Hello and Welcome! I have a very special person on the blog today. She’s one of my favourite authors and I am so lucky to have gotten a chance to interview her.
Please welcome…. Grace Topping *drum roll*!
Grace Topping is the author of Laura Bishop mystery series. The series is based around Laura’s home staging business.
Let’s get on with the interview. 🙂
Hello Grace and welcome to my blog, The Book Decoder. Tell me and my readers about yourself.
Hi, Rekha. Thank you for having me here on The Book Decoder. First of all, before becoming a writer, I was an avid reader, primarily reading traditional, cozy, and historical mysteries. Before retiring, I spent a career as a writer-editor/technical writer and IT project manager—writing about pretty boring stuff. So to be writing fiction and drawing on an imagination that I didn’t realize I had has been a real treat. Although I no longer live there, I grew up in the beautiful Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, so I wanted to set my book there. Louiston, Pennsylvania is a fictional town, but I drew a lot on the city where I lived. I currently live in Northern Virginia and am active with Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I spent a career writing about technology, but as to when I decided to write fiction—I can almost pinpoint the exact date. Several years ago, a friend asked me to go with her to Malice Domestic, a fan conference for traditional mystery fans. I had never heard of it, but when she said it focused on mysteries and named some of the authors who would be there, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. It was such an inspirational weekend. I got to meet a number of authors whose books I loved. The panel members spoke about how they got started, the things they faced on the way to publication, and the pleasure they got from writing. They all seemed so down to earth and made mystery-writing sound like something I could do—or at least try. I went as a fan and left as a mystery writer wannabe. It wasn’t until I retired that I actually attempted it, and it took me years before I was published. Let’s just say that once I started, I was too stubborn to give up.
What’s the inspiration behind Laura Bishop Mystery Series? Can you tell more about why you chose Staging as Laura’s occupation?
Most cozy mysteries have a hook—a main character that has a business or interest that is key to the story. For example, a main character who owns or operates a bakery or antique shop, leads travel tours, works in a library, or runs a bed and breakfast—something that enables the main character to come into contact with lots of people. When I decided to write a cozy mystery, I was advised to pick a business or interest that I enjoyed because I could possibly spend years writing about it. I definitely knew I didn’t want to write about IT, although Maddi Davidson did that successfully in her Miss-Information Mysteries Series, and I didn’t want to use a hook that had been used often.
One thing I enjoyed was watching HGTV home staging and home flipping programs. I watched so many I discovered I was a natural at it (either that or I learned a lot watching the shows), so I began helping friends stage their homes. It was a subject that I could write about and wouldn’t get tired of—at least I haven’t so far. To make sure I got the home staging right and didn’t misrepresent home stagers, I read books and articles on home staging and followed some home staging Facebook pages to see what they actually faced. I also contacted a home staging training and accrediting organization, Staging Studios in Texas. Debbie Boggs, co-founder of Staging Studios offered to read my manuscript and give me feedback. I was delighted when she said that I got it right. Home staging is also a growing field and one that would enable women to establish their own businesses and be their own boss. I hope my books inspire some readers to consider home staging as a career. I also hope the tips I give at the beginning of each chapter help readers stage their own homes.
In the series so far, we see Laura grow as a person, we see her facing her fears. Will Laura move out of her comfort zone and start dating again? She does see Detective Spangler as handsome though he’s not, what one would call, a best friend.
Laura faces many challenges (most of them resulting from her unhappy childhood and disastrous marriage), and it’s a challenge helping her work her way through them. Her aversion to handsome men resulted from attractive men like her father who deserted her, her husband who was a womanizer, men who took credit for her work, or men who generally made her life miserable. As a result, it has complicated her relationships with anyone attractive. She has to learn to separate those feelings from the new people who come into her life. She also has to learn to forgive her late husband and parents for their treatment of her and no longer drag those feelings with her. In addition, her reluctance to tell people no when they come to her for help usually drags her into trouble. As to whether she starts dating again—we’ll have to see. There’s a reason I write mysteries and not romances. I’m no good at it. But there is always hope for Laura and Detective Spangler, Doug, or whoever else comes along.
Speaking of Laura, what’s next for her? What can your readers expect in the next book?
In Staging Wars, Laura suspects that Monica Heller, her long-time nemesis, has been sabotaging her fledgling home staging business. To make matters worse, Laura also suspects that Monica had been involved with her late husband. To move forward with her life and get past those resentments, and to help some other friends, she ends up trying to help Monica get out of trouble, which is especially hard for her since they have been at war since the second grade.
What’s next for Grace Topping? Are you currently working on any writing projects?
I was thrilled beyond belief to learn that my first book, Staging is Murder, was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery, so I’m looking forward to finding out who won. The vote will be taken at the Malice Domestic conference (May 1-3 in Bethesda, Maryland). Since Malice is where I first got the idea to write a mystery, it’s so ironic that my book would get recognition there. I’m also busy promoting Staging Wars and trying to find time to spend with my new first grandchild. As to my next project, I’m a plotter, not a pantser, so I’m working on the outline for book three. I’ve already identified the victim, the villain, motive, and other complications to add to Laura’s life. To paraphrase Bette Davis, Fasten your seatbelt, Laura’s in for a bumpy ride.
Thank you, Grace, for the wonderful answers. Wish you all the best for the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery. 🙂
Lori Caswell, thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to interview Grace. 🙂