THE WOMAN UNDERWATER will be released July 26, 2022 and is now available for Pre-Order.
Click below to order on Amazon. Also check with your favorite independent bookseller.
Here’s a peek into THE WOMAN UNDERWATER:
In the seven years since Victoria’s husband disappeared, no witnesses have stepped forward and no credible evidence has been collected—not even his car. He simply vanished from behind the stone walls of a private boarding school where he taught—the same school their son now attends. But someone has to know what happened. And that someone may be closer to Victoria than she realizes.
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with fellow mystery/suspense writer C. Michele Dorsey to talk about our mutual affinity for the Caribbean and her recent release set there.
GIVEAWAY: Be sure to comment below. Michele will be giving away all three books in her Caribbean series to a commenter, randomly chosen from all of the commenters to this post.
Here’s our chat:
Penny: I love the fact that we both have mystery novels set in the lush tropical islands of the Caribbean, the U.S. Virgin Islands to be specific. A lot of people vacation there. But you found your way there and ended up staying longer than most. How did that come about?
Michele: I accidentally discovered St John in 1986 during a day excursion on a cruise I hated. But I fell in love with the island. After more than three decades of going to St. John, I never tire of its beauty. More than three quarters of the land is owned by the National Park Department, which saves it (largely) from being spoiled. There is something about being on St. John that makes me feel at peace with myself.
Penny: How has the time you’ve spent on St. John had an influence on your writing?
Michele: When I was super busy practicing law, teaching part-time, and raising a family, the only time I had to write was on weekends and while on vacation. After we discovered St. John, we returned several times a year until we began spending winters there in 2015. Writing on St. John was bliss. What could be better than soaking in silky warm aqua water, then sitting on a beach chair with your toes in powdery white sand with your laptop on your lap, playing make believe? In the beginning, I wrote stories based in Massachusetts where I lived, but then one day when I was sitting at the dining room table in my favorite vacation villa staring at an empty hammock, I imagined a man being shot while lying in it. And that’s how my first Sabrina Salter mystery was born.
Penny: Tell me more about your protagonist Sabrina and how she made her way to St. John like the author who created her.
Michele: Sabrina is an exile from Massachusetts, who was acquitted of murdering her husband by a jury but was convicted and vilified by the press. Her career as a television meteorologist in Boston is over, so she flees to St. John to start over. Many people who live in St. John have come to start over after colorful pasts, so Sabrina meets many interesting characters, including her partner Henry with whom she begins a villa rental business. Between the tourists who come to visit St. John and those who have defected to the island, there is no shortage of stories.
Penny: Have you ever been on island during a hurricane or tropical storm? Have you been back since the horrific one-two punch of the two Cat 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria (termed Irmaria by locals) in September 2017?
Michele: Funny, you should ask. Tropical Depression, the third book in the series, which was recently released, is set during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Tropical Depression was challenging to write because I wasn’t there during the hurricane, but I interviewed a number of people who were and had seen the damage firsthand during a visit shortly after the storm. The cottage we had been renting was uninhabitable and our efforts to relocate long term thus far have been unsuccessful. It was a devastating hurricane, far more so than earlier ones we had seen the damage from. Maria was the second punch that added insult to injury. Islands are fragile, even with perfect weather. The effects of two Cat 5 hurricanes back-to-back will be felt for years.
Penny: What are the challenges of living an extended period of time on an island?
Michele: Living in paradise is not perfect. It’s hard for those of us who live in variable climates like we have in New England to imagine perfect weather nearly every day. I’m a little like my protagonist, Sabrina. I love weather. I admit I can find it monotonous.
There can also be a sense of isolation on an island and a feeling of cultural deprivation.
There’s plenty of art and music, but not the variety we have in the states. It can be a little like living in a pandemic when all you want to do is crawl through a bookstore or watch a movie in a theater with the smell of popcorn surrounding you.
Penny: Interesting parallel between living on an island and enduring a pandemic with all its limitations. I can see it.
Shifting to characters, how much are you pulling from your past with Sabrina’s character? Are any of your other characters inspired by people you know?
Michele: Even though the Sabrina stories are mysteries set on a gorgeous Caribbean Island, they are really stories about broken relationships. Unfortunately, some of them lead to murder. My characters are often composites of people I’ve met.
Penny: Historically, you have split your time between a cooler climate in the summer and a warmer one the rest of the year: Cape Cod and St. John. Are any of your mysteries set on the Cape or New England at large? Or do you envision setting a mystery in New England at some point?
Michele: I have written several mysteries set in New England. Stay tuned.
Penny: Oooh, I am looking forward to that. Have you or will you ever write outside the mystery genre?
Michele: I’ve taken a stab at romantic comedy. I enjoyed writing it, but the editing is going oh-so-slow.
Penny: Romantic comedy? Well, that’s ambitious. Good for you. I look forward to reading it.
Can you share more about the storyline for Tropical Depression?
Michele: Sabrina Salter returns home to St. John in the Virgin Islands after a disastrous vacation in New England where her grandmother rejected her and her boyfriend, Neil, betrayed her. She discovers an employee at her villa rental agency has been murdered and her best friend and business partner, Henry, is the prime suspect. If that isn’t enough, Hurricane Irma, a category five-plus hurricane is racing toward St. John and her grandmother is on island to make amends. Reluctantly, Sabrina must enlist Neil and his rusty legal skills to save Henry and help find the murderer while a killer, a massive hurricane, and her grandmother are charging her way.
Penny: I look forward to following Sabrina on her next escapade on St. John. Can you tell us how we can get a copy of Tropical Depression?
Be on the lookout for the fourth Sabrina Salter mystery, which is scheduled to be released June 1, 2022. In Saltwater Wounds, Sabrina and her octogenarian grandmother enter a truce while they set off to find out what happened to Sabrina’s mother when she disappeared thirty years before.
Penny: Good luck with the release of Tropical Depression. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Looking forward to Saltwater Wounds!
C. Michele Dorsey is the author of the Sabrina Salter series, including No Virgin Island, Permanent Sunset, and Tropical Depression. Michele is a lawyer, mediator, former adjunct law professor and nurse, who didn’t know she could be a writer when she grew up. Now that she does, Michele writes constantly, whether on St John, outer Cape Cod, or anywhere within a mile of the ocean.
GIVEAWAY: Comment below for a chance to win all three books in Michele’s Caribbean series. She will be randomly choosing a winner from all of the commenters. Good luck!
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m always looking for something new, unusual, or at least different to add to our Thanksgiving table. This year, I’ve decided to try the New England taste treat called Brown Bread, but I wanted to do a trial run with the recipe.
As a young girl, whose mother grew up in Maine where it’s a staple, I was offered brown bread on occasion. It came in a can manufactured by B&M (located in Portland, Maine) and often served with hot dogs and baked beans. If you look in the right store, on a particular shelf, you can still find canned Brown Bread. I honestly don’t know if I ever tried it or just decided by the aroma and the look of it that I wasn’t going to like it, but I have this fuzzy memory of not liking it.
But there have plenty of food items over the years I’ve decided to try after writing them off as a child and have ultimately decided I love them—Brussels sprouts, yellow turnip, whole cranberry sauce, fried onions, most seafood, Caesar salad—you get the idea. So, I decided to give Brown Bread a solid try as an adult.
The interesting part about making Brown Bread is that you don’t bake it. You steam it—either in an old coffee can in a large pot on the stove or in a loaf pan inserted in another pan in the oven. Water inserted into the cooking container accomplishes the steaming.
I went with the oven method. Besides the fact the method is similar to how I usually make sweet bread, I also did not have an old coffee can—I don’t drink coffee—required to use the stove method.
Among other typical bread components, the recipe listed buttermilk, molasses, allspice, cornmeal, and raisins. How could I go wrong with such savory ingredients? I jumped in and tackled the two-and-a-half-hour process (most of it was baking—or rather, steaming—at 325 degrees).
The pungent aroma soon filled the kitchen, and I found it hard to wait to taste the fruit of my labor—literally.
My husband and I both enjoyed the Brown Bread straight out of the pan, still warm. Then, as recommended in the recipe, I tried sauteing a couple pieces, slathered in butter. (What’s not to love there??) It was yummy that way as well.
When I try a recipe for the first time, I tend to follow the directions explicitly. I don’t tweak it until the second go-round. This time was no exception. In the future, I’ll try a gluten free version and perhaps substitute golden raisins for the regular raisins. But all in all, I rate this attempt a success and look forward to making it again for Thanksgiving.
But now I know why this was not pleasing to my palette as a child. Brown Bread is more of an acquired taste. A heavy molasses cookie/gingerbread man flavor with some raisins thrown in for good measure.
Have you every tried Brown Bread? If so, do you like it and how do you eat it? If not, would you like to try it? Let me know in the comments.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and all those who are near and dear to your heart!!
Now that the calendar says November, I want to skip ahead and think about Thanksgiving. It’s always been a special day in our family, all about getting together and enjoying great food—sometimes a little too much wine—and catching up with each other’s lives. And now that our three children are grown and have significant others, it carries even more meaning as they introduce our family’s traditions to those they love.
One glance at the date and I want to grab a pad of paper to start jotting down a menu. (Even though it really doesn’t change much from year to year, but it’s never too early to start putting together a shopping list. Right?)
No matter how often I’ve tried to steer us toward some alternative menu choices that don’t resemble what the pilgrims would have served (including tapping into the cuisine we’ve enjoyed during our Caribbean travels), we still end up with the staples—roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a few typical desserts like pumpkin pie (not my thing, but I go along with it. After all, how un-American would it be to not like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving?), pecan pie, and apple crisp.
But pumpkin pie aversion aside, let’s look at the other dishes I tend to serve that you might not have found on a table at Jamestown. Well, let’s narrow it down and look at my favorite dish. You undoubtedly have yours. This is mine.
Oyster stuffing. To be accurate, it would be called dressing since my husband, who is in charge of preparing the turkey, and everyone who doesn’t particularly care for oysters, won’t let the slippery bivalve mollusks anywhere near the inside of the turkey. But I’m okay with that. Cooking it in a casserole dish allows the dressing to get a little crispy on the top.
I learned to love oyster dressing from my father—which is interesting because he was from the Midwest, hundreds of miles from the nearest briny shore. The original recipe called for canned oysters, which would undoubtedly elicit a gag from oyster connoisseurs, but surprisingly, it works.
Maybe making the oyster dressing is my way of connecting with my father after all these years that he’s been gone—and if that’s what it is, so be it—but I keep making it year after year. Depending upon who shows up for the feast, I’m either sharing it with someone who is trying it for the first time—and often politely tells me how delicious it is—or I’m the only one who is scooping the steaming sage-infused lumps of bread chunks, onions, and oysters. And I’m okay with the latter. You know . . . as they say . . . more for me. (Wink!) And it seems to be even tastier heated up for leftovers.
Do you have something unusual that you include in your Thanksgiving menu? Is there a story behind why it’s important to you? Leave me a note in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.
Next blog post I will explore Brown Bread—a New England tradition that may actually have found its way to the table at the original Thanksgiving.
Ghosts and hauntings have always been a fascination for me. I’ve been reading about them and listening to stories since I was an impressionable child, but it wasn’t until I was alone in my grandmother’s creaky, old house as a teenager that I got to witness a paranormal encounter firsthand. To be honest, my experience scared me half to death, and I did my best to block it from happening again.
It took me a few years to get over my initial scare, but eventually my fascination resumed, as did my paranormal experiences. So, it’s quite natural that I often weave a paranormal thread—at times, quite subtly—into my novels. My inspiration comes from my own experiences as well as the hundreds of stories I’ve heard over the years, like the ones about the lighthouses that are sprinkled along the New England coastline.
Of the nearly 200 lighthouses that grace the Yankee shores, I want to share three with you that have been known to send a shiver down the spines of unsuspecting visitors.
New London Ledge Light
In Connecticut, the New London Ledge Light with its unique square, three-story, brick building is situated at the mouth of the Thames River where the Atlantic Ocean meets Long Island Sound. Its resident ghost Ernie (some say that wasn’t his real name) tends to be playful. Coast Guard crew members assigned to the light before it was automated reported doors opening and closing on their own, ghostly footsteps, middle-of-the-night knocking on doors, and bedcovers being pulled off while they were sleeping.
There seems to be a discrepancy as to exactly what happened to Ernie that led to his death. One account says he was so distraught after learning his girlfriend ran off with the captain of the Block Island Ferry that he committed suicide by jumping off the top of the lighthouse. Another says it was a bitter fight between them that led him to climb to the roof to cut his throat. His body fell into the sea but was never found. Sad story, for sure, either way.
In Massachusetts, Boston Light sits off the coast of Cohasset on Little Brewster Island in the Gulf of Maine. Built in 1716, its claim to fame as the oldest lighthouse in the United States lends itself to being haunted. It’s first keeper, George Worthylake, and his wife and baby drowned after their boat capsized in what has been described as calm waters. Some accounts say an African slave also perished with the Worthylakes.
To add to the tragedy at Boston Light, the second keeper Robert Saunders also mysteriously drowned after being on the job for only a week.
Later lighthouse keepers and their families have reported hearing footsteps when no one was there, a man’s laughter, and a child’s sobbing. From the keeper’s house, a man dressed in an old-fashioned keeper’s uniform was spotted in the lantern room when no one else was on the island. There have also been sightings of arms waving just above the surface of the water surrounding the island. Not too creepy, huh??
Owls Head Light
In Owls Head, Maine, the tower is on the short side as lighthouses go. Standing at just thirty feet, it makes up for being vertically challenged by sitting atop a one-hundred-foot bluff over the water. The tales told of paranormal activity there seem to be of an old sea captain and a former keeper’s wife. The latter, who is referred to as “Little Lady,” tends to rattle silverware and slam doors. It is said that her presence brings with it a sense of peace, and that she loved the place so much, she didn’t want to leave.
The sea captain who still hangs around has been seen polishing the brass on the light and apparently likes to leave his footprints in the snow. Yikes!
Who Can Stop at Three?
Okay, let’s look at one more. Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Maine is one of my favorites because of its iconic white ramp over the rocks that lead up to the light. (It will be familiar to fans of the movie Forrest Gump.) There has been the usual reporting of paranormal activity in the keeper’s house that is now a museum, but the tale that will raise your hackles is about a young boy in the early 20th century who discovered some rum-runners and was chased to the road leading up to the light and murdered there. Since then, he’s been seen running on that road. Some say the rum-runner has also been spotted chasing the boy with a weapon in his hand.
All of these stories are fun to retell on a dark and stormy night. But unless you’re braver than I, you’ll be heading back to your car at these lighthouses before darkness falls….
Have you had a paranormal experience (whether at a lighthouse or not) you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it.
Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with fellow mystery/suspense author C. Michele Dorsey who shares my love of the Virgin Islands. She posted this on a blog she contributes to called Miss Demeanors where she is giving away a signed copy of my mystery The Empty Chair: Murder in the Caribbean. See below for instructions on how to enter.
Michele: I don’t know about you, Penny, but between a long winter and even longer time under house arrest with Covid restrictions, I sure would love a field trip to a Caribbean island where we both have set a few of our novels.
Penny: I know what you mean about wanting a getaway. And what better place, in the middle of winter, than the Caribbean with its warm, seductive breezes and alluring, white sand beaches?
Michele: What was it that first drew you to the islands and when did you know you wanted to set a novel there? Is your island real or imagined?
The islands in The Empty Chair and its sequel Over the Edge are the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas in particular. And what drew me to them and continues to draw me is the stunning turquoise water. It just never gets old. Neither does year-round summer, balmy tropical breezes, or spending most of the time outside.
The inspiration to write The Empty Chair came during one of my trips to St. Thomas. At the time, I was working on the second book in my Precipice Series which is set on the coast of Maine. I have to admit, it was tough to concentrate on my New England setting with cooler temps and a rocky coastline while soaking up the warm sun, with my toes in crystal clear water that’s warm enough for a bath. It didn’t take long for the storyline for The Empty Chair to pop into my head and demand to be written. And I think the best part about setting a story in such an idyllic place is you get to feel like you’re there while you’re writing—even though you may be back home again, and you’re dragging your protagonist through a bit of hell.
Michele: How did your protagonist end up on a Caribbean island and involved in some scary stuff instead of on a lounge chair on a beach sipping a frozen drink?
Penny: In The Empty Chair, Olivia’s trek to the islands had never had beach lounging or tropical drinks on the itinerary. She has to make the trip to St. Thomas after receiving word her mother, a photographer on the island, has passed away unexpectedly in a boating accident. Her journey begins as a somber obligatory excursion to settle her mother’s affairs and put her Caribbean bungalow overlooking Magens Bay on the market. However, when she arrives, she learns the police have no record of a boating accident, much less her mother’s death. So, with this glimmer of hope her mother’s still alive, Olivia makes it her mission to search to the ends of the island for her. But in the process, she gets tangled in the same criminal element that may have cost her mother her life.
Michele: I love Magens Bay, Penny. Everyone thinks it’s easy to write a story set in such an idyllic setting. What did you find challenging about it?
Penny: Even though both books are works of fiction, it’s a real location. So, readers who have been to St. Thomas will recognize several places in the stories. I needed to describe them accurately. It also needs to make sense how long it takes to drive or walk from point A to point B. In Over the Edge, in particular, I needed to understand the currents around Peterborg Peninsula. I consulted with a local boat captain who is well versed in navigating the crystal clear and, at times, treacherous waters around the islands.
I also think there’s a fine line between setting the scene for a murder mystery and going too far and scaring readers away from visiting the islands. As a writer who loves the Caribbean, I strive to strike a delicate balance.
Michele: If Over the Edge is the sequel to The Empty Chair, how important is it for a reader to pick up The Empty Chair first? And can you give us a peek into the storyline for the sequel?
Penny: The ending of The Empty Chair is a bit of a tease. I’ve gotten more feedback on it than any of my other books because I leave the reader hanging. (Sorry, not sorry? 😉) Over the Edge picks up where we left Olivia in The Empty Chair. She returns after a Category 5 hurricane has pummeled the islands to rebuild her mother’s bungalow and hopes to reconnect with her on again/off again lover from her previous visit. When he turns up missing, she has no place to stay and no other options, so she accepts the offer from a wealthy, older man to housesit his spacious villa. But before she can unpack her suitcase, she stumbles onto his lifeless body in his own home and becomes the prime suspect.
Michele: They say there’s a part of the author in every character. How much of that do you think is true and do you borrow your characters from real life, Penny?
Penny: I do think that’s true about a part of us in each character, although when you’re writing a character that’s a murderer, that thought can be rather unsettling! As writers, we definitely mold our characters based on people we know or are familiar with—sometimes without realizing it. My first book Murder on the Precipice, has a sweet grandmother named Amelia and it didn’t occur to me that I’d modeled her after my own grandmother who I adored until probably the second book in the series. Amelia’s description could easily fit my grandmother, but I was too close to it to realize it was her!
On occasion, I’ve named characters after friends of mine just for fun. But it becomes problematic when the character turns out to be a villain or I kill them off!
Michele: Do you ever write outside your genre or would you consider it?
Michele: So what’s next? Another mystery set in the Caribbean?
Penny: Not yet. I’m sure I will get back to the Virgin Islands again soon in my writing. There’s so much more to explore with Olivia, now that she’s back on the islands and I love being there. But the manuscript I’m working on now is set in Connecticut at a private, all-boys boarding school and one of the boys goes missing.
Michele: Where can we get more information about and copies of your books?
All of my books are in both print and eBook formats and are available at the major online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but I would also encourage readers to check out their local, independent bookstores. If they don’t have the books on the shelf, they can easily be ordered.
Click this link to find an independent bookseller:
Bio: National award-winning author of five mystery novels, 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.”
After bearing witness to Olivia Benning’s harrowing experiences in THE EMPTY CHAIR: Murder in the Caribbean, I was anxious to catch up with her before she returns to the Virgin Islands to pick up the pieces in OVER THE EDGE: Murder Returns to the Caribbean (to be released 11/10/20). In spite of all of her packing and preparations to take care of before she can go wheels-up on a southbound 737 and leave Boston behind, Olivia was generous to take a few minutes and sit down with me. Here is our chat.
Penny Goetjen: Olivia, first off, congratulations on completing your apprenticeship with Abigail Adams Studios in Boston. That was quite an accomplishment just to land such a highly coveted position and even more so to complete it.
Olivia Benning: Yeah, thanks. It was a lot harder than I expected but a great experience, for sure. I’m grateful to have had it. I learned a lot.
PG: And I was sorry to hear of your father’s passing. Even though, to a certain extent, it was expected, that must have been hard for you. Do you struggle with conflicting emotions about it? Sadness, certainly, but are there any lingering anger issues?
OB: It was hard. Still is. And even though I knew it would be coming down the pike sooner or later, it happened much faster than I expected. My time with him just seemed to evaporate at the end…. And anger? Yeah, definitely. I can’t stop thinking it didn’t have to turn out the way it did—if he’d made some different choices.
PG: And speaking of choices, you didn’t really have one when it came to who you were to live with when your parents separated years ago, did you?
OB: No. That really sucked. My father insisted I stay with him in Boston. He said the schools are better there. But I missed out on so much with my mother. And living with him was nothing short of miserable.
PG: You would have preferred to be with your mother on St. Thomas.
OB: Absolutely! She and I were very close—closer than most mothers and daughters. We didn’t get enough time together. I spent my school breaks with her, but it was never enough. Kayaking was one of our favorite things to do. We took our cameras everywhere we went. She taught me how to actually see what I was looking at through the camera lens. The art she created was amazing. She was amazing. I cried like a baby every time I left. I just wanted to stay and live with her, learn more about photography from her. I wanted to be like her.
PG: And you were hoping to join her in her photography business one day?
OB: Yeah, that was the plan in my head. I’m sure my mother would have gone along with it. My dad probably would have opposed it.
PG: But surely at some point—at a certain age—you would have been allowed to make your own life-altering decisions.
OB: (She laughs.) You would think, wouldn’t you? Maybe I should have stood my ground better, but now it doesn’t really matter. What’s done is done.
PG: Again, different choices would have had very different results.
OB: Yes. . . I feel like my time with my mother was taken from me. I miss her.
PG: So now you’re heading back to St. Thomas, your first visit since the powerful hurricane rocked the islands. What condition do you expect to find them in?
OB: I’m not too optimistic. The photos and videos I’ve seen online are so heartbreaking. Some of the images are upsetting to look at. So much devastation. It will take years to rebuild. But the people of the Virgin Islands are a tenacious bunch. Resilient. They get knocked down by these hurricanes but they don’t stay down long. They’re very quick to look to the future and talk about rebuilding and better days ahead.
PG: I understand you plan to rebuild your mother’s bungalow. What do you envision it looking like? Will you keep the same design as it was before or start from scratch and create something new?
OB: I’d like to rebuild it just the way it was—including the funky colors on the outside. It just makes sense from a budget standpoint if I keep the same footprint. But I’d like to add a half bath. I’d also like to build a garage with some storage for kayaks. We’ll see how it all works out. If I can only afford to rebuild it exactly the way it was, I’ll make it work.
PG: Are you hoping to catch up with Colton? Have you been in touch with him since you’ve been gone?
OB: (She pauses and grins. I detect slight blushing.) Yeah, I’m hoping to catch up with Colton. That’s the plan.
PG: What else is in the plan? (Do I have to pull it out of her?)
OB: Well, I’m planning to twist his arm to get him to let me stay at his place while I rebuild. I think he’d be willing to make room for me.
PG: So, he’s not aware of his involvement in your plan? You two haven’t talked while you were away?
OB: No, we haven’t.
PG: Why not? And that doesn’t concern you?
OB: Even when I’m on the island, he’s not very easy to get in touch with. He tends to live off the grid.
PG: So, you’re not concerned what that might mean. That maybe he’s lost interest. Or there’s someone else.
OB: If that’s the case, fine. I’ll deal with it. But I can tell you, the way things were between us when I left, I think he’ll be happy to see me.
PG: Or perhaps the reason he hasn’t been in touch is because it’s something else entirely—
OB: Like I said, I’ll deal with it when I get there. I’m going, no matter what. I’m going there to rebuild my mother’s bungalow. That’s all there is to it.
PG: All right then. I wish you the best of luck back on the island. We look forward to seeing how it all turns out for you. Safe travels.
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.