Guest Chick: Sybil Johnson

The Chicks on the Case are delighted to welcome back Sybil Johnson, author of the Aurora Anderson mysteries. The fifth book in the series, Ghosts of Paintings Past, was published yesterday–just in time for the holidays!

Unexpected Influences

I’ve read tons of books and seen a lot of TV shows and movies over the years. Every once in a while I think about how fictional stories have influenced me, sometimes in unexpected ways. Here are a few of the things they’ve caused me or inspired me to do:

Learn new things

Even as I’m writing this, in my head I hear Dwayne Pride from NCIS: New Orleans telling his team to go out and “learn things.”

My most vivid memory of kindergarten was seeing a book with the three little pigs on the cover. I remember being very frustrated that I couldn’t read the words on the page. I wanted to find out what was going on! The pictures just weren’t good enough. I knew those black marks on the page were letters and words, but I had no idea how to figure out what they said. To this day, I believe the frustration that I felt at the time inspired me to work hard at learning to read. As soon as the subject came up in school, I hit the ground running and never looked back.

Elizabeth Peters is one of my favorite authors. While I’ve always been curious about ancient cultures, reading her books sparked an interest in delving deeper into Ancient Egypt, which led to learning Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs (Middle Egyptian mostly) and later Coptic. I continue to study those languages today. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people with similar interests along the way.

Until I read Ellen Byron’s book, Mardi Gras Murder, I knew absolutely nothing about the Orphan Train Movement that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded Eastern cities of the United States to foster homes largely in the Midwest. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I learned a bit about the movement from reading her book and now am interested in learning even more.

Use new words and phrases

Sometimes TV shows and movies influence how I talk. I don’t always realize where I picked up a particular word or phrase. They just seem to naturally become part of my vocabulary. My husband and I sometimes talk about consuming “mass quantities” of food. I’m sure I would never have used that phrase if I hadn’t seen the skits on Saturday Night Live or the Coneheads movie. This one stands out to me right now because we both used the phrase just the other day.

Change how I think about things or what I do

When I was growing up, I was one of those kids who ran home from school to watch Dark Shadows, the supernatural soap opera that ran from 1966-1971. As a result, I became interested in ghosts, séances and extrasensory perception. In grade school, I did a project on ESP. I’m not sure it was that great a topic for a science fair, but I did enjoy working on it. I would never have thought of the subject if I hadn’t seen Dark Shadows.

I watched The Mary Tyler Moore Show when it was originally on and the Lou Grant spin-off that came after MTM ended in 1977. It was an hour-long drama with Lou Grant as a newspaper editor. Definitely a grittier approach to story telling than MTM was. I vividly remember watching one story that showed one of the main characters being assaulted in her own apartment. She’d left the door unlocked when she went down to check on her laundry. When she returned, she found a man in her home who attacked her. That episode had a big impact on me. I’d recently graduated from college and was living by myself in my own apartment. I was already pretty good about making sure my door was locked even when I went to do laundry, but I became even more diligent after that. Over thirty years later and I still think of that show every time I consider leaving my door unlocked for any reason.

Add  items to my list of places to visit

Sometimes when I read a story I find out about places I didn’t even know existed, places that I can visit. One such place is the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. They are 68 rooms of miniatures conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen to her specifications. I found out about them when I read the wonderful Sixty-Eight Room Series by Marianne Malone. It’s a middle grade series that involves time travel, mystery and adventure. As soon as I read the first book and discovered the rooms were real, I knew I had to visit them. I haven’t gotten to Chicago yet, but when I do, I’m going to make sure I visit those miniature rooms.

These are just some of the ways that works of fiction have influenced me over the years. I’m sure there are many, many more instances that don’t immediately come to mind.

I’m curious. How have fictional stories in books, movies or TV shows influenced your life?

Sybil Johnson is the author of the Aurora Anderson Mystery series featuring computer programmer and tole/decorative painting enthusiast Aurora (Rory) Anderson.

Active in Sisters in Crime, she most recently served as the We Love Libraries Coordinator for SinC National. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Sybil wields pen and paintbrush at her home in Southern California.

You can visit her at


27 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Sybil Johnson

  1. Great post! I always love when people blog about book suggestions. Fictional stories in books, movies, and tv shows have influenced me in many ways. If they have a great story, I become captivated by everything in it (the people, the place, the journey). Sometimes, if the location is a real place, I add it to my bucket list of places to visit just like you mentioned you do. Fictional stories also get my creativity flowing, so I’ll draw the characters I read about (at least my interpretation of them).

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Happy book birthday, Sybil! I don’t know if any books have changed my life, but I learn stuff from fiction all the time. Stuff like the Orphan Train Movement. Why schools don’t teach such things in history classes I have no idea. It would be much more interesting than remembering a bunch of dates.

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  3. For me, the biggest influence on my life is Trixie Belden. Thanks to that kids mystery series, I’ve taken some trips I would never have gone on and made friends literally all around the world.

    And there’s the obvious Mrs. Pollifax. Not only did I steal my user name from the series but when I was in Europe with my family, one of our stops was inspired by the series.

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  4. Ohmygosh, Sybil! It’s like we’re living parallel lives … NCIS, Dark Shadows, Coneheads, Ellen Byron, Mary Tyler Moore, the miniatures … wow!

    When I read, I jot down all the marvelous turns of phrases and stick them in a book of similes I’ve had for ages. The pages are bulging with these scraps and I have to be very careful when taking it off the shelf. I don’t exactly know why I keep them. I mean, I’m not going to use them in my own writing. Rather, I think they inspire me to be better, think better, write better.

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  5. Happy release week, Sybil! I love this series and can’t wait to read the latest!!

    Books, TV shows and movies have definitely piqued my interest about a wide range of topics over the years. The edict to go out and “learn things” is so wise! I usually end up going down rabbit holes in the name of learning more, but end up remembering arcane facts that will only come in handy if I’m on Jeopardy!

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  6. I think one of the reasons I became hooked on mysteries as a teenager was because of all that I learned from reading them–especially writers like Dorothy L. Sayers, whose Lord Peter series jumps from subculture to subculture in each book (bell changing to advertising to academia to gentlemen’s clubs…). I learned so darn much about the world!

    Thanks so much for visiting the Chicks today, Sybil, and congrats on the new release–yay!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Fiction has left such a huge imprint on society throughout the ages. Think of all the common phrases that Shakespeare gave us. And the phrase “the butler did it,” I’m sure most people don’t realize that’s a phrase from Mary Roberts Rinehart and her book THE DOORS.

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  8. I watched Dark Shadows as s kid, too! I recently revisited the series on Netflix and found it didn’t have the same magic as I remembered it. Congrats on the new release — and thanks for visiting with us today, Sybil!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Congrats on the new book, Sybil! It sounds fantastic. I am pretty much a walking book of (mostly) useless facts. Lately I’ve been picking up handy Icelandic phrases from the (subtitled) TV noir series Trapped. But unlike you and Vickie, I was terrified of Dark Shadows. I closed my eyes and held my hands over my ears whenever my best friend insisted on watching it. Brrr…

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      1. I loved Iceland. Very mysterious and evocative. We were lucky to go before everyone else “discovered” it. (The Iceland Tourist Board is very effective!) It’s like Venice … no other place quite like it. Go, if you get a chance, but not when all the icky tourists are there. LOL!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. What a great post, Sybil! I love that my book inspired you to learn more about the Orphan Trains. I knew there was one that took NY orphans west but I was stunned to learn about the one that only delivered them to Cajun Country, where many didn’t even speak the native tongue, which was French at the time.

    I couldn’t agree with you more that one of the best parts of writing mysteries IS the learning of new things. Which is a terrible sentence, but you get the idea.


  11. Thank you so much for visiting us today! Love this post and love your books. (And Elizabeth Peters!)

    In response to your question, reading has definitely offered up a treasure trove of knowledge and inspiration and emotion.

    Liked by 1 person

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