Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Sheila Lowe. Like Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert who testifies in handwriting-related cases. She also authored the internationally acclaimed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, as well as the Handwriting Analyzer software. Finder her at http://www.sheilalowe.com and email her at Sheila@sheilalowe.com
I recently finished reading a book by “Big Name Writer.” I’m a relatively fast reader, but this one took weeks to get through. It wasn’t badly written. The plot was interesting. One issue was the annoying POV changes mid-scene that the rest of us are told are verboten. Another was the way the female protagonist was treated by her former lover, which really ticked me off. But still, the plotting was fine, everything was “fine,” and the book was easy to put down.
On the other hand, as usual, I devoured John Sandford’s latest Lucas Davenport story in a couple of days. And yesterday I picked up a book by Hank Phillipi Ryan and found myself spending a lot of time on the porch, wanting to keep reading.
So, I’ve been puzzling over what “it” was that didn’t keep me interested in that BNW book beyond the ten or fifteen minutes a day it took to eat lunch or dinner. What is that certain something between a “good enough” book and a “can’t put it down book?” I suppose it’s different for everyone, but I do believe that the relationship the reader develops with the characters is a major factor.
I kept wanting to yell at the protag in the BNW book and tell her not to be so stupid and allow her ex, who was now her boss, to treat her so cavalierly. Bottom line, I didn’t respect her. And that brings back the comments of my own first editor, who told me that, frankly, my character, forensic handwriting examiner Claudia Rose, was not likeable because she was too weak. She was constantly feeling guilty, which I never realized until it was pointed out (nasty shock!).
That editor said, (paraphrasing) “Your readers want a character who is basically strong. She can grow through her arc, but they want someone they can look up to and believe in.” Once I followed that advice and bucked Claudia up, Poison Pen finally sold. That was after seven years of sending it out. Well, cutting out the adverbs helped, too, but it was amazing and empowering to see how small changes could make a big difference in the way people saw Claudia.
I’ve kept that in mind as I wrote the next four books. With Inkslingers Ball, released on June 10th, I did something new. For the first time, much of the book is written from the POV of Claudia’s love interest, Detective Joel Jovanic. Readers seem to like their relationship, so it will be interesting to see how they feel about getting to know Joel up close and personal. Will they keep reading past their lunchtime sandwich? All remains to be seen.