Sheila Lowe is one of the three editors of Fatally Haunted, SinC/LA’s 2019 anthology. Avril Adams interviewed Sheila about what is dear to her heart: the art and science of handwriting analysis, and psychography as it relates to automatic writing.
AA: Can you begin by relating your professional background, life experiences related to your professional experiences, the books, articles, scripts you’ve written?
SL: I started studying handwriting in 1967 while a senior in high school. My boyfriend’s mother had read a book on the subject and analyzed my handwriting. I was instantly hooked by what she had to say about me—wow, someone understood me! For the next ten years I studied on my own, then took courses, became certified in 1981, branched into handwriting authentication (forgery cases), and was subsequently qualified as a handwriting expert by a L.A. Superior Court Judge in 1985. Since then I’ve testified more than sixty times.
I started writing stories as a young teen, mainly featuring the Beatles—Ringo was my favorite. It wasn’t until way later in life that I wrote my first full-length mystery, Poison Pen. By then, I already had two nonfiction books published: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis (2000 and 2nd ed. 2006) and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous (2001). I’ve also written dozens of monographs and articles about handwriting and worked with a software company to produce Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software.
My tortuous path to publication in fiction took about ten years. In 2000 I came in third in the Southwest Writer’s Conference contest (our own Aileen Baron took first place) out of 97 mystery entries. I thought that meant I would be published in a hot minute. Uh uh. Long, ugly story short, it took another 7 years. POISON PEN was published by a small startup publisher and got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, which brought me to the attention of Kristen Weber, senior editor at Penguin’s Obsidian imprint. She bought the first four books in the series (who knew it was going to be a series?!). When she got married, left Penguin, and relocated to L.A., the editor who replaced her was not interested in my series and dumped me (she later got dumped, too. I try so hard not to feel schadenfreude). In between publishers I self-published WHAT SHE SAW, the story of a young woman with amnesia. Then Stuff Happened and I had the great good fortune to end up with Suspense Publishing, eventually got my rights back from Penguin, and Suspense repackaged the first four books, my standalone, and published the next three books in the Claudia Rose series.
AA: The first set of questions relate to the mystery novel, Inkslingers Ball.
AA: Your technical characters are extremely credible in the book partly because you exhibit a tremendous knowledge of police investigation, such as DMV procedures, camera surveillance, fingerprint technology. What is the source of this knowledge? It seems too thorough to be something you only read about. Where does your very comprehensive knowledge of forensic coroner investigative procedures come from?
SL: For one thing, I took Derek Pacifico’s 3-day course in police procedure. When I’ve needed law enforcement-type info, I’ve consulted with him and the wonderful George Fong has generously helped with FBI procedure. Police procedure isn’t the same in every jurisdiction. DEAD WRITE (book 3) takes place in New York, so I contacted a detective in the borough where the action takes place and he was tremendously helpful. When I have medical questions I call on Doug Lyle, who has always been quick to answer. I have a friend who is a fingerprint expert. He answers those types of questions. There are some great coroner websites for authors for autopsy info, and Aunty YouTube has videos on every subject I need to know about. In other words, I call on the experts.
AA: How did you come about your knowledge of criminal law, specifically California criminal law?
SL: Uncle Google has many of the answers. Also, in my work in the legal system, some of my cases are in the criminal courts, which has taught me a lot. When I can’t find what I need, I ask one of the criminal defense lawyers who are my clients.
AA: You also know an awful lot about American and Samoan tattoo and the biker gang culture that sometimes goes with it. How did you come about this knowledge?
SL: Most of what I know about those topics comes from my older son, Erik, who is himself a tattoo artist.
AA: Tattoo culture is something many people know nothing about even though tattooing has become mainstream. Why do you find it interesting?
SL: Erik, who has always been artistic, took an interest in tattooing when he was a teenager. When he was seventeen I discovered that he had made his own tattoo gun and tattooed his younger brother’s arm. I later bought him a real one and we came to an understanding that he was only to work on people who were over eighteen or had parental permission. He has often offered to tattoo me, but I don’t even have pierced ears, so have always declined.
AA: How do tattoos relate to handwriting analysis? Does tattoo verification more closely resemble handwriting or visual art verification and authentication?
SL: Tattoos and handwriting are both graphic expression. The gestalt principles of spatial arrangement, graphic forms, and graphic movement can be applied to both. If you look at the hieroglyphics in Egyptian tombs, you can see where they change scribes.
AA: Let’s move on to handwriting analysis.
AA: How does tattooing in tribal cultures resemble handwriting?
SL: I don’t claim expertise in that area, except to repeat that it’s all about space, form, and movement.
AA: In your book you discuss synchronous writing and margin drift in analyzing evidence in fraud or forgery cases related to insurance claims. Are you regularly called by insurance companies to examine contracts? How about wills and other legal documents? You also discuss simulating signatures. Is this forgery? How do you analyze tremors, illness or age? How about age, gender?
SL: Yes, I do all the kinds of work you mentioned.
Simulating signatures is indeed forgery if it is done for the purpose of defrauding the person whose signature is being simulated. Let me say, though, that successful simulations are extremely rare.
Age and gender cannot conclusively be determined just from handwriting.
In order to analyze the tremor of illness or age, the analyst must be familiar what the handwriting of different illnesses look like. Tremor can also be a feature of forgery, but is quite different from the tremor of illness.
AA: Do lawyers ever seek discovery on confessions where the text and signature differ?
SL: One’s signature is the public image, and often differs from the text. If there is any question of authenticity, it would be important to have a significant number of samples of each for comparison. We must compare apples to apples, i.e., signature to signature and text to text. It would not be useful to compare signatures to text or vice-versa.
AA: Why does handwriting slant left when the writer is lying? Is the leftward slant similar the leftward eye movement when a speaker is lying?
SL: Handwriting may slant to the left in a lie because people do not really want to lie, and they pause for a microsecond, literally pulling back before writing the falsehood. There are other signs of lying, too, such as leaving a little extra space before the lie. I cannot address the body language aspect in this case.
AA: Your handwriting expert, Claudia, in Inkslinger’s Ball, refers to “persona writing.” I’m pretty sure I know what she’s referring to but can you expand on that?
SL: Persona writing looks more drawn than natural and pulls the eye to the letter designs. A good current example is Meghan Markle’s handwriting. She uses a calligraphy style. People who use a persona writing are more concerned with the image than the message. While it is slightly more difficult to analyze, persona writing still reveals the basic personality of the writer.
AA: What does a combination of cursive and block letters indicate to a handwriting expert?
SL: There is no “this means that” in handwriting, so it’s not possible to generalize. All depends on the writing. It might signify creativity or impulsiveness, or a host of other things. It depends on the letter designs, spatial arrangement, rhythm, speed, pressure, and many other factors.
AA: At one point, Claudia says cursive writing lets us get in touch with our feelings. Can you elaborate?
SL: All handwriting styles are expressive behaviors. Printed writing has many starts and stops, which makes it less suitable for writing freely about emotions. Cursive writing has a much greater degree of connectedness, which allows thoughts to run more smoothly. Try writing about an emotional topic—it can be quite cathartic.
AA: Does handwriting change under intense emotional stress such as PTSD, psychosis, fear?
SL: In a word, yes.
AA: Handwriting expert, Claudia, mentions that the way the character Ariceli writes her capital I indicates trouble with the parental relationships? What did she mean by this?
SL: Except for Russian Cyrillic, English is the only language that uses a single letter to represent the personal pronoun, which makes it a very important letter. Generally, what the writer does when s/he starts writing (the shape of the letter) reveals much about his/her feelings towards mother (or other female caregiver) and where it ends expresses feelings towards father (or other male authority figure). When those loops are missing or are angled instead of rounded, or are otherwise changed from the school copybook style, it is suggestive of issues with one or both parents.
AA: Let’s move on to Psychography, specifically, automatic writing.
AA: Wikipedia refers to the ideomotor effect as an explanation for automatic writing. Do you concur or do you believe such writing derives from spiritual or supernatural forces?
SL: No doubt there are many causes of automatic writing. I am currently hosting an online group that deals the spiritual/supernatural type. What I’ve learned is that automatic writing can be many different things, from handwritten to typewritten. Some writing is channeled, where spirit takes over the writer’s hand and writes the message they want to get across. Some is dictated through the writer’s mind and the writer takes it down like a secretary.
AA: Does automatic writing take place in a trance state or under normal consciousness?
SL: It is recommended that someone who wants to do automatic writing first make sure their motive is pure, begin the session with a prayer of protection, and set the intention through meditation (music or white noise can be helpful), which may lead to a trance state. At the end of the session, be sure to say Thank You to any spirits who came through.
AA: If a subject is exposed to hypnotism or suggestion can they be encouraged to automatic write?
SL: Yes, but that is more likely to be from the person’s subconscious or perhaps their higher self than from an energy across the veil. And that’s fine, too.
AA: Will a person’s handwriting change under “suggestion” or hypnosis? Can forgeries “improve” under hypnotic suggestion?
SL: Yes, to the first question. A person responding to a suggestion that they are a small child, for example, will produce the handwriting of a child that age.
Successful forgery requires two difficult processes: 1. Setting aside the master pattern the forger has developed through his/her lifetime. 2. Taking on the master pattern of the victim. That is akin to walking or talking like someone else, extremely difficult to do. Hypnosis cannot give the client talents that he does not already possess.
AA: In psychography, does the writing reflect the handwriting of the sender or the receiver? When stressors are apparent in the writing which party is most likely to show stress?
SL: It’s an interesting philosophical question. The emotions of the energy sending the writing would influence the receiver.
AA: How do you handle messages written in foreign languages or ancient languages?
SL: In gestalt graphology, which is the method I use, any graphic expression can be analyzed. In fact, just this week I had an assignment to analyze the handwriting of Richard Cresey, a Revolutionary War figure. I have clients around the world and have analyzed Hebrew and Arabic, Japanese, all kinds of European and other languages. Regardless of the language or time period, there is still space, form, and movement.
AA: That was wonderful, Sheila, so elucidating. Thanks for agreeing to be one of our great editors for the Fatally Haunted anthology. Thank you also for granting us this interview. I’m sure our readers may discover an interest in psychography that they didn’t have before. Inkslingers Ball, Poison Pen, and all your other works open a window on an exciting topic for us to explore.