Sunday, October 2, 2022

Q&A with Penny Goetjen



Penny Goetjen is the author of the new novel The Woman Underwater. Her other books include the novel The Empty Chair. She lives in South Carolina and in Connecticut.


Q: What inspired you to write The Woman Underwater, and how did you create your character Victoria Sands?


A: Inspiration usually comes from more than one place and consists of multiple pieces, like a puzzle.


For The Woman Underwater initially I was intrigued by a scene from Robin Williams’ movie Dead Poets Society. A remote room in the attic where the boys stored their trunks and suitcases during the school year got me thinking. Since the space remained untouched for long stretches of time, it seemed an ideal location for someone to hide, or something to be hidden, without being detected.


From there, I focused on the dynamics of an all-boys boarding school and the tensions that could simmer along the edges. Victoria is the mother of one of those boys and brings plenty of baggage of her own!


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I don’t usually know how the story will end and it’s fun to write that way. Apart from establishing the gist of the story, I don’t plot out the storyline.


Some writers are very meticulous and write an outline or a brief synopsis before putting pen to paper or fingertips to a keyboard. As a pantser—I write by the seat of my pants—I let the characters lead the way and pull me along on the journey. There are times when I’m as surprised as my readers to see what’s coming around the next corner.


Q: The author C. Michele Dorsey said of the book, “The setting is bucolic Connecticut, a perfect contradiction for the internal chaos Victoria experiences while living a life without resolution...” What do you think of that description, and how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: My writing is character driven and setting is the first “character” I select. I write about places I’ve fallen in love with, so by the time my readers have reached the last page they’ve fallen in love too. The settings are so important, the stories couldn’t have been set in any other location.


I love Michele’s description and I admire her writing. We share a love for the U.S. Virgin Islands. She has several mysteries set on St. John in her Sabrina Salter Mystery Series; I have two on St. Thomas: The Empty Chair and Over the Edge. There’s nothing like tropical breezes and inviting turquoise water as a backdrop for a suspense-filled mystery.  


Besides the two Caribbean mysteries, I’ve written three others set on the rocky, tumultuous coast of Maine (my Elizabeth Pennington Mystery Series) where the old family-run inn sits high up on a precipice looking out over the ocean.


I fell in love with the coast as a small child when we visited my grandmother there on our family vacations. The love affair continues today. My grandmother was the inspiration for the loveable grandmother in the series.


And now The Woman Underwater’s setting is Connecticut when the sultry days of summer slip into the cooler days of fall and deciduous trees start showing off with their vibrant foliage. I’ve lived in the Nutmeg State longer than anywhere else and the season of pumpkins, apple cider, and mums is my favorite there.

As Michele Dorsey points out in her description of the setting for The Woman Underwater, the serene New England suburban town is delightfully contradictory to the tension created by the storyline. She’s spot on.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: A common theme in all my novels is the strength of love. It can compel people to hang onto hope, accomplish what they could never have dreamed they could, or stand strong in the face of adversity. Without it, some let hope slip away, abandon their dreams, or resort to self-destruction.


Although Victoria’s husband in The Woman Underwater has been missing for nearly seven years, she refuses to give up hope despite those around her encouraging her to wake up and move on with her life. The love she shares with him has forged a special bond that keeps her believing he’s still out there somewhere to be found.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve always got something in the works! And even though the focus at the moment is The Woman Underwater, I’m working on my next mystery/suspense novel which will be set in Charleston, South Carolina. With its southern charm, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages, it’s a place I fell in love with many years ago.


I look forward to introducing readers to this quintessential low country harbor town, steeped in history, ripe with paranormal happenings, and an incredibly delicious setting for a suspense story.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If I may, I’d love to speak on behalf of all authors for a moment. If you’ve enjoyed reading a book, the best way to thank an author is to write a review.


Just remember:


A review doesn’t have to be long. A couple sentences saying why you liked it will do. Just think about what you would say to a friend about the book.


A review is not a book report so you don’t have to summarize the storyline. The book description takes care of that.


Copy and paste your review to every site you frequent—Amazon, Goodreads, etc.


NOTE: you don’t have to have purchased the book from Amazon to leave a review there. They understand readers get books from many places: the author, a library, as a gift, borrowed from a friend, other retailers.


So, if you’ve enjoyed reading a story that a writer has spent months, perhaps years writing, editing, and generally agonizing over—may even have shed a tear or had doubts so paralyzing he/she seriously considered throwing in the towel—take a couple minutes to let them know you appreciated their work.


You’re also helping other readers find their next great read.


Reviews are critical to a book’s success.


Thanks for letting me mention that. I appreciate it. We all do.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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