National award-winning author Penny Goetjen is a self-proclaimed eccentric, known for writing late into the night, transfixed by the allure of flickering candlelight. Fascinated with the paranormal, she usually weaves a subtle, unexpected twist into her stories. When her husband is asked how he feels about his wife writing murder mysteries, he answers with a wink, “I sleep with one eye open.”
ELIZABETH PENNINGTON FROM THE PRECIPICE MYSTERY SERIES:
Another peak into Elizabeth’s diary as she shares her frustration, unexpected loss, and glimmer of hope during the Covid19 Pandemic.
June 15, 2020
Technically, the inn is open for guests, but we don’t have any yet—not that I thought people would come flooding through the doors now that Phase 2 permits us to be open. I just thought we’d have a few to welcome back. But I guess I shouldn’t wonder.
Allowing hotels and inns in Maine to reopen as of under Phase 2, while requiring out-of-state guests to self-quarantine for 14 days in a private residence before checking in, is ludicrous. And the only way around it is to provide a negative Covid19 test result that was done within 3 days of arrival—a test that, from what I understand, is extremely uncomfortable as it requires the person administering it to jab a cotton swab so far up your nose you want to take their head off. I fear we’ll never survive. The vast majority of our guests come from out-of-state, and they’re not going to be willing to follow the quarantine protocol. It’s just not practical. And I can’t imagine them lining up to have their nasal cavities violated so they can stay in our humble inn. I know our governor is just trying to keep her constituents safe, but this may very well sink us. Our registrations are just dribbling in, and most of our calls are just inquiries with no commitments. I’ve brought back half of our staff, but it may have been premature.
As a result, I’ve redirected my marketing dollars to in-state advertising, hoping to lure Mainers who would otherwise go out-of-state for their vacations. Fortunately, I can tout all the renovations we’ve completed and all the added amenities that they might not expect if they’d visited the inn years earlier. I’ve also been sending out emails and letters to our previous out-of-state guests to keep them informed of the requirements of the Phase 2 reopening and what comes next. I’ve been trying to sound hopeful without making any promises. In the process I’ve been delighted to hear back from a few.
Past Guests Check In
One guest to respond made me blush. Charismatic and charming Eli Hunter, the country singer who came with his band at the end of their concert tour to take a break before heading back into the studio. Of course, it could have been his publicist who did the writing, but just the same. I would think he would have had to approve of someone answering for him and the thought that he got back to me gave me a tickle in my abdomen. Although he said (or whoever actually did the writing) he and his band were going to pass on coming to Maine this year, he wouldn’t rule out next year. Evidently, they enjoyed themselves immensely. I mean, what’s not to love?
The rugged beauty of the coast of Maine is like nothing else: feeling the mist on your face on a stroll along the beach at dawn, taking a hike down to the breakwater and out to the lighthouse for some afternoon alone time, watching a spectacular sunset with a glass of chardonnay in an Adirondack chair on the precipice. One can find solace here in many ways. And in these uncertain times, what better place to find it? Hey, I should use that in the marketing!
One response to my emails that I didn’t see coming was from Mrs. Leibowitz’s daughter. She wrote back to inform me that her mother had passed away not long after returning from her last trip to Pennington Point Inn. I’ll admit I was shocked at the sadness that weighed heavy on me at the news. Mrs. L had always been such a crotchety old woman—an absolute pain in the neck—that I dreaded bumping into her when she stayed with us, and she came EVERY summer. She was exhausting. Very loud. Demanding. I hate to admit it, but I left her off the invite list for the grand reopening of the inn after we repaired the hurricane damage. As it turned out, I think I felt worse for not inviting her than I would have enduring her presence. It was a mistake—a decision made too abruptly to be sound, and there may have been some Pinot Grigio influence as well. But it was the best I could manage at the time. I never understood how Nana could handle her so well. But now that Mrs. Leibowitz is gone, it’s hard to imagine the inn without her. It will be so different. Then again, a lot of things will be.
One of only a few characters who appear in all the Precipice Series books to date, Harper graciously granted me a few minutes so I could get her perspective on the goings-on at Pennington Point Inn. She is a long-time and, at times, belligerent—even reluctant—friend of Elizabeth Pennington who has found herself in a position adversarial to Elizabeth more than once. But let’s hear her side of the story.
Penny Goetjen: Rachel, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Let’s go back to the day you met Elizabeth. You were both freshmen at NYU. Is that correct? And how did your meet? Did you become friends right away?
Rashelle Harper: Hey, thanks for having me. And yeah, Lizzi and I met freshman year. We were roommates. Couldn’t have been more different. (She chuckles.)
PG: How so?
RH: Well, even just our outward appearances. Lizzi has always been this attractive, demure woman—I mean you wanted to hate her because of it, but she’s too sweet. And unassuming. She can slip into a room with no one noticing. Me, I’m more like a wrecking ball when I walk in. No mistaking my arrival. She’s got that Ali-MacGraw-in-Love-Story look, and I’m more like Joan Jett of the The Blackhearts. Some might say I have an in-your-face type of personality. I’ll admit it. But it went beyond looks. Neither one of us had a very positive childhood: She lost both her parents when she was little. I had my mother, but she never would have won a mother-of-the-year award. She had her problems—drugs—and never really figured out how to be a mom. Because of it, I had to grow up quick . . . got street savvy in order to survive. But Lizzi grew up pretty sheltered. In a small town on the coast of Maine. So, when she showed up for college—and in New York City for God’s sake—she didn’t have a clue what she was in for. I don’t know if she would have survived that first year if we weren’t roommates. I showed her the ropes, saved her ass a few times along the way.
PG: But after graduation, you two took very different paths. How did it that work out like that?
RH: Well, it wasn’t intentional. Lizzi landed a great job in the city—one of the leading design firms—so there was no need for her to leave. And I don’t think she wanted to. I was having trouble finding a decent job in the hospitality industry in the city—one that would actually pay the bills—and I started to think I’d have to live out of my car. But then Lizzi and her grandmother came through for me. Amelia took me on at the inn.
PG: You both landed in locations that seemed diametrically opposed to your personalities. The bustling, bristling city seems more fitting to you more than Elizabeth and the opposite could be said for a quiet, small town like Pennington Point for you.
RH: Some people might say I needed to soften my personality, and a small town in Maine was a good place to do that. And maybe it was what I needed at that point in my life, to turn down the noise—around me and in my head. But I think Lizzi liked the anonymity of being in the city. She could get lost easily. She likes being able to do that.
PG: Did you find it difficult to blend in at the inn with your, as you said, in-your-face-personality and your heavy Brooklyn accent?
RH: (She smirks, as if recalling a particular incident.) Yeah, I think guests checking in were kinda shocked. I think they were expecting me to say “ayuh” and have a Mainer’s accent, which I just can’t fake. I think some were actually disappointed. I could see that, though. If you’ve traveled quite a distance and you’re looking forward to experiencing everything that is quintessential Maine, that would include the quaint accent as well.
PG: Was there one guest in particular that reacted to hearing your—
RH: Mrs. Leibowitz. Everyone just called her Mrs. L, but she was one of the first guests to react to my accent. She’s a pain in the rear but she’s one of the regulars. Comes every summer. That first time I met her I remember . . . she took a step back, jerked her head back, and had this look on her face like I’d slapped her. You know how short she is. She can barely see over the counter. That made it look even more comical. When I asked her if everything was okay, she said she hadn’t heard a Brooklyn accent that thick since her mother died. She finally came around, and we were able to get her checked in, but not before her mumbling something about Amelia farming out the work and losing touch with her guests.
PG: Was there any particular part of your job that you didn’t care for while you were working at the inn? Any ritual or amenity offered to the guests that you didn’t like?
RH: The damn clambakes on the beach.
PG: How did that affect you? I thought you manned the front desk and took care of reservations.
RH: The clambakes were so labor intensive, everyone had to help out. All the food and cooking supplies had to be hauled down to the beach. Not to mention chairs and folding tables. And afterwards, it all had to be lugged back up again. It was a logistical nightmare, but Chef Tony pulled it off every time without a snag. He just needed an army of schleppers to make it happen. The guests loved the clam bakes though, so no one dared complain out loud. Tony’s an amazing chef. What he does within the confines of the kitchen is nothing short of four-star, but the meal he prepares in a pit in the sand is incredible. Lobsters, clams, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, followed up with his homemade raspberry pie or blueberry cobbler. Almost makes all the work worth it. Thank God they were only once a month.
PG: And how about outside of the inn? Did you find the transition to a small town difficult?
RH: Hell yeah. If I wasn’t so desperate for work, I doubt I would have stayed past the first week. It was awful. And I didn’t have Liz around to commiserate with or just hang out with—not that there were many places to do that, but it would have been nice to have her there. I really missed her.
PG: Did it bother you that Elizabeth was doing exactly what she’d set out to do after college? An inn in a sleepy seaside town in Maine couldn’t have been what you were going for.
RH: Now don’t put words in my mouth. I was happy for her. She’d worked hard to land that job, and she was working her ass off to forge a career for herself. Pennington Point Inn may not have been on my radar, but I was grateful Amelia was willing to give me a chance. Figured it was at least a resumé builder. After a while, though, I thought I was going to lose it. It’s just too quiet at night, during the day, too. It took some getting used to.
PG: When Elizabeth returned to take over running the inn, how did that transition go?
RH: (She pauses for a moment and glares at me. I was thankful to be across the table.) It sucked. No two ways about it.
PG: Because she didn’t have a background in hospitality, and suddenly she was stepping in and becoming your boss?
RH: I know, right? Exactly. That’s what I mean. It pissed me off. I knew that inn better than she did.
PG: Really? She did grow up there. Can you completely discount that?
RH: Well yeah, but she didn’t understand the flow in the kitchen or managing reservations or handling guests.
PG: But she had Chef Tony in the kitchen who she could depend on. He’d been at the inn for many years. With the reservations, she could depend on you to handle that area. As for the guests, I would imagine Elizabeth would have picked up on how her grandmother handled them over the years. I could see her being compassionate and professional in how she interacted with them.
RH: Yeah, okay. Yeah, she always did have a knack for handling people. And if I’m being completely honest, I learned a thing or two from her. But the rest of it, she didn’t have any inside knowledge.
PG: And if you’re being honest, the friction between you two . . . you brought on yourself. Didn’t you?
RH: I don’t know. I think it was a combination of things.
PG: Did it bother you that you lost your drinking buddy?
RH: You could say that. We had a lot of fun drinking together over the years. We could polish of a magnum in an evening—no sweat.
PG: But once she came back the rules changed, didn’t they?
RH: Yeah, out of the blue. Suddenly she said it was affecting my job.
PG: Was it?
RH: According to her, yes.
PG: But you didn’t agree?
RH: I just think her reaction was a little over the top.
PG: But things got better for you across the board once you started going to AA. Isn’t that right?
RH: (Another pause, this time with her eyes averted to the floor.) Yeah, you could say that. I guess I have her to thank for giving me my life back. I hated that she insisted I go. I mean, we used to have so much fun drinking together. But now I’m grateful. She made it a prerequisite for keeping my job.
PG: So, could you say she saved your life?
RH: Yes, you could say that.
PG: Can you say that?
RH: (Another pause) Yes, Lizzi saved my life, and I’ll be forever grateful.
PG: I’m sure she’ll be happy to know that. Thank you for your time.
As we find ourselves with extra time on our hands, many of us turn to activities we find comforting to fill the void. For many, that’s baking or cooking. I thought it would be fun to share a recipe made famous by Pennington Point Inn in the Precipice Series.
Made Famous by Pennington Point Inn
Elizabeth Pennington strives to carry on her family’s tradition of keeping a popular inn on the coast of Maine, which includes a Sunday brunch that would not be complete without their Orange Macadamia Nut French Bread. Tourists and locals, as well as guests from the inn, line up for Sunday brunch because of it.
Toss Aside The Frying Pan
I love the thick slices and ease of cooking for a group. In the recipe below, it’s been scaled down from the inn’s cooking-for-a-crowd sized directions to a family of six.
Consider preparing this on a weekend—or any day of the week if they all seem like Saturday—to bring everyone together and make it feel special. It has a delightful touch of orange and is not overly sweet. I’ve also made a gluten free/dairy free version of this—substituting GF bread for Italian, almond milk for the half & half, egg whites for the eggs—and it’s delicious, too. Chances are your GF bread will be thinner than what’s called for, so adjust your baking time accordingly.
While you’re following the recipe, you can imagine the chef at Pennington Point Inn preparing tray after tray of this popular dish to satisfy his guests.
But does anyone else see the irony of using Italian bread to make French toast??
Orange Macadamia Nut French Toast
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup orange juice
½ cup half & half
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 16-ounce loaf Italian bread, cut into 1-inch slices
½ cup butter or margarine, melted
½ cup macadamia nuts, chopped
Confectioner’s sugar for garnish, syrup if desired
Arrange bread slices in a single layer in a lightly greased baking dish.
Whisk together the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, orange juice, half & half, and vanilla.
Pour egg mixture over bread slices. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight, flipping the slices over once.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pour melted butter onto a large cookie sheet with sides.
Arrange bread slices in a single layer.
Sprinkle with macadamia nuts.
Bake 17-20 minutes until lightly browned along edges.
With all the uncertainties the Covid19 pandemic has created, I thought it would be interesting to take a peak–albeit a fictional one–at pages from Elizabeth Pennington’s diary. Elizabeth is the strong female protagonist in the Precipice Series: Murder on the Precipice, Murder Beyond the Precipice, and Murder Returns to the Precipice
March 25, 2020
Just when we were gearing up to open the inn for the season, we’ve had to put on the brakes with no idea when we’ll get the all-clear. I know it’s the right thing to do to slow the spread of the Corona Virus, but effective today the inn has been shuttered per the governor’s mandate that only essential businesses be open—and those have strict
guidelines within which to operate. We’re all using terms never spoken before like social distancing, shelter-in-place, and self-quarantine. These are scary and uncertain times.
It pains me to have to send the waitstaff, housekeepers, and maintenance staff home with only a promise to bring them back as soon as I can. I’ll continue to pay them as long as I can. Who knows how long this shut-down will last. Hopefully Pennington Point Inn, as a business venture, will survive.
Our chef Tony and I have put plans in place to prepare meals for takeout. He’ll have his sous chef to help him. I’ll answer the phones and bring the food to the door. That way we can be of help to our neighbors and bring in at least a nominal amount of cash flow. Fingers crossed it will be enough.
Once we do reopen—and I pray it’s soon—I hope our future guests will feel comfortable traveling to our beautiful state of Maine and taking up lodging in our cozy seaside inn that has been in the Pennington family for generations. It may take an ambitious marketing campaign to make that happen.
Trying to Stay Optimistic
April 15, 2020
We’re 3 weeks into the shelter-in-place order. Fortunately, we’ve had a steady business of take-out—nothing that will cover the bills, but it’s still positive all the same. I’ve been in touch with some of the staff, and they all seem to be in good spirits and optimistic, including Rashelle. At this point, their biggest concern seems to be a lack of toilet paper. They’ve had to do with substitutes. Guess it could be worse.
There’s something quite unsettling about the quiet that hangs over the inn. Even our pup Jake seems to notice—although he’s thrilled that Kurt and I have time on our hands and take him out for a nice long walk on the beach or, once in a while just to change it up a bit, across the breakwater out to the lighthouse. He’s getting much more comfortable navigating across the uneven and jagged boulders that tend to jut out at odd angles here and there. He’s only made a couple missteps so far but recovered nicely on both—much more impressive than my first few times out on the rocks as a child. I’ve got scars on my knees to prove it. They’re not attractive.
A Bad Movie
May 3, 2020
You’d think with no inn to run, I’d have more time to write in my journal. It’s just hard to write about. There’s an emptiness here you can feel in your bones. It makes my stomach ache. Maybe it’s just all the worry about the bills and whether or not the regular guests will return—or any guests. Latest word is the stay-at-home order from the governor has been extended to the end of this month. Still only essential businesses are allowed to be open within their strict guidelines. Everything is getting canceled—even the annual lobster festival in Rockland. They—the powers that be—project the state will allow hotels and inns to open July 1st. I only hope that date doesn’t get pushed farther into the future, but I pray we can open safely. A second round of this virus could be worse than the first.
We’re doing okay with supplies—all except for hand sanitizer. But we have plenty of soap which we’re constantly using to keep our hands clean. (Dry hands are becoming another problem.) I’ve raided housekeeping’s closet for toilet paper and antiseptic wipes. Our food suppliers still show up. We greet each other with facemasks and gloved hands. It’s like something out of a bad movie—sci-fi meets Groundhog Day.
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.