Please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com for information on guest blogs and interviews. October Interviews 10/6 Joan Garcia 10/13 M. E. Browning 10/20 Lori Lewis Ham 10/27 Krista Davis 10/31 Veronica Bond Guest Blogs 10/2 Kathy Manos Penn 10/16 Kate Lansing 10/30 Jule Selbo -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, April 29, 2021

CURLY QUOTES AND STRAIGHT QUOTES by Nancy L. Eady

 Picture the internal writing process as a study paneled with rich oak book cases from floor to ceiling accompanied by overstuffed red leather armchairs arranged in a semi-circle in front of an antique mahogany desk with matching credenza. The inhabitants of my study include my inner critic, nicknamed I.C., Creativity, Hope and Reason. 

The last few weeks have seen I.C. sitting in pride of place at the mahogany desk since I’ve been in editing mode. I’ve declared the editing finished twice, only to have I.C. override me because her perfectionist soul spots “just one more” correction. Creativity has been standing in front of the desk, her foot tapping in an ever-faster rhythm the longer I.C. keeps at it. She is now ready to knock I.C. out with a good right hook, tie her up, and lock her in the closet so all of us can start something new. Reason has been holding her back, but after this final edit, I suspect I.C. will have a black eye and a month-long vacation in the coat closet.         

As critical as she is, even I.C. was stymied by the editorial comment we received when I ran a small sample of my manuscript through an on-line editing program. The program announced that my sample had “Straight quotes mixed with curly quotes.” 

Say what? 

Since the sentence the editing program was referring to was a question, my befuddled mind wondered if the grammar powers-that-be had changed the rules about the way a question is punctuated. Had straight quotes replaced the question mark? After all, “?” contains curves in it. And the “two spaces after a sentence” rule changed without my knowledge or consent sometime after I taught myself to type in 1990 on one of the very first home word processors. After a consultation with the personalities in my mind yielded nothing, I resorted to strenuous research – I googled it.         

Google came through yet again. Apparently, some computer engineer way back in the infancy of word processing programs streamlined the program by using quote marks that are two straight little lines—"—the advantage being that you only need one computer code for quote marks. Since people have been taught since grammar school, at least where cursive is taught, that quote marks must be curved, the straight quote marks were not favored. Thus, the users forced later software engineers to add an additional two computer codes that allowed quotation marks to be displayed in the manner God intended, with curves – “Open Quote/End Quote.” (We know this is what God intended because He used curly quote marks on the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments.) 

The plot thickens. As word processing programs evolved, yet another group of computer programmers decided to improve the lives of writers everywhere by choosing default settings rather than allowing the typist/writer to format her own document. Unfortunately, whoever decided what the defaults would be had no interest in what would be best for typography, creative writing or typists. (Don’t even get me started on what it takes to figure out how to do dot leaders or underline spaces!) 

So, my mixed straight quotes and curly quotes were the result of diametrically opposed default settings on the two different computers used while working on my manuscript. One computer uses straight quotes instead of curly quotes, and the other likes curly quotes, not straight quotes. And while most other formatting changes transferred easily between the two computers, the quotes did not. Hence the criticism of my mixed quotes and the subsequent befuddlement of myself, I.C., Creativity and Reason. Now to correct the problem…

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

An Interview With Laura Jensen Walker

 by Grace Topping

 

Each spring, fans and writers of traditional mysteries who have registered for the Malice Domestic Conference vote on books that were nominated for an Agatha Award in various categories. It’s always exciting to see which books have been nominated, especially those in the Best First Novel category—those authors who have launched their first mystery novel. Among those nominated for Best First Novel was Laura Jensen Walker, who joins us today to talk about her nomination for Murder Most Sweet and her second mystery, Hope, Faith, & a Corpse, which came out recently. 

 

 

Hope, Faith & a Corpse

What the Book is About

 

Hope Taylor arrives in Apple Springs to start her new life as the first female pastor of Faith Chapel Episcopal Church. The northern California town’s quaint cottages, bungalows, and shops promise a fresh start for the 42-year-old widow and Bogie, her scruffy black Labrador. But where is Father Christopher? The kindly old rector who hired Pastor Hope was supposed to meet her upon her arrival, but he’s nowhere to be seen. Hope’s faith springs eternal, so she explores the little white church hoping to find Father Christopher. But when she enters the columbarium, she instead finds church elder Stanley King–his skull crushed by a fallen burial urn.

 

Hope had made Stanley’s acquaintance before, and had struggled to take a charitable view of his character. Stanley was as wicked as he was wealthy, as petty as he was pious. His soul may have been holy, but his behavior was wholly rotten. The last time Hope had seen him, he had shouted drunkenly that she would preach at Faith Chapel over his dead body.

 

Many of the townsfolk witnessed the altercation, so Hope finds herself as the prime suspect in Stanley’s murder. With Bogie’s four-footed assistance, Hope is determined to find the real killer and clear her name…even if it will require a bit of divine intervention.

 

 

Welcome, Laura, to Writers Who Kill.

 

Hope, Faith & a Corpse features Hope Taylor, the new pastor of Faith Chapel Episcopal Church. What prompted you to make the main character of this book a priest?

 


I belong to a neighborhood Episcopal church, where we have had two wonderful women priests as our rectors in the past decade whom I greatly admire and respect. I wanted to give a tip of the hat to women clergy. Also, I adore The Vicar of Dibley and Father Brown TV shows and thought it would be fun to marry the two.

 

Mystery writers are encouraged to have conflict of some type on every page. You did that in spades. Poor Hope faces resistance to a woman priest by some parishioners, other church members resist her involvement in planning social events, and she is accused of murdering a parishioner. Not including a murder, does church life usually provide such fodder for a mystery?

 

It certainly can. I’ve attended many churches over the course of my life, and some have provided their fair share of petty squabbles between members of the congregation, particularly in the planning of social events and who’s in charge. But then, every workplace has conflicts. I also interviewed a couple of women priests who shared their stories of resistance to women clergy from some parishioners when they first started out. And not just from men.

 

Hope is a recent widow. What prompted her to become a priest, totally changing her life?

 


Hope actually got “the (spiritual) call” to be a priest while she was still married, and her older husband was proud and supportive of his wife’s career change from teacher to priest. Sadly, he passed away before he could see her become the associate pastor of Faith Chapel. Hope likes helping people; it’s in her nature, so ministering to others was a perfect fit.

 

Murder Most Sweet, the first book in your Bookish Baker Mysteries, was recently nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. What has that experience been like?

 

Unbelievable, incredible, and amazing! I still can’t believe my first cozy has been nominated for an Agatha. I wasn’t even sure I could write a mystery since I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so to have it nominated for this prestigious award is quite an honor. I feel a bit like Sally Field; “You like me, you really like me!” 

 

Please tell us about your Bookish Baker Mysteries?

 

Teddie St. John, my main character (and bookish baker) is a breast cancer survivor who chose to go flat after her second mastectomy and to follow her lifelong dream of becoming an author. She now writes cozy mysteries and lives in a small Wisconsin town where she loves to bake for her family and friends. I created these mysteries as an homage to growing up in Racine, Wisconsin, home to fabulous Danish pastries, including delectable, mouth-watering kringle, the official state pastry. Teddie becomes an accidental sleuth in Murder Most Sweet, when her scarf is found around the neck of a strangled woman and she must prove her innocence.

 

How has it been writing two separate mystery series, especially so close together?

 


Confusing. My husband still doesn’t know which book is which. And exhausting. I was still working full-time when I wrote both books. Happily, I took early retirement to focus exclusively on my writing. As for keeping the two books straight, I finally had to create a list of characters and events for each book so I wouldn’t confuse the two. 

 

Before writing this book, you wrote chick lit. What is the difference between chick lit and romance? 

 

Humor and designer clothes. Chick lit is usually fun, sassy, and snarky, and told in first person. (Think Bridget Jones’s Diary.) It usually has to do with contemporary single women’s life and struggles—finding the right job, the perfect pair of shoes, meddling mothers, longing for Mr. Right, etc. Chick lit also usually appeals to younger women, while I think romance may appeal to a broader age group.  

 

Why the switch to mysteries?

 

After my last chick lit novel came out in 2009, I was tired and burned out after writing 17 books in 12 years, so I took a long writing sabbatical, not sure I ever wanted to write another book. Happily, a few years ago, the writing urge returned, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write—I just knew it wasn’t chick lit. That ship had sailed. A longtime editor friend who knows me well suggested I try my hand at cozy mysteries. Initially, I demurred because I’m not a plotter and mysteries are all about plot. I didn’t think this pantser could write a mystery. Luckily, I was wrong. Cozies have turned out to be a perfect fit for me.

 

Which do you find more challenging to write, mystery or chick lit?

 

Mystery. But it’s also a whole lot more fun to write.

 

Please tell us about your nonfiction book, Thanks for the Mammogram.

 


As a longtime breast cancer survivor, years ago I wrote about my journey through breast cancer and how my faith and sense of humor helped me through that difficult time. Laughter truly is the best medicine. Thanks for the Mammogram initially released in 2000, and I received many letters from women going through breast cancer who said how much my little pink book had helped encourage them and gave them hope. Last fall, my publisher came out with a revised version where I brought readers up to date, including sharing the Bye, Bye Booby party I held the night before my second mastectomy. At that party, one of my girlfriends brought me “Nipples of Venus” cupcakes—white frosted cupcakes with a cherry on top. My publisher recreated that event on the fun cover.

 

Do you plan to write more Faith Chapel mysteries? If so, what’s next for Hope Taylor?

 

I hope to, but I’m not contracted for any more books (yet.) Fingers crossed. I have a few ideas brewing but am not ready to share them. I can tell you this, however… someone’s going to die.

 

What’s next in your Bookish Baker series? 

 

My second Bookish Baker Mystery, Deadly Delights, a Midwestern small-town take on The Great British Baking Show, releases June 8. Teddie competes in the local baking contest, but the morning after the first event, head judge Les Morris (the town lecher who hit on every woman in sight) is found dead, face-down in a coconut-cream pie, with Teddie’s distinctive embossed rolling pin nearby—covered in Les’s blood. With the help of her Three Musketeers pals, Char and Sharon, Teddie must concoct a recipe to clear her name.

 

I’m thrilled that Deadly Delights has been getting some great advance reviews:

 

"[An] entertaining sequel...Lively characters complement the twisty plot."
—Publishers Weekly
 
"Deadly Delights moves along at warp speed...[Walker’s] writing and story development is top notch."
—New York Journal of Books

 

 

Thank you, Laura.

 

For additional information about Laura Jensen Walker and her books, follow her at www.laurajensenwalker.com

 

 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Finding the Secret Hiding in Each Tale by Martha Reed

Human brains are hard-wired to consider unseen possibilities. What was that sound? Was something moving in the shadows beyond the firelight? It’s probably how we survived as a species. Couple that with our ability to use our imaginations to create possible solutions and you have the definition of a mystery reader.

Suspense and mystery stories are like a puzzle, containing secrets hidden within secrets. Authors are sleight-of-hand magicians, serving up surprising revelations until the final and amazing reveal. But if there are only seven basic plotlines and story archetypes, how do authors build stories that still delight and surprise astute mystery readers?

I start building stories by thinking of them as word architecture. Once I’ve laid out the pieces of the story (e.g., characters, short- and long-term goals, plot points, and twists) I begin weaving in the simple initial clues and foreshadowing so that a reader will feel satisfied by its ending.

According to the brilliant short story writer, Art Taylor: “But an ending … you’re balancing various strands of a story by that point, working against a reader’s predictions and expectations, trying to make sure your resolution is both surprising and inevitable.”

Presenting an inevitable truth at the story’s end is what has a satisfied reader sitting back in their chair, slapping their foreheads, and saying, “Of course!”

How can a writer achieve an inevitable ending?

  1. Foreshadow the twists into the story’s initial paragraphs or section. The reader hasn’t grasped the story yet, so slipping in subtle clues sets up their unconscious expectations while still keeping the clues off the front-of-their-mind radar.
  2. State each character’s personal stake in the outcome.
  3. Use a surprise twist and up the stakes on the characters.
  4. Use another twist and up the stakes again.
  5. Mid-story, use more succinct dialogue and shorter sentences to pick up the pace. This also increases the tension.
  6. In the final third of the story, present a logical denouement that the reader has already anticipated from the story’s setup. They will feel disappointment that they figured it out. The important thing here is that they are hooked into feeling an emotion.
  7. Present the final and inevitable twist. This triggers a new and better emotion, delighted surprise.

How do you create a final and inevitable twist? This prompt has been working for me:

  1. Identify a short-term goal for each character. Share these goals with the reader as part of the general exposition. Short-term goals should be stated and obvious since they reveal each character’s desire which drives their actions.
  2. Identify a hidden long-term goal for each character. Insert and layer these hidden desires into the story in dialogue and internal monologue. This adds character depth and reader insight.
  3. The final inevitable twist is generally wrapped up in the protagonist’s hidden long-term goal. If you’ve layered enough long-term clues earlier in the story, the final twist becomes inevitable.

One last suggestion on developing a final inevitable twist is to consider using the opposite of the protagonist’s hidden long-term goal. This final twist may end up surprising even you, the writer.

What stories have you read that offered great final twists?

Monday, April 26, 2021

LEXICON by Nancy L. Eady

 I began my legal career 30 years ago as a secretary.  To this day, I am convinced that I was only hired because I was the one person in the building that day who knew that the trio of $3000 machines in the center of the floor were LaserJet printers that never would work until you got computers to go with them.  It certainly wasn’t my legal acumen; I didn’t know what a plaintiff or defendant was until my third day.  Now, as an attorney, I can belt out and translate legalese with the best of them. 

I was startled when I discovered that the same learning curve exists for mystery writing.  Over time, I have compiled an assortment of writing acronyms and terms, which include the following, in no particular order.  (Yes, if you are as OCD as I am, the non-alphabetical order will drive you batty, but the self-help book I read promised it would help with my recovery.)

Backstory – Not the history of orthopedic medicine, but the stuff that happened to your characters before your story opens. 

Cozy – Not how I feel in front of a roaring fire in my fireplace during the depths of winter, but a mystery subgenre where violence is usually downplayed and the crime takes place in a small, socially intimate community. 

MS – Not a professional woman who wishes to remain neutral regarding her marital status, but “manuscript.” 

MSS – Not a bevy of belles, but “manuscripts.” 

MC – Not the master of ceremonies at an event, but the main character in your work.

POV – Point of View.  Not your opinion about politics or the chartreuse and pink dress your best friend is wearing – you might want to keep the chartreuse and pink opinion to yourself in any event - but rather the way in which you tell your story and from whose perspective. 

WIP – Not a program initiated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to create jobs during the Great Depression, but “work in progress.”

Swag – Not a jaunty step nor a fancy curtain top but the promotional materials authors use to encourage the public to read their book.

Pantser – Not a tailor, but a free spirit who sits down at her desk and starts writing, surprised as she sees what flows forth from her word crafting.

Plotster – Not a gardener, but a frustratingly (at least to those of us, such as myself, born without the organization gene) organized individual who plans out the plot of his novel before starting to write. 

Flash Fiction – Not a photograph of a book taken in the dark but a short story that is less than 100 words long. 

Protagonist – The Good Guy.

Antagonist – The Bad Guy. 

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month.  Participating in National Novel Writing Month causes writers across the world to spend the 30 days of November glassy eyed, greeting each other with announcements about their word count for the day and how close they are to 50,000 words.  Over the years, it has grown into an Event, with its own website, sponsors and badges.  Participation is free.  My favorite NaNoWriMo festival is not the main event in November, but the lower key April and July spring and summer virtual writing camps where the writer gets to 1) pick his word count for the month and 2) choose whether she is going to write new material or edit existing material. 

What words and acronyms has the writing profession taught you?

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Rebirth by Annette Dashofy

Spring is my favorite time of the year. After the cold Pennsylvania winter, complete with long dark nights and never-ending gloomy days, the buds on the trees and the golden daffodils bring a lightness to my heart. The warmth of the sun, the birdsongs, and the return of blue skies give me hope. We’ve survived the darkness and are moving into the light. 

Last spring, of course, was different. My plans to browse the garden centers and home improvement stores—not to mention my plans to travel—were put on hold. The solitude of winter leached into spring and then summer. And then fall. In fact, 2020 felt like one long winter. How many of us have said it was like living in the movie Groundhog Day? Day after day. Week after week.

This year feels different too but for a different reason. Spring 2021 (for me at least) feels brighter. The flowering trees are more beautiful. The green grass is brighter. The sunshine and blue sky, more blissful.


I received my second vaccine (Pfizer, in case you’re wondering) on April 14. This coming Wednesday will be two weeks. I’m seriously considering naming April 28 as my rebirth day. It signifies the start of life anew. Selective hugs. Family gatherings without panic attacks. Plans for weekends away with my husband. 

There’s a lot of talk about a return to normal. I don’t see it as such. I appreciate every little thing so much more than I used to. The smell of my morning coffee and the taste of chocolate because so many of my friends and family who had Covid still can’t access those senses. The feel of a spring breeze on my face because the dear friend I lost to the virus can no longer enjoy that sensation. 

Even the pleasure of browsing the home improvement store, which I haven’t done yet but look forward to after my rebirth day, is something I will no longer take for granted. I’m ever so grateful for online shopping, but let’s be honest. I’m sick of it. 

And while I don’t think I ever really took book festivals and conferences and the chance to meet my readers for granted, I’m absolutely giddy to be making plans for this fall. A library event, a small festival, teaching a workshop with my students in the same room with me…I can’t wait! I’m looking forward to them with an exuberance I haven’t felt since my debut launch. 

What about you? Does this spring feel more springish than usual to you too? What plans if any are you making to celebrate? 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Setting and Place, What’s the Difference, by Kait Carson

 

It’s the subtle distinctions of writing that can slow you down the most. Take setting and place. To a writer, those two words are related, but not the same. The setting is the overall area where the action takes place. For example, my books are set in Florida. The action of the stories occurs in various places within the setting. My characters may be in Key West (setting) drinking margaritas on Smathers Beach (place).

 

Key West can be painted in broad strokes. My readers need to see the tropics, pastel-colored houses, salty breezes, steel drum music, a kaleidoscope of ever-changing tourists, a babble of languages. There is no need, unless it’s germane to the story, to describe the contents of the store fronts and bars along Duval Street, or name the individual plantings in the gardens that line the road. Setting is an atmosphere. Vague enough to allow the reader to insert themselves. This is especially important when the setting is a real location.

 

When I think of Key West Fast Buck Freddie’s springs to mind, and I want to go to The Buttery for dinner. Freddie’s is a CVS now, and The Buttery has been seven or eight restaurants. The last time I was in Key West, the front window sported a “for let” sign and the old girl looked very down at the heels. None of those details are important to the setting of my story. What’s important is the swirl of sounds, smells, and humanity that make up the setting of Key West.

 

Place is specific and detailed. A well-drawn place is as important as a fully developed character. If my characters are out drinking on Smathers Beach, they’re hiding their margaritas in Yeti mugs and keeping a sharp eye out for law enforcement. Open containers are illegal in Key West. That detail lends the flavor of authenticity to the scene and can be used as a plot point. Readers need to feel the sand under their feet, the tickle of sea foam as it covers their toes, the dribble of perspiration from their hairline, and the sizzle of the sun on their shoulders. Place is where the heart of the action occurs.

 

If showing up is eighty percent of life, it’s one hundred percent of place. To be effective, your characters and your readers need to intimately occupy the place of a story. When place is well done, a reader should look up from the book and be startled to see their own living room.

 

What books or stories have you read that transport you to the place of the action?

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Playing to Your Audience: Five Simple Strategies by Connie Berry


We all want to sell books, right?

A long time ago in a world that has almost vanished, I was a student at Lincoln Junior High School in Rockford, Illinois—seventh through ninth grades. In addition to the novelties of switching classes and finally meeting at least a few boys who were as tall as the girls, my junior high also offered the thrilling privilege, beginning in eighth grade, of leaving the school grounds for lunch. 


My favorite option was Hedlun’s Drug Store, just across the street from school. Hedlun’s had a lunch counter and a long-suffering staff who steeled themselves for the daily hordes of young teens who invaded their premises for approximately an hour and a half, demanding lunch. I can’t imagine how they did it.

Every school day for two years, three friends and I showed up at Hedlun’s and put in our order, which never varied: three cheeseburgers and one tuna salad sandwich; three chocolate cokes and one vanilla coke. Guess who was the odd girl out?


I bring this up because I’ve been thinking recently about the variety of tastes people have in literature.

Some people read only non-fiction (“Why bother with something that never happened?”). Others read only fiction but focus on certain genres—historical, literary, romance, traditional mystery, cozy mystery, suspense, international thriller, legal or medical drama, police procedurals, psychological thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, Christian, domestic suspense. Some people read widely. Some read only bestsellers. Others use those lists as a reliable what-not-to-read guide.



Here's my point: not every type of book is everyone’s cup of tea. That’s something writers must accept. Not everyone will read your books. Not everyone who reads them will like them. The trick is to identify your audience—those who want to read the kind of books you write—and reach out to them. How does that happen?


In case you’re not a marketing expert (I’m not), here are five simple strategies to try:


1. USE AVAILABLE TOOLS to identify your target audience. 

This is a huge and complicated subject, but even a cursory dive into online statistics tells me that readers of mystery and crime fiction (what I write) tend to be older female adults. In fact, a recent Nielsen survey revealed that a whopping 63% of my readers are over the age of 50. This makes a difference when I’m deciding how best to use my time on social media. Statistics tell me my peeps are most likely to be found on Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t use other platforms. It just helps me set priorities. In addition, most social media platforms offer targeted demographics, like “Audience Insights” on Pinterest and Instagram—showing your followers according to age range, gender, and location. That leads to the next strategy. 


2. JOIN SOCIAL MEDIA GROUPS with interests that overlap with your writing. 

 Since my books take place in England and appeal to people who like history, travel, and antiques, my favorite Facebook groups include British Book Club, I Heart Britain, English Cottages, and British Mystery Series Readers. I also follow mystery groups like Sleuths in Time Book Club, Readers’ CafĂ©, Cozy Mystery Crew, and Diva’s Cozy Mystery Group. I also follow certain Twitter hashtags and favorite sites on Pinterest, like English Country House and Antique Trader Magazine. When appropriate, I let other followers know about the books I write.

3. JOIN THE ONLINE CONVERSATION.

It isn’t enough to log onto social media sites and lurk. Be part of the conversation. Get to know the other people who follow those sites and/or follow authors who write in your genre. Respond and comment. Follow them and they will follow you. Offer interesting content and comments. Share ideas. This doesn’t need to eat your life. If you tend to be an organized person, set a daily schedule—one hour for social media first thing in the morning, for example—and stick to it.

4. COLLABORATE WITH AND SUPPORT OTHER WRITERS.

I love the Malice Domestic motto—“No one needs to fail so that I can succeed.” If you support and promote other authors, chances are they will reciprocate. Joining with other authors, Especially those who write in your genre, can be lots of fun when planning events, either online or in person. Panel discussions, conversations, joint events—you are not only reaching out to your own fans, but you are also getting to know their fans. It’s called cross-marketing, and it’s a smart idea.      

5. INTERACT PERSONALLY WITH READERS WHO LIKE YOUR BOOKS.

Invite them to review and recommend. Let’s face it—interacting with readers has been difficult during the pandemic—conferences cancelled, no in-person author events, no book signings. Nevertheless, we’ve gotten creative with Zoom, and there has been an upside. This year I’ve appeared at a number of book clubs in places I couldn’t easily have reached in person. And I’ve participated in several multi-author events, one from our car on the way to Florida. Don’t be afraid to ask for reviews. Give followers an opportunity to sign up for your newsletter or blog. Include links whenever possible. Develop a mailing list and keep readers up-to-date on what you’re doing in both your author life and your personal life. Hold or join with others in giveaways of ARCs, books, or e-books. Ask for your followers’ opinions on book covers or logos. Lately I’ve had bookplates printed, which I will mail to readers who preorder my latest book, The Art of Betrayal (out June 8). The bottom line? Be creative and be personal. Statistics are informative, but real people buy books. I love meeting and interacting with readers, and there’s nothing like word-of-mouth advertising. 

NEW WRITERS are routinely thrown into the world of publishing with little or no help in terms of publicity and marketing. Nevertheless, they are expected to learn quickly. I hope these five very simple strategies will help.


AUTHORS, what is the best marketing tool or strategy you’ve ever used? (I want to know!)

READERS, where is your favorite place to meet and interact with authors?


 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

An Interview with Agatha Nominee Grace Topping by E. B. Davis

 

When professional home stager Laura Bishop enters a competition to become the next TV home staging star, she figures it will be murder—but she doesn’t expect it to include a body. As tensions rise and rivalries rage, a coded notebook flips the script and Laura’s on the case.

But she’s not alone. Her closest confidantes pitch in by sleuthing, eavesdropping, and even staging a sting to protect those near and dear. Yet she’s still corralling a runaway teen, sparring with a handsome detective, and handling the shock of her life with a blast from her past. All while creating a cozy cabin retreat fit for first place.

Amidst constant cameras and glaring lights, Laura tries to style the stage and pull back the curtain on a killer before her career—and her life—get cut.

Amazon.com

 

Grace Topping's first book in the Laura Bishop mystery series, Staging is Murder, garnered her an Agatha nomination. I hope Upstaged by Murder does as well because it was a well-plotted fun read. Although the above cover copy says Laura entered the competition, what it doesn't state is that her best friend Nita actually entered her into the competition without Laura's approval—a stressful situation. Readers have great sympathy for Laura from the first page. But that feeling only increases as the chapters fly by.

 

In the midst of competition and murder, Laura is side swiped by family history—more accurately—false family history. She has more reason to find the killer after learning the truth than she ever could have ever imagined. Somehow, Laura juggles the competition, a murder investigation, and emotional trauma simultaneously—of course, this is fiction. But what fun!

 

Please welcome my interviewing partner Grace Topping.                      E. B. Davis


Although Nita is well meaning, she puts Laura in a horrible position. What makes Laura decide to allow the entry to stand?

 

Nita and Laura have been friends since the second grade when Nita’s family took Laura under its wing. They are like siblings. So when Nita enters Laura in the competition, Laura knows Nita was looking out for her best interests. While Laura has no desire to become a TV celebrity, she realizes the publicity from being part of the semi-finals would be good for her fledgling business. Also, since Laura can take an assistant with her, she knows it would be good exposure for Tyrone Webster, one of her employees. While Laura wants her entry to win, she really doesn’t want to go on to the final competition—a real conundrum.

 

 

Aunt Kit doesn’t help. She says, “Remember, sometimes it’s the things in life we don’t do we regret.” But that doesn’t remind me of Laura, who had a successful IT career and gambled on making home staging her career, and she married, even though her parent’s marriage ended in divorce. Hers did, too, but she took the chance. Does Aunt Kit really know Laura?

 

Aunt Kit has lived away from Louiston for a number of years, so she hasn’t been around Laura much. Neither Kit nor her sister, Laura’s mother, had a sense of adventure. They were both always a bit fearful of change and had grim outlooks on life. Fortunately, Laura turned out more positive because of the influence of Nita’s family. It’s only now that Kit is spending more time with Laura that she is beginning to think more broadly and positively. So when she cautions Laura about regretting things you don’t do, she is speaking from her own experience of passing up opportunities.

 

When Laura meets Simon Tate, the show’s producer, and his field producer, Olivia Yeager, they seem passive aggressive at the very least. What are their problems?

 

They are in show business—a business that can be cutthroat at times. Competition abounds, and you are only viewed by the success of your most recent project. Simon is overheard talking about the need for the competition to do well because of his production’s poor ratings last season. They both know a lot is on the line with this competition, so the pressure is on.

 

Beth Crawford, the assistant producer, seems like one of the few normal people on the set, aside from the crew. She warns Laura to be careful without being specific. Later Chris Channing, a cameraman, also warns Laura to be careful—but about being cognizant of transmitting conversations while wearing a mike. Are there other hazards that Laura becomes aware of?

 

One of the worst hazards would be getting too caught up in the competition and with the desire to win. Some of the competitors are very secretive about their designs, afraid someone will steal their ideas or methods of dealing with the design challenges. Others have sabotaged their competitors. As one character says, “This isn’t always a nice business.”

 

I thought everyone in show business or at least acting had to be in the union. Is it because they aren’t actors? Because it’s an independent film company?

 

There are union productions and non-union ones. From what I’ve read, it mostly comes down to money. A production that wants to hire well-known actors, directors, film editors, etc., will hire union members. They usually have the most experience. If a production is on a tight budget and they aren’t looking for big names, they may go for non-union personnel—knowing that they sometimes will be getting what they pay for. It isn’t always easy for actors and others to get into a union. They must have specific experience to qualify.

 

How did you research the entertainment field, learning all the lingo, like knowing what a Lav was?

 

When you are faced with doing research for a book, you first look around at people you know who have worked in different fields. They are a terrific source of information and love sharing the knowledge they’ve gained working in that field. In my case, I was lucky to have a long-time friend who was a cameraman for one of the top Washington, DC, television networks. He gave me good information about filming, lighting, and sound recording. Another friend put me in touch with a member of the Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter who worked on an HGTV production. We had a long chat about what she had done and what I had in mind for my book, and I took lots of notes. Connecting with people is one of the most valuable aspects of belonging to writers’ groups such as SinC and Mystery Writers of America. The members are extremely generous with their help.

 

Laura doesn’t really want to win the competition, but at the same time she wants to prove her ability. What strategy does she take?

 

When a competitor has to drop out at the last minute, the production company is in a bind. They need someone to fill in immediately. Laura agrees to step in only to gain some publicity for her business, and to please Nita, who thinks it’s a wonderful opportunity for her. She also wants to help out the production company, which needs to start filming in two days. But at the same time, she knows if she wins the semi-final competition, she is obligated to go onto the finals. That would be time away from her business. And if she wins the finals, it could turn her whole life upside down, something she doesn’t want. She recognizes that fame and fortune come at a price—one she doesn’t want to pay. At the same time, her fighting spirit comes out and she decides to give it her all—letting fate take a hand in it.

 

Detective Spangler is investigating the theft ring and the murder. He’s also a widower with a young teenage daughter. When his daughter tries to run away, Tyrone and his girlfriend bring her to Laura’s house. Why? What position does it put her in with Detective Spangler?

 

Laura has played a big role in Tyrone’s life, and she’s always been someone he could turn to for help and guidance. He works part time for her home staging business. He could have taken the teenager, who refuses to return home, to his grandmother, but it was late, and he knew she would already be in bed. Turns out the teenager is the daughter of Detective Spangler, someone Laura has butted heads with in the past when she’s gotten tangled up in murder investigations he’s been in charge of. He continually warns Laura about getting involved with his cases. So, Laura knows getting involved with his personal life, even if reluctantly, could be disastrous.

 

Why do people in Louiston always gather in the kitchen?

 

The people of Louiston are very hospitable. It would be a rare occasion when family and friends who stop by aren’t offered refreshments. Since most of the homes in that area of Pennsylvania have big kitchens with kitchen tables, that’s where everyone gathers. So gathering at the table is a natural place to sit and enjoy the food and drink offered.

 

Are home colors different in popularity depending on where you live?

 

Often they are. Homes out west are frequently beige and terracotta, colors that work well with the terrain. In Key West and other parts of Florida, you would find houses painted in a variety of bright pastel colors. A vibrant lime green would look perfect there. Painting your house that color somewhere else in the country might not make you popular with your neighbors.


Josh Sheridan owns a warehouse for his antiques business. But he rents a floor to the TV company to film the competition. He learns that he bought stolen goods, which the police discover. Although he isn’t in trouble except for the money wasted, he almost is killed in the warehouse parking lot. Laura, Nita, and Tyrone’s grandmother Mrs. Webster think the attack on Josh is related to the theft ring. Why do they go to the extreme of setting up a sting to catch the thieves? Why is Mrs. Webster key to the sting?

 

Louiston is a small town with an equally small police force. Laura and her friends are concerned that while the police are focusing on a murder investigation, they don’t have time to thoroughly investigate the attack on Josh, which they view as an attempted mugging. Mrs. Webster becomes enraged that thieves are preying on the elderly for their antiques. She and Nita come up with a sting operation they hope will expose who is victimizing the elderly of the community. As a retired nurse, she has good sources of information. Mrs. Webster and Nita also feel the theft ring is responsible for the attack on Josh, who can identify the man who sold him the stolen goods.

 

What’s a coco bomb?

 

A coco bomb was something new to me, but it sounded good when my sister told me about them. They are chocolate orbs filled with the makings for a hot chocolate drink. You can buy them or make them. Painting a mold with chocolate to form two halves of the orb forms the round outside shell of a coco bomb. You fill the sides with hot chocolate mix, marshmallows, and other flavorings such as crushed peppermint. You then put the two sides together to close up the orb. The outside is often decorated with icing and sprinkles. To use them in a drink, you put one in a large mug and pour hot milk over it. The outside melts and the marshmallows shoot to the top. It makes a really chocolaty drink.

 

My grandparents from Philadelphia used to serve scrapple, but we ate it with apple butter on top. Do they still make it? Habbersett’s was the brand they used. Did they really use the “scraps” and that’s how it got its name? We used to joke it had pigs’ tails in it.

 

In my area of Pennsylvania, Meadows brand of scrapple was the most popular. Here in Virginia, I usually only find RAPA scrapple. Scrapple is basically cooked cornmeal mixed with ground pork (or pork by-products) and seasoning like sage, etc. You can now also get it with bacon, beef, and turkey. It is molded in blocks and vacuumed sealed. I made my own scrapple once, but it’s easier to buy it prepared and it tastes better than what I made. To prepare scrapple, you slice it in one-half inch slices and fry until crispy. We always eat it with maple syrup. Serving it with apple butter would be a true Pennsylvania Dutch way of eating it.

 

Although the victim is young, she leaves a notebook that’s written in code. Aunt Kit is the only one to realize that it is a type of shorthand. Were there different types of shorthand? Does anyone use shorthand anymore? Maybe Court Recorders?

 

To my knowledge, there’s Gregg Shorthand and Pittman. I learned Gregg, and I still use it occasionally, especially to take quick notes. With Gregg, the symbols represent letters of the alphabet and word sounds. Some of the symbols represent complete words, called brief forms. You string them together similar to writing in cursive. Sometimes in church, I’ll use my index finger to write out the sermon in shorthand. It keeps me fluid using it. With people using laptops to take notes or write their own correspondence, I don’t think there is a big call for shorthand these days.

 

In one day, Laura eats curried chicken salad, macarons, and then tops it off with hot chocolate. Will she have a weight problem soon?

 

LOL. I thought of that as I was writing that chapter. However, doing home staging is physically taxing, moving furnishings, rugs, lamps, accessories, etc. So if she has a day full of goodies, it doesn’t take her long to work it off.

 

Why does Olivia protect Simon about his womanizing?

 

To protect her job. Ageism is rampant in that business. She knows that if Simon goes, she would soon be replaced.

 

You’ve finished the third book and ended it in a way that allows you to continue or not. With Henery Press’s future in question, will you take your series to a different publisher? Go Indie? Start a new series? What’s next, Grace?

 

Upstaged by Murder fulfills my contract for three books. Like many writers, I found writing a book with everything that was going on this past year exhausting. So, I’m thankful I don’t have another deadline facing me. Once I’ve spent time promoting my series and catching up with everything I’ve neglected this year, I’ll look at what I want to do next.