Stephen King had it right when he wrote, “to write is human, to edit is divine.” I’ve always said, I don’t like writing, I like having written. It’s after getting the words down on paper (or screen) that the real work begins. Knowing where to slash; where to ‘kill your darlings’ can be utter agony. And, it can be the best thing since…well, since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or insert your favorite book title here).
Since I last blogged about jumping off a cliff, I’ve established my own publishing imprint, Write Choice Ink, and, with the help and direction of the completely amazing Victoria Rydberg Nania–it’s she who is doing all the heavy lifting–I’m reissuing all of my books. Doing this has given me the opportunity to look at them with fresh eyes.
Way back when
Way back when I wrote Poison Pen, I had to learn how to write in an entirely new way. After having written countless technical articles and monographs on handwriting psychology, and two nonfiction books, I discovered that writing fiction was, quite literally, a very different story. Poison Pen was published by Penguin in 2007. Since then, I’ve written nine more fiction (and four nonfiction) books. With every one, I worked hard to hone my craft. With every one, I learned something new about novel writing. And with every one, it felt as though I had clawed my way up to the next level (i.e., I wrote better).
When it was time to send the books to Victoria for formatting and publishing, I thought I’d better have a look. After all, Poison Pen was my first mystery. It was good enough for a major house to publish, but OMG! Suffice it to say, I did a whole lot of rewriting, which included chopping more than six-thousand words! (that’s nearly 20 pages), which made it way better.
The first four books needed the most work. I had learned a lot by the time I’d written them all, so there was less to do on the next four. That brought me to the two Beyond the Veil books. I loved getting back into What She Saw–one of my favorites; improving the opening, smoothing it all out. Now, I’m halfway through Proof of Life, which is benefiting from that divine editing. This is all leading up to the release of the next Claudia Rose book, DEAD LETTERS, in August (I’m hoping by then to have an in-person launch party).
Poison Pen and Written in Blood are on sale now and the others are up for pre-order. They’ll all be released in the next few weeks. And, btw, thanks to Terry Rydberg for some fantastic new covers.
Join my Street Team
If you enjoy my books, you might want to consider joining my Write Choice Inkers Street Team. For helping me spread the word, you’ll get early access to new books, our private Facebook page, and other perks. Send me an email if you’d like to be an Inker. firstname.lastname@example.org
Poison Pen will be out in audiobook any day now–stay tuned! I’ll have free codes to spread around.
To jump off a cliff is Very Big Decision; one I recently made: I am going to independently publish my new book, Dead Letters (#8 in the Claudia Rose psychological suspense series). After publishing my nonfiction books on handwriting psychology for a while now, I find this choice infinitely more daunting. I waffled over it for a few weeks, not entirely sure it was the right thing to do. Then, this happened…
The day after making the VBD, I intended to go grocery shopping in the morning. But, procrastinator that I am, I put it off until well after lunch. Just before I left my keyboard, I emailed my friend and fellow author Peg Brantley to share the news. The subject line was: I just jumped off a cliff.
Words of wisdom
Driving across town to the local Winco, I tuned the radio to NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Thanks to my lagging, I’d caught the last few minutes of what had clearly been a great interview with the venerable actor, Sir Patrick Stewart. When I heard what he said, I confess to promptly bursting into tears. Speaking of his early days in the business, he quoted a teacher who had told him something he said he never fully understood until much later:
“Patrick, you will never achieve success by insuring against failure.” I thought, huh, that’s so true. But it was his next words that made my mouth drop open.
“You have to take risks,” he said as if directly speaking to me. “You have to be brave; you have to step into the unknown.”
Then: “You have to step off the edge of a cliff.” OMG, that’s what I had just written to Peg! But wait, there’s more…
Patrick Stewart said, “I always make sure I’m dead letter perfect.” OMG, OMG, OMG!!! Dead Letters is the title of my new book!!!
To make sure I wasn’t misremembering or putting words in his mouth, I looked up the interview online and transcribed exactly what he had said. I don’t know about you, but I believe in spirit guides and angels, and I believe that when we ask for help, we get it. Oh boy, had I been asking! Just think–had I gone to the store in the morning, rather than procrastinating, I would have missed the interview. If I had been a half an hour earlier I would have missed the interview.
Look, I know that everything Sir Patrick said could be applied to any author. But I don’t believe in coincidences. If it had been just the first statement, well, that was encouraging. But the second, and the third—at that moment, those words were meant for me.
2020 was a super-rotten year for all of us, some more than others suffering intolerable losses of many kinds. But all of a sudden, a bright ray of hope carried me into 2021. Soon, I’ll have more to tell you about this adventure, but for now, I wish you a very Happy New Year. I hope that by my tale of jumping off a cliff, you will feel empowered and encouraged, too.
A version of this blog was published on 1/4/21 at Blackbirdwriters.com
I just spent the best nine days on overseas travel adventures. My younger son, Ben, the avowed bachelor, got married. He’s a pop star who performs around the world. But after meeting Tuba, a Turkish-German woman who is utterly gorgeous inside and out, he “traded in his leather pants for a polo shirt.” This article tells the tale.
The wedding was in Bad Hamburg, a quaint little town with 500-year-old buildings, and could not have been more perfect. My ex-husband and I even got along for four whole days. That was a 40-year record.
The UK leg
Life imitating art, like my character Claudia Rose in Outside the Lines, I was invited to present a lecture at the prestigious British Institute of Graphologists. So, the day after the wedding I flew to the UK, my home country. My first solo international flight. Woo hoo!
That first night, when I opened the door to my hotel room at the meeting venue I had to laugh. It literally was the size of a walk-in closet. In this photo, which I took from the doorway, you can see that the headboard and footboard of the twin bed touched each wall. The bathroom fixtures didn’t quite work the way they should, but it was all part of the adventure. There was lovely English tea, and a chocolate bar on the desk. I woke up in that tiny bed on Sunday morning, thinking to myself, “I’m in London!!! I’m home!”
Happily, the lecture went as well as the wedding. It was lovely to see old friends and colleagues, too. Adam Brand, the Director of BIG, was kind enough to see me to the train station. I was off to Sidcup, Kent.
If you’ve ever traveled the London Underground (the Tube) you will have heard the “Mind the Gap” announcements as you board the train.
On to Kent
I stayed there a couple of days with my friend Janet, whose bangers and mash are the best. She went back to London with me, where I was meant to do research for my work in print whilst in the UK (look how my English accent came back straight away). I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of going to a location to give a story verisimilitude. But it was not until I was right at Charing Cross Station that I ‘got’ why the bomb scene I’d written was not going to work. Being there really does make all the difference. Luckily, I saw how to fix it.
Later, we were in Eltham High Street, gorging on sausage rolls and scones when I got a text from Lufthansa. My flight the next day had been cancelled. The pilots had gone on strike. Arrrgggghhhhhhhhh.
Screaming Baby Airlines
Long story short, I got the last seat on a flight to the US. Had I known I was booking on Screaming Baby Airlines (otherwise known as Norwegian Air), I would have stayed in the UK another day. Who knew that a one-year-old baby girl could shriek at the top of her lungs for most of 12.5 hours straight? I’m not kidding.
First, though, we sat on the runway for an hour at Heathrow. The captain announced that a passenger was “not fit to fly” and needed to be escorted off the plane. It turned out that meant he was “stinking drunk.”
The minute we took off, the baby started. Why was she screaming? It wasn’t that the cabin pressure was hurting her ears–that would be understandable and draw sympathy. But no. She’d just learned to walk and thought it would be fun to run up and down the aisle. That’s not allowed while airborne, so everyone within earshot got to know how irate she was. For the entire flight and beyond. Here’s a bit of irony: at the ticket counter, the very nice agent had said, “Let’s see if we can find you a better seat.” Little did we know that the “better” seat would be right next to said screaming baby.
So, I plugged in my earphones and watched Gone Girl for the second time. After that, The Interns. Then a show about animals. By then, my ears were bleeding (okay, it felt like it). The young man next to me had his fingers stuck in his ears.
Back in L.A.
Arriving at LAX after the 10 hour flight (plus the hour waiting on the drunk passenger) we were stuck at the gate for 90 minutes more, waiting for an Air France flight to move. By 8:45 PM when we deplaned (oh, that’s when the baby stopped screaming and went to sleep), I’d been awake 24 hours and was close to freaking out. The very last shuttle home to Ventura (60 miles west of LAX) was at 9:30. After a lengthy walk to Customs and Immigration, I found that because I’m not a US citizen, there was not one, not two, but three loooong lines to go through. Can someone tell me the point of having to show the same documents three times in the same facility? Then the fingerprint reader wouldn’t accept mine. Thank goodness I only had carry-on luggage.
I threw myself on the mercy of the Customs agents, who were nice, and made it to the shuttle with 10 minutes to spare. And since I got home safely, I was happy. Hey, at least I wasn’t on the BEA flight that burst into flames in Las Vegas just before take off the day before! Any safe landing is a good landing.
Elvis Presley Bill Bixby and Me–and unlikely trio. But I just came across this 1992 video of The Elvis Conspiracy, in which I gave an opinion about some handwriting. I was young, had big hair and big shoulder pads–those were the days! The host, Bill Bixby was investigating claims made several years after Elvis Presley’s death. There was no shortage of people who thought they had seen Elvis. This time, though, handwriting was involved.
You can watch the whole show if you’re interested, this video is set just before I come on around 30 minutes in.
A man had received a handwritten letter signed “Jon Burrows,” which was a pseudonym Elvis had used when signing hotel registers and other items. If he was correct in his belief that the letter was genuine, that meant Elvis was still alive.
I was on a trip to Hawaii when I was informed they wanted me to appear live on the show. So, instead of getting to meet Bill Bixby, of whom I was and am a fan (My Favorite Martian and the Incredible Hulk were must-watches at our house), I went to the studio when I got back home and tape my segment. Bixby introduced me and I explained what I had done and my conclusions.
If you believe Elvis Presley is still alive, maybe you believe Bill Bixby is, too. You might not want to watch my “testimony.” But if you’re curious to see how I reached my conclusions, watch and, I hope, enjoy.
That’s the kind of thing I do when I’m procrastinating–look for old Youtube videos of myself. Or at least, it was today. What I should have been doing is working on the ending of Dead Letters–20% left to write.
Finally, you might like the podcast of a radio I did the other did day. It’s with Coach Ron Tunick and Scott Harries on The Edge Radio. The show is on mental toughness. I’m on for the whole second hour.
Kindness Matters happens to be the name of a radio show on which I recently appeared as a guest. One of the hosts, Lloyd Brock, is a longtime handwriting analyst, stage hypnotist, and retired Treasury agent. Way back in the 1990s, he contacted me with a questioned document case that he was unable to do because it conflicted with his job.
Since then, Lloyd has had me on his show a couple of times. Here’s a link to the latest discussion: I would have been on video with them, but there were technical difficulties, so we did my part on the phone.
I love the theme of the show. Especially these days, when it’s so easy to be anonymously snarky and mean on various social media platforms, we need to be reminded that kindness matters. I love it when I can re-post stories of random acts of kindness. One I posted today is about a 15-year-old Texas boy who bought a Valentine flower for every girl in his school (172 of them). He had noticed the year before that not everyone got a recognition. This was his beautiful remedy.
Kindness matters in handwriting, too. While there is no “this-means-that” in handwriting, some features point to kindness more than others. For example, some curves balanced with straight lines and a moderate slant. Features that point away from kindness are extremely heavy pressure combined with many angles and sharp strokes, especially when there is also an extreme slant.
Where to learn more
But those are generalities. A handwriting professional always looks at the whole handwriting when making an assessment. Here’s a link to my other website for more information. And here’s a link to the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation. This wonderful nonprofit organization is more than 50 years old. I’m currently the president, so a bit prejudiced. But you won’t find another handwriting analysis organization that offers more free resources to its members.
I’m now working on the next Claudia Rose book, Dead Letters. In actual fact, writing this blog post allows me to procrastinate working on a difficult chapter. I’ve also just finished re-editing What She Saw with the help of Betty Almeida’s eagle eye. Readers had pointed out errors (typos and stuff) 🙁 While correcting them I found bits that I wanted to rewrite–like the whole first page. So, hopefully, my excellent publishers, Suspense, will soon have the new version up on Amazon.
And now, no more procrastinating…
Today, I was a guest blogger for Anne Louise Bannon on the mysteries of handwriting. Anne is the president of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime and a fellow author, so it was an honor to be invited to write something for her.
I decided to use the opportunity to talk about how I went from the mysteries of handwriting to mystery writing. My work as a handwriting analyst, uncovering the mysteries of personality has been intriguing. But the fact is, after so many years in that field, I was ready to kill someone. Obviously, not literally. Doing it on the page is enough excitement for me. It was quite a leap from my first career as a forensic handwriting examiner to mystery writer. If you would like to know how it all came about, click on this link.
In other news, watch for updates about my next book, Dead Letters, coming in late summer 2021.
This is an old blog post and having given my website a facelift, I’m attempting to improve the SEO. I’m going back over some of the older posts. If you are reading this paragraph, I apologize. I needed to add some words, and here they are.
Last Sunday, I caught a ride with fellow mystery author, Raul Melendez, to L.A. to attend the November meeting of Mystery Writers of America SoCal Chapter. The chapter meets at the Tam O’Shanter restaurant, where we enjoyed excellent food and a fascinating speaker. Detective Robert Bub has been working cold cases. Terri Nolan, who has been consulting with Bub for ten years on her own books, conducted the interview.
Detective Bub detailed the Sherri Rasmussen murder case, which his team solved 25 years after the 1986 killing.
Here’s the story he told: Sherri’s husband, John Ruetten, pictured left, returned home from work work one evening to find Sherri “brutally beaten, and shot 3 times in the chest.” A bite mark on her arm also played an important role in identifying her killer.
Bub portrayed Sherri’s killer, Stephanie Lazarus, as a jealous lover who could not let Sherri’s husband go (the affair continued following his marriage to Sherri a few months earlier). When Bub revealed that, like John Ruetten, Lazarus was also a cop, a gasp rounded the room. Arrested in 2009, she was convicted and sentenced to twenty-five to life.
The CBS show, 48 Hours episode, One of Their Own, covered the crime.
Next month, SOCAL MWA joins with Sisters in Crime/LA for a holiday party. Trust me, I will be there!
If you are interested in the forensic side of handwriting, check out my non-fiction books.
Kings River Life Magazine offers the new Mystery Rat’s Maze podcast and you will want to subscribe. Mysteryrat’s Maze features mystery short stories and first chapters of mystery novels (maybe even one of mine, soon…), read aloud by local (Fresno area) actors.
All you have to do is subscribe to the podcast. You can also find Mysteryrat’s Maze on iTunes and Google Play. Featured authors include Cleo Coyle, Elaine Viets, Jeri Westerson, Dennis Palumbo, and many more.
I’m happy to share this information with my readers. Please check out these good people. They’ve been devoted to the mystery genre for a long time and their new mystery podcast is a fantastic addition to the Kings River Life Magazine.
They’ll be featuring me and my current book, Written Off in their next newsletter.
Join Sheila at the Game of Books Writers Podcast with hosts Christie and Cathy.
Join Sheila and Josue Briseno as they discuss handwriting analysis and what led Sheila from graphology to mystery writing.
Join Book Scene authors, Maryann Ridini Spencer, Sheila Lowe, Mike Kennedy, James F Gray, as they get together to discuss writing and their books. Ask your questions about mystery writing, publishing. Challenge the authors!