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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, thriller author Penny Goetjen talks about her writing career and the story of her latest release, The Woman Underwater.

the best creativity magazine in the UK, the best book magazine in the UK, the best arts magazine in the UK, the best entertainment magazine in the UK, the best celebrity magazine in the UK, book marketing UK, book promotion UK, music marketing UK, music promotion UK, film marketing UK, film promotion UK, arts and entertainment magazine, online magazine uk, creativity magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed thriller author Penny Goetjen about her life and career, her creative writing process, and what inspired her latest novel, The Woman Underwater.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

Penny Goetjen on The Table Read
Penny Goetjen

I’m a mystery/suspense writer with my sixth book The Woman Underwater just released on July 26th. I enjoy writing at odd hours of the day—late at night, very early in the morning—and have been known to write by the flicker of candlelight. I’m fascinated with the paranormal, so I usually weave a subtle spine-tingling thread into my stories.

When I’m starting a new project, I select my setting first, in locations I’ve fallen in love with: the rocky, tumultuous coast of Maine, the steamy Caribbean with white sandy beaches and warm turquoise water, and picturesque Connecticut as summer turns to fall. By the time a reader has reached the last page, they’ve fallen in love with the setting too.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

The funny thing is I didn’t set out to write a book. I’ve always loved to write, paint, and draw—all right-brain activities—but initially didn’t pursue writing professionally. A few years ago, I had the threads of a story floating around in my head that I was playing with when I had a free moment. I decided early on it would be a mystery and it would be set on the coast of Maine in an old family-run inn set high up on a precipice overlooking the ocean.

As the storyline solidified and progressed, one by one the characters started introducing themselves. At one point, I had so many details jammed in my head I thought I should start writing it all down. After all, I thought it might turn out to be a fun short story. (But nothing anyone else would read. The only plans I had were to print it out after I’d typed “the end” and shove it in a drawer.)

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When did you take a step to start writing?

Once I decided to commit the story swirling in my head to the written word, I made a habit of taking a legal sized notepad with me when I knew I would have to wait for one of my three children—at hockey practice, dance class, or lacrosse practice—so I could capture what I’d only been playing with. Then in the evenings, after everyone had gone to bed, I stayed up and typed the story onto my laptop. I’m the night owl in the family and I get some of my best work done in the wee hours.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

It’s hard to say. It was probably a couple years to write it and self-edit it the best I knew how. Then the querying process began, and it took three years to find my first publisher. From there, the publishing process took close to two years.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

Once my first book was published, the floodgates opened and my mind was spilling over with storyline ideas. Since then, I’ve been averaging one book per year. But then 2020 hit and was an anomaly for me, as it was for everyone else. I found it difficult to write. As a result, I didn’t have a book published in 2021, but I did see one of my short stories released in print that year. I’m back on track with The Woman Underwater this year and working on my seventh which will be out in 2023.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Woman Underwater?

After writing a three book mystery series set on the coast of Maine and two books set in the Caribbean islands, many of my Connecticut readers asked when I was going to set a novel in the Nutmeg State. After all, I was born there, went to college there, raised our three children there, and lived in Connecticut longer than anywhere else. I loved the idea. I thought about what makes Connecticut special and soon had the beginnings of a storyline with a few local landmarks thrown in.

What were your biggest challenges with writing The Woman Underwater?

I would have to say the biggest challenge was just staying on task. Writing The Woman Underwater during the Covid Pandemic presented a unique set of circumstances. My priorities seemed more fluid than usual and shifted at times, affecting my focus. Because of that, it took me longer to finish, but readers who checked in and asked about my next book kept me going.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

My protagonists usually have a part of me woven into their being. Elizabeth in my Elizabeth Pennington Mystery Series is the serious, hard-working professional I remember myself as, back when I was in my late twenties. Olivia in The Empty Chair ~ Murder in the Caribbeanand its sequel Over the Edge ~ Murder Returns to the Caribbean is the gutsy, full-of-life, throw-caution-to-the-wind kind of gal I wished I was as a twenty-something.

The Woman Underwater by Penny Goetjen
The Woman Underwater

Looks like my protagonist has finally caught up to me in The Woman Underwater, at least chronologically speaking. Victoria Sands is closer to my age. And perhaps the undying love for her husband is a reflection of and inspired by the relationship I have with my husband. I’m blessed to be able to write about the strength of love. We celebrated thirty-seven years of marriage earlier this year.

Editing and Proofreading by Scribendi

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

There is more than one protagonist in The Woman Underwater, but I can’t tell you too much about them without including some spoilers. I can say this: I tend to “collect” characters by observing people in everyday life. Airports are a great place to people watch, which is the first step to character collecting. I’m often killing time between flights and people watching is “oh so” entertaining. I usually jot down notes on my phone (hopefully discretely). In the process, I often come up with a backstory behind each interesting person I’ve observed.

What is the inciting incident of The Woman Underwater?

The inciting incident actually happens nearly seven years prior to when the novel opens. Victoria’s husband was a teacher at an all-boys private boarding school in Connecticut and disappeared on a field trip with his students in New York City. Without a trace. No witnesses. And his car was never recovered.

What is the main conflict of The Woman Underwater?

Victoria is torn between holding out hope that her husband is still alive and moving on with her life as everyone around her is urging her to do. She believes he’s still out there somewhere and will return one day and she refuses to give up hope. Someone has to know what happened and all the unanswered questions keep her searching.

Did you plot The Woman Underwater in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I’m a reluctant planner in life, and I’ve never been a planner in my writing, with one painful exception. I thought I would try to be more “efficient” writing an earlier manuscript. But I do “fly by the seat of my pants”—I’m called a pantser—so creating even a loose outline was an excruciating process. I thought I was going to stop breathing before I came up with it. And once I had the outline to work from and I sat down to write, the words came slowly.

Since I had mapped out what was going to happen from start to finish, my brain thought I’d already written the story. I’ll never try that method again. Clearly I need to let the characters pull me along and let it happen organically.

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Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Woman Underwater need?

Of course! Every book is professionally edited, and I always hold my breath until my manuscript comes back after the editor’s first pass. I’m afraid I’m not going to recognize my work after she’s had her way with it. But to date, my fears have been unfounded. My editor does an amazing job of pointing out areas that need clarification, rewriting, and yes, eliminating.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Go for it! There’s nothing like putting down in writing what’s floating around in your head. But give yourself permission to write poorly to get the story written. Just be prepared to take the necessary steps afterwards to make it the best it can be before submitting it to an agent or publisher. And that includes investing in a professional editor (not your next-door neighbor who used to teach junior high English or your college roommate who was the editor of the campus newspaper.) And before you send your manuscript off to an editor, put it aside for a while—several weeks if you can stand it.

We can’t be objective about our own work, but if you’ve allowed time to pass, you’ll bring a fresh perspective when you return to it to begin a rewrite. Once you think it’s the best you can make it, then hand it off to a professional editor (not someone at a publisher) and watch them work their magic.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

Oooh, yes. There’s always something simmering in the back of my mind. The gist of the next storyline usually comes to me while I’m midway through the current manuscript. Next up on the literary docket is a mystery/suspense novel set in Charleston, South Carolina with its cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages, and steeples dotting the skyline—another location I’ve fallen in love with and can’t wait to introduce my readers to.

And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Absolutely! It’s a huge accomplishment (and a gargantuan effort) to get a book written and published. And I now have six. It’s definitely worth it, and I will continue to write as my readers look for my next book. Having readers contact me to say how much they enjoy my writing keeps me going when I’m up late, cranking through my manuscript to get to that day’s word count. Thank you, readers! Appreciate your unflagging support.

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