Gone But Not Forgotten

I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with fellow mystery author C. Michele Dorsey to talk about her title GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN. It’s a fast-paced suspense novel you’ll want to get your hands on.

Penny Goetjen: Having written two mysteries set in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I’ve enjoyed reading your Sabrina Salter Mystery Series and accompanying Sabrina on her escapades on St. John, Michele. I understand your soon-to-be-released GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN is a standalone mystery. Where does it take place and how did you decide to set the story there?

C. Michele Dorsey: The story takes place in Boston during the autumn, which is when the city is most glorious. I chose Boston because it’s a city of neighborhoods, each with its own personality. Boston is also filled with cultural, educational, medical, and legal institutions and more sports teams than you can root for. I tried using as much of that richness as I could. I was born in Boston, went to nursing school there, and eventually taught at New England Law/Boston. I love Boston.

PG: It’s definitely fun to write about locations you’re intimately familiar with. What can you tell us about the storyline? Where did the inspiration come from to write it?

MD: Gone But Not Forgotten is a story about a young woman yearning for family, past and future. 

Olivia’s mother fled an abusive husband when Olivia was five. She moved to Vermont and changed their names. At 29, Olivia still doesn’t know the true identity of her family of origin, which she longs to know before starting a family of her own. Since her mother suffers from dementia, Olivia feels an urgency to find her identity. When her mother dies under suspicious circumstances, Olivia is even more determined to find out who she is while it becomes clear someone wants to stop her.

PG: Sounds like Olivia has a lot to deal with. What else can you tell us about her background? 

MD: Olivia has lived under the shadow of fear her entire life, secluded in Vermont with an overprotective mother. She could never do anything to bring attention or acclaim to herself and risk being found by her father who had threatened to kill them. She becomes a research librarian and lives with her mother until she marries a psychiatric resident and moves to Boston where she decides to go to law school, which opens a new world for her.

PG: Are Olivia and Sabrina similar in any way? How are they different?  

MD: Olivia and Sabrina are both women who must unravel the secrets of their families before they can claim their own individual identities. Sabrina’s story is a little sadder to me. She has been betrayed many times and has a harder time than Olivia creating a future. 

PG:  I see. Is there someone alive or dead who inspired Olivia? How do you relate to her? Do you see some of yourself in Olivia?

MD: I have to say Olivia is totally made-up. I have no idea where she came from. I do identify with Olivia when she is afraid to do something new. I think society traditionally has encouraged risk-taking more in males. That doesn’t mean I don’t do what I fear. Getting beyond the fear is just an additional step I have to take.

PG: Sounds like there’s at least a little bit of you in Olivia! Which character in GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN was your favorite to write? Which one was the most difficult?

MD: I don’t know why, but I loved writing Nick Wojcik, especially the scene in the Jacob Wirth restaurant that was an institution in Boston until it recently closed.

I found Olivia most challenging to write. I had to show how the scars from her past affected her without turning her into a whining, helpless female. I had to grow her a spine!

PG: I’m glad you were able to keep Olivia from being a whiner. I love to read strong female protagonists. Good job with that. Besides being a standalone, how is GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN different from your previous titles?

MD: I found the pacing faster. There was also a little pressure to completely fill out the characters in one book because I knew there wouldn’t be others.

PG: A one-and-done novel does force you to be more thorough, doesn’t it? You never get the chance down the road to layer in more depth in your characters. When will GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN be available and where can we get a copy?

MD: July 4, 2023 at independent bookstores, Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, and wherever books are sold.

PG: Great! I know everyone reading this will want to get their hands on a copy. What’s next? Any writing projects in the works or on the horizon? 

MD: I am editing two books I completed during the pandemic and I am writing installments for a new suspense novel on Substack one chapter at a time.  micheledorsey.substack.com

PG: You’ve been busy! Sounds like an interesting project on Substack. I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for the link. And thank you for stopping by to chat about your new release. I wish you the best of luck with it!

MD: Thanks for having me, Penny. It was fun!

Bio: C. Michele Dorsey is the author of Oh Danny Girl and the Sabrina Salter series, including No Virgin IslandPermanent SunsetTropical Depression, and Salt Water Wounds. Her latest novel, Gone But Not Forgotten, will be published by Severn House in July 2023. 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. 

In Search of the Mermaid’s Chair

My husband seems to be used to it by now. After 37 years of marriage, I suppose it’s not surprising to him anymore that I seek out adventures for us to go on when we travel. Nothing too crazy. But there’s always an element of risk, for sure.

Recently we had the pleasure of returning to the U. S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas. Due to Covid it had been nearly three years since our last visit. It was a short stay but we were thrilled to be back.

We sought out some of our favorite places like mile-long, heart-shaped Magens Bay with its crystal-clear turquoise water and a dinner at Iggies Beach Bar (the original Iggies—pre-2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria—made an appearance in THE EMPTY CHAIR as Izzies). We also dined at Old Stone Farmhouse and took an historical tour of downtown Charlotte Amalie (pronounced uh-mall-yuh), the capital of St. Thomas and the territory.

After my book signing at Fish Face Boutique, I did some shopping—after all there was plenty of room in our suitcases after emptying out all the copies of THE EMPTY CHAIR and OVER THE EDGE we brought. (Wink!)

Our adventure came on our last day there. We headed out in our rental Jeep to the west side of the island in search of the illusive Mermaid’s Chair that occurs and is only accessible at low tide. The half an hour or so ride out took us along the edge of the mountain, a winding and undulating route with spectacular (and distracting) views to the ocean.

Our fun ride.

Did I mention you drive on the left in the USVI and I always do the driving? It’s better that way. I love the challenge and it allows my husband to be the navigator which he is infinitely better at than me.

Mermaid’s Chair is the kind of place you have to hear about from someone else. You’re not going to find it on an online list of top ten things to do on St. Thomas and you’re certainly not going to stumble upon it. And you’ll need directions on how to reach the Chair from someone who’s been there. (It had the feel of a secret location. Only the fully indoctrinated are allowed entry.) It was old school, but I printed out a blog post from someone who’d included photos and specific instructions on getting there. What could go wrong. Right?

A treasure map, of sorts.

Access to Mermaid’s Chair is via a private gated residential community so the first challenge was finding somewhere to ditch our car along the road. Once all four tires were off the pavement, we made our way to the guardhouse to check in. By law in the USVI, all beaches are accessible to the public so access must be granted.

We had our photos taken and pertinent information gathered from us. Not quite like a booking with fingerprints but it had the feel of a mug shot. If we didn’t make it back, at least they’d know who’d gone missing. 😉

Once we had a map in hand, water bottles in my backpack, we were off to find the Chair.

Starting out from the guardhouse, the walk is uphill for a while. Then it’s mostly downhill and mostly paved. The walk back, as expected, would be all uphill—in the hot Caribbean sun.

Our first mistake was for me to take hold of the map. I have a history of taking a more circuitous path to my destinations. You know, the scenic route?

Lush tropical vegetation.

As per the map, I had us heading down the first left fork. It took us a while to get to the end of the road, but when we reached the bottom of the hill, there was nothing that resembled a path to the water. Just thick vegetation. Earlier in the day a local had warned me the paths were overgrown and had not been cleared since before the 2017 hurricanes, so this seemed to prove him right.

To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I felt like we’d come so far, only to walk headlong into a wall of jungle. I tried several inroads to see if I could forge a trail through the brush—my husband coaxed me out a couple times—but I finally had to agree with him it wasn’t feasible, and we started the trek back up the hill.

By the time we got to the top where we’d made our initial turn, we were already parched from the hot sun and plowing through our water at an alarming rate. Nonetheless we decided to follow the sign for the beaches—after all, we were there. Why not see the beaches?

Finally! A sign!

Soon we spotted a sign pointing to Mermaid’s Chair—the first one since we’d set out. We were elated. “We” might be overreaching. My husband might have thought the adventure was nearly over until we discovered the sign. But in my mind, we were back on track on our way to finding it. We were there! Let’s do this!

The trek down to the water.

The road went on forever and was nearly deserted. Even though we were in a gated residential community, there weren’t many homes. The first we noticed was off in the distance on a hill looking out to sea, surrounded by scaffolding, clearly in the process of a major renovation. A couple of other driveways were visible, but it wasn’t the congested community I’d been expecting. Mostly just paved road with vegetation on the sides. It felt eerily deserted—like a planned development that had never got off the ground.

We kept walking and trying to ration our water along the way, quickly realizing we hadn’t brought enough. Needless to say, when I discovered my water bottle was leaking inside my backpack, I was concerned. But it didn’t deter me from forging ahead, trudging down the hill. (There was a little voice in my head asking what would happen if I ran out of water. After all, I would need more for the hike back up the hill in the hot afternoon sun. Did I listen? NO.)

Looking down on waves approaching the right side of Mermaid’s Chair.

The sound of the surf told us we were getting close. And soon the deep blue water came into view, so we picked up our pace and hurried to the bottom of the hill. We couldn’t quite get our first glimpse of Mermaid’s Chair yet but crashing waves and the accompanying roar were a spectacular display of nature—evidence of and support for a high surf advisory in the area.

Beautiful pastel coral.

After snapping a few photos and videos, we scurried down the wooden steps that brought us to the beach on one side of the chair. Colorful pieces of fan coral in pastel yellows and purples, gathered from the beach by previous visitors, adorned the steps as a warm welcome.

Once our weary feet hit the tiny beach, scattered with pieces of brain coral, we froze. The Mermaid’s Chair lay in front of us: waves converging and crashing on either side of it, meeting in the middle and revealing the chair when the waves receded. I walked to the end of the beach to take this photo of the chair below. Essentially it’s a spit of land between two rock formations (one of which was behind me) that appears at low tide. The other side of the chair is across the water in front me.

The waves receding on either side of the chair.

We stood in awe, filled our phones’ photo apps, and tried to take it all in. (As they say, the photos don’t do it justice. The videos either.) We were the only ones there and it felt surreal. Since it wasn’t low tide yet and due to the usually high surf, it was too dangerous to attempt to go out onto the chair. (I honestly considered it, and my husband knew what I was thinking, so he shot me a “don’t even think about it” look—one that has saved me, I hate to admit it, on more than one occasion in the past.)

I was absolutely tickled we had found Mermaid’s Chair.

As the sun slipped closer to the horizon, and we acknowledged we had a dinner reservation in our near future, we took in a last look at Mother Nature’s spectacular display and reluctantly began our trek back up the hill, starting with the wooden steps up from the beach.

The long, steep climb back up.

It was long and arduous. I couldn’t bring myself to look up the hill as I trudged. It seemed so overwhelming. Instead, I kept my eyes on my feet, plopping them one in front of the other, stopping frequently for a breather in the sun, and sipping even less frequently on the last few drops of my precious water, my husband encouraging me along the way.

Not that I doubted we’d make it back, but the relief when we caught sight of the guard house in the distance when we crested the last hill was palpable. My feet willingly picked up the pace. We were almost there!

After checking out with the guard, we returned to our Jeep on the side of the road and headed back to town, looking forward to a special dinner on our last night there. Hot, tired, thirsty, and sweaty from our adventure, we were content to have created a new memory together—and survived. No search party necessary. 😊

Island in the Fog–Seguin

Waking to a fogged-in harbor, I feared our plans for a seafaring excursion would be scrapped, but by the time we’d finished the hearty breakfast quiche at our B&B, the heavy cover seemed to be slowly lifting.

I’d had to do some digging online and make a few calls, but I finally tracked down a boat captain willing to take us out to Seguin Island, a remote spit of land measuring only 64 acres, about two and a half miles out to sea, and this was the morning for our adventure. (When I contacted the captain who’d previously taken brave souls out to Seguin to ask for a recommendation, he laughed and said no one would be crazy enough to do it. Gasp!)

Riding in Style (Loved it!)

Captain Cal and his partner Katrina (pictured in the last photo) picked us up promptly as promised at the public pier in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The vessel was a rudimentary lobster boat, not designed with passengers in mind. Instead of rows of bench seats, a couple of folding lawn chairs with a small table in between had been set out for us where the lobster pots would have been stacked up. This arrangement was more than adequate—and surprisingly comfortable.

Ribbons of fog lingered in the harbor, but if the captain was willing, I wasn’t going to be deterred from my quest to get out to Seguin. I’d heard so much about it, I needed to see it for myself. The paranormal stories alone were too enticing not to make the trek.

My husband, the trouper that he is, always goes along for whatever adventure I commit us to—cheerfully I might add. Perhaps he feels it’s his duty to escort me in case I get myself into a predicament I can’t get myself out of. (There’s a history that justifies his willingness to be at the ready.)

Ghost Boat? (yes, that’s my finger on the edge of the lens)

Although the fog seemed to be lifting in the harbor, it was still thick out on the open ocean. There wasn’t much to see during the ride out, except the dingy we were towing behind us, bobbing in our wake. At one point, a fishing boat emerged from the mist with an eeriness that didn’t take much to imagine there was no one aboard and was drifting aimlessly. However, I seemed to be the only one on our vessel whose thoughts went in that direction.

Seguin enshrouded in mist

Nearly an hour into the ride, Katrina announced if it wasn’t so foggy, we would have been able to see Seguin by that point. Now I was even more intrigued by the island. What secrets was it guarding?

Our fearless Captain Cal

We finally got close enough to see the island enshrouded in mist, making it look like a mountain top in the clouds. Remarkably, as we approached, the wisps of white seemed to disintegrate to reveal the revered Seguin. Our able captain navigated through the waters, made treacherous at times by cross currents, and secured the boat at one of the few moorings available in the cove. It was oddly quiet and the fog lended a sense there was something seclusive about the island. Only those brave enough to get there would be rewarded with a peek.

Once moored, our captain reeled in the dinghy, hopped in, guided us safely into the vessel, and then rowed us to shore. The closer we got, the more surreal it felt. Was I really getting to see the island?

The tiny rocky beach with the steps to the trail.

After the captain dragged the dinghy with us in it onto shore, we climbed out onto a small patch of rocky beach that all but disappears at high tide. I couldn’t scramble fast enough to the wooden steps to begin my ascent up from the cove. (My husband was behind me. I could sense it, but I have to admit I didn’t look back until both feet were planted firmly at the top of the steps.) A rugged hike up the hill with the framework from an old tramway running alongside, brought us to where the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters came into view—familiar from countless photos and paintings I’d gazed upon over the years.

Abandoned wooden tramway

It didn’t take long before the volunteer keepers discovered we’d arrived and welcomed us like they’d been expecting company. A brave new couple arrives each April to get the light and island trails ready for visitors starting Memorial Day Weekend and stays into October to maintain the island and give tours to sporadic visitors who show up unannounced. Steve (pictured below with us on the catwalk of the lighthouse) spent two hours showing us the grounds, taking us into the keepers’ quarters and up into the light, talking about their work, and answering all our questions. The third hour on the island we ate the lunch we’d packed and then explored the trails.

Of course, I asked about paranormal activity they may have experienced but was disappointed he only had one story to share involving his ear plugs that seemed to find their way to the floor by morning no matter how far away from the edge of the bedside table he placed them. He wasn’t convinced it was paranormal activity, but I got the sense it was.

Sequin Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters

The most common Seguin Island paranormal story I’ve heard involved a lighthouse keeper and his wife many years earlier. As the tale goes, she was bored spending so much time on a remote island, so her husband had a piano brought out to please her. The only issue was that it came with a single page of sheet music, and she played it over and over again until it drove him mad. He took an axe, chopped up the piano and then turned the weapon on his wife. Once he saw what he had done, the distraught keeper threw himself over the railing of the lighthouse catwalk. They say to this day, the strains of piano music can be heard on the wind.

I was disappointed not to witness this auditory haunting, but in all fairness the keepers’ house was abuzz with workers re-shingling the roof. It may have been too noisy for any spirits who usually hang out there. I did learn while I was there that two rooms are available for rent so an overnight stay on the island is a possibility. If I can’t talk my husband into volunteering to be lighthouse keepers for a summer, perhaps I can convince him to spend a night on our next trip to Maine. 😉

Pre-Order Now Available!!


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. 

A Chat with C. Michele Dorsey

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?

C. Michele Dorsey

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.

Michele’s Caribbean Series

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?

Michele: You can find it on Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1736557726

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!

Author Bio:

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!

Brown Bread—No, Probably Not What You’re Thinking

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.

The finished product–yum!

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.

Ingredients gathered
(half the job of cooking!)

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.

Pan within a pan of water.

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!!

Do The Oysters Have It?

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.

Did Someone Say Ghost?

Haunted New England Lighthouses

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

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.

Boston Light

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.

Boston Light

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

Owl’s 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?

Marshall Point Lighthouse

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.

Read more about these tales in my references:








Join Me On A Trip to the Caribbean

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?

Penny: As of yet, I have not strayed too far from mystery/suspense. Lately I’ve been writing more short stories, which has been fun, some of which are more suspense than murder mystery. I describe myself as a productive procrastinator. I’m writing those short stories even though I really should be working on my current novel, but the stories demand to be written, so I oblige. Writing is funny sometimes. It can take you in interesting directions and to unexpected places.

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?

Penny: Thank you for asking. You can check out my website at www.pennygoetjen.com for more info.

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:

To be entered for a change to win a signed copy of my mystery The Empty Chair: Murder in the Caribbean, comment at Michele’s blog at: https://www.missdemeanors.com/a-trip-to-the-caribbean-with-penny-goetjen/

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.”

What’s Up With Olivia Benning

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.

OB: Thanks.

Pre-Order Over the Edge:

Amazon Order Now

Barnes & Noble Order Now