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.