Handling a controversial subject in a mystery by C.T. Collier

After All Those Years, the Truth


Being a woman of a certain age, I’ve witnessed decades of changing mores about sexual orientation. When I was in my teens, few people talked openly about sexual orientation. In my family of origin, since several close relatives were nuns or priests, a conversation might touch on celibacy but rarely on lesbian or gay lifestyles. Times have changed.


As I approached the writing of the third book in my mystery series The Penningtons Investigate, I needed to do some serious research if I expected the central issue to be the consequences of a woman’s realization, after years of alcoholic drinking, that her sexual orientation was lesbian.


My research began with informal conversations with more than a dozen people who had experienced similar life-changing realizations about themselves or a loved one. Sometimes the awareness was precipitated by sobriety; sometimes it was more gradual. In most cases, strong emotion accompanied the awareness, along with the significant impact on close relationships, but no murders.


To give breadth and depth to my understanding, three respected resources helped me develop the backstory for my character Marguerite LaCroix. Of primary importance was a unique book from the AA Grapevine published in 2014, Sober & Out: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender AA Members Share Their Experience, Strength, and Hope. Two books from Hazelden were also helpful: Michael Shelton’s 2011 book Gay Men and Substance Abuse: A Basic Guide for Addicts and Those Who Care for Them; and Sheppard & Kathryn Kominars’ 1996 book Accepting Ourselves and Others: A Journey from Addictive & Compulsive Behaviors for Gays, Lesbians & Bisexuals.


If you’re a writer, it won’t surprise you that 95% of the extensive backstory I wrote for Marguerite’s subplot never made it into the book. What’s there in Sipped for the reader to see is only what’s necessary to move the book along toward the ultimate solution. And it is filtered through Lyssa Pennington, who served as Marguerite’s AA sponsor, and through Kyle Pennington who had a soft spot for Marguerite. So, the subplot of Marguerite’s delayed realization of her sexual preference and the accompanying fallout in her life is presented in a few brief scenes, scattered throughout the story, as the Penningtons come to grips with their friend’s death under suspicious circumstances.


Brief as those scenes are, I could not have written them without having a firm research base to draw on and a detailed understanding of Lyssa’s and Kyle’s individual relationships with Marguerite. In the end, I hope I have presented Marguerite’s dilemma with sensitivity and insight, in a way that honors her decision.


What do you think, dear readers and writers? Assuming an author has done his or her research, how much backstory should the author include in the book?


Author Bio for C. T. Collier: C.T. Collier was born to solve logic puzzles, wear tweed, and drink Earl Grey tea. Her professional experience in cutthroat high tech and backstabbing higher education gave her endless opportunity to study intrigue. Add to that her longtime love of mysteries, and it’s no wonder she writes academic mysteries (The Penningtons Investigate) that draw inspiration from traditional whodunits.

Book summary for Sipped:

Meet the Penningtons: Lyssa, Ph.D. Economics, and her husband “the handsome Brit” Kyle, Ph.D. Computer Science. When their clever minds ask questions, clever killers can’t hide.


After a rough semester, Professor Lyssa Pennington just wants to post her grades and join her husband, Kyle, in Cornwall for Christmas. First, though, she’s expected to host an elegant dinner for Emile Duval, the soon-to-be Chair of Languages at Tompkins College.


Too bad no one told Lyssa murder is on the menu. And, by the way, Emile Duval is an imposter.


Who is he really? And who wanted him dead? Without those answers, the Penningtons can kiss Christmas in Cornwall goodbye.


Author Links:

Website:  https://drkatecollier.wordpress.com

Facebook: kate.collier.315

Twitter: @TompkinsFalls

Goodreads: http://tinyurl.com/zds5zps


8 thoughts on “Handling a controversial subject in a mystery by C.T. Collier

  1. Thank you, Bookbrowsing, for hosting me and the Penningtons! I’m really curious what readers and authors think about backstory– what’s the right amount? Do some authors get it right and how do they do it? –kate, writing as C. T. Collier

  2. Reblogged this on lcrwblog and commented:
    Here’s a warm-up for the June 23 LCRW meeting: Sex Talk with author Katrina Kissinger (aka Kim Gore)

    • K.L. Gore says:

      Very nice! Definitely sounds like an interesting story. And I agree, most backstory doesn’t need to make it into the book. We, as authors, need to fully understand who our characters are, but it may not be essential for the reader to know every stinking detail! It will show up in their personality, in their day-to-day observations, and in their internal dialog. 🙂

  3. As a reader, I love to dig deeper into controversial/enlightening subjects through backstory. As an author working with publishers and editors concerned about genre, yes, I’m not surprised great research didn’t make it into the mystery novel. Maybe you can use that 95% in another story as contemporary fiction or such. If you do, please let us know where to find it.

  4. Thanks for a great reminder of the importance of good research. In writing my book “House with a Heart” I had this great idea about a house (the house I grew up in) that wanted to tell the story about the people who lived under its protective roof. It took two years of research to pull together the bits and pieces that made up the story. I have pages and pages of notes from interviews and stories of the people who lived in that particular area at that particular time. I absolutely loved doing the research, but very little actually reached the pages of the story. The end result, though, is a story that is historically valid to the point that it can be used as a resource for grade school children studying New York State history.

    • Hey, Rick, do I know your from LCRW? It’s great to hear that you’ve created a resource for our NYS schools. With the curriculum so confining, there’s such a need for time and space and authentic resources for kids who want to explore to do just that. Kudos!

  5. rozmurphy1 says:

    Hey Kate thank you so much for your thoughtful essay on this sensitive topic. You’ve made me so curious about Marguerite that I”m going to move ‘Sipped’ a couple of notches higher in my To Be Read pile!

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