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?