Episode 17: Sheila Lowe

 

Outside the Lines

Claudia Rose, the protagonist of Sheila Lowe’s Forensic Handwriting Mystery series, is a handwriting analyst — as is Sheila herself. The stories are the best of both the mystery and thriller worlds: high stakes and plenty of adrenaline, but solid mysteries, plenty of clues, and a lot of heart.

Let’s lead with the important stuff: if you are reading or listening to this before August 16, 2016, Sheila is having a book launch party and you are invited! Click on the link to learn more. Plus, here is the pre-order link for the new book, Outside the Lines.

In addition to having written The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis and Handwriting of the Famous and Infamous, Sheila is the president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, which has resources for those interested in learning more about handwriting analysis.

AHAF is also has resources for an important, and at the moment, often overlooked skill: cursive writing. They recently released a paper on the importance of cursive writing in the digital age. Want to help your kids learn cursive? You can learn more about New American Cursive here, and there’s yet more information at CursiveIsCool.com.

She gives a shout out to the Enid Blyton children’s books, particularly The Rocking Down Mystery, which appears to be out of print, although used copies can still be found (thank you, Internet!). I recommend Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, a brilliant book on how to read people and situations. And here is the link for Women Against Gun Violence.

Books

Finally, Sheila has also written the stand-alone psychological thriller, What She Saw.

Here are the Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting Mysteries in order. Enjoy!

1 – Poison Pen

2 – Written in Blood

3 – Dead Write

4 – Last Writes

5 – Inkslingers Ball

6 – Outside the Lines

Transcript of Interview with Sheila Lowe

Laura Brennan: I am so excited today to be talking to my guest, Sheila Lowe. Sheila’s wonderful novels of suspense feature Claudia Rose, a forensic handwriting expert — territory Sheila knows well, because she herself is one. She hasn’t merely written the book on handwriting analysis — although she has done that — she’s also developed Handwriting Analyzer software that has been used around the world for over twenty years and she is the current president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation. Her Forensic Handwriting Mystery series blends the art and science of handwriting analysis with complex characters and intricate plotting.

Sheila, thank you for joining me.

Sheila Lowe: Thank you so much for having me.

LB: I have to ask, how did you get into the field? I wasn’t even sure there was a field of handwriting analysis. When did that start, and how did you get into it?

SL: Well, for that we have to go back in time a long way, back to 1967. I was a senior in high school and my boyfriend’s mother read a book about handwriting analysis, and she analyzed my handwriting. And I was, from then on, I was totally hooked. For about ten years, I read books, everything I could find at the library or the bookstore. And then to my great delight, I found that there were courses I could take. So I did, and I ended up getting certified in 1981. By 1985, I became a court-qualified handwriting expert.

LB: That’s fascinating. Now, does this have a long history, or is this a fairly recent area?

SL: No, it’s been around for hundreds of years. It was researched quite thoroughly in Europe, but Hitler outlawed it. Well, it’s kind of a long story, but he had a friend who practiced it and he outlawed all of the other methods except for this friend. He outlawed it under the fortune-telling laws. Which, it has nothing to do with fortune-telling. But it kind of went underground for about 50 years and has had a big resurgence in the last number of years.

LB: You’ve actually testified in court, this is something that is used to help convict or just to help clear up situations?

SL: Well, there are two major areas of handwriting analysis. I do both, and I have been qualified to testify in both areas. Mostly, when it goes to court, it’s about handwriting authentication. So, somebody forges your name on a will or some other kind of document, and you need a handwriting expert to go and testify that this is not your signature — or that it is. So that’s the main use of handwriting analysis in courts. But the other side, which is personality assessment, has been used in at least ten states, so there are precedents for it. But it depends on the individual judge.

LB: That is fascinating. Now, you’re an expert in both, and so is Claudia Rose, your series protagonist.

SL: That’s right. Her work mirrors mine pretty closely.

LB: So, I’m hoping you don’t get shot at quite as often as Claudia.

SL: She gets kidnapped and shot at and poisoned, and all kinds of things.

LB: So Claudia’s expertise mirrors yours very closely. But the plotting — how do you come up with the ideas for her stories.

SL: Most of the stories have a kernel of truth in them. Like in the first book, Poison Pen, it’s about a Hollywood publicist who everyone loves to hate. And she dies, and it seems that she’s committed suicide because there’s a note by her that seems to indicate that she’s a suicide, but one of her friends believes that that wasn’t the case. Well, that idea came to me when a woman that I knew, who was very much like Lindsey Alexander, suddenly died. And there wasn’t a note, but the police took away her refrigerator, and they found 300 butter wrappers in her house, and a bunch of other weird things. It turned out that she was not only a handwriting analyst, but an international Madam.

LB: Oh, my gosh!

SL: Yeah. So, I just took bits and pieces of her story, what I knew of her, and built it into a plot. The others have kernels of truth in them, too. The fourth book, Last Writes, is actually my revenge book. It’s about a religious cult. I like to say it answers the question, What does an old, stuffed bunny and a missing three-year-old have to do with a religious cult? I grew up in a religion very much like the cult in the book, so this was my sort of revenge book.

LB: Oh, my goodness. Wow.

SL: More than you bargained for!

LB: More than I bargained for. But that gives a whole new light to that story now. Actually, it leads to one of my questions, which is, the relationships that you like to explore. There seems to me to be a theme of mothers and children going through a lot of your books. And I guess I wanted to look at what themes you were interested in exploring.

SL: It’s very interesting that you say that. I guess I hadn’t realized it, but it does make perfect sense. Because my mother doesn’t speak to me because of the religion, because of my having left it. And my daughter was murdered by her boyfriend in 2000. My second book is dedicated to her, Written in Blood, because it’s about a 14-year-old. Now, my daughter was 27 when she was killed, but the 14-year-old in the book, Annabelle Giordano, has a lot of behavior problems like my daughter did, and she appears throughout the books. So, yeah. Each book does seem to have some kind of theme; I hadn’t thought about the mother-daughter aspect, but it makes perfect sense.

LB: Let me just say that I, I certainly didn’t to ask a question that had such a personal answer.

SL: That’s okay. I talk about it all the time, because — and when I give lectures, I always bring it up. Because the man who killed her, who was her boyfriend for less than a year, had asked me to analyze his handwriting when they first got together, and there were some serious red flags in it that I discussed with both of them. So, I talk to a lot of kids, middle school and high school kids, and I tell them the story, and I talk to them about abuse and what constitutes abuse, and it doesn’t have to be somebody beating you up. And what to do about it.

LB: What a gift you give the children you talk to, to help them see it.

SL: I hope so. Well, you know what? The teacher in this particular class always has them write me a thank-you letter afterwards. And she has them tell what they liked the best in my talk. And a huge number of them bring that up, and say how much it affected them, in a positive way.

LB: Absolutely. This, actually, ties into another thing I had, that I really enjoy about your novels, is that Claudia doesn’t just analyze handwriting. She does that to great effect, but she’s also analyzing people’s behavior, and she picks up on nuances that might otherwise go unnoticed. Is it an occupational hazard?

SL: Or a benefit! It could be either. Well, a lot of the work that Claudia does, that I do, is working for companies who are hiring, so yeah. You’re used to looking at handwriting and knowing the person, even if their outside behavior doesn’t look like what their handwriting says, I have learned that handwriting always tells the truth. So, yeah, behavior, it’s manifest. Handwriting is like a picture of your inner self.

LB: I love that quote. I also love, when she knows that someone is lying to her, you also give it to us in such a way that I can see why. I can see why she can see he’s lying to her, or she’s lying to her. I guess I just want to ask, are you familiar with Gavin de Becker?

SL: Yes.

LB: And The Gift of Fear?

SL: Yes.

LB: So, that profoundly affected me, I felt much more inclined to trust my instincts based on that, and I feel the same way about your books. They’re fiction, but they provide the context.

SL: Well, I appreciate you saying that. That makes me feel good.

LB: You also are very generous with your characters, even the characters we don’t like. Well, I think Lindsey’s a great example of that in Poison Pen, where you provide context. We see how people have been shaped to become the people they are.

SL: Mmm-hmm.

LB: Do you get to do much of that in your own life, in your own work?

SL: I should probably do more of it, because everybody has a story. And, you know, there are people that we don’t like instinctively, people that we don’t like for a good reason, but they all have a story and there’s a reason why they act in the stupid ways they do. (Laughter.)

But years ago, many years ago, when I was still in school, I remember a teacher saying — he was talking about sex education, as it happened — and he said, if you don’t learn anything else in this class, I want you to learn how to be objective and to look at all sides. And that has been both a boon and a bad thing in my life because I do, I tend to look at all of the different sides and try to understand what happened.

LB: One of the other things that you do with Claudia Rose is, you don’t make anything particularly easy for her. She struggles with — well, the big thing she struggles with is work/life balance. And then there’s also sort of the idea of independence versus the need for connection.

SL: Yeah. I think I’m trying to work out something in my own life when I’m writing. I do think it’s common to a lot of modern women, many, many modern women, who have so many things to juggle. And the more electronics and all these things that are supposed to make our lives easier just complicate it. We do have a lot of things to balance. And then putting a relationship in there, too — yeah. What can I say?

LB: It is. It’s a very tough balance. Inner, as well as just the juggling.

SL: Yes, in fact, I was having that conversation with the man in my life just last week. Because I’ve been working on the tweak and polish of my new book and it takes a lot of time and energy away from other things like relationships and whatever else you’re doing in life.

LB: Tell me a little bit about the new book. It drops in August?

SL: That’s what they tell me.

LB: Can you tease a little about it?

SL: Sure. It’s called Outside the Lines — everything else is between the lines, but this goes outside the lines. And Claudia suffers a brutal attack that leaves her with PTSD and a need to get away. And half of it takes place in England, which is where I’m actually from. So she gets involved in some craziness over there that has to do with eco-terrorism, and it ties in with a case that Joel is working on. Joel Jovanic, her boyfriend, who is an LAPD homicide detective. And so she just gets herself into so much hot water. That’s why he gets so frustrated with her.

LB: Yes. She’s so committed.

SL: Yeah.

LB: She’s so committed, she won’t give up.

SL: Well, and she’s very soft-hearted, too. Especially when it involves children. There are things that she should walk away from, cases that she shouldn’t get involved in, but she just can’t walk away from the children in need.

LB: Why did you decide to start writing fiction?

SL: It was something that I always wanted to do. When I was 8 years old, I clearly remember waking up and seeing this big pile of presents by my bed, and the one that really got me was the book by Enid Blyton called The Rocking Down Mystery. And it’s about four kids who get themselves into trouble and solved crimes. And it’s a whole series, and I just, I don’t know, I just love mystery and I love writing.

LB: Oh, I love the Enid Blyton books. I grew up on them. I love them.

SL: Then you know.

LB: Absolutely. Tell me a little bit about the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation.

SL: Or AHAF for short. Because that’s a long name. It’s been around since 1967 — same year I started studying handwriting. A group of really great people got together and formed this nonprofit organization to provide education in handwriting and handwriting analysis. It’s not a large organization, like all other groups, it expands and contracts, and right now it’s in a growth mode. And we have members in, I think, 17 countries and we have several chapters around the US.

LB: So, for someone who’s interested in learning more about handwriting analysis, you have a couple of books. Is there — are there places they should start?

SL: Well, I would like them to start with my book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis. Which is like a basic course, it’s an introduction. And then I have an online course that’s a self-study program which people who are interested in expanding their knowledge can do. And besides the book, The Idiot’s Guide, I also wrote The Handwriting of the Famous and Infamous. But I have a whole bunch of other papers about handwriting analysis, monographs that are on my website. There’s a whole series on personality disorders that marriage and family therapists for instance find helpful.

LB: So how much of it is — is having a psychology degree a prerequisite for this? The two seem to go hand in hand.

SL: Yeah, I have a master’s in psychology, but it’s not a requirement, unfortunately, to have a degree. There is no licensing for handwriting analysts, which is really unfortunate because there are a bunch of people out there who just read one book, maybe my book, and say, “I’m a graphologist and a handwriting analyst,” and really don’t know what they’re doing. AHAF, the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, has an excellent certification program, but it’s only good if you feel the need to take the program and become certified. Lots of people just practice on their own.

LB: Yeah, I can see that being a little dangerous.

SL: Yeah. So if somebody wants to get their handwriting analyzed, it’s a good idea to at least come to a group like AHAF and see if the person in a member or if they’re qualified. Or ask us, and we will tell you our opinion.

LB: I also wanted to, well, I wanted to take a step back and ask if there was anything you to link to, an organization around domestic violence.

SL: Well, thank you. Many years ago, right after my daughter’s death, I joined Women Against Gun Violence. I’m not active with them anymore, because every month I’d go to the meetings and there would be a fresh wave of grief with new people, and it’s just unending. So after a year, I just decided not to do it anymore. I used to go out and give talks for them.

What I would like, though, and what’s important right now, is the issue of cursive — teaching children to write. The fact is that more than 40 states have removed the requirement to teach handwriting. And learning disorders are getting, they’re proliferating. So a link would be CursiveIsCool.com, which gives a lot of information for parents and teachers about how to get their kids learning cursive writing, and AHAFHandwriting.org has lots of information. There’s a woman in our organization, Iris Hatfield, who has come up with her own copybook, it’s called New American Cursive. Recent research shows that there’s a big connection, that children who learn to write in cursive, their brains light up in different areas than when they keyboard or just print, and they think in more adult ways, they spell better, they retain information better. There’s lots of benefits to learning cursive.

LB: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

SL: Well, I hope now you’ll consider coming to my book launch party!

LB: Sheila didn’t just mean me — you’re invited to her launch party, too! You can find more information on DestinationMystery.com.