If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.













July Interview Schedule:
7/3 Jean Stone A Vineyard Summer
7/10 Mark Bergin
7/17 Christin Brecher Murder's No Votive Confidence
7/24 Dianne Freeman A Ladies' Guide to Gossip
7/31 J. C. Kenney A Genuine Fix

Saturday Guest Bloggers: 7/6 V. M. Burns, 7/13 Joe Amiel,

WWK Satuday Bloggers: 7/20 Gloria Alden, 7/27 Kait Carson

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Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:


Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.


KM Rockwood's "Frozen Daiquiris" appears in The Best Laid Plans: 21 Stories of Mystery & Suspense, edited by Judy Penz Sheluk. The anthology will be released on June 18th.

Congratulations to Margaret S. Hamilton for being a finalist in the Daphne Du Maurier contest. Margaret competes in the Unpublished/Mainstream mystery/suspense category.

Congratulations to Shari Randall for WINNING the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Her book, Curses, Boiled Again was published by St. Martin's last year. Read the interview about the book here. Yay, Shari!

Fishy Business anthology authors include KM Rockwood, Debra Goldstein, and James M. Jackson. This volume was edited by Linda Rodriguez.

Please read Margaret S. Hamilton and Debra Goldstein's short stories (don't ask about their modus operandi) in a new anthology, Cooked To Death Vol. IV: Cold Cut Files

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30.

James M. Jackson extends the Seamus McCree series with the May 25th publication of #6, False Bottom.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

An Interview with Grace Topping by E. B. Davis



Sister Madeleine paused at the door leading to the school library. “He also
recognized people sometimes become boxed in and kill out of sheer desperation.
Look for the person around Victoria Denton who became desperate.
Grace Topping, Staging Is Murder, Kindle Loc. 889

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.


Grace Topping’s first book in her Laura Bishop mystery series, Staging Is Murder, will be released by Henery Press on April 30. Grace has created a memorable cast of characters with the natural premise of staging homes for sale, putting main character, Laura Bishop, on the spot when murder occurs.

Laura has obtained her first commission. But the job she’s taken on is huge, a pre-Civil War mansion, and hindered by the homeowner’s uncooperative attitude. Laura has a good assistant, Tyrone Webster, a young, black man who has experience staging theater sets. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see much of Tyrone because for most of the book he is arrested and locked in jail. I hope there’s more for Tyrone to do in the next book because he’s playful and smart.

Nita Martino, her best friend, comes from a large Italian family, which has helped and healed Laura from the dearth of support in her own family. But Nita is superstitious, reading horoscopes daily, a fault that Laura treats with humor.

Please congratulate my interview partner Grace Topping on her debut!                                                       E. B. Davis  

What’s the difference between interior decorating and staging? Can either job be done by the same designer? Are there educational requirements?

An interior decorator or designer adds personality to a home to reflect the homeowner. A home stager takes the personality out to make the home appeal to a wider audience. But it goes beyond that. A home stager works with the homeowner to identify what needs to be done to make a home look up to date and attractive—to ensure that it sells faster and for more money.

I gather Louiston, Pennsylvania is in the western part of the state. Is it real or based on a real town
where you have lived?

Louiston is a fictional town based loosely on my hometown in the Allegheny Mountains, more in central Pennsylvania. A lovely area and a place I miss more the longer I live away from it. Fortunately, I have family there, so I get to visit often.

Laura and her late mother weren’t close. Why? Has Laura made changes in her life since her mother’s death?

Laura’s mother was a cold and remote individual, who never showed Laura affection. She was definitely a glass half empty kind of person who always saw the negative side of life, unlike Laura’s father, who had been friendly and outgoing and made everyone feel special, whether it was a friend or someone hired to paint the house. Sadly, when her parents divorced, Laura was left with her mother. It was one of her teachers who saw the lack of love and emotion in her life and helped nurture her friendship with another student from a large and loving family.

Laura recognized how her mother’s negative attitude poisoned her life and sets out to make sure that that she has a positive outlook. But she has to work at it, especially given her failed marriage. Fortunately, she has her best friend, Nita Martino, and her large and loving family’s influence in her life. They brought laughter into her life and showed her how good life can be.

Victoria Denton, the homeowner and murder victim, was not a pleasant person. How does she obstruct Laura’s work?   

Victoria came from a less affluent part of town and thought when she married into the wealthiest family in Louiston that she would have the status and social life she had always yearned for. However, it didn’t work out that way and over the years, she became dissatisfied and developed a reputation for being one of the most disagreeable people in town. When she and her ex-husband are forced to sell their 19th century mansion, she isn’t willing to do much to help Laura make it more attractive for other people to buy it. She only agrees to have the home staged after being convinced to do so by her ex-husband and her real estate agent so they can sell it fast, before the bank can initiates foreclosure. With the age and condition of the house, it wouldn’t have sold fast or for a very good price.

Victoria felt there was nothing wrong with the way the house looked. She was unhappy having to sell it, and no matter what Laura and Tyrone did to help improve the home’s appearance, she wasn’t pleased with it. They didn’t have carte blanche to change the home and needed to have her buy in to their suggestions. When she didn’t, their hands were rather tied.

Why doesn’t Laura like attractive men?

Every time someone made Laura unhappy, took credit for her work, or just generally embarrassed her, a handsome man was involved. Her mother warned her that handsome men were trouble, believing that if Laura’s father hadn’t been so handsome, he wouldn’t have been unfaithful and left them. Unfortunately, Laura didn’t listen to her and married Derrick—as handsome as they come. Big mistake. She should have listened to her mother. When he and his female companion (long story) were killed in an automobile accident, Laura swore off handsome men forever.

Tyrone is a candidate for the Quincy Scholarship at the college where he is studying design. After he breaks a valuable vase, Victoria, who is on the scholarship committee, tells him she will recommend against him getting the award. After Tyrone pleads with her, he leaves. A short time later, Laura finds her dead body. Tyrone has motive, but what about means and opportunity?

After the incident with the vase, Tyrone leaves for the day. When he arrives home, he goes for a run to work off his frustrations and decides to return to the Denton house to talk to Victoria—to apologize again and convince her not to interfere with his scholarship possibilities. But after getting close to the house, he changes his mind and returns home—but not before someone spots him running away from the area about the time Victoria is murdered. The police believe his being in the area at the time of the murder and the fact he had a key to the Denton house gave him means and opportunity.

With Victoria’s death, Laura’s contract to stage the house is null and void. But ex-husband Skip Denton rehires her to finish the job. Nita hires a local psychic to “clear” the house of negativity or Victoria’s spirit, but Laura still feels uneasy in the house. Do you believe in spirits or ghosts?

No, not really. But I think there are things that just can’t be explained, and sometimes a place just has negative vibes, especially a house that is nearly 200 years old, like the Denton house. Laura doesn’t want to go back into the house because it was the scene of a murder. Sometimes that’s enough. It’s Nita who thinks Victoria’s spirit is still there and sets out to make sure she leaves.

Guido, Nita’ husband, is wonderfully supportive. What does he do?
 
Guido is a great guy, isn’t he? With his mild manner and patience, he is the perfect mate for Nita. He has a background in construction but now works for the Romano family as general office manager and accountant.

At the beginning of each chapter, you provide home staging advice. Did you study home staging?

Actually, my knowledge of home staging came primarily from watching far too many HGTV home staging and home flipping programs. I discovered that I have a knack for it, probably from watching all those shows, and I began helping friends stage their homes. When I decided to write a cozy mystery, which usually has a main character with a business or interest that is a key part of the story, it was a natural choice to make my main character a home stager. It also helped that a home staging main character hasn’t been done much in the cozy mystery world. I also read a number of books and guides about home staging.

After I completed and polished my manuscript, I contacted some home staging training and certifying companies to make sure I hadn’t misrepresented the home staging business. Debbie Boggs, one of the founders of Staging Studios in San Antonio, Texas, kindly read my manuscript, gave me some pointers, and endorsed it. It was a great relief knowing I had gotten it right. I have continued to learn a lot about home staging by watching webinars Staging Studios makes available. At this point, I probably could start my own staging business. If I weren’t busy writing mysteries, I almost would try it. From what I’ve learned, home staging is a rapidly growing field and an excellent prospect for people who want to start their own business.

Why do people call Vocaro’s, the local coffee shop, their third place?

A third place can be defined as that place where people feel welcome, comfortable, and connected. Connected being the key word. It was a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg and refers to places where people spend time between their home (their first place) and work, (their second place). If you remember the TV show, Cheers—that place where everyone knows your name—Vocaro’s is like that.

As a writer, Vocaro’s coffee shop is a place I can have characters cross paths with other characters and witness things they wouldn’t ordinarily see. It’s also a good place to pick up gossip about what’s happening in the community.


After Tyrone is arrested, his grandmother, Mrs. Mariah Webster, visits Laura and charges her to find Victoria’s killer so Tyrone will be exonerated. Would you describe Mrs. Webster for our readers?

Readers have told me they love Mrs. Webster. I do too. Mrs. Mariah Webster is an African-American elderly grandmother (think Cecily Tyson) who single-handedly raised her orphaned grandson from the time he was five years old. She is a retired home-care nurse, who has seen a lot of life and doesn’t take guff from anyone. She could best be described as someone with lots of moxie. She is courageous and probably could have conducted her own investigation without any trouble.

Was Sister Madeleine a substitute sister, mother, or something else to Laura?

I think of Sister Madeleine as more a fairy godmother. As a young nun, she was Laura’s second grade teacher and saw how emotionally neglected she was. She encourages her friendship with Nita Ramona (now Martino), who comes from a large Italian-American family, knowing that the family would take Laura to their hearts, which they did. She keeps an eye on Laura over the years, and encourages her love of reading—introducing her to mysteries, which Laura takes to with great relish. When faced with trying to solve a murder, Laura turns to mystery-loving Sister Madeleine first for advice.

Laura likes chocolate. She understands why early church leaders thought anything so good must be sinful and banned it. Is that true?

Absolutely. In the 1600’s, religious leaders banned monks and nuns from eating chocolate, believing it was a powerful aphrodisiac that would inflame their lustful passions. All it does for me is add weight. I eat it for its antioxidant properties. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Throughout the book, Laura, who has no illusions of being a sleuth, asks herself what her favorite literary sleuths would do? What characters does she rely on and do they help her?

Laura draws on the wisdom of such wonderful characters as Anne Perry’s Hester Latterly and Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, and on the humor of characters such as M. C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin. Growing up in such a cold and lonely environment, characters from books were her friends and guiding lights. So she often thinks about them and wonders how they would handle various situations.  

At one point, Laura wonders if she’s gullible and her ability to judge people. Will solving the crime change her?

Laura wants to believe the best of everyone and hates to think one of the people around her could be guilty of murder. So she is readily willing to believe their alibis and explanations. Later she wonders whether she was too willing to believe them because what they told her made sense, or because she likes them and doesn’t want to believe them guilty. She learns that while most of them aren’t guilty of murder, they all have secrets they don’t want revealed. Protecting their secrets makes them appear guilty of more serious things. Laura has to learn to sift through the secrets she uncovers to get to the more serious crime of murder. One can only hope she’ll learn from her detecting not to be so gullible.

What’s next for Laura?

In the second book of the series, Laura discovers that someone is trying to sabotage her fledgling business, and she is introduced to the world of artists and art festivals. When a body shows up at Hendricks Funeral Home with a knife in its back, Laura finds herself drawn into another murder investigation—again quite reluctantly. Look for it this time next year.   
  


18 comments:

KM Rockwood said...

Sounds like a great book! I'm assembling my Kindle list for a trip--this looks like it merits a place.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

congratulations! Can't wait to read your book.

Jim Jackson said...

Congratulations, Grace. Your series shines another light on Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage.” Best of luck with your debut and #2!

Grace Topping said...

Thanks, Kathleen and Margaret. Publication of this book was a long time coming--I started it ten years ago. But I'm having fun now introducing it to the world.

Grace Topping said...

Thanks, Jim. After attending Malice off and on for over 15 years, I finally get to attend as a published author and get to appear on yet another stage.

Grace Topping said...

Thank you, E.B., for the terrific interview questions--and most of all, for inviting me years ago to join Writers Who Kill.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Looking forward to seeing you shine at Malice as much as this book shines...a truly enjoyable read. Can't wait for the second book in the series. Delighted to know it won't be a ten year wait.

Grace Topping said...

I can't wait to see you and everyone at Malice. Attending Malice as a fan or writer is like finding your tribe. And if my book shines, it was because of the reviews and suggestions from people like you, Debra.

Shari Randall said...

Grace, I couldn't be happier for you. I was honored to read a bit of this ms. and now seeing the completed book out in the world is a thrill. Malice will be so much fun. Congratulations!

Grace Topping said...

Thanks, Shari. Seems like only yesterday that your first book was coming out and now you have a three-book series. Looking forward to seeing you at Malice.

E. B. Davis said...

Congratulations, Grace. Your book was a wonderful read. I'm so glad for you, and thanks for your help and the interview.

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for my book to arrive. Supposedly, it should be delivered in just a few days. I can't wait, Grace! I'm so happy for you after all the time and work you put into writing it.
Linda M.

Kaye George said...

Grace, I'm beyond happy about you being published! I love your topic--so good for murders, I think! I'll see you at Malice!

Kait carson said...

Can't wait to read this again. I was a lucky beta reader and I fell in love with the story. Congratulations, Grace!

Kara Cerise said...

Congratulations, Grace! Your Laura Bishop series sounds terrific. Can’t wait to read the first book.

Grace Topping said...

Thank you, Linda M., Kaye, Kait, and Kara. Publication in my book has been a long time in coming. Kait, it was your good suggestions that made Staging is Murder a better book. Kaye, I look forward to seeing you at Malice.

Anonymous said...

Congrats Grace! I'm putting Staging is Murder on my TBR list. :)

Marilyn Levinson said...

Grace,
As your friend and fellow writer I'm so happy that April 30th is fast arriving. Congratulations on having your first mystery published. Staging Is Murder is an exciting read with well-drawn characters. Wishing you many, many sales!!