“Born to Drink Earl Grey Tea”: Meet Mystery Author C.T. Collier

Having spent time as a college teacher, I’ve always had a soft spot for academic mysteries. So, today I’m especially delighted to welcome C.T. Collier, an outstanding mystery author who sets her stories in academia. Below are her responses to my interview questions, followed by her bio, buy links, and contact information.

First off, congratulations on the completion of your popular series, The Penningtons Investigate. Can you tell us about the series and what inspired you to write it?

The Penningtons are a brainy young couple who confront problems, sometimes murder, that affect the troubled college where Lyssa is an economics professor. She and her husband, Kyle, a computer security genius, sink their teeth in and won’t let go until they’ve solved the crime.

I have loved mysteries all my life, especially the “puzzle” aspect, that fascination for finding clues and putting them together to understand who did what to whom.

As someone who’s spent a fair amount of time on college campuses, I love that these are academic mysteries. How much of your characters and plots have been drawn from real life?

My characters are composites of people I’ve met on my personal journey and in my work in high tech and higher education. Higher education is fraught with intrigue and personal vendettas. At the same time, the colleges and universities where I’ve worked have more smart decent folk than stinkers and crooks. Just like other smart decent folk, the Penningtons are fallible human beings trying to do the right thing. And they’ll go to any length to expose and right a wrong.

The plots of my mysteries may resemble real situations I’ve encountered, but the details are very different, most of them entirely from my own head. I enjoy it when colleagues who know I’m a writer say to me, “You should write about …” and go on to relate a wild tale or an injustice I’d never heard. Those suggestions percolate in my brain and eventually merge with others to become another episode of The Penningtons Investigate.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? What books/authors inspired you as a child? As an adult?

I was a kid who struggled to read until I was about eleven years old. I’m not sure what made everything click for me but, once I was able to read, I devoured mysteries featuring Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, the Hardy Boys, and Rick Brandt.

Soon I realized I had my own stories to share and the desire to be a writer was born. I’m eternally grateful to my eighth grade teacher (herself a writer) who told me I could go on for my Ph.D. and I could become a writer.

Now I read a variety of authors, choosing from old favorites and newbies alike. My shelves are crammed with series by Janie Bolitho, Kerry Greenwood, Francine Mathews, Jean Luc Bannalec, Cathy Ace, and many others. Right now I’m enjoying Ann Cleeves’ new series set in Devon, which is a superb example of “place” as an integral entity of the story.

You’ve also written the Lakeside Porches romance series (written as Katie O’Boyle) How has the experience of writing mysteries differed from writing romance?

What a timely question! Last summer I got back the rights for the Lakeside Porches romances and have been revising them for republication. They are in so many ways the “back story” for The Penningtons Investigate. Let me explain.

When I began to write for publication in 2012 I yearned to write mysteries, but I didn’t know enough about good writing, structure, suspense, and so on. Several authors told me romance was a good way to break into publication and a stepping stone to other genres. I did the best I could and was happy to have the four-book romance series published by a small press.

After finishing that series, I felt ready to tackle mysteries, and I relied heavily on the approach to writing mysteries laid down by William Tapply, one of my favorite cozy authors. I also engaged a developmental editor who specialized in the mystery genre and who routinely suggested other authors and teachers from whose expertise I would benefit.

Backing up one step, it was as I worked on the fourth and final romance that I found my perfect amateur sleuths: Lyssa and Kyle Pennington. And I realized that, in the quad romances, I had already built the world that would serve me well for writing my academic mysteries: Tompkins College in fictitious Tompkins Falls in my own backyard, the beautiful Finger Lakes of upstate New York.

Tell us about your writing process: Are you a pantser, plotter, or somewhere in-between?

A crazy combination! I always have an outline at the outset but, as the scenes and chapters unfold, the characters’ voices grow stronger and begin to dominate. I love wrestling with my characters about their vision for the book and the relationships. Soon the outline goes the way of last month’s weather forecast.

What for you is the hardest part about writing fiction? The most enjoyable part?

That first draft is hard! It’s the revision phase that I love.

What are you currently working on writing-wise?

My attention right now is on revising the four romances so they stand as the backstory for the Penningtons, with book four acting as a Prequel to the Penningtons. The other three books in the romance series are forerunners for new mystery series still to come.

What advice would you give aspiring fiction writers?

Join a writers group, get feedback from writers, from contests, from critiques, and from readers. But stay true to your unique voice.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

I love being in nature with my camera in hand.

Anything else you’d like to add—or wish I’d asked that I didn’t?

LOL, that last question took me outside with camera and there’s no coming back. 

Thanks so much visiting today, C.T.!


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 that draw inspiration from traditional whodunits.


Amazon: Paperback

Kindle: Kindle ebook

Barnes and Noble: B&N Paperback

Nook: Nook ebook

Website: http://drkatecollier.wordpress.com
Facebook: kate.collier.315
Twitter: TompkinsFalls


  1. Martha B on October 29, 2021 at 6:27 pm

    What fun you had with this interview.
    I enjoyed it bunches.

  2. John kasprzak on October 29, 2021 at 10:15 pm

    I am a friend of C.T. Collier. She is a truly lovely woman. A very gentle soul and a delight to be around.

    • Lynn Doreen Slaughter on October 30, 2021 at 8:20 am

      It was wonderful to have the chance to learn more about her. Thanks, John!

    • C.T. Collier on October 30, 2021 at 6:30 pm

      I’m really touched by your Comment, John. Hope all is well. We missed you this morning. Be well!

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