Monday, November 9, 2009

Handwriting Analysis: An Interview with Sheila Lowe

by Andrea Campbell

I studied handwriting analysis extensively and wrote a novel about a handwriting analyst character over 14 years ago, but could never get it published. Today I’d like you to meet our guest, Sheila Lowe, who has managed to do what I could not. (Sheila Lowe, pictured at left)

Q.: Sheila, for readers who don’t know you, could you talk a little about your background as a forensic handwriting specialist?

A.: I started studying handwriting more than 40 years ago while I was in high school, and subsequently spent 10 years reading every book I could find on the subject. Finally, I discovered Charlie Cole, an expert who taught correspondence courses in graphology, which I greedily devoured. I became certified by the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation in 1981 and four years later became qualified in the court system to testify as an expert in the field of handwriting. Dare I use a cliché and say, “the rest is history”?

Q.: What is the difference between graphology and handwriting analysis?

A.: Graphology is the generic term for handwriting analysis; however, the study of handwriting is generally broken into two different areas: personality assessment and handwriting authentication.

Q.: How are these disciplines used?

A.: Graphology is the study of handwriting to learn about behavior and personality—which includes the effects of life experiences on handwriting, as well as of illness, medications, aging, drugs, etc. Another aspect of handwriting analysis is forensic handwriting authentication, which is used in cases involving forgery. So, if you want to get better insight into your own or someone else’s motivations and needs, graphology can help. If someone has stolen your identity and forged your name, you need a handwriting analyst trained in the authentication side. Some analysts do one or the other, some (like me) do both.

Q.: Graphology gets a bad rap; can you explain?

A.: Because there is no licensing and no controls over the practice, anyone can set up shop and start analyzing handwriting after reading a book or two. There are thousands of web sites hawking graphology, many of them by people who would not be able to get a license, if only there were a requirement to get one! They have done a great deal of harm to the field and their clients. Also, there’s long been a misconception that graphology has something to do with fortune telling or occult arts. It doesn’t.

Q.: Will you talk about some of the characteristics an expert can discern using handwriting analysis?

A.: The general categories I cover in a personality profile include ego needs and ego strength, social attitudes, thinking style, fears and defenses—things like that. A lot depends on the purpose of the analysis. If I’m doing a report for an employer who has sent me handwritings of applicants, I would examine the areas specific to the job description. If the report were for a couple getting married, or for a mid-life career change, or for a child custody issue, the focus would be different.

Q.: Let’s get to your writing. What are your books? May we have a mini-synopsis?

A.: I write both non-fiction and fiction books. My non-fiction works are The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis (Alpha), which teaches the gestalt method of graphology and is like a mini course, and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous (Thunder Bay), which has my thumbnail sketches of the handwritings of 75 well-known people from Galileo to the Son of Sam, from John Lennon to Hillary Clinton, and a whole lot of others. I also write mystery fiction — The Forensic Handwriting Mystery series (Penguin’s Obsidian) featuring forensic handwriting expert Claudia Rose. Dead Write, the third book in the series, was recently released, and I’ve just finished the next book, Unholy Writ, for release next year.

Q.: Who is your protagonist and what type of character is she?

A.: Claudia Rose is a modern single woman entering her forties, who, in the first book, Poison Pen, becomes involved with LAPD detective Joel Jovanic. Her handwriting analysis practice brings her in touch with crimes such as forgery, and using what she knows, she’s better able to understand the people, both good and bad, who are involved. Claudia has a hard time staying detached in cases where kids are in jeopardy, which is the case in Written in Blood and Unholy Writ. She’s warm and compassionate, but she’s learning to be tough when she needs to be. And she’s learning to allow herself to open up in a love relationship — one of her big challenges at the beginning of the series.

Q.: Do you use the misconceptions about handwriting analysis in your books?

A.: Yes. Claudia regularly has to answer the same questions and misconceptions that I do. I hope the series will help clear things up.

Q.: Does your character go into the courts?

A.: In Written in Blood there is a major courtroom scene that is very similar to testimonies I’ve given in my own practice. Claudia has to face the same challenges and stress of testifying that I do.

Q.: On the business side, how did you find a publisher? Did you start with an agent?

A.: I’ve had seven agents, and now I have a good one. I sold my fiction books and the first two mysteries on my own. It’s a lot easier to sell non-fiction without an agent, but I did a lot of studying on how to go about it before setting out. In fact, I read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, and following its guidelines may have made the difference. I tried for a long time and, as I said, a number of agents, to sell my first mystery, Poison Pen, to a major publishing house. Finally, I had an offer from a small startup publisher, Capital Crime. They got the book reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly. I was lucky enough to get a starred review, which attracted the attention of my then-editor at Penguin, who made an offer for the first two books, and later, two more.

Q.: What can you tell us about your publisher and your experience (e.g., contract, editing, promotion, anything such as that) with them?

A.: Considering my good experience with a small press (for fiction), I encourage anyone having difficulty getting picked up by a large publishing house to try them. You’ll have control over cover art and work closely with your editor. At large houses, you’re likely to get your book cover with a note that says, “Here’s your cover. We hope you love it as much as we do.” Luckily, so far, I have! Regardless of the size of your publisher you will be expected to promote the book yourself (and pay for the promotion yourself). If you’re not willing and able to do that, don’t even bother looking for a publisher. They need to know that you’re willing to invest your (probably small) advance in promotion. That means creating a web site and/or blog, printing bookmarks, attending conventions and speaking on panels, visiting bookstores, etc. One note about bookstores: unless you have a very well-known name, book signings tend to be a waste of time and the big box stores discourage them. It’s often more effective just to do a “drop-in” signing. Call in advance to make sure they have your books in stock.

Q.: Do you have any advice for writers who want to break into the field?

A.: Learn your craft. If you’re writing genre fiction, find out what the rules are so that you can break them. Get into a critique group in your genre, hire a private editor to read your material, and listen to what that editor has to say about your work. Oh, and leave out most of the adverbs (those pesky “ly” words that make the writing weak).

Q.: Is there anything you would like to tell WCI Readers?

A.: Buy books! Whether they’re traditional books that you can cuddle up in bed with, or a Kindle that you can take on a plane (where I’m writing this, on my way to Bouchercon, a mystery convention), support your favorite authors. When someone tells me, “I love your books. I pass them around to all my friends,” I remind them that authors don’t get royalties on borrowed books, and it’s those royalties that allow authors to keep on writing the stories they love to read.

Thank you, Sheila. for handwriting analysis;


Anonymous said...

"When someone tells me, “I love your books. I pass them around to all my friends,” I remind them that authors don’t get royalties on borrowed books, and it’s those royalties that allow authors to keep on writing the stories they love to read."

How very gracious of you.

cheryl said...

Has Ms. Lowe ever gone to a public library? Shame on her if she has.

I am a voracious reader and could not possibly pay for every book I read.

I'll make it a point to look for her books at the used book store.Or library.

Leah said...

Great post. I did a project on handwriting analysis for my psychology class during my senior year in HS. Back when there was virtually nothing known about it and only 3 book written on the subject. Can't wait to read your books.

Write Choice said...

Sheila, you have cleared many queries people have about graphology. Thank you.

Sheila Lowe said...

I'm sorry that I seem to have offended a couple of readers. I've spent many happy hours in a library myself.

handwriting said...

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Forgery expert said...

That an interesting post. I never thought about this before. But, looking back at different situations, this might be right. Keep it up friend!

emma jacob said...

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