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Lowe talks about transition from documentary writer to first-time novelist

By Staff | Apr 2, 2009

On the surface, it seems that Tom Lowe has done it all.

A modern-day version of what some may call a “Renaissance man,” the longtime writer started his career as a print journalist, progressed to the world of television news, shifted gears and became an award-winning writer and director of historical documentaries and even dabbles as a sailor and SCUBA diver.

But Tom Lowe is also a man of mystery. Mystery novels, that is.

The Orlando, Fla. resident, who worked for about a year as a staff writer for the Island Reporter back in the late 1980s, is about to release his first novel, “A False Dawn.” The intense and detailed crime thriller deals with a very topical subject these days – human trafficking and sexual slavery.

“I’d read a story in the New York Times about how rampant the black market business of human sex slaves was becoming in America,” said Lowe. “The FBI estimates that at least 17,000 young women – many teenagers – are trafficked into America each year, and many more internationally where it’s a billion dollar illicit business. Some are kidnapped from the U.S. and ‘exported’ overseas like human cargo.”

Researching the subject for his book, Lowe spoke with the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s office and various law enforcement agencies. He also used several Florida locations – including Miami’s South Beach, Cassadaga and along the St. John’s River near the Ocala National Forest – as settings for his novel. The North Carolina native has worked across the Sunshine State during his years in journalism, from the Island Reporter in Sanibel to Walt Disney World’s media relations department in Lake Buena Vista.

“I actually met my wife while working at the Island Reporter,” Lowe noted, adding that his spouse, Keri, used to work in the newspapers’ advertising sales department. “I took the job because Polly Smith, who was the wife of the publisher at the time, Alan Smith, said they were looking for a writer and that they liked my work.”

Lowe, who also wrote articles for Gulfshore Life and Tropic magazines, continued his career in journalism with stops in Texas and Michigan before returning to Florida. Over the years, he transitioned to TV news, doing freelance stories for CNN and eventually wrote and directed a handful of documentaries which aired on PBS, including “The Sponge Divers of Tarpon Springs” (2004), “River Into The New World” (2006) and “Zora’s Roots” (2006).

“A False Dawn,” which will be released on April 14, is the first of a three-book deal Lowe has with St. Martin’s Press. His second novel, “The 24th Letter,” will be released in 2010 while a third book, “The Black Bullet,” will follow.

“It was a real spiritual feeling coming back to Sanibel,” Lowe said last week while visiting the island for the first time in more than two decades.

“Everything looks the same… the lighthouse, the blue water. There’s a little more density and people seem a little more rushed, but Sanibel still maintains that special ambiance… like an old friend welcoming me back, but with a new coat on.”

Although his work as a documentarian is his primary purpose, Lowe explained that he enjoys his freedom that writing provides him.

“When I sit down to work, sometimes I work so fast I can’t stop,” he said. “One time I was typing so fast that my wife asked, ‘Are you popping popcorn?’ I just type away. I don’t worry about spelling because I’m so focused on the story and getting the words out that I’ve got perspiration on my arms. I can go back and clean it up later.”

Lowe will return to the island on Wednesday, April 15 for a booksigning at the Sanibel Island Bookshop, located at 1571 Periwinkle Way, beginning at 11 a.m. Call 472-5223 for more details.