Sunday, April 28, 2019

Staging is Murder - An Interview, Review, & Giveaway

I'm pleased to welcome Grace Topping to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Grace writes the Laura Bishop Mystery series. STAGING IS MURDER is the first book in the series and will be released April 30, 2019.

Kathy: Laura Bishop is a home stager. Did you study design or watch a lot of HGTV?

GT: Main characters in Cozy mysteries usually have a business or interest besides solving murders. When I decided to write a cozy, I needed to come up with a business/interest, or hook, as it is frequently referred to. Since I had a real interest in home staging, primarily because I had watched way too many HGTV programs, I decided to make Laura Bishop a home stager. But that was only the beginning. Although I had a real knack for it and helped a number of friends stage their homes, having a knack for something and having real expertise are two different things.

Before I started writing, I watched even more HGTV programs and read everything I could find on home staging. Before Henery Press published my book, I contacted a few home staging training and certifying organizations to ensure I had accurately portrayed home stagers and did not misrepresent them in any way. Debbie Boggs, co-founder of Staging Studio in San Antonio, Texas, responded and offered to read my manuscript. She not only gave me a few tips about staging, she endorsed my book, saying STAGING IS MURDER is “Well-researched and authentic to the true life of a home stager.” It was such a relief to know I had gotten it right.

There is a difference between being an interior decorator and a home stager. Although they both do a certain amount of design, an interior decorator adds personality to a home, while a home stager takes the personality out so anyone viewing the home can imagine themselves living there. A home stager can also works with the homeowner to make sure the home is in the best shape it can be for prospective buyers to view.

Kathy: Do you enjoy decorating your own home?

GT: My husband and I enjoyed selecting everything we put into our home and having it all come together. We love the colonial style typical of what you would see if you visited Colonial Williamsburg. Now that we have gotten it the way we want it, we rarely change anything, so I do not do much decorating. I do enjoy helping friends in their homes. Most times what they need is just another set of eyes to see their place and make suggestions.

Kathy: In STAGING IS MURDER Laura is staging a 19th-century mansion that hasn’t been updated for decades. I love old homes, though I prefer them with modern conveniences. What about you? Would you enjoy transforming such a house?

GT: Updating an old home would be a huge undertaking. I probably would enjoy it only if I could move out while the renovation was being done and if I had reputable workmen that I knew could be relied on to do a good job. In STAGING IS MURDER, Laura has the family of her best friend who own a construction business. And she knows she can rely on them to do a good work. That makes all the difference.

Kathy: In addition to murder, Laura has to contend with the meddling of a horoscope-guided friend. Do you follow your own horoscope?

GT: I will occasionally check mine in the paper or in a magazine, but I think they are about as accurate as a Chinese fortune cookie, especially since they can be interpreted in so many ways. But occasionally I will see a horoscope that, surprisingly, appears to be spot on.

Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?

GT: I read cozy mysteries because of what they do not have: violence, sex, or violence. Also, I like books that entertain, not horrify. I also like reading about the business or interest of the main character, especially if it is one that I know little about. I also like historical mysteries, especially ones by Jacqueline Winspear, Anne Perry, Charles Todd, and Frances Brody.

Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?

GT: I have tried my hand writing books for children and plays for middle school kids. But based on the response, I think I better stick with murder mysteries.

Kathy: Tell us about your series.

GT: The Laura Bishop series is about a woman who in midlife decides to change careers and become a home stager. In the first book, when a body falls from a laundry chute and lands at her feet, flowered wallpaper becomes the least of her home staging worries.

Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

GT: One of my favorite characters, and one who is popular with lots of readers, is Mrs. Mariah Webster, the grandmother of a young man who is accused of murder. She implores Laura to help find the killer and free her grandson. Mrs. Webster has lots of moxie—enough so that she should have been conducting her own investigation.

Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?

GT: In addition to the home staging inspiration, I wanted to write about women getting a second chance in life and becoming successful, especially in a career where they could work for themselves and become independent.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?

GT: I spent a career writing computer user manuals for systems related to banking. Deathly boring. The systems often changed or were replaced by other systems, so most of my work was either recycled or became part of a landfill somewhere. I wanted to work on something that would live on after me. Also, I had just retired, and when you retire you need something to live on and to live for. Writing mysteries gave me an interest and introduced me to wonderful people in the mystery-writing community.

Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?

GT: Jane Austen (of Pride and Prejudice fame), Jacqueline Winspear (historical mysteries), Bill Bryson (travel writer), and Georgette Heyer (creator of the Regency romance genre). That should make for interesting conversation.

Kathy: What are you currently reading?

GT: I usually have two or three books going at one time. In book format, I am reading THE ELUSIVE ELIXIR by Gigi Pandian. In audio format, I am listening to MESSENGER OF TRUTH by Jacqueline Winspear.

Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?

GT: With promoting my first book and writing my second book in the series, I have little time for hobbies. In the spare time I have, I participate in two book clubs and volunteer at my church.

Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.

GT: Orange marmalade, tea (I am married to an Englishman), Pecorino-Romano cheese, and extra-virgin olive oil (my grandparents came from Italy).

Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?

GT: I have a contract for two more books in the Laura Bishop home staging series. The next one should be out sometime next spring. No plans right now for a new series.

Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?

GT: My very favorite thing is being a part of the mystery writing community. They are such a supportive group, and I have made so many friends since I began writing, especially among members of Sisters in Crime, a terrific group.



STAGING IS MURDER by Grace Topping
The First Laura Bishop Mystery

Laura Bishop has landed her first job as a professional home stager, beating out her old high school nemesis to stage the Denton house for sale. Along with her young assistant Tyrone, Laura is ready to make her mark, especially since she doesn't return to her well paying, but soul numbing IT career. Despite the difficult owner and tight deadline, Laura is making progress. But while working in the basement, the owner's body falls from the laundry chute....dead. The police arrest Tyrone whose Grandmother pleads with Laura to find the real killer. Relying on her memories of mystery novels and movies and help from her best friend, Laura tries to uncover the real killer, but will the killer find her first?

I enjoyed my first trip to Louiston, Pennsylvania. For the most part, I liked Laura. I found her nervousness and aversion to good looking men a bit annoying, but on the whole she is a likeable protagonist with lots of room to grow and evolve. I absolutely love Mrs. Webster. Tyrone's grandmother is a tiny dynamo and I certainly want to be on her good side. Best friend Nita Martino is a good foil and brings exuberance and fun. I also really like Madame Zolta and hope we see a lot more of her in upcoming books.

STAGING IS MURDER sets the stage for a solid mystery series. There's an interesting plot and engaging characters, with just enough zaniness to promote laughs, but keep things real.


Staging is Murder (A Laura Bishop Mystery) by Grace Topping

About the Book

Cozy Mystery 1st in Series  
Henery Press (April 30, 2019)  
Hardcover: 268 pages  Paperback: 268 pages
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.

Author Links:

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Purchase Links - Amazon B&N Kobo 

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  1. Thank you, Kathy, for your fun and interesting questions and for the opportunity to be featured on your blog. And thank you for all you do in support of authors.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. You're always welcome at Cozy Up With Kathy!

  2. Thank you for the interesting interview with Grace Topping. Love learning more about the author's whose books are on my TBR list.
    "STAGING IS MURDER" sounds like a fabulous book and one I would love the opportunity to read. I bet Mrs. Mariah Webster will become one of my favorites too.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  3. Fun interview, Grace and Kathy! Speaking as a true blue HGTV fan, the series sounds like a winner. Wishing you all the best :-)