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The Woman Underwater By Penny Goetjen

I’m giving The Woman Underwater 2.5 stars. I always feel bad leaving less than 4-5 star reviews, so, I’d like to start out by saying the idea of the book was great! Victoria’s husband went missing without a trace. Nobody had any ideas about his disappearance. Her mother has a “gift” of being able to sense dangerous happenings and she, herself was having nightmares about water. I was looking forward to a great thriller with paranormal touches. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

You may love it, though!

The Woman Underwater

No one disappears without a trace…. Don’t try to tell Victoria Sands that time heals all wounds. It doesn’t work that way for a woman who’s lost her husband the way she did. She was never able to say goodbye. Never able to arrange a memorial. Receive friends at the service. Write thank-you notes for the flowers and donations sent in his name. Because it didn’t happen that way. Victoria’s husband never returned home at…

It could have been really captivating and intense but it fell flat after the first chapter.

None of the paranormal really made it’s way into this one and none of Victoria’s supposed instincts (motherly or spousal) played a role. It just got a bit monotonous. Penny Goetjen is a great author so I was disappointed when this book didn’t live up to the hype.

POSSIBLE SPOILERS:

Instead of seeing Victoria go off in search of answers and using her mother’s gift to solve the disappearance, we only see her hooking up, (while talking about how much she loves and misses Robert), belittling everyone around her (in her head) and not making time for her sons who were supposed to be so precious to her.

Instead, she tells them to “leave her alone” when they need to talk to her (about Robert’s disappearance!). Her best friend only wants to help her out of her melancholy, but instead, Victoria constantly thinks about how her friend is divorced and never had kids and couldn’t possibly know anything about love or marriage. Victoria is always belittling Aviva in her thoughts when talking to her on the phone.

She talks about needing someone to take care of but cringes at the thought of bringing her mom home.

And then there’s Vince. She treats him like cr@p. She can’t commit to him because of her devotion to her missing husband, but she doesn’t mind hopping into bed with him and Emerson.

In all honesty, she’s a horrible person and not very likable, at all. To be blunt – Victoria is a bit@h!

In my opinion, the story is slow and has too much fluff without enough of the actual mystery. We don’t need a 1 page chapter about her brother. We don’t need the helicopter, or all the baking details. None of that adds anything to the story. The mystery does get solved at the end. But it happens quickly and out of nowhere. We go from 1 page (chapter) that has nothing to do with anything, to her solving the mystery. It all just ran together.

END OF POSSIBLE SPOILERS:

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Penny Goetjen

About Penny Goetjen

National award-winning author Penny Goetjen writes murder mystery and suspense novels where the settings play as prominent a role as the engaging characters. A self-proclaimed eccentric known for writing late into the night, transfixed by the allure of flickering candlelight, Ms. Goetjen embraces the writing process, unaware what will confront her at the next turn. She rides the journey with her characters, often as surprised as her readers to see how the story unfolds. 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.” She is a proud member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Penny splits hertime between Charleston, SC and Connecticut.

Q&A With The Author

What attracts you to writing mystery/suspense? Would you consider writing in any other genre?

I’ve always loved to read mysteries. Trixie Belden Mysteries were my go-to when I was growing up. My mother was ALWAYS trying to get me to read, and I fought it for a while because I didn’t like what she was picking out for me. Finally she caught on and would get me mysteries, and after that I’d find a Trixie Belden Mystery under the tree on Christmas morning.

I’ve just always loved a good puzzle. I still enjoy Sodoku, Colorku, Crossword puzzles, Wordle. Mysteries are like a puzzle to solve, figuring out whodunnit, whydunnit, or howdunnit.

I don’t know that I will ever write in another genre. Having said that, there are varying degrees of romantic threads woven into each of my novels, so a romance novel doesn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibilities. Perhaps it could be a paranormal romance. It’s intriguing to think about….

You used handwritten notes in The Woman Underwater for a couple of characters. Is that a technique you’ve used in your other novels? What do you accomplish with it?

I LOVE using handwritten notes in my stories. The Woman Underwater is my sixth novel and I’ve used some sort of handwritten note in each one. I think the notes become very personal to the character writing them. You learn a lot about him/her without inundating the reader with backstory. The notes can become quite intimate, depending upon who’s writing them and who the recipient is. You can learn the character’s thoughts and intentions. It allows the reader to get closer to the character.

You tend to include a paranormal thread in your stories. What inspires you to do this? Have you had a paranormal experience?

I almost don’t know where to start to answer this question! I’ve been fascinated with the paranormal for as long as I can remember. When other kids my age were reading comic books, I was on a deep dive into a book about ghosts. It was something I learned about and accepted as very real when we visited my grandmother in her incredibly intriguing, creaky old house in Maine. Three generations lived there at one time—family members came into the world under that roof and exited as well, when their time came. During my mother’s childhood, funeral services for family members were held in the living room. A lot of houses of that era had what they called funeral doors for that purpose; a narrow door just wide enough to handle the width of a coffin directly into the living room.

Stories abound of eerie experiences at my grandmother’s house. I heard them over and over and thought they were fascinating—until I had my own experience. I was nineteen years old and it terrified me.

After that I put up a wall and refused to be open to connecting with the other side. It took a few years and then I was ready to let down my guard and welcome paranormal connections—and there’s been no shortage of incidents.

Your characters come across as very realistic. How do you write them so they turn out that way?

Writing characters that practically jump off the page is something I think fiction writers have to be cognizant of and work hard toward. If you get lost in laying out the story and don’t spend time developing each character’s personality, they can come across as flat.

To that end, I observe people in everyday situations and take notes as to how they are carrying themselves, what their distinct mannerisms are, expressions on their faces, and inflections in their voices. Airports are a great place to people watch and I’m often killing time at them. So instead of burying my face in my phone, I discretely (I hope!) watch people interacting around me and jot down notes, creating new characters.

I also have a running list of interesting names that I’d like to use for characters at some point in the future. When I hear one that catches my ear, I add it to the list.

You’ve said that your setting very often becomes one of your characters. How does that happen and how critical is selecting the right setting?

The setting is the first “character” I select. They are places I’ve fallen in love with so when I write about them, the reader falls in love too.

From there, the storyline falls into place and then the human characters start to introduce themselves as they appear in the story. But the setting really sets the stage for my stories. They couldn’t take place anywhere besides where I’ve set them.

For example, my Elizabeth Pennington Mystery Series is set on the rugged and rocky coast of Maine in the summertime. There are walks on the beach, clambakes, lobster boats, ferry rides to an offshore island, a hurricane barreling up the coast, and an old family run inn on the precipice overlooking the ocean. The story would have a very different feel, and wouldn’t really work, if it was set inland, and in a city somewhere like Chicago in the middle of winter.

My Olivia Benning Mystery Series is set in the steamy, sultry Caribbean where white sandy beaches, turquoise water, palm trees swaying in the tropical breezes, and ocean kayaking are the backdrop for Olivia’s search for her mother. Part of the intrigue of the story is that Olivia is exploring and finding her way much like any other newcomer, except her mother’s life may depend on how quickly she can get the lay of the land and figure out who to trust while she’s falling for a local. Somehow setting this story in Topeka, Kansas wouldn’t have the same allure.

The settings in The Woman Underwater are a small affluent town in Connecticut and a private all-boys boarding school an hour away. The time frame is autumn and the reader experiences the change in seasons from warmer to cooler weather since, as the story starts to unfold, the boys are heading back to school. Victoria, not having grown up in a family that could afford a roof over their heads that they owned, much less private education, feels like an outsider in her own town and her son’s school where he enjoys free room and board since her husband taught at the academy. The affluent town and its proximity to New York City allows for getting whisked away in a helicopter for lunch in the Big Apple by a charismatic, wealthy suitor over treetops sporting fall foliage. It would be tough to get this feel if the story were set in the desert in New Mexico.

This may be like asking you which of your children is your favorite, but which character is your favorite?

You’re absolutely right. That’s a tough one to answer, especially since each protagonist has a lot of me in her. (Elizabeth Pennington in my Maine mystery series is the confident, young professional I thought I was in my twenties, and Olivia Benning in my Caribbean mystery series is the gutsy, adventurous twenty-something I wished I was back then!)

If I were to focus on the characters in The Woman Underwater, Victoria certainly exposes the vulnerable side of me which I don’t necessarily want to acknowledge. And my favorite character in this new release may have to be more than one.

Emerson, who becomes Victoria’s love interest, adds so much intrigue to the story that you want to spend time and get to know him (or at least be seen with him!). And Victoria’s mother, Millie, is such a fun character. Quirky, unpredictable. She adds a lot of tension to the story which I love. Anyone who has had to deal with an aging parent can relate to Victoria’s challenges with Millie.

Can you talk about your method? Do you plan out your writing before you dive in, or is it more of an organic process for you?

I’m not much of a planner—in life or in writing. I’ve always loved to write but in school when a teacher would assign an essay and we had to construct an outline first, I thought I was going to stop breathing before I came up with it. I hated writing an outline then, and I still do. I actually tried it recently. I was trying to be “more efficient” writing my next book. It was painful process but I finally completed my outline. The only problem was that when I started to write, my brain thought I’d already written the story, so I struggled to get the story down. It was brutal. I won’t try that again. Clearly I need to let characters lead me through the story.

Those of us who write like this—and it’s quite common—are called pantsers because we write by the seat of our pants. And it’s fun to write like that. I often don’t know what’s coming around the next bend and can get as surprised as the reader.

Early on in my writing, I questioned whether or not I was going about it the right way. Was I cutting corners? Was I supposed to suck it up and write the outline first? Then I read an interview with Stephen King in which he revealed he is a pantser, so at that point all doubts about my writing style evaporated.

Have you every experienced Writer’s Block?

At a gathering of mostly college students not too many years ago, I heard Dan Brown say there’s no such thing as writer’s block. He dismissed the idea and claimed it was just a crutch that writer’s use. His advice was to sit down and just write—anything. It could be senseless babble but it gets you going and before you know it, you’re writing words that start to make sense.

I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced writer’s block. I tend to look forward to where the story will take me, each time I sit down to write. I read the last few pages I’ve written, and then I’m off and writing what comes next. I do think my subconscious works on my storyline when I’m away from my keyboard, so when I sit down I’m ready to go again.

Sometimes when I’m supposed to be doing something related to writing but less than enjoyable, like going through my editor’s comments, I turn into what I call a Productive Procrastinator. I’m not sitting around binge-watching the latest British Mystery Series, but I find all kinds of “important” things that suddenly must get done, like doing laundry, walking the dogs, unloading the dishwasher, brushing the dogs, running errands, even ironing. Once I’ve exhausted that list, I resign myself to settling in and getting the “real” work done.

The only time where I came close to writer’s block was several years ago when I was writing at my dining room table which happened to be in Connecticut on a particularly gray winter day. With the gloomy weather outside, I wasn’t feeling as inspired as usual. Then I noticed the candles gathered in the center of the sprawling, distressed wood table—white tapers in an assortment of clear glass candlesticks and bases. I fetched a few matches from the kitchen and before long the room was flickering with warm light, and I was on my way to completing my word count goal for the day. I just needed a little ambiance.

Do you insert secret nuggets of info, someone’s name, or refer to something only a select few would recognize in your novels?

Yes! And it’s a lot of fun to do. But I’m always amazed when a reader asks me about one of them.

I’ve used friends’ names and family members’ names or initials, but the risk I take is that, with my style of writing “from the seat of my pants,” I don’t always know which character is going to be the villain or get killed off. I once sent a character to her death only to realize I had named her after a dear friend of mine. I had to scramble to resurrect her in a subsequent chapter, even though I’d led the reader to believe there was a pretty good chance she was deceased. (There were plenty of relieved readers, for sure! She was a likeable character.)

In The Woman Underwater, one of the characters was named by someone who was the highest bidder in a silent auction at a charity, and she named the character after her daughter. I won’t divulge which character it is, but I had to be careful to keep her on the right side of the tracks!

I’ve also inserted subtle paranormal happenings that most readers, except for the exceptionally tuned in, would not catch; like a character having a passing thought if she had blown out a candle or if the wind had taken care of it.

I also change the names of places slightly so that readers who are familiar with the area aren’t fooled. In The Woman Underwater, the location of the all-boys school is Litchfield Falls, Connecticut. While the town is a fictitious place, all I did was add Falls to the real name of the town.

What is your favorite movie you’d like to step into?

I love, love, love Thomas Crown Affair. It has everything. Romance, drama, suspense, an art heist in the city that never sleeps at one of my favorite art museums, an excursion to the Caribbean, and a mystery to solve—a Howdunnit. I love strong female leads and who wouldn’t want to step into the shoes of Katherine Banning as she tries to solve the case?

You can find my review on goodreads here.

The Woman Underwater by Penny Goetjen

Read all our book reviews here.

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