The important thing
isn’t whether a glass is half full or half
empty but that it can
Grace Topping, Staging Wars, Kindle Loc. 2403
Bishop’s new home staging business is growing in popularity, though not with
her nemesis. Laura has long suspected established interior designer Monica
Heller of sabotaging her fledgling company—and having an affair with her late
When the ultra-chic Monica is caught at the scene of a murder, Laura is plenty
happy to imagine her languishing in a prison cell with bedsheets far from her
normal 600-thread Egyptian cotton. But her delight is short-lived.
When Laura’s friends land on the police’s radar, Laura must overcome her
dislike of Monica to help solve the crime. Not an easy task since Laura and
Monica have been at war since the second grade.
Staging Wars is the second book in Grace
Topping’s Laura Bishop mystery series. It was released yesterday by Henery
Press. Grace was nominated for an Agatha Award for her first book in this
series, Staging is Murder. I’m unsure
how this year’s Agatha Awards will be determined since the Malice Domestic
conference won’t be held due to the public distancing required by the
Coronavirus, but we still have high hopes that Grace (or Connie Berry, another
WWK blogger, who is competing for the same award) will win.
Laura’s only relative, Aunt Kit, sister of Laura’s
late mother, visits and stays with Laura. For someone on her own, Laura has
little time to herself among her visiting aunt, Inky, her cat, Nita, her friend
and business partner, business demands, both her own and Monica’s, and of
course, solving two murders.
Ask Grace questions by leaving a comment below. Thanks
for the interview, Grace! E. B. Davis
You start each chapter with house staging advice.
One piece of advice is to make sure the furniture in the room is in proportion
to the room. I’ve been vexed for years because it seems as room sizes of homes
have decreased, furniture sizes have increased. How can you find suitably
proportioned furniture when manufacturers seem to think we all have spacious,
Your question reminds me of an experience I had recently. I follow
posts professional home stagers make on a Facebook group devoted to home
staging. They raise issues like how to make furniture fit, how to bill for
different situations, how to handle it when a homeowner is rigid about changing
anything, etc. I found myself becoming stressed reading about those things and
then relaxed when I reminded myself that I didn’t have to deal with them—I only
had to write about them. It was almost like those commercials where well-known
actors state that they only play a doctor on TV.
But as to your question about oversized furniture, Laura Bishop would
tell you that one way of finding furniture to fit smaller rooms is to search
antique and resell shops for older, smaller furniture and have it reupholstered
to your taste.
In an effort not to swear, Nita blurts out mystery
writers’ names, then romance writers’ names, then painters’ names. How can she
be so creative when angry?
Nita is quite a character—someone I would love to have as a best
friend. But having a friend like Nita can be dangerous because she has a
tendency to lead her friends into sticky situations. With Nita’s success as a
photographer, she is discovering she is more talented than she realized. Being
artistic, she is inclined to be more imaginative when it comes to art,
decorating, and language.
Did Laura jump to conclusions when she suspects that
Monica cancelled a reserved truck and left a bad online review of her business
or is she justified when no further attacks are made after Monica is jailed?
truck reservation is mysteriously cancelled, followed on the heels of receiving
a poor anonymous online review, Laura pieces it together with some other things
that had been happening, which she doesn’t name. Perhaps she was jumping to
conclusions suspecting Monica, but given the history of their schooldays and
Monica’s treatment of her, even in adulthood, it’s natural for her to suspect
Monica first. Since the strange things that had been happening stopped once
Monica was arrested, it was probably a correct assumption. Out of sympathy for
Monica’s plight, Laura never asks her about it. So it’s still somewhat of a
Does anyone drink Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry
anymore? Isn’t it sweet? When Laura uses it in Aunt Kit’s favorite chicken
dish, I was taken aback because I thought cooking sherry was dry.
I enjoy an occasional sip of Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry. I
first discovered Harvey’s when I lived in England years ago. It’s a sweet
cordial with a nutty flavor. You can get dry sherry, but I don’t care for it. I
particularly enjoy Harvey’s with smoked almonds and always have it on Christmas
Eve and on cold winter nights. It warms you right up. And as Laura discovers,
it helps calm frazzled nerves.
In addition to including Harvey’s in the chicken dish recipe that appears
at the end of the book, it’s terrific in Sherry Trifle—an English dessert made
of layers of cake (soaked in sherry), fruit, Jell-O, custard, and lots of
whipped cream. You get a taste of the sherry with every bite. It’s a heavenly
or devilish dessert, however you want to view it.
In the last few years, Harvey’s has been making a comeback. It is frequently
listed as an ingredient in cocktails. Try it. But be careful. Given its sweet
taste, it is more potent than you would imagine.
Although Aunt Kit cautions Laura about leaving her
lucrative job with benefits, I didn’t think she seemed as negative as Laura
complains about to Nita. Is Laura predisposed to thinking that Aunt Kit has an
identical outlook as her mother? She can’t be all bad since Inky loves her and
she loves dessert.
One of the challenges of a second and subsequent books in a series
is bringing readers up to date about the characters without doing an
information dump. I created Aunt Kit so she could bring up things that occurred
in the first book and have the retelling sound natural. I wanted her to sound
critical of Laura’s decisions so Laura could explain what she did and why, thus
setting the stage for the reader. But sometimes you create a character for a
particular purpose and they take on a life of their own. It was like that with
Mrs. Webster in Staging is Murder. I
created her to beseech Laura to help her grandson, and she went on to steal the
show and become a reader favorite.
Laura’s husband Derrick ran around on her. She
didn’t marry someone like her father, did she? Why did Laura’s parents divorce?
Laura’s parents divorced, and Derrick was killed in an automobile
accident with another woman before the series opens. Both contributed to
Laura’s aversion to handsome men. Laura’s mother frequently told Laura that
handsome men were trouble—that if her father hadn’t been so handsome, he
wouldn’t have been unfaithful. But Laura questions what came first—her father’s
supposed unfaithfulness (there was nothing to prove that) or her mother’s sour
disposition. She didn’t heed her mother’s warning and married handsome Derrick,
much to her regret. That and having handsome men take credit for her work and
other things are enough for her to be wary of handsome men. It complicates her
dealings with police detective Alex Spangler and businessman Doug Hamilton—both
very attractive men. It’s a strange aversion, but I needed to give my character
a flaw to overcome, so I came up with that. It seems to work.
I remember when gray was the new neutral back in the
1980s. It’s back! Do home fashions recur like clothing fashions? What’s so good
about drab gray?
Trends in fashion and colors do come back. I hope we don’t see a
resurgence of avocado appliances anytime soon. Gray makes for a good neutral,
but it is important to select the right color of gray. Gray with a dark
undertone can make a room look drab and gloomy. Gray with a bit more blue or
lighter undertones can give a room more life. The base colors used to create a
paint color determine the undertone. For example, bright fire engine red will
have a lot of yellow in it, while darker red will have blue in it. Consulting a
home stager about colors can save homeowners from making wrong color choices.
I don’t think Sister Madeleine was right to ask
Laura to exonerate Monica. We’re required to forgive, but we are not required
to get involved and help bullies who tormented us in our youth. Why would Laura
succumb to the Sister’s wheedling?
Sister Madeleine played a pivotal role in Laura’s life. She was
Laura’s teacher in the second grade, and when she became aware of Laura’s
dismal home life, she nurtured her friendship with Nita Martino, hoping that
Nita’s large and fun-loving Italian-American family would take her under their
wing. Which is exactly what they did and accounted for Laura’s better outlook
on life than she would have had without them. Monica had also been one of their
classmates, and Sister Madeleine had a fondness for all three of them and
watched them over the years. Laura and Sister Madeleine have been friends for
years based on their shared interest in murder mysteries.
So when Monica gets into trouble big time, Sister Madeleine asks
Laura to help save Monica’s business while she is in jail. She knows of the
enmity between the two of them and hopes that by helping Monica, Laura can move
on with her life and shed herself of resentment, which she feels Laura is
dragging behind her. Sister Madeleine didn’t ask Laura to involve herself in
the murder investigation, just Monica’s business, but Laura feels compelled to
do so anyway when other friends come under police scrutiny. Besides, how can
Laura tell a nun she is fond of no to something she asks of her, especially
since she helped her so much in life?
When Sister Madeleine makes the claim that Laura’s
resentment toward Monica is preventing her from moving forward, I begged to
differ. Seems as if Laura has moved on with her life by divorcing Derrick,
quitting her job, and creating a new business. Why would the Sister say such a
Actually, Laura planned to leave Derrick, but he was killed before
she could divorce him. She is making progress in her life with her business,
but it’s the emotional side that Sister Madeleine is concerned about. Laura suspected
that Derrick had been involved with Monica, which complicates their
relationship even more than Monica’s bullying of her in school. Resentments run
deep, and it takes a long time to get over them. By helping Monica, Laura
learns the truth of what happened between Monica and Derrick.
“Sister Madeleine was a much better person than I
was.” Kindle Loc. 1117
“But Tyrone was a much better person than I was.”
Kindle Loc. 1630
Why does Laura think many people are better than
Laura recognizes her talents and shortcomings. She recognizes that
she has a talent for interior decorating and that knowledge helps her leave a
job she found boring and move to setting up her own business as a home stager.
Equally, she recognizes the strength of her friends and acknowledges that sometimes
they are stronger than she is in certain areas, especially when it comes to
forgiveness. It’s more to do with recognizing their strengths and less about
her lack of them.
What is it about an English tea that calms and
Ah, for a good cup of tea when you need it. There is something
about tea that helps soothe anxious spirits. It has a calming effect. For
Nita’s family, food is love and seems to help in every situation. For Laura,
everything seems better with a cup of tea. My husband, who is British, and I
have a pot of tea available all day. In the morning, tea says, “Come on, it’s
time to start your day.” Coffee hits you on the back of the head and says, “Get
What is the special epoxy covering you can use to
Actually, you can use both latex paint and epoxy paint to cover
tiles. If you use latex paint, you need to first apply a bonding primer that is
made to adhere to tile. Using epoxy, you don’t need the primer. Two coats of
epoxy meant for tile, such as Rust-Oleum Tub & Tile, is all you need. The
disadvantage of epoxy paint is the selection of colors may be limited. It’s
amazing the things I learned doing research for my series—and watching far too
And now the hardest question. Much like Shari
Randall, who was nominated (and won) an Agatha award and whose series was
cancelled, Henery has cancelled your series, even though you were nominated for
an Agatha Award. Will you continue to publish the series independently or try a
new series? There are so many unanswered questions!
This is a terrible time for writers and publishers, especially
small publishers. Since Henery Press cancelled the contracts with most of their
authors, I can only imagine that they faced some major challenges. It was
disappointing, but if it was going to happen, this was probably the best time.
With needing to promote Staging Wars and
deal with lots of other matters, not having a deadline to deliver my third book
at the end of the summer is a bit of a blessing. I have enjoyed creating the
characters in my Laura Bishop series, so I’m not ready to abandon them yet to
start another series. So Laura, Nita, Mrs. Webster, and Aunt Kit’s futures are
still up in the air. Stay tuned.