I’m so delighted to welcome guest author Grace Topping to my blog today. Her humor shines through her Laura Bishop Mystery Series and even her own bio where she says writing fiction has been great for “killing off characters who remind her of people she dealt with during her career.”
Below are her responses to my interview questions, followed by her bio, buy links, and contact information.
First off, congratulations on the recent release of Upstaged by Murder, the third book in your Laura Bishop Mystery Series. Can you tell us about Upstaged by Murder and the series and its inspiration?
Thank you, Lynn, and thank you for having me as a guest today.
In my series, my main character Laura Bishop is a professional home stager. When I decided to write a cozy mystery, I was told I needed a hook—a business or interest for the main character. My career as a technical writer doing boring work didn’t inspire any good ideas. Since I was a fan of HGTV home staging shows and discovered that I had a natural talent for it, I decided to make Laura a home stager. In Upstaged by Murder, Laura is talked into entering 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. I think it would appeal to readers who enjoy HGTV, home decorating, and mysteries with a dash of humor.
What books/authors inspired you as a child? As an adult?
Like millions of other youngsters, I was inspired by Nancy Drew but also by books with a military setting. Those books inspired me to want to join the military, which I did, joining the Navy and serving for several years.
As an adult, I am inspired by books featuring strong women who face challenges. I occasionally reread Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie is a wonderful character who imparts such wisdom. I highly recommend it.
You describe yourself as a “recovering technical writer and IT project manager.” What led you to decide to write fiction?
It may be hard to believe, but attending Malice Domestic, a mystery fan conference, inspired me to become a mystery writer. Although I read mysteries, I had never heard of Malice and only attended at the prodding of a friend who didn’t want to go alone. I was impressed with how natural and approachable the writers were and how much fun they were having with it, so I decided to give it a try. The rest is history.
What for you has been the hardest part about writing fiction? The most enjoyable part?
The hardest part was moving from technical writing, which is lean and to the point. It was a challenge for me to add things like description, emotion, and impressions. I would have been a better playwright, which only requires dialogue and a few stage directions.
The most enjoyable part is being a member of the mystery writing community. The members are helpful and supportive, and I wouldn’t be published today without the assistance I received from other writers, especially members of the Sisters in Crime Guppies Chapter (the SINC online chapter). Attending conferences now is like going to a family reunion.
What advice would you give nonfiction writers who are thinking about making the switch to writing fiction?
I would recommend reading books in the genre they are interested in and learn what the reader expectations are for that genre. For example, cozy readers have different expectations than readers of suspense, thrillers, or romance. I took an online class in mystery writing through my community college. It was immensely helpful.
Are any of your characters, settings, and plots derived from real life?
Most of the plots come from my imagination. The only plot I derived from real life was in Staging Wars, where Laura helps out with an arts festival. I was inspired by my sister’s management of several arts festivals, and believe me, there were many times she could easily have turned to murder.
I do include little tidbits from my own life like references to foods, favorite things, etc. I read that it takes about seven books for an author to run out of ideas from their own life. I once referred to a small incident in a book that prompted my sister to ask me if that had happened to me. Yes, it had. My daughters tell me there are things in my books that remind them of me.
Tell us about your writing process: Do you consider yourself a plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between?
I am definitely a plotter. Just as I wouldn’t start a long drive before checking a roadmap, I couldn’t start a book without knowing where I’m going with it. I need to know who the victim is, who committed the crime, and why. And how I plan to have Laura solve the crime.
Before sitting at my computer, I’ll sit some place comfortable with paper and pencil and jot down ideas and then string them into a broad outline. The outline guides me on the trip. But like with any trip where you notice places to stop along the way, once I start writing, I add new things, which allows me to be creative. The outline also enables me to jump around and write other chapters in case I get stuck somewhere. In Staging Wars, I wrote the second to the last chapter first.
What’s next for you writing-wise?
Upstaged by Murder was the third and final book in my publishing contract. Since my publisher’s future is in question, I’ve decided to take a break and try my hand at writing short stories, something I haven’t tried before. It’s more difficult than it sounds. I’m also looking forward to attending an in-person Malice Conference.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
With all the HGTV viewing I did and how much I learned about home staging doing research, I really enjoy helping friends stage their homes, whether to sell or just live in. I always advise people to do things they would need to make their homes sellable NOW so they can enjoy them. So often people do repairs or make updates to sell their home and say they wished they had done those things earlier so they could have enjoyed them.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your novels—or questions I didn’t ask that you wish I had?
From the time I attended that first Malice conference and began writing, it took me ten years (with lots of breaks) and 38 versions before my first book was published. I had a lot to learn. Thankfully, I received help along the way. I encourage aspiring writers not to give up. But more importantly, don’t go it alone. Join groups like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America or a library writing group. They will help you on that long and twisting road to publication.
Thanks so much, Grace! I love your advice to persevere and find a supportive writing community.
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.