Guest Chick: Sybil Johnson

Please join the Chicks in welcoming Sybil Johnson, author of the Aurora Anderson mysteries. The fourth book in the series, DESIGNED FOR HAUNTING, releases this month!

Writing While the Walls Come Tumbling Down

I used to live in a very quiet neighborhood. The only sounds you heard on a typical day were lawnmowers, leaf blowers, the occasional car engine, and children playing in their backyards. Most of the time, though, it was blissfully quiet.

Then the Great Construction Period began.

For the last seven years, there’s been at least one house under construction on our block. Yep, 7 years. Not kidding. Seven years of continuous construction. No sooner is one house finished than another begins. Seven years of heavy equipment tearing down older homes and replacing them with much larger ones. Seven years of banging, jack hammering, sawing and vibrating steel posts into the ground.

This is not unusual in the city I live in. We seem to be “enjoying” a construction boom. You can’t walk more than two blocks without finding a house being torn down or remodeled. I’m happy for the construction industry for all those jobs that have been created. It hasn’t always been this way. Still, it can be annoying.

I live in a beach city so the lots aren’t terribly large (40 feet wide by 120 feet long is a fairly large one) and the houses are right next to each other. That means you hear and feel everything.

It’s all a bit distracting to say the least.

Still, I’ve somehow managed to revise or completely write four books (FATAL BRUSHSTROKE, PAINT THE TOWN DEAD, A PALETTE FOR MURDER and the soon-to-be-released DESIGNED FOR HAUNTING) during the Great Construction Period. It hasn’t been the easiest thing.

Some writers can write no matter what’s going on around them. I know a number who regularly write at Starbucks or some other coffee shop. I’m not one of those. I don’t even like writing in a relatively quiet library. I want to be home with my things surrounding me.

When this all started, the house right next door to ours was torn down and replaced with another, much larger, one. That took five years. Not joking. Keep in mind that our houses are only about twelve feet apart. And, of course, my office is on the side of the house facing the construction site. Six days a week I was treated to the pounding of hammers, the teeth rattling sound of jackhammers and, on occasion, loud music.

At first, I did a lot of yelling out of windows telling them to turn the music down. Or I stomped around the house, grumbling to myself. I soon realized, however, that neither was a very constructive response and I still had deadlines.

So I pulled on my big girl pants and learned to deal with it. I bought myself some noise canceling headphones for the really bad days and took my laptop into other parts of the house that were a little more removed from the noise. Gradually, I got used to the sounds. I realized the other day that it’s all become background noise to me and that I barely notice it anymore unless it’s particularly loud or obnoxious. I still get super annoyed on occasion and stomp around the house, but overall I’ve learned to co-exist with what’s going on outside.

An unexpected plus from this experience—all of the murderous plots involving construction swirling around in my head. I wrote some construction issues into my second book, PAINT THE TOWN DEAD, and am featuring some others in the book I’m working on now. I also have a short story outlined, which I have yet to write, that involves neighbors arguing over construction. Plus I have other ideas: bodies found in Porta Potties, bodies “falling” off of roofs, bodies found in poured concrete…the possibilities are endless.

What have I learned from this experience? I’ve come to the conclusion there is no writing environment that’s perfect for me. There will always be distractions—from the outside or from within. You’ve just got to sit down, ignore it all the best of your ability and write.

Readers, what are your preferred working locations? Can you concentrate with construction or other noises all around you? Please say hello to Sybil in the comments below.

After a rewarding career in the computer industry, Sybil Johnson turned to a life of crime writing. She wields pen and paint brush from her home in Southern California where she writes the Aurora Anderson mystery series set in the world of tole/decorative painting (Fatal Brushstroke, Paint the Town Dead, A Palette for Murder and Designed For Haunting).

Visit her at or check out Type M for Murder ( where she posts every other Wednesday.

25 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Sybil Johnson

  1. I have huge headphones that I use when I don’t want to be distracted! While my writing is not frequent, I do feel the need to not hear the sirens, warehouse workers, huge delivery trucks at times.
    I love the cover on this new book!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I don’t work well with a lot of noises, and all that construction would drive me nuts. Fortunately that’s rarely an issue where I live. I can certainly see such a scenario being grounds for (fictional) murder!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thanks for visiting the Chicks, Sybil–great post!

    I can work with noise as long as it’s constant/consistent, i.e., more like white noise. But it it’s intermittent, or is something like talking or music, no way. My brain insists on listening to the noise and trying to discern what’s being said or played, and there goes any chance of concentrating on what I’m trying to write.

    Bodies found in Porta Potties? Uh, not so sure about that, lol…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The body in the Porta Pottie is reserved for the most annoying person, of course! Constant noise is a lot easier to deal with. When it comes to music, I can only write to instrumental unless it’s in a language I don’t know. Then I’m not trying to figure out what’s being said.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sybil, I hope the Great Construction Period is replaced with the Epoch of Tranquility! We live downtown in a small city. Most of the usual sounds are background noise to me at this point. But the occasional jackhammer does drive me nuts. And that beep-beep-beep sound of dumpster trucks backing up is like nails on a chalkboard to me! Congrats on the new book (love that cover!), and thanks for hanging out with the Chicks today!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Epoch of Tranquility sounds so nice! Probably won’t happen for at least another year. One house seems to be about a week away from completion. The one across the street from us they just started working on again.

      I absolutely hate the sound of jackhammers! That’s one noise I have trouble ignoring.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. OMG, Sybil, this is great! I love how you’ve found creative uses for your anger. It makes me think that if everyone learned to channel their rage into mysteries, there would be a lot less REAL murders.

    Thanks so much for visiting. Love your series and can’t wait to read the new one!!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Wonderful post, Sybil! And I am so sorry you’ve had to live through all the noise for so long–it must be maddening. And you’re amazing to channel that productively.

    Absolutely LOVE this book (so happy I got to read it early) and I’m very excited for your launch! (Also, the cover is gorgeous.) Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to say, I’m kinda jealous. I used to live in NYC and I miss the noise here in NH (where no one will ever hear you scream, heh heh–totally different plot points). So I’m one of those writers who packs up for Starbucks, where I am amazingly productive (the iced tea refills help, too). Thanks so much for guesting with Chicks today, Sybil, and congrats on your book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. I grew up in fairly quiet neighborhoods, including a year on a farm, so I like the quiet. I’ve lived in the L.A. area though for all of my adult life so I guess I’ve gotten used to some noise. Great that you can work at Starbucks. Everyone’s different in what constitutes a good writing environment. I have written some scenes at Disneyland where for some reason the noise doesn’t bother me as much.


  8. Hi, Sybil! I feel so bad for you when I read your posts about the construction noise. I live next to an international airport. The constant drone isn’t bad; I can hear it now. But when the wind changes and they switch to the north-south runway, there is a plane going overhead so low I can see sparks from the engines every few minutes. You can’t hear the TV, can’t talk to someone in the room with you. Nothing gets done during those times. I prefer to write very early in the morning when I like to think I have the world to myself, and there is less air traffic.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. With my husband’s music when he’s working on his models and for some reason he still wants the tv on, I have learned to put in ear buds and turn on sounds of nature on Pandora and time everything out when I’m reading. It’s worked wonders along with tuning out my husband as well! 🙂


  10. Sybil! Sorry I’m just now tuning in, but I loved your post! I’ve never been in the midst of a construction boom, but our neighbors did a major remodel and that was the loudest summer ever. I’m glad you were able to adapt to the noise and even get some plot ideas out of it. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!

    Meanwhile, as an avowed Halloween fan, I can’t wait to read Designed for Haunting. I just bought my copy! 🙂


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