I’m pleased to have author Grace Topping from Northern Virginia to chat about her writing and her cozy mystery, Staging is Murder, that’s on blog tour with Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book.
Nice to have you here, Grace. How long have you been published? What titles and/or series have you published and with which publisher: Have you self-published any titles? Please give details.
STAGING IS MURDER is my first book, which is being released on April 30 by Henery Press. It is the first in the Laura Bishop Mystery Series. I don’t have any self-published books.
Congratulations on your debut book.
Tell us a little bit about your books — if you write a series, any upcoming releases or your current work-in-progress. If you have an upcoming release, please specify the release date.
The Laura Bishop Mystery Series is about a woman who decides midlife to change careers and become a professional home stager. She realizes that the work could be murder, but she never expected it to include a body. When a body falls from a laundry chute and lands at her feet, flowered wallpaper becomes the least of her home staging duties. The first in the series, STAGING IS MURDER, is being released April 30. I am in the middle of writing the next book in the series, which will be coming out next year about the same time.
Sounds interesting and a unique occupation for your sleuth.
Describe your goals as a writer. What do you hope to achieve in the next few years? What are you planning to do to reach these goals?
It took me ten years from the time I started working on STAGING IS MURDER to the time it is being published. My goal was to learn how to write a mystery, improve my writing, find an agent and a publisher, and successfully promote my book. Now that I’ve achieved that, my goal is to complete the other two books in my contract. To reach these goals, I plan to stay connected to the writing community through writing organizations such as Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Also I plan to take additional courses to improve my writing and plotting skills. I also hope to learn from reviews of STAGING IS MURDER what worked and what didn’t for readers.
Nice goals. It sounds like you’re determined to meet them, so I’m sure you will. I’m also a member of Sisters-in-Crime by the way.
What type of reader are you hoping to attract? Who do you believe would be most interested in reading your books?
My book is a cozy mystery. I wrote a cozy because cozies don’t include violence, sex, or bad language. So I hope to attract readers who are looking to be entertained, not horrified. I hope to attract readers who like the concept of home staging and hope to learn something about it through my books, and to make readers laugh occasionally. At least I hope they will.
I enjoy writing cozies for that same reason, although my latest book, Sea Scope, is a psychological mystery. I still don’t include a lot of violence, sex, or bad language because I feel that they detract from a good plot.
What advice would you give other authors or those still trying to get published?
The most important thing is to learn the craft of writing. If you don’t have good grammar skills, get books on grammar. Agents and publishers expect books submitted to them to be well edited. They will not take a book and make it better. If you don’t know how to write dialogue, take online classes. If you need to strengthen your plotting skills, study books on plotting. Libraries have lots of books on writing fiction. When I decided to write a mystery, I took an online course through my community college on how to write a mystery. Best thing I ever did. I came out of it with the complete outline for my book. Then apply all the things you learn to your manuscript. During my ten years of working toward publication, every time I learned something new, I applied it to my manuscript, creating a new version. By the time I had a publishing contract, I had written 38 versions of my book. I was too stubborn to give up. Be willing to learn as you go, and don’t give up.
What a great story. All the authors I speak with agree that being stubborn is an important quality for an author to possess. Thanks also for recommending library books. I’m a librarian as well as an author, so I know that there’s a wealth of information for those seeking publication in the writing books in a library’s collection.
What particular challenges and struggles did you face before first becoming published?
As I mentioned above, I had to learn about writing fiction and improve my drafts with each new thing I learned. But the biggest lesson I had to learn was that having no agent is better than having an agent who isn’t working for you. I wasted five years with an agent who kept me dangling. I was afraid to leave her and have no agent. Worse thing I could have done. Once I developed enough courage to nicely sever my contract with her, I found another agent who was able to sell my book in two months.
That’s a good point. I’m still looking for the right agent myself, although I haven’t signed with any yet.
Do you belong to any writing groups? Which ones?
I belong to the National Sisters in Crime (SINC), the Chesapeake Chapter of SINC, and to the online chapter of SINC, the Guppies (short for the great unpublished). I don’t think I would be published today without the help and support of the Guppies. I am also a member of Mystery Writers of America.
I’m also a member of Sisters-in-Crime and the Guppies chapter, and I agree that they are a wonderful and very supportive group for women who write mysteries.
What are your hobbies and interests besides writing?
My favorite activity is reading, and I belong to two book clubs. When I’m not involved with reading, writing, or promoting my book, I volunteer with my church.
Reading is important for authors. I wish I had more time to do it because I have so many books in my to-be-read pile. As far as your church volunteer work, I’m also very involved in my church.
What do you like most and least about being an author? What is your toughest challenge?
One of the things that I like most is being a member of the mystery writing community. Writers are very supportive, and I’ve made hundred of friends through writers’ groups and attending writing conferences. I particularly enjoy helping to promote other authors. I conduct interviews with mystery writers about twice a month for the Writers Who Kill group blog (www.writerswhokill.blogspot.com). The interviews give the authors an opportunity to talk about their books and for readers to discover them.
The thing I like least is sitting in a chair for long periods of time. It isn’t the best activity for staying fit, and I find that I sit a lot trying to meet deadlines.
My toughest challenge is juggling the activities required to promote STAGING IS MURDER with finding the time to write the second book in the series. And it truly is a juggling act.
I feel the same way about the things you mentioned. I’ve also made a lot of author friends both online and through local events. Sitting for long periods isn’t good, so I try to get up and walk around and stretch every 15 minutes or so. My Apple watch helps with that. It tells me when to stand for 5 minutes. As for juggling activities of promoting my books while trying to write more, you’re so right it’s a tough juggling act. I have 7 now, so you’ll see it gets harder having to write, promote, etc. the more books you publish.
What do you like about writing cozy mysteries?
I like telling a story that will hopefully entertain readers and not horrify them—stories lacking in violence, sex, and bad language. I would be uncomfortable including violent scenes, and I would be embarrassed writing about sex. And since I don’t use bad language in my everyday life, I won’t put it in my characters’ mouths. I love that cozy mysteries focus on solving the puzzle of the mystery, the characters, and the main character’s business or interest (the hook) of the story.
We certainly have a lot in common, Grace. I love creating characters and books with twists and also don’t feel comfortable writing ones that are too explicit.
Can you share a short excerpt from your latest title or upcoming release?
From STAGING IS MURDER
There, behind the desk and holding the purple-covered Louiston High School yearbook in his hands, stood Warren Hendricks.
“Warren,” I gasped. “What are you doing here?”
“Stay right where you are, young man,” Mrs. Webster said sternly. “Laura here knows karate, and she’s not afraid to use it.”
I sighed and positioned myself in what I assumed might be a karate stance.
“Please, Laura, I’m sorry. I don’t intend to harm anyone. Let me explain,” Warren pleaded.
“Sit down.” Mrs. Webster pointed to a brown leather sofa. “Laura, get one of those fireplace instruments over there.” She turned to Warren. “If you move, Laura will bop you a good one.”
Warren, all six feet of him, plopped onto the sofa, with tiny Mrs. Webster looming over him. His Adam’s apple bobbed and he kept clearing his throat.
“Okay, now fess up,” Mrs. Webster demanded.
“How did you get in?” I’d carefully locked up when I left the house earlier.
“I climbed in through a small window in the pantry. The window’s ancient and wasn’t hard to wiggle open. Though, getting through it was a bit hard.” Warren picked at a small tear on his jacket sleeve and grimaced. “I may have ruined my jacket.” A smart dresser, he probably regretted that more than being caught red-handed going through the Denton library.
“What were you searching for?” Mrs. Webster voice was steely cold. She wasn’t feeling any sympathy for him or his jacket.
Very nice. Thanks for sharing that.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your books?
Laura Bishop isn’t only an amateur sleuth—she’s a reluctant sleuth, which I think is a bit more realistic that a main character who jumps into a case with both feet, anxious to get working. She knows her skill set, and finding a murderer isn’t among them. But she gives into the plea by elderly Mrs. Webster to help clear her grandson, who is accused of murder. As reluctant as she is to get involved, Laura rises to the occasion.
She sounds quite realistic and someone readers would identify with.
Thanks so much for the interview, Grace, and best wishes on your series and future books. I’m sharing your blog tour below.
Staging is Murder
(A Laura Bishop Mystery)
by Grace Topping
About the Book
Staging is Murder (A Laura Bishop Mystery)
1st in Series
Henery Press (April 30, 2019)
Hardcover: 268 pages
Paperback: 268 pages
Digital ASIN: B07N96J65X
Laura Bishop just nabbed her first decorating commission—staging for sale a 19th-century mansion that hasn’t been updated for decades. But when a body falls from a laundry chute and lands at Laura’s feet, replacing flowered wallpaper becomes the least of her duties.
To clear her young assistant of the murder and save her fledgling business, Laura’s determined to find the killer. Turns out it’s not as easy as renovating a manor home, especially with two handsome men complicating her mission: the police detective assigned to the case and the real estate agent trying to save the manse from foreclosure.
Worse still, the meddling of a horoscope-guided friend, a determined grandmother, and the local funeral director could get them all killed before Laura props the first pillow.
About the Author
Grace Topping is a recovering technical writer and IT project manager, accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Let loose to write fiction, she is now creating murder mysteries and killing off characters who remind her of some of the people she dealt with during her career. Fictional revenge is sweet. She’s using her experience helping friends stage their homes as inspiration for her Laura Bishop mystery series. The first book in the series, Staging is Murder, is about a woman starting a new career midlife as a home stager. Grace is the current vice president of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a member of the SINC Guppies and Mystery Writers of America. She lives with her husband in Northern Virginia.
Website – https://www.gracetopping.com
Twitter – https://twitter.com/gtoppingauthor
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/GraceToppingAuthor
GoodReads – https://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomgracetopping
Purchase Links – Amazon B&N Kobo
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April 25 – The Power of Words – REVIEW
April 25 – Readeropolis – SPOTLIGHT
April 26 – Moonlight Rendezvous – REVIEW
April 26 – Literary Gold – SPOTLIGHT
April 27 – A Wytch’s Book Review Blog – REVIEW, CHARACTER INTERVIEW
April 28 – Cozy Up With Kathy – REVIEW, AUTHOR INTERVIEW
April 28 – Babs Book Bistro – SPOTLIGHT
April 29 – I’m All About Books – SPOTLIGHT
May 6 – Brooke Blogs – GUEST POST
May 6 – Laura’s Interests – SPOTLIGHT
May 7 – Ruff Drafts – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
May 8 – Baroness’ Book Trove – REVIEW
May 8 – Lisa Ks Book Reviews – CHARACTER GUEST POST
May 9 – The Avid Reader – REVIEW
May 9 – Carole’s Book Corner – SPOTLIGHT
May 10 – Teresa Trent Author Site – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
May 11 – The Book Decoder – REVIEW
May 11 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
May 12 – A Blue Million Books – GUEST POST
May 13 – That’s What She’s Reading – CHARACTER GUEST POST
May 14 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – REVIEW
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