'Finding' success: Deborah Goodrich Royce hits the big time with her first novel
Deborah Goodrich Royce has a new identity.
The onetime actress, former Miramax story editor, and wife and philanthropic partner of Charles “Chuck” Royce can now add successful published author to her resume.
Her debut novel, “Finding Mrs. Ford,” is getting high praise from the likes of People magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Forbes, and the New York Times Book Review.
For locals, there’s a lot to relate to, with Watch Hill, where Chuck and Deborah Royce have a home, a central part of the story. But the novel, named one of the five-must read summer mysteries for 2019 by forbes.com, is deeper and more sweeping than a privileged oceanfront community.
It’s about two young women finding their way in gritty Detroit in the summer of 1979, powerful men, a sleazy disco, Iraqi Chaldeans, and the Italian mob.
Royce says the book is about female identity. The idea for it, she said, germinated for a long time before she sat down to write the story.
“Who are we?” she asks when pinned down to say what her book is really all about. “Are we the same person and entity throughout the course of our lives? In a way, yes, and in a way, no.”
Women, she believes, are very adept at reinventing themselves, and that’s what happens as she chronicles the lives of two of her primary characters, Annie and Susan.
The story is all fiction, but she acknowledges that the places, buildings and attractions, like the Watch Hill Carousel, or the Ocean House resort that her husband revived, are real.
“Every place is written factually. There are no fictional place names, but my story is fictitious,” she said.
Her characters, however, are a different story. Yes, they are made up, but Jack Ford Sr. in her story is obviously a lot like her husband, Chuck Royce.
In the fictional narrative, she writes about his outfit the first time his later wife in the story meets him.
“Jack walked in like he just stepped off a Hinckley yacht — pink pants, a green and white checked shirt, navy blazer, yellow socks and a sky-blue sweater thrown around his shoulders. He was a cacophony of color.”
“Yes,” she acknowledges now, “Jack is based on Chuck. I’m not sure I could write about Chuck in the same way, but I did extract some fun things, some dear and special things,” she admits.
Royce grew up in Detroit and harkened back to her youth there for the early years of her story. But the book, which toggles between 1979 and 2014, is a roller coaster ride,and that’s what she intended. It methodically climbs to a peak, and then there’s a bombshell, and the metaphorical coaster goes flying down the track.
She wrote much of the book in the conservatory at her Watch Hill home, surrounded by plants and looking out over the water. But writing wasn’t easy. She received at least 30 rejection letters, she said, until connecting with editors and an agent who helped to shape her ideas into more of a thriller than she had intended.
And over the decades, like her female characters, she’s reinvented herself.
“I put the Goodrich back in my name,” she said of adding her maiden name between Deborah and Royce, “And I did that for a reason."
For a quarter century, she focused on working and raising her children, then divorced and later remarried.
“It was a reconfiguration of my life,” said Royce. “And in this second half, or final third, I have just felt a greater flow of creative ideas. … I’m reknitting the pieces of myself back together and that feels really good.”
There have been early positive reviews, but with the good, there is criticism, too. She mentions a letter she received, and the message, “Really, Deborah, all these $50 words when a $2 word would do?”
She knows about reviews; she used to be an actress.
Royce is traveling extensively to promote “Finding Mrs. Ford.”
“I want people to know that it really is a book about identity, what a person reveals and what a person conceals, and that is true of everybody,” she said. “No one reveals everything about themselves.”
She was an only child and has always been a devoted reader. And she's been a partner in her husband's philanthropy, and they have supported such projects as the establishment of downtown Westerly's Savoy Bookshop & Café. But this accomplishment, the success of this book, has been her own.
Some writers can multitask, but Royce said not her. While working and raising her daughters, even with the idea of the book in her head, she just couldn’t get to it.
But life changed, and Royce found her opportunity.
“I realized the time was now or never to take my shot, and I got really serious about writing,” she said.
And already, she’s working on her next novel, something she calls “Ruby Falls.”
Title: "Finding Mrs. Ford"
Author: Deborah Goodrich Royce
Publisher: Post Hill Press (June 2019)
Details: 320 pages, list price $27
Meet the Author: At 5 p.m. Aug. 25 at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison