I met Grace through our agent Dawn Dowdle. We’ve attended many Zoom meetings together, and she’s a delight!
Grace took time out of her busy schedule to visit with us today. Her new book Upstaged By Murder comes out later this month. Welcome, Grace!
Hi, Jackie. Thank you for having me on your blog.
When did you begin writing?
I’ve always been a fan of mysteries, particularly traditional and cozy mysteries, but I had never thought to write one—at least not since my feeble attempts in high school. It wasn’t until I attended Malice Domestic, a conference for fans and writers of traditional mysteries—mysteries written in the tradition of Agatha Christie or Murder She Wrote (without violence, sex, or bad language) that I thought of actually writing one.
I attended Malice for the first time with a friend who didn’t want to go alone. I had no idea what Malice was, but when I heard I would be able to meet some of my favorite authors, I couldn’t sign up fast enough. I discovered that the authors were ordinary people I could relate to and wondered if I could write a mystery too.
So the seed to become a mystery writer was planted at Malice. I soon discovered that I had a lot to learn. I spent a career writing pretty boring nonfiction like computer user manuals, but I didn’t know anything about writing fiction, particularly a mystery. The most valuable thing I did was sign up for an online course on writing mysteries through my local community college. Without that foundation, I probably would still be trying to find my way. As it was, my first book wasn’t published until ten years and 38 versions later. Every time I learned something new, I applied it to my work in progress. I’m so glad my earlier attempts didn’t get published.
Do you have a pet? Does your lead character have a pet?
My husband and I don’t have pets, but we do a lot of dog sitting for our three grand dogs, which is always interesting when they are together (a cocker spaniel, a pit-bull blend, and a 110-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback). Initially, I didn’t include a pet in my series. At a conference, one of the readers in attendance asked me if I had any cats in my work in progress. When I said no, she abruptly turned and walked away without another word. Some cozy readers love pets in mysteries. You can be sure I went home and added a cat. Thus, Inky, my main character’s small black cat came into being. While it’s fun including a pet in a series, it also requires some thought. You have to have your main character caring for the pet and having someone watch it while she is away, or you are going to hear from readers or the ASPCA.
Is this book part of a series?
Upstaged by Murder is the third book in my Laura Bishop Mystery Series. It’s being released April 20, 2021. Laura is a professional home stager, so each book in the series focuses on her adventures and on home staging. I provide tips about home staging and decorating at the beginning of each chapter.
In cozy mysteries, the main character usually has a business or interest that is featured prominently in the series. When I decided to write a cozy, I needed to pick a business and find one that hadn’t been used a number of times already. One of the things I enjoyed was watching home staging shows on HGTV. I’d learned so much I even helped friends stage their homes. So I made Laura a home stager. Before the first book, Staging is Murder, was published, I contacted a home staging training and certifying organization in Texas. They offered to review my manuscript, gave me a few tips, and said I had gotten it right. That was such a relief. I didn’t want to receive letters from home stagers telling me that I didn’t know what I was talking about.
What’s the location and why’d you pick this spot for your story?
My series is set in a small fictional town in the beautiful Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. I live in Virginia, but I grew up in Pennsylvania. I based a lot of my setting on my hometown. That’s where my heart is. Small towns make the perfect settings since the main character knows lots of people there. I also have my characters frequently meet in their favorite coffee shop. That way they cross paths with people in town that they might not ordinarily come into contact with, and they get to hear lots about what’s going on in town. Just what you need for a mystery.
Do you prefer the beach or the mountains?
Given where I come from, definitely the mountains. And if the spot has rolling water close by, even better. I would pick rolling water, even a small bubbling brook, over the ocean.
So soothing and restful. Now that I’ve finished the latest book, I could use a trip to the mountains.
Social Media Links
Grace can be found on Twitter as @gtoppingauthor
Grace Topping is an Agatha Award finalist and the USA Today bestselling author of the Laura Bishop home staging cozy mystery series. She’s a recovering technical writer and IT project manager accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Let loose to write fiction, she’s now killing off characters who remind her of people she dealt with during her career. She is the former VP of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, the Membership Guppy of the SINC Guppy Chapter, and a member of Mystery Writers of America.
Grace, thanks so much for stopping by. It’s been great getting to know you better.