Friday, April 26, 2019

Happy Book Birthday!


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Is there anything more fabulously rite-of-passage than the publication of a FIRST BOOK? Happiest of book birthday days—well, next Tuesday but who’s counting and always good to be prepared—to our dear and beloved Grace Topping, a loyal Sister in Crime (and VP of the Chessie chapter!)  and a great pal and wonderful person.

Her terrific new STAGING IS MURDER will soon be coming to bookstores near you—and look at that great cover.

Standing ovation!

And Grace, ever thoughtful and analytical, has been thinking about how she got to today. She’s an overnight success—if overnight is ten years. And now she’s generously revealing what she learned along the way.



Things I Had to Learn on the Way to Publication
            by Grace Topping

Sitting in the audience at a Malice Domestic conference, I heard members of a mystery panel agree that it took them about ten years to be published. Ten years! Fortunately, I was hearing that years after I started writing; otherwise, I might have given up then and there. But here I am with my first book coming out April 30—ten years after I started it.

What took me so long? Like the members of that panel, I had things to learn.

I had to learn how to write a mystery. Working in IT, I spent years writing lean, boring material like procedures for operating banking systems. Ho hum. Good skills to have, but hardly the stuff mysteries are made of—unless you count the time I wanted to murder the person who changed a system I’d worked overtime to document. Good to learn early about motives.

To learn how, I took an online class through my community college on how to write a mystery. I wouldn’t have gotten far without it. It gave me a solid foundation for the mystery I wrote. Unfortunately, my first draft was only 45,000 words. Remember what I said about writing lean?

I had to learn not to go it alone. I heard about Sisters in Crime and the online chapter, the Guppies, and joined. The Guppies gave me an uncritical support group that cheered me on. It also linked me with some beta readers who let me know what worked in my manuscript and what didn’t. The Guppies also enabled me to take more classes and learn about the benefits of attending conferences like Malice Domestic, Sleuthfest, and Crime Bake, where I made supportive friends who helped me on the path to publication.

I had to learn not to give up and revise, revise, revise. I continued to take classes and read every book I could get my hands on about writing fiction. Every time I learned something new, I revised my manuscript and created a new version. As I got closer to publication, I stopped counting at version 38. Did I neglect to say that I was too stubborn to give up?

I had to learn it’s not a race. That was a hard one to learn as I watched writers who started out when I did go on to write a number of books, while I still flogged the same one. In my mystery, Staging is Murder, I had created Laura Bishop, a woman starting a new career midlife as a home stager. After bringing her to life, I refused to bury her in a bottom drawer.

I had to learn to celebrate small accomplishments—my accomplishments and those of others, and how much pleasure can be gained from helping other writers succeed.

I had to learn not to become demoralized by rejections. That was a really hard one.

I had to learn that getting an agent isn’t a guaranteed path to publication and that sometimes no agent is better than one who let’s you languish for five years—half of my ten-year journey to publication. But I never said I was a fast learner—just a slow and steady one.

I had to learn to take chances, like leaving that agent and signing with a very small agency. That move paid off, and my new agent sold my book in two months to one of my dream publishers. Sometimes dreams do come true.

So please celebrate with me, on my tenth anniversary of writing fiction, the publication of my mystery, STAGING IS MURDER.

What have you learned on the way to meeting a goal?

HANK: Grace, I think your suggestions are perfect!  And hurray! Grace will give away a signed copy of STAGING IS MURDER to one lucky commenter!




Laura Bishop just nabbed her first decorating commission—staging for sale a 19th century mansion that hasn’t been updated for decades. But when a body falls from a laundry chute and lands at Laura’s feet, removing flowered wallpaper becomes the least of her duties. To clear her young assistant of the murder and save her fledgling business, Laura’s determined to find the killer. Turns out it’s not as easy as renovating a manor home, especially with two handsome men complicating her mission: the police detective assigned to the case and the real estate agent trying to save the manse from foreclosure. Worse still, the meddling of a horoscope-guided friend, a determined grandmother, and the local funeral director could get them all killed before Laura props the first pillow.


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 as inspiration for her Laura Bishop mystery series. The first book in the series, STAGING IS MURDER, is about a woman starting a new career midlife as a home stager. Grace is the current 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.

To learn more about Grace, visit her at


86 comments:

  1. What an inspiring story and such wonderful suggestions . . . I think perhaps the learning along the way to reaching the goal is often the greatest reward.
    Congratulations, Grace; how exciting for you to have your book published! It sounds like a great story and I’m looking forward to reading it . . . .

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    1. Thank you, Joan. It was a long road to publication, but I was able to get there because of the support from other writers who helped me along the way.

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    2. Your story is so wonderful! Love reading this…

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  2. Cheers to you for not giving up! I've already read the book, and it's a lot of fun. Congrats!

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    1. Thank you, Mark, both for reading my book and for your kind comments.

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    2. Isn’t that amazing to hear, Grace?

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  3. Just like how you refused to give up, I have learned if you want something badly enough you will find a way to make it happen. You've obviously done that with your writing career, and I'm so happy all of your hard work is finally paying off.

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    1. Exactly, Marla. It's like swimming across a body of water and running out of energy halfway. You either turn back and accomplish nothing, or you struggle on to the other side.

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    2. And once you start? You’ve invested… So might as well continue, right?

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  4. Waving hi at Grace from another former lean-writer! So many congratulations, my friend. Enjoy the ride.

    I've learned not to panic at my overly short former-tech-writer first drafts. I know I have the story there, I just need to go through and expand on reactions, enrich language, add red herrings and suspense. My books always get to where they need to be before they are done.

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    1. You are right, Edith. Once you have the skeleton, you can add flesh to the story. I feel sorry for writers who have to cut huge portions from their drafts--work they spent a lot of time on.

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    2. Edith and Grace, I'm a recovering tech writer. How do you overcome the built-in urge to be clear, concise, and direct?

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    3. Well, I wind up having to cut 15,000 words from every book or so… So funny! But I love it… It makes my books stronger and better and, well, it works for me. We all have our different ways

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    4. As a recovering tech writer, you are way ahead of the game--you already know how to write clearly. And you will cut right to the heart of your story and will probably outline somewhat because you will want to know where you are going. There is something, too, to be said for clean, clear, writing, even in a story. You won't be inclined to get carried away with things that editors will tell you to cut. I made it a point to focus on adding things related to the senses and emotional responses. That helped me a lot. Good luck. What do you think, Edith? Barbara Ross in another recovering tech writer.

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  5. So thrilled for you, Grace! Being willing to try and try, and being humble enough to both ask for and receive critique, is so important for success of any kind.

    Two of my daughters sold their homes, in different states, super quickly, thanks to thoughtful staging. I'm working on that now, too, getting ready to sell our home. What made you think if using that kind of business in a mystery? Do you have experience with the field? It's a great idea, in the age of Pinterest and Houzz.

    Best of luck to you.

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    1. Yes, Grace, I would love to hear more about that, too! It really makes a difference?

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    2. Statistics have shown that staged homes sell 75 percent faster on average than homes that aren't staged. I sound like I'm in the business. LOL.

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  6. Thanks, Karen. I've learned that you have to develop a thicker skin and not take rejections and criticisms personally. When I decided to write a cozy mystery, which centers around the business or interest of the main character, I needed to pick one and something that I was interested in enough to write about book after book in the series. I loved watching home staging shows on HGTV, and mysteries about home stagers hadn't been overdone yet, so it was a perfect choice for me and my character, Laura Bishop.

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    1. In addition to watching far too many HGTV shows about staging, I read books and articles on the subject and then got some practical experience helping friends stage their homes. I also consulted some home staging training and certifying organizations, and Debbie Boggs, co-founder of Staging Studio actually read my manuscript and pointed out a few things and told me that I had gotten it right. She even gave me an endorsement for my book, which I was very grateful to receive. I wanted to make sure I had accurately portrayed home staging. If I wasn't so busy writing about it, I might be tempted to go into it. Great field for women to be their own bosses.

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    1. Thanks, Margaret. After so many years, I can hardly believe it is happening.

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    2. What did you do when your books firstb arrived?

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    3. I opened the box, held up my book, and screeched, "My Book!!" to the shouts and hoots from my family.

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  8. Grace, I am so excited for you! Believing in your story and being willing to do the work to make it better--and look where you are! Here's to many more adventures for you and Laura!

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    1. And thank you, too, Hank, for all your help, and your help to other writers over the years.

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    2. Aw, my pleasure! I still remember the first time we met!

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    3. You've got a long memory. Was it at Malice?

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  9. Thanks, Flora. Fortunately, I had lots of support along the way.

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  10. Congratulations! I can't wait to get my copy delivered to my Kindle hot off the press. It's a wonderful book, Grace, I am looking forward to more Laura Bishop.

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    1. Oh, dear Kait, one of my beta readers. Thank you, Kait, for all your feedback and suggestions. It made it a better book.

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    2. Oh,right, Kindle! It'll be such fun to see!

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  11. I am excited to read about a new mystery and I assume a new series eventually!
    I think home staging is a great idea for a mystery. It gets you into new places with new people. The home stager needs to be observant, organized, and adept at dealing with the home owners (or real estate personnel) so it is a good fit for a mystery solver because she is already a problem solver.

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    1. So true, Atlanta. Sounds like words spoken by someone with staging or staging-related experience. Staging is not simply placing furniture, as it is frequently shown on TV. You have to be part psychologist since you are dealing with people's feelings about their home and taste. To make sure I got the staging portion right, I consulted Debbie Boggs, Co-founder of Staging Studios in San Antonia, Texas, a training and certifying staging organization. I didn't want to misrepresent home stagers or the industry, and Debbie kindly read my manuscript and gave me some tips and said I got it right. A relief relief. I didn't want a home stager somewhere reading my book and rolling their eyes.

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  12. Congratulations, Grace! I've had to learn all that and more - and now I'm learning how to market/promote one book while working to bring another to publication!

    And as a software technical writer, I completely understand the motive of, "You changed it, are you kidding me? I spent all night writing about the previous version!"

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  13. Thanks, Liz. I think that's why so many technical writers have turned to writing about murder.

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  14. Congratulations, Grace! You persevered, and boy did it pay off! Wonderful interview. Wonderful book. I can't wait to get mine in the mail!

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    1. Thank you, Connie. Your feedback and suggestions definitely helped to make it a better book.

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  15. Congratulations Grace! Your hard work, determination and strength have succeeded. I enjoyed the lovely interview. Best wishes.

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    1. Thank you, Traveler. I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it (well most of the time).

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  16. So Grace, what did you learn about staging? Did you change your own house as a result?

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    1. Number one thing--decluttering. Clean surfaces and removing excess furniture. Also, you have to stop thinking of yourself as a homeowner and more like a home seller. Detaching emotionally.

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    2. Oh, that’s so interesting! Yes, nothing like clean countertops :-)

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  17. Congratulations, Grace! Echo that... and HOW did you learn about it? The whole notion of staging fascinates me. And terrifies. So far I've avoided ever having sold a house.

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    1. Hi, Hallie. I learned a lot by watching programs on staging, reading books about it, and following homesteading Facebook groups. A lot of it is using common sense when it comes to your home and your decor. The thing people discover after having their homes staged (either doing things themselves or using a home stager) is that it is something they should have done long ago for themselves. They have made their homes look wonderful for somebody else. The thing is to do things to improve your place now and enjoy it long before you put it on the market. Mainly clearing out and updating.

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  18. Congratulations Grace! Your diligence and talent has been rewarded. What a wonderful outcome. Many more books for your future endeavors.

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    1. Thanks, Petite. Now that I've written one book you think it would be easier to write the next one. Not so much!

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    2. Second one is always difficult! If you are feeling that, dear Grace, welcome to the club!

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  19. Congratulations, Grace! Hooking up with the Guppies is the smartest thing a new mystery write can do to help themselves on the journey. I look forward to reading your book, and maybe seeing you at Malice?

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    1. Thanks, Ramona. I don't know how I had the good fortune to find Sisters in Crime and the Guppies, but I'm so thankful that I did. I look forward to seeing you at Malice next week.

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    2. Oh! You both will be at Malice! That is fabulous… See you soon!

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  20. Congratulations on your book, Grace! Your hard work and perseverance certainly paid off! The home staging sleuth is a great idea. My daughter is a realtor--I'll bet she'll want to read it, too!

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    1. Thanks, Deborah. The nice thing about having a main character as a home stager is that it hasn't been overdone so far. Since I started writing about mine, another writer (or maybe more) came out with a series. It just took me longer to get published.

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    2. Think of all the real estate people who will want to read this! You are so right Debs…

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  21. Grace, As a former newspaper reporter I tend to cut to the chase, so I also have short first drafts. I generally need to beef up one of my suspects and punch up some scenes. Huge congrats on your debut release! I'm excited for you and looking forward to reading Staging Is Murder!!

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    1. Exactly! And Vicki, we are used to telling the story as fast and clearly as we can, right?

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  22. Congratulations on your new novel! Now I know why I could not find the book in the bookstores nor the library when I was looking for your book. LOL. I got an invitation from Marie to participate in a book chat about your book and I started looking for the book. Since I checked goodreads, it looks like your book will be launched on Tuesday the 30th of April. Hope I can find your book in the bookstore and the library. I am a fan of cozy mysteries! Your book looks like a book that I want to read!

    Diana

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    1. Hi, Diana. This may be a duplicate response. Thank you for looking for my book. I'm sorry you couldn't find it. It is available online through Amazon and B&N or directly from Henery Press. If you ask your library to order it, you and others can read it. When you eventually find it, I hope you enjoy it.

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  23. Thanks, Vickie. I'm learning as I go and fortunately getting better at it.

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  24. Grace, STAGING IS MURDER sounds delightful - I confess I have a particular interest in house staging, having helped several friends prep for selling their homes.

    As for what aspiring writers need to learn, your suggestions are on point. Especially UNlearning certain writing habits - I have some journalist-turned-mystery-author friends who all say the same thing: unlearning their "just the facts" approach to a story was a huge part of their journey to becoming published.

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    1. Especially since there are no facts right? Just the fact we make up :-)

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  25. This reminds me of the old "You've got to be in it to win it." No one gets published if they quit.

    Congratulations on persevering and coming out a winner!

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    1. Thanks, Libby. You are right. You will never get published if you give up. I could be the poster child for not giving up.

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    2. Exactly! No one else cares about it as much as we do, you know? So it is so personal…

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  26. What an amazing story of persistence and belief in yourself if you just stayed the course! It must feel like a dream come true and the premise of the book sounds delightful.
    Congratulations!!
    Helen

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    1. Hi, Helen! And yes, you are so right. And it is one of the things we all need to remember… The joy of that coming true!

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    2. Thanks, Helen. I have to admit that I occasionally took long breaks from it. So it definitely wasn't ten years of solid work on it.

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  27. Grace, I guess staging is like what we all do when someone is coming for dinner… Hide the piles of newspapers. At least, that’s what I do :-)

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    1. I pile papers into laundry baskets and put them in closets. Then I wonder why I don't have any baskets when it's time to do laundry.

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    2. Great idea! I hide the mail, too, then I lose it :-)

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  28. Congrats on your "overnight" success Grace! I'm glad you kept at it. The world of house staging is the perfect setting for murder.

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    1. Thank you, Jana. Hopefully, people will come to understand what home staging is and isn't and benefit from reading my book.

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    2. Plus you tell a wonderful story!

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  29. Glad that you stuck with it. My mother was the best baker. Since she died, I've been trying some of her recipes and some new ones. I can make molasses cookies and a few other things that are really good now.

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    1. Hi, Sally from Pennsylvania. I'm originally from Altoona, Pa. Beautiful part of the country. Glad you are having good luck with your mother's recipes. My mother made the best Italian Easter cookies, which I made this year, and they surprisingly turned out good.

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  30. Thank you, Hank and all the Jungle Red Writers, for having me here today. It was a real privilege and pleasure. I look forward to seeing any of you attending Malice Domestic next week. I can't wait. My first time there in over 15 years going as an author!!

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    1. It will be wonderful to see you! Congratulations congratulations congratulations!

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  31. Grace, I'm tardy to this post, but so happy and excited for you!! I can totally relate to those lessons, especially taking my time to let the story unfold. (I had learned to write lean, too!) Wishing you a wonderful book birthday (in advance) and sending hugs and congratulations!

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    1. Thank you, Kathy, for your kind comments--whether late or early.

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  32. Would you be willing to share the name of your agent? I'll definitely be reading your book - huge congrats!

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  33. Grace, congratulations. I’m from Harrisburg PA originally from State College. Do you have any music teachers who live and work in Harrisburg? Our MS music teacher was named Sarah Topping.

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