Sybil Johnson interview with David Alan Binder

posted May 13, 2017, 9:57 AM by David Alan Binder

Sybil Johnson interview with David Alan Binder

Bio from her website:  Sybil attended the University of Southern California, majoring in Computer Science. After twenty years of designing and writing code and managing programmers and software development projects, she turned to a life of crime writing.

Her short fiction has appeared in Mysterical-E, Spinetingler Magazine, King’s River Life Magazine, Crimson Dagger, and Silver Moon Magazine.

A past president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles, Sybil also co-chaired the 2011 California Crime Writers Conference. In her spare time, she enjoys tole painting, studying ancient languages (Ancient Egyptian and Coptic are her current areas of interest), and spending time with friends and family.





Twitter: @SybilJohnson19


1.     Where are you currently living?

In a Southern California beach community similar to the fictional one, I write about in my Aurora Anderson mystery series.


2.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

Be patient. Most people don’t learn to write overnight or get published right away. Be patient when it comes to finishing your story also. Don’t send one out for consideration until you are happy with it. Early on, I sent out a number of short stories that I wasn’t totally happy about, but I was getting antsy. I wanted to get something published. As you might expect, I had a lot of rejections. But when I rewrote the stories so I was satisfied with them myself, they got published.


3.     What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

I sometimes write scenes at Disneyland. I’m fortunate to live within a reasonable driving distance of The Happiest Place on Earth so I have an annual pass. When I’m not sure where to go in a story, I grab my pass and head inland. Something about being there among the rides and the people shakes out the cobwebs. I either come back with an idea for where to go next or a scene completely written out on a small notebook I keep in my purse.


4.     Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

I’ve no experience in self publishing so I don’t really have any insights. I was fortunate to be able to sell my series directly to a publisher. But I wouldn’t rule out self publishing in the future. I know a number of authors who are quite happy doing that.


a.     Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they located?


Henery Press, Frisco, TX


5.     Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

I’ve always felt that books should be available in all formats.


6.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?      

I’m not sure there are any secret tips. Just write the best book that you can. Having an interesting setting and characters helps as well as using a setting that is underserved. My novels are cozies with a craft bent. I chose decorative/tole painting because that’s been my hobby since the early 90s and because there are no other cozies out there set in that world. Plenty of knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking, etc., but no tole painting.


7.     How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?

I don’t have an agent myself. I sold my series directly to my publisher after I met the managing editor at the California Crime Writers Conference. However, I think having an agent is a good idea if you can find the right one.


Besides sending out query letters to agents, I’d suggest networking with other authors in organizations such as Sisters in Crime, which welcomes all mystery authors, pre-published or published, as well as fans. You can find out what agents people like or dislike and why. Sometimes you might even get an introduction to an agent.


8.     Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

Write the kind of story that you would be interested in reading. If you’re bored when you’re writing it, your reader will be too.

Read as much as you can in your chosen genre. I’ve been a cozy mystery fan forever so I was very familiar with this sub-genre. I also analyzed a few books that I thought were particularly good so I could figure out what made them tick. I read once that Mary Higgins Clark analyzed a lot of thrillers before she started writing one.

9.     What was one of the most surprising things you learned with your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

That I would change how I write my books and become more of a pantser and less of a plotter. When I first started writing, I outlined a lot of the story before starting to write. Now, I just figure out some key points along the storyline, but have no idea about the story in between those points. I still know who committed the crime and why before I begin though.

I don’t know why this change in how I write surprised me so much. It parallels my computer programming experience. When I wrote my first programs in college, I had to map everything out on paper. The more experience I had, the less I had to write down and the more I kept in my head. Eventually, I ended up just figuring out the general framework of a program before sitting down to write it.

10.                        How many books have you written?

I’ve written 3 books, all in the Aurora Anderson mystery series, which have been published by Henery Press. I’m currently working on the fourth in the series. Unlike a lot of writers, I don’t have unpublished novels sitting in a drawer so those are all of the books I’ve written so far, but I have ideas for many more.


11.                        Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?

Read your book aloud to yourself. You can really catch things that way. Or have someone else read it to you. There’s also a feature of Word that will read a document out loud.

I’ve also read a lot of how to books on writing, especially in the mystery genre. I’ve learned something new from every one of them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Your local library probably has a slew of them.

12.                        Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

I think twists grow out of the characters in your story, so get to know them very, very well. I was also reading a book on writing once and the author (I can’t remember who it was) suggested writing down at various spots in the book what the average person would expect to happen and do something different. I think that only works if the something different goes along with the personality of the character(s) involved.

13.                        What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

As I noted in a previous question, interesting settings and characters will stand out. And serving a niche market. My cozies are the only ones that I know of anyway, that are set in the tole /decorative painting world.


14.                        What are some ways in which you promote your work?

I attend conferences and do in-person appearances at local libraries and bookstores. I’m also on social media. I usually do a blog tour around the time a book comes out, and I blog every other Wednesday on Type M for Murder.


15.                         What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

I’m not sure I would do anything differently. Every mistake I’ve made and obstacle I’ve come up against has taught me something about myself or writing or the publishing business.


16.                        What saying or mantra do you live by?

Push aside all of the doubts and fears and just write!