I’m happy to welcome author Grace Topping. Today, Grace shares her writing journey and debut novel, Staging is Murder.
Several years ago, I attended Malice Domestic, a conference for fans of traditional mysteries. I had always enjoyed reading mysteries, so I thought it would be fun. I got to hear authors of books I loved and some authors new to me talk about their characters, their writing careers, and what inspired them.
What surprised me the most was that these authors were ordinary people like me. Sitting in the audience, I began to wonder that if they could write a mystery, perhaps so could I. After all, I was the writer of exciting computer user manuals, so how much harder could it be to throw in a little murder. I had often come across people in my career who would be the perfect model for a murder victim.
It was a lot harder than I thought. Writing lean, boring documents gives you excellent skills in writing, but it is a lot different than writing a novel. So my first challenge was leaning how to write a mystery. I could have spent months and years spinning my wheels trying to come up with cohesive story, but I wisely decided to take an online course through my community college on how to write a mystery. This was probably the number one best decision of my mystery-writing career. It gave me a good foundation for my first draft and the realization that this was something I could do.
The second best thing I did was deciding not to go it alone and join a professional writing group and learn from other writers. When I learned about Sisters in Crime and their online chapter, the Guppies, I joined and immediately found a group of writers willing to share information, and best of all, cheer me on. If I have any success, it will because of this wonderful group.
So ten years after starting my mystery, I’m celebrating the publication of Staging is Murder. It has been a long journey, but this month I’m finally able to introduce my story and characters to the world. And, I’ll be attending Malice Domestic again—this time as an author.
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, removing 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.
“You work for that woman and you’ll end up killing each other. Even your horoscope says so.”
I put down my cappuccino, took the newspaper my friend Nita Martino pushed at me, and read the horoscope for Capricorns: A difficult person will cause you to take rash action.
I laughed and handed the paper back to her. “Last month it predicted a financial windfall and then foreign travel. Neither came true. I don’t think I’ll be knocking off my first client—at least not until she pays me.”
Nita read our horoscopes the mornings we met at Vocaro’s for coffee. Chinese fortune cookies would have been more accurate.
Nita shook the paper. “I’ve warned you, and now your horoscope is warning you. Why won’t you listen?”
“Because if I’m going to build a reputation as a home stager, I need the reference Victoria Denton can give me. She may be difficult, but she knows everyone in town.”
“I’ll give you a reference. You helped lots of friends stage their homes, including my mother-in-law. Talk about turning ugly ducklings into swans. They’d still be waiting for buyers if you hadn’t helped them.”
“That was for friends. Now it’s business. Turning Victoria’s mansion into a showplace will speak volumes, especially since it’s such a large undertaking. If it would help, I’d stage a house for Hannibal Lecter.”
“Believe me, Hannibal would be easier to work with.”
Wanting to change the subject, I rummaged around in my large Land’s End canvas bag, pulled out a small box, and proudly handed it to her. “Look at this—my new business cards.”
Nita read the card I handed her. “‘Staging for You, Laura Bishop, Professional Home Stager.’ This is so exciting. Now you can do something you enjoy—and get paid for it.”
“The sooner the better. My budget is so slim it’s squealing.” I didn’t mention the crushing debt I incurred because of my mother’s illness and funeral expenses. I needed to make a success of my business or it was back to the well-paying IT field that bored me to death but would pay the bills. The staging business would also help me move on from the life I’d left behind.
“Laura, I’ve told you before I can help—”
“Thank you, but no. With two kids in college, you can’t risk your savings on me.”
Nita frowned and ducked behind her newspaper. “Uh-oh, there’s trouble.”
Monica Heller stood at the counter, tapping her foot as she waited for her order. Her linen sheath and sleek, golden, chin-length hair screamed money and sophistication, neither of which Nita nor I possessed in abundance.
“As always, she looks stunning.” I sighed, hoping I didn’t sound envious.
“If we were from wealthy families, do you think we’d look that good?”
“It’s in her genes.”
“Genes certainly lacking in my gene pool.” Nita took a bite of sticky bun. “Monica may be the best-known designer in town, but Victoria showed real smarts hiring you instead of her.”
Author Bio and Links
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.
Happy Release Day!