While celebrating the release of her debut cozy mystery, author Sybil Johnson stops by the Hen House to talk about her love for tole painting, her experience with Sisters in Crime, and what’s to come in Rory Anderson’s next mystery.
Like Rory, you also enjoy tole painting. What got you interested (and do you have a photo of your best design)?
I’ve always liked crafts. I learned to embroider in grade school. Over the years, I’ve tried my hand at crocheting, knitting, macrame, counted cross-stitch, tole painting, and scrapbooking.
I started tole painting (or decorative painting as it’s usually called these days) in the early 90s when a group of us at work gathered in a conference room once a week or so, ate lunch, and worked on various projects. The experienced painter in the group taught us newbies the basics. We painted many different designs, starting simple and getting more complex as we gained experience.
Rory and Liz are an entertaining and dynamic duo! Do you have your own partner in crime like Liz?
No one person fills the bill. In my day-to-day life, it’s my husband. At painting conventions, it’s my sister.
You’re a past president of Sisters in Crime LA and a 2011 co-chair of the California Crime Writers Conference. How have those experiences affected you and your writing?
In my six years on the SinC/LA board, I learned a lot about writing and the publishing world. (I wasn’t President for that entire time. I also served as Recording Secretary and VP/Program Director.) Ours is a large and active chapter. The board members, all volunteers, put in long hours and work very, very hard.
Through my involvement in Sisters in Crime, I’ve made a lot of friends, many of who’ve been published authors for years and have very generously taken the time to answer my questions and give me advice. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them.
Through my position as conference co-chair, I met a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise. And I’m using my planning experience to help me plan the fictional painting convention featured in PAINT THE TOWN DEAD.
One of the major story lines in FATAL BRUSHSTROKE deals with the main character, Rory, having birth parents who were arsonists. What drew you to the topic of arson, and what research did you do?
Arson is a crime I’ve always found interesting. Maybe that’s because I find fire very, very scary and fascinating at the same time. It has such power to destroy and is so unpredictable. (I swear I’m not an arsonist! I hate lighting matches. In junior high science class, my lab partner had to light the bunsen burner. To this day, I still won’t light a match.)
To learn about arson and arson investigation, I took an extension course at Cal State Fullerton that dealt with arson investigation and also read a few books on the topic.
What’s next for Rory? (Might there be romance in her future?)
In PAINT THE TOWN DEAD, Rory attends a painting convention where a friend of hers unexpectedly collapses and dies. She feels compelled to investigate when the death is ruled accidental. As for romance…time will tell!
Finally, tell us your favorite mystery novel and what draws you to that particular author and the genre as a whole.
I don’t have an absolute favorite mystery novel, though The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and And Then There Were None, both by Agatha Christie, rank up there. I also really enjoy the Vicky Bliss novels by Elizabeth Peters. As you can tell, I’m drawn to cozy mysteries, though I do read more hard-boiled stuff on occasion. I find cozies comforting. At the end, the crime is solved and order is restored, something that doesn’t always happen in real life.