Penny Goetjen ~
Does anyone write letters anymore? I mean the handwritten kind with meticulously formed cursive letters created with a favorite writing instrument.
It’s rare. I’d venture to say it’s a fading custom. These days it’s more common to receive an email or even a brief text message, possibly with a couple of cute emojis inserted for effect.
But there’s nothing like tugging on the mailbox flap to reveal what the mail carrier has left and discovering a small envelope on top that has been addressed by hand. The thought that there’s a handwritten note inside gives me a tickle. The sender has taken the time and exerted the effort to write something personal. I’m always touched by their thoughtfulness, even if I might struggle to read their scrawling. At times, it can be like deciphering hieroglyphics! But I’ve always loved a good puzzle.
A handwritten note can divulge a great deal about the writer. It’s as unique as the individual composing it, unlike a more impersonal communication fashioned from a keyboard. That’s why I love to include them in my stories.
As of this writing, I have six published mystery and suspense novels, and I’ve included some sort of handwritten note or a series of notes in each one. It’s a great way of providing information about a character without inundating the reader with an info dump. I can reveal intentions, personal thoughts, and desires that a character might not be willing to reveal out loud to certain another characters. Notes can also be used to break up the narrative and build suspense.
I often hide the notes so that part of the fun is discovering them. I’ve tucked them where only the intended recipient will find them or where they can slip into the hands of the wrong person.
One note in my Elizabeth Pennington Mystery Series, set on the rocky coast of Maine, had been placed in an old bureau years earlier by a character’s mother. It revealed her daughter’s birth origin in case she didn’t find the right time to tell her while she was alive. (She didn’t.)
A highlight for me during the publishing process is being consulted during the interior layout and helping to select the font to be used for the notes. In the first book of the series, Murder on the Precipice, threatening notes are left by an anonymous writer to coerce the protagonist’s sweet grandmother Amelia to sell the inn, which she had no intention of doing before she started receiving them. The font we used was dark, thick, and bordering on sloppy, which makes it look like a man wrote quickly with a grease pencil.
Due to the revealing nature of the notes in my most recent release and my propensity to shy away from spoilers, I won’t include any of the notes from The Woman Underwater, a standalone contemporary suspense.
As the story opens, it’s been almost seven years since Victoria’s husband has been missing. He was a teacher at an all-boys private boarding school in Connecticut and disappeared on a field trip to New York City with his students. No witnesses. And without a trace. Not even his car was found.
I can’t even reveal who the notes in The Woman Underwater are from. One provides insight into the story and the other rachets up the suspense.
Instead, I’ll share a note from the third novel in my Elizabeth Pennington Mystery Series, Murder Returns to the Precipice.
After a mysterious visitor arrives at the inn and claims to know her grandmother, Elizabeth is left with a handwritten page ripped from a diary she didn’t know her grandmother had kept. Following an exhaustive search, she locates the diary and finds the place to insert the loose page.
This is what Elizabeth reads on the page before the inserted page:
Several more notes were meticulously tucked away by her grandmother for Elizabeth to find, and along the way, there are times it looks like she’s reached a dead end. At one point, she has to track down an antique desk that had already been whisked away by a junk dealer after suffering irreversible damage at the hands of a powerful hurricane that had ripped through the inn.
When the scavenger hunt distracts Elizabeth from her duties as innkeeper, it causes tension between her and her partner. But it’s fun to accompany her with each discovery that brings her one step closer, and readers are rooting for Elizabeth to find the treasure. Will she, though? One must consider that the notes were set out many years earlier. Are any missing? Lost for good? Also is the treasure still in its hidden spot or has someone else gotten there first? So many questions and possibilities for the outcome. Readers eagerly turn the pages to see how it turns out.
Without a doubt, handwritten notes add a layer of intrigue that you don’t get from narrative or dialogue. I’m certain I will continue to use them in my writing. They’re too much fun to leave out!
Consider writing a note to surprise someone you know. It doesn’t have to be long. Just let them know you’re thinking about them. You’ll make their day! And perhaps they’ll pay it forward.
Award-winning novelist Penny Goetjen is the author of six murder mystery and suspense novels where the settings play as prominent a role as the engaging characters. Soon to be released, The Woman Underwater has already been lavished with glowing reviews and accolades, following in step with her two mystery series—one in the steamy Caribbean and the other on the rocky coast of Maine. A self-proclaimed eccentric known for writing late into the night, transfixed by the allure of flickering candlelight, Penny 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 her time between Charleston, SC and Connecticut.
Visit Penny Goetjen at her website to learn more about her work.