Guest Chick: Grace Topping

Leslie Karst here. Today we welcome Grace Topping, author of the wonderful Laura Bishop home staging mysteries, the newest of which, STAGING WARS, releases this coming Tuesday! Read on, to learn how she came up with the idea for her Agatha-nominated series.


I Only Play a Home Stager

Often when people learn that I write about a character who is a home stager, they begin to ask me detailed questions about home staging, assuming that I’m an expert in the field. After all, don’t writers usually write about things they know? If those same people met an author who writes about serial killers, would they assume the author is or knows a serial killer? It makes me want to make a statement similar to what some actors said in a TV commercial: “I only play a doctor on TV.”

In my case, when I decided to write a cozy mystery. I was advised to select a hook for my main character. First, I didn’t know what a hook was, thinking maybe it was a good opening line. Eventually I learned that the main character of a cozy mystery usually has a business or interest that is central to the book—a hook. And that I should select a hook that I liked, because, writing a series, I could end up writing about that hook for years.

If the old adage of write what you know is true, my choice of a hook was rather limited and potentially boring. I didn’t have any hobbies like knitting, baking, or chocolate making. I didn’t run a bed and breakfast, walk dogs, or repair old clocks. In my day job, I wrote user manuals for computer systems related to banking. It was a no-brainer that I shouldn’t use that as a hook, so what could I use?

Then it hit me. I spent evenings watching programs on HGTV about home staging and renovation and had learned so much about it that I’d begun helping friends stage their homes—sometimes for sale and other times just because they wanted to make their homes more attractive and comfortable. I had developed a real knack for home staging—either that or I’d watched enough of those programs to apply what I’d learned. So that would be my hook—have my main character a professional home stager.

It was one thing helping friends and another thing to convince readers that my main character was a professional home stager. I did what every writer who doesn’t have detailed knowledge about a subject—I started doing lots of research. I read books on home staging, watched more programs on TV and YouTube, followed Facebook groups for professional home stagers, and contacted a home staging training and certifying company with questions. Fortunately for me, the founder of the company offered to read my manuscript, made a few suggestions, and said that I got it right.

So now when I get a question about home staging, such as what about using gray paint, I can say with absolutely certainty that it all depends on the base colors and the resulting undertones.

I continue to follow the home staging Facebook pages where I learn more all the time. Home stagers are grappling with things like how to deal with placing furniture in a small space, determining the cost for various jobs, dealing with difficult clients, storing furnishing they use in the staging. I read those challenges and feel my blood pressure going up—until I remind myself that I don’t have to do those things, I only have to write about them.


About STAGING WARS: Laura 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 husband.

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 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 second grade.

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 for sale as inspiration for her Laura Bishop mystery series. The series is about a woman starting a new career midlife as a home stager. The first book in the series, Staging is Murder, is a 2019 Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel. Grace is the former 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.

Visit Grace at www.gracetopping.com


Readers: What cozy mystery hook—business or interest—do you enjoy reading about? Is there one you haven’t seen yet but would like to?

32 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Grace Topping

  1. What a great history lesson about yourself. I would have assumed you were a pro too. Love the series. Especially now more that I know HGTV is the inspiration!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Hestia. Home staging is fun for an armchair stager, but lots of work for actual stagers. But I’ve learned that it is an excellent field for people, especially women, who want to start their own business and be their own boss.

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  2. I really enjoyed Staging is Murder, and I’m looking forward to reading the new book. I love reading culinary cozies, cozies set in bookstores or libraries, and cozies with animals. Actually, I just love reading cozies!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Christi. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed Staging is Murder. It was ten years in the works, so I was a bit nervous having to produce Staging Wars in only a few months. Fingers crossed that you enjoy it as much.

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  3. Congrats in advance on the release of Staging Wars, Grace! Your stories are fabulous. If I ever sell my house, I’m calling you for staging advice! 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Jim. And you know that I would give it to you too. The problem now is my daughters call me on FaceTime and ask for decorating advice, showing me every possible possibility they are considering. I should tell them that I only play a home stager.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Mark. My problem is now when I take a walk or visit someone’s home I analyze paint and decor choices they’ve made and bite my tongue not to make suggestions.

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  4. I’m on pins and needles (and perhaps a smart quilted ottoman) waiting for the next book in your wonderful series! I love those shows, too, and enjoy living vicariously from my 80s wallpapered house.

    Thanks so much for joining us, Grace, and congrats on your Agatha nom and this coming-soon release! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I have mauve counters in my kitchen and one bathroom, Kathy! Talk about eighties sweet. We swore they’d be the first things to go when we bought our house, but 12 years later it still hasn’t happened.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Lisa, one bit of advice I give people–now that I am such an expert–is to make the changes as though you were going to sell your place now so you can enjoy them. So many people make changes to attract buyers and then say they wished they had made them for themselves.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I loved Staging is Murder, Grace, and can’t wait for Staging Wars! And I am so impressed by your former day job–wow. I would be hopeless as a tech writer. I am also lacking in staging talent, due to zero organizational skills (the whole less-is-more eludes me). BUT I’m sure everyone who knows me will find this hilarious: I was once a card-carrying member of a national real estate staging association. (I got a certificate after taking a 2-hour course, along with a complimentary 1-yr. membership.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That made me laugh, Lisa. I think all you did was line the pockets of that organization. Before my book was published, I contacted Staging Studios of San Antonio, Texas to ask them some questions. They are an impressive organization. They offered to review my book, which I thought was quite generous of them. When they gave it the stamp of approval, and also provided me with a blurb for my book, I felt a lot more comfortable. I didn’t want a home stager somewhere reading my book and rolling her eyes at what I got wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for visiting the Chicks today, Grace! Loved Staging is Murder and looking forward to reading Staging Wars! I have a feeling a home stager would tell us we have too much stuff, lol!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Vickie. It’s always fun to visit the Chicks. Number one thing to start with when it comes to home staging–decluttering and reducing the amount of stuff you have. It will make your place look bigger.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cynthia. You had to be pretty brave going on Trading Spaces since you never knew how crazy they were going to go with the designs. Fortunately, a home stager takes the personality and crazy designs out of a house so that it appeals to more buyers. No green moss glued to your walls as I saw on one episode.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. We once sold a house FSBO (for sale by owner), and the buyer’s real estate agent was so impressed with how we staged the house and did everything else that he asked if we wanted to come work for him, lol. Not.

    Thanks so much for visiting the Chicks today, Grace, and congrats on your Agatha nomination and on your new book–yippee!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Leslie, for your congratulations, and thank you for hosting me on Chicks on the Case. Did you watch a lot of HGTV before selling your house by owner? Either that or you are just a natural. I enjoy helping friends stage or rearrange their homes. But I charge a high price–lunch.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Becky. I discovered when making library or book club appearances that people want to talk less about the book and more about the stories behind the story, which is always fun. It helps you realize how far you’ve come. As to the Agatha nomination, I’m still astounded and terribly appreciative of everyone who nominated me. This is definitely an occasion when being nominated is quite an honor and sometimes enough.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Ellen. My daughter walks around her place using FaceTime so I can see her place and asks me questions about decorating her place. But then she argues about why everything I suggest won’t work!! You are never a profit in your own country. Congratulations to you, too, on ALL your nominations and your two series, which I love.

      Liked by 1 person

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