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Saturday, March 01, 2014

Series or Standalone?

(posted by Michelle Griep on behalf of Sheila Lowe)
Author Sheila Lowe
When I started writing my first mystery novel, I had no plans to make it a series. Having loved reading mysteries since childhood, I had always wanted to write one. I wrote short stories in junior high school, but that was 1963 and I was a Beatlemaniac. My stories were about the Beatles, and I was always married to Ringo. My school friends passed them around and gave me a taste for writing for other readers.

It was not until after my first two non-fiction books were published (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis in 1999 and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous in 2000), and after I had worked for more than thirty-five years as a handwriting analyst, that I got the idea that became my first novel. 

I wrote Poison Pen and was thrilled when it won 3rd place for Mystery in the 2000 Southwest Writers competition. I just knew that meant I was all set to publish and sell a gazillion copies, but the truth was, I couldn’t find an agent or a publisher. They all liked the premise, but said it wasn’t strong enough. I did not know then what that meant, but after hiring an independent editor to work through the book with me, it became clear. That’s when I learned about cutting out as many adverbs (those pesky “ly” words) as possible to make the writing stronger. My editor also pointed out that my main character, Claudia Rose, was constantly feeling guilty, which didn’t make her likable.

Meanwhile, I was sending out queries to agents and publishers and doing countless drafts of the book. I took an intensive week-long course with Elizabeth George, where I began plotting Written in Blood, the second Claudia Rose story. I had grown to know and like Claudia and her cohorts, and was happy to be spending time with her again, but I still didn’t think of it as a series until I started writing the third book, Dead Write (note the handwriting-themed titles!).

It took seven years to get Poison Pen into print, but once it was published by a small press, I was lucky enough to attract the attention of a major publishing house. They ordered the first four books and called them the Forensic Handwriting Mysteries. I thought, “Okay, now I’m really set!” Uh, not so fast...

I’ve heard it takes five or six books to get a series well established and my books developed a nice following. Unfortunately, my editor—the one who really loved my series—left the publishing house after book three. The fourth contract book, appropriately titled Last Writes, was published in 2010, but the new editor did not offer a contract for additional books. Boo hoo me.

Not one to give up easily (remember, I worked for seven years at getting the first one published), I wrote a standalone. What She Saw (2013) is a psychological suspense/thriller about a young woman who wakes up on a train to the terrifying knowledge that she does not know who she is or where she is going. Since I don’t want my readers to forget Claudia, however, she and some of the other characters play a secondary role in the book. Readers often email me to ask when the next Claudia book will be out. Happily, the answer is, Inkslingers Ball will be in print very soon. In fact, I intend to write the last page this week.

I had not intended to write a series, but I did. And now that I’ve had a taste of writing a standalone, I wouldn’t mind doing another. But Claudia Rose is where my heart is.

Like her character Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, Sheila Lowe is a real-life handwriting analyst who testifies as an expert witness in court. She’s a frequent guest in the media and was invited by Lifetime Movie Network to provide information and analyses of criminals on their website as a tie-in for Jeffery Deaver’s The Devil’s Teardrop movie. Sheila holds a Master of Science in psychology and provides continuing education to marriage and family therapist. Besides her books, she is the author of Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software. ;


  1. They say write what you know: I write sailing; you write handwriting analysis. I'm fascinated, so off to Amazon for me, Sheila!

  2. Wow. Very cool. Always wondered what would be determined about me via my handwriting. What a great "story", Sheila.


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