What is Elizabeth Pennington Keeping from Us?
I had a moment to sit down and chat with none other than Elizabeth Pennington, the protagonist in the Precipice Series and sole heir to her family’s estate, which includes the highly popular Pennington Point Inn on the coast of Maine. She shares an intimate glimpse into her past which naturally shaped who she is today, with all the warts, blemishes, and secrets along the way. –Penny
Penny Goetjen: If you don’t mind Elizabeth, let’s go back to your childhood. You grew up in Maine in a place where many would love to stay for an extended period of time—a picturesque seaside inn, owned and operated by your family. What was it like for you?
Elizabeth Pennington: I’m sure to some it seems rather unconventional to grow up in an inn, but it was all I ever knew. So, it was quite normal to me. There were two extremes to it, though. The season ran from early May to mid-October, and in the summer months, usually we were at capacity. So the quaint coastal inn took on a life of its own, filled with demanding guests. If it got to be too much, I would escape to the lighthouse for some quiet time. The off-seasons were a refreshing change at first; I felt as though we’d gotten our home back again. But it soon became too quiet, and I found myself wishing the season wasn’t so short. As I got older, I also realized my grandmother would stress during that down time, hoping the previous season had been enough to make ends meet until spring came and the paying guests returned.
PG: Some might speculate that your childhood was rather sad. What would you say to that?
EP: People speculate a lot about what they think goes on, but they’d be wrong if they thought it was sad for me. Sure, my parents passed away when I was very young, but I never really knew them, don’t have any vivid memories of them. So, in a twisted sort of way—I know it sounds very cold—I didn’t have them to miss.
I would say I had a happy childhood. I adored my grandmother—we were very close—and she did her best to juggle her responsibilities as keeper of our family’s inn with that of grandmother and surrogate mother.
PG: What did you do for amusement as a child? Seems like there could have been lots of places to hide away.
EP: Oh, there was no shortage of hiding places, for sure. And there was my grandmother’s antique desk in the drawing room which I found absolutely fascinating as a child where you could hide things. It had so many little doors and drawers, hidden compartments that I swear were in different locations each time I explored. If you wanted to hide something larger, like yourself, there were plenty of places to choose from. The most obvious, and the most terrifying, was the tunnels. I was forbidden to venture down there as a child, so it took a lot to garner the courage to head down there when we were searching for the young female guest who had gone missing on one of my return visits as an adult. I also tended to stay out of the woods behind the inn. They were much too dense and got too dark, long before the sun set.
PG: Even though your parents and your grandmother aren’t with you physically, do you feel their presence around you?
EP: And my Great Aunt Cecilia, as well. Don’t forget about her. Yeah, there is definitely a feeling around the inn that we are not alone. When you’re in a room by yourself, you get the distinct feeling someone else is there with you, even if you can’t see the person. We’ve had guests report seeing a woman dressed in a flowy white gown. Some people get freaked out a bit, but I just tell myself it’s family looking out for us.
PG: When it came time for college, you chose to go off to New York City—a long way from the coast of Maine and a very different way of life than Pennington Point. What made you choose such a diametrically opposed place from what you were used to?
EP: I’m sure some thought I was running from my past. I know many were surprised by my decision—including my grandmother. I just needed to break away from my sheltered past. I mean, we rarely ventured very far from the inn. I hadn’t been outside the state of Maine before I started looking at colleges. I had a yearning to see more of the world—albeit still on the east coast, but New York City was so drastically different from where I grew up, it was exciting.
PG: Do you think Amelia was disappointed you chose a college so far from home?
EP: If she was, she never verbalized it. Instead, she made it clear how proud she was and that she would be there to support me if I needed it.
PG: Once you got to college, how did you find it? How did you adjust to co-ed life and the big city?
EP: (She laughs.) Talk about an adjustment! This small-town girl from Maine had no idea what she was getting into. (She dismisses her self-deprecating remark with a swat of her hand.) It was culture shock, for sure. City life—in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world—and college life took some getting used to. Although I struggled with homesickness, I refused to admit it. I kept telling myself this was the adventure I wanted, and it would get better. Meeting Rashelle was fortunate—for both of us. She taught me street-smarts that proved invaluable for survival, and I was able to help her out of a jam or two as payback. There were times I thought of quitting—it certainly would have been the easier way out, and my family would have been thrilled to have me back—but I wouldn’t let myself do it.
PG: Where does this tenacity come from?
EP: Definitely my grandmother—I don’t know. Maybe I get it from my parents, too. But I had the living example of Amelia who was an amazing woman who never gave up. She would smile in the face of adversity and was the best possibility thinker I know.
PG: Why did you choose to major in interior design? At the time, did you have no plans, or even the desire, to return to your family’s inn and take over running it?
I honestly had no desire to run Pennington Point Inn. . . . I had no plans to return there after graduation.
EP: I honestly had no desire to run Pennington Point Inn, at that point in my life. I had no plans to return there after graduation, either. I don’t know who I thought was going to take over for my grandmother. I guess I thought she’d live forever. She had that kind of presence. An endearing, everlasting icon. Clearly, that didn’t happen.
At the time I went off to college, I needed to find my own way. And I’d always wanted to design. Growing up, when my friends were busy with extracurricular activities, or even just reading, I could be found sketching everything and anything in my line of sight. I sometimes drove my grandmother nuts moving furniture around in the drawing room and rearranging the accessories, although she had to admit my changes were an improvement over what had been there before.
PG: Your grandmother kept secrets from you that were only revealed before she passed away. How did feel about that?
I felt hurt by the secrets she’d kept. It took me a while to understand why she’d felt the need to keep them to herself.
EP: At first, I felt hurt by the secrets she’d kept. It took me a while to understand why she’d felt the need to keep them to herself. As time passed, I finally got it. She was trying to protect the family name. Only when there was the threat of losing the inn and surrounding property was it worth the risk of revealing what she knew.
PG: So, what’s on the horizon for Elizabeth Pennington?
EP: It’s hard to say what lies ahead. At times, it’s quite daunting that I’m the last Pennington standing, but I’m proud of our family’s legacy. I hope to be able to continue to operate the quintessential New England inn on the coast of Maine for the enjoyment of generations to come—with the help of the Penningtons who have passed on. 😉
The Precipice Trilogy—Murder on the Precipice, Murder beyond the Precipice, and Murder Returns to the Precipice—is available in print and ebook formats and can be purchased at your favorite book retailer.
© 2020 Penny Goetjen