Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bill Lowe: Guns and Ghosts

Author Bill Lowe reads one of his short stories
during his talk at the Plattsburgh Public Library.

What cinched it for Bill Lowe was seeing his name in print.

At first he wasn’t interested in writing because he would have to stay after school. But his English teacher saw in Bill a talent for words and she convinced him to write for the high school newspaper.

And after his byline appeared in the paper, he experienced that moment that only a writer can understand.

Last week Bill spoke at the Plattsburgh Public Library, talking about his writing career and reading one of his short stories. He described his journey from being a student reporter at an Arkansas high school to a published writer whose byline has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. After serving in the Army Air Corp during World War II, Bill attended college, followed by a career in advertising. After he retired, he and his wife moved to the North Country. Now he had the free time to write.

But he made sure to make good use of his time. Certain days and hours were set aside for writing. He couldn’t be disturbed during those periods in his schedule.

There was more to it than just sitting at the typewriter. Research was important. Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine wanted accuracy when it came to law enforcement procedures. Bill made contacts with the New York State Police. When he was granted an interview, he brought along a clipboard with a list of questions, ready to take notes. His preparation and professionalism would impress his contact, making it easier to gather the background information he needed.

Also, his research with the State Police would help spark ideas for stories. One trooper he knew was assigned the task of getting rid of confiscated slot machines. The machines were illegal, a tempting target for organized crime. But how to get rid of them? This real life incident became the basis for one of his stories.

Besides crime mysteries, Bill has also dealt with the supernatural. Ghosts have played important roles in some of his stories. He read A Very Peaceful Place, a tale about a new spirit to a rural Vermont graveyard who upsets the tranquility enjoyed by the other ghosts. The man, an advertising executive from the big city, was passing through town when he died in a car accident.

As a modern ghost trained in Madison Avenue techniques, the newcomer knew that fear didn’t motivate people: guilt did. He explains to the other spirits how an ad using guilt would motivate a parent to buy a particular brand of toothpaste for his child. After all, the parent wanted only the best for his kid, especially the whitest teeth.

Looking for an Achilles heel of guilt, the newcomer haunts the living, motivating them to renovate the old cemetery.

One suspects that Bill’s long years in advertising helped to create the pointed but humorous dialogue uttered by the newcomer.

As they say: write about what you know.

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Bill Lowe is the author of three anthologies: After The Summer People Leave, In Case of Ghost, and Felony in the Forest. These titles are available at Borders Bookstore, Champlain Mall, Plattsburgh.

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