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Sheila Lowe on the Book She Didn’t Want to Write

Sheila Lowe is the author of the Forensic Handwriting suspense series and the Beyond the Veil series. You can find out more about her on her website, or by clicking here, see her last post here, and buy her books here.

Twenty-three years ago, when my daughter was killed by her boyfriend, I knew I would write her story. A title came to me right away: Growing from the Ashes. Yet, I couldn’t do it. The ending was just too sad. As a mystery author I write books about murder all the time. But those crimes are solved and by the end of the book there is a satisfying conclusion. Who wants to read a book that ends with the murder/suicide of a beautiful, smart, talented young woman and the man she once loved?

Sheila Lowe and her daughter Jennifer

Fast-forward to the end of 2022. I found a way to tell Jen’s story with a spin that might make her loss help others—to tell my story, too. Or, the parts of it that led to a spiritual awakening. I was raised in a fundamentalist religion that allowed for no contact with the spirit world (“that’s the demons”), but through my daughter’s murder I came to learn that there is no death, only life after earth. And that’s the story I told—my path to spiritual freedom.

Let me tell you, writing about yourself is freaking hard!!! Over my career as a handwriting expert and mystery author I’ve done literally hundreds of interviews. Interviewing myself and laying bare my mistakes as well as my triumphs is truly a whole other story.

My first step was to read a couple of books and listen to podcasts on memoir writing. If you are considering writing your own, I recommend Fast-Draft Your Memoir: Write Your Life Story in 45 Hours by Rachael Herron. It’s in audiobook form, too. I learned many good tips from this book, including the advice to write your memoir like a novel. I had planned on starting with the arrival of my daughter on earth, but soon realized that the book had to begin with her departure.

A few pieces of Herron’s advice that I followed:

  • First get your reader to know you so they will care about you and what happens in your life.
  • Be visceral – don’t just write the facts, make the reader feel the events you are sharing.
  • Add dialogue wherever you can to bring the story alive.
  • Stick to your own point of view, which means writing first person (something I had not done before).
  • Don’t try to tell your entire life story (unless the whole thing is fascinating).
  • Give your memoir a central theme.

I made a list of events along my life that seemed important and led the reader to understand why I, and later Jennifer, made the choices we did. Then I cut the ones that were irrelevant to the story I wanted to tell—my spiritual journey. Just as when I’m outlining a novel, I wrote a paragraph about each item on the list, and then expanded the paragraphs. Oh, look! A page! And that became many pages and many chapters that are short vignettes.

As a not-so-fast writer, I was stunned to find myself having this book finished in 27 days. I spent the next month editing and tweaking, and then it was out in the world. Scary, but satisfying.

If you have a life story you need to tell, settle on a theme, and start writing. Even if you never do anything more than revisit your life or share it with family, I bet you’ll be glad you did.

Sheila Lowe

Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert and author whose Forensic Handwriting mystery series features Claudia Rose, whose career as a document examiner and handwriting analyst mirrors Sheila’s own, and the Beyond the Veil Series about a young woman who reluctantly communicates with dead people who want her to do stuff for them. Follow Sheila on her website,, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sheila, I’m in awe of you. Your journey is painful, but purposeful, and your memoir both enlightens and enriches. This photo of you and Jennifer touches my heart.

  2. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    Thank you, Saralyn. We had a very difficult relationship for most of her life, but by the time she left the earth, it was repaired. For that, I’m grateful. That photo was at my wedding.

  3. Avatar
    Laurie's Story

    I’m printing out this post. Great advice for those who want to write a memoir. BTW, I’m nearly finished with your book and HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT to all. Good job all the way around, Sheila.

  4. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    Thanks, Laurie. I hear from many people that they want to write their story.

  5. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    I have your book and am anxious to begin it. This post makes me want to read it even more! I’m glad that you found a way to write about this extremely difficult time in your life in a way that gives it meaning and purpose. I admire what you’ve done and appreciate the tips summary for those who might also have a story they need to tell. Hugs and best wishes.

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      Many thanks. I do hope some find it helpful. xoxo

  6. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Your book just moved to the top of my TBR list. Thank you for your courage to write this memoir. You experienced the ultimate parent nightmare, then turned that tragedy into something beautiful and freeing for yourself, Jennifer, and everyone. I’m intrigued by and appreciative of your phrase “there is no death, only life beyond earth.” I agree!

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      It’s the best thing I’ve learned, Sherrill 🙂

  7. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    A beautiful post, and one that is so encouraging to others who want or need to write about life events. Thank you for posting about your memoir.

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      It was quite a learning experience, on many fronts!

  8. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Sheila — I applaud that you turned something horrific into something that will now be helpful, encouraging, and possibly even healing to others.

  9. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    Anything to make it meaningful. Ironically, when Jen was here, she would have hated the publicity. I hope it helps someone.

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      Thank you, Jackie. As I say in the poem I wrote for her funeral and is at the front of the book, she never knew how beautiful she was.

  10. GP Gottlieb
    GP Gottlieb

    Though Jennifer’s story is heartbreaking, your pulling yourself up is heartwarming!

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      I always hated it when my mother said, “You have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” but in the end, like any exercise, it builds … well, something 🙂

  11. Tracey S. Phillips
    Tracey S. Phillips

    Sheila, thanks for sharing the journey with your daughter and your journey into memoir writing. Your book is next on my list, too, because I hope to learn from your other journey, your spiritual journey. I have great respect and admiration for you.

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      Ah, this *is* my spiritual journey, so I hope you find something that helps. Thanks for your lovely words.


    Thanks for your bravery in sharing your awakening with the world. I imagine it wasn’t easy and I applaud your courage. As a side note, the memoir advice you share above is applicable in many ways to fiction as well. May your story bring solace to others who have lost loved ones.

  13. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    It definitely was not easy. Today, I had forgotten that my drive to examine some documents would take me past my daughter’s burial site. It hit like a truck. These experiences become part of us on a cellular level.
    I do hope the tips I gleaned in this project will help others.

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