book that made it come to mind?
That would be Ashes to Ashes by Tami Hoag. I love her character development and people descriptions. Everything about that book made me wish I had written it. At the end, it had me so scared I was actually shaking. Perfect!
How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published? What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore?
Hey, I’m old. I don’t remember what I did yesterday, let alone 13 years ago J My first book was The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis in 1999. I truly don’t remember anything beyond being ecstatic—they were going to pay me a pretty decent advance for something I would happily have paid them for! When I got the check I made a color copy and framed it with a copy of the book cover. My first mystery, Poison Pen, came out in 2007 and that was hugely exciting, but I think having the second one come out six months later was even better. I went out to dinner with my ex-husband—woo hoo! I really know how to party. Seeing the book in the store—well, I pointed everyone within hearing distance at them, of course.
I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event?
Parnell Hall’s videos are wonderful. Sadly, I can relate to every word! Unusual experience at a book signing… people asking for directions, being surprised that I’m the author of the books I’m signing…some ask me to analyze their handwriting. I tell them that like Claudia, I don’t do quickies (especially when they just came to hear my talk and don’t buy a book! LOL).
What's the best thing about eBooks? What's the worst?
I recently got a Kindle and I like being able to increase the text size, but it’s just not the same experience as holding a book and being able to thumb through it (yes, I know you can search on words—not the same). Can’t very well sign an eBook, either. It upsets me when I go to the large bookstore in my town and the Mystery section has been compressed into a tiny space and I can’t find the backlist books I’m looking for, even by bestselling authors. I feels as though I’m being forced to by eBooks, and that, for me, is the worst.
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Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, Sheila. We appreciate the chance to get to know you a little better.
May your book sales do nothing but increase!