There’s much to be said about the revitalization of Westerly’s downtown scene over the past few years, and lot of it can be said thanks to the generous contributions of Chuck and Deborah Goodrich Royce. Most people are aware of the Royce’s philanthropic impact on our beautiful town, but what you might not know is that Deborah can now add “published author” to her long list of achievements. “Finding Mrs. Ford,” which will be on shelves June 25, is Deborah’s first novel, and she laughs when she refers to herself as “a mature debutante.”
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Deborah grew up in Detroit and found success as a film and television actress in the 1980s and early 1990s, starring in the ABC soap opera “All My Children” and hit shows like “St. Elsewhere,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” and “21 Jump Street.” After having children, she decided to take a step back from the spotlight in favor of behind the scenes work as a reader and story editor for film studios. She also took this time to begin working on her own writing in the early 2000s and developing a screenplay, but she says she only got really serious about writing five years ago.
“I had been writing for a long time, but I wasn’t doing much with it,” Deborah said. “So what I decided to do is just to start telling people that I was writing a novel. I thought if I went public with this and said the words out loud, then I might force myself to make a bigger commitment. I wanted to take that risk.”
Following these public declarations, Deborah got to work. While many writers extol the value of writing every day at the same time with no deviations, Deborah’s complicated schedule and varied commitments left her feeling strained by this method.
“I was only writing one day a week this way, which is nowhere near enough,” she shared. “Fortunately, we live in the age of the smartphone, so I sat down and charted out three to six hour blocks at different times every day for the next three months in my calendar, and that enabled me to really get into my writing when I could while still taking care of the rest of my life.”
This is not to say that no sacrifices have been made along the way – whole weekends were sometimes spent writing alone in her Connecticut home, and some hobbies, board commitments, and social events were put on the back burner in favor of achieving her literary goals in a timely manner. “You have to know yourself and not listen to what other people’s formulas are, but just get a feeling for how and when you work best and what’s the most practical approach,” Deborah explained.
As we now know, Deborah’s risks and methods were a success and have led to the publication of her first novel, “Finding Mrs. Ford,” which is the story of a woman whose life is upended when a mysterious figure from her past reemerges. Deborah pitches the novel, which has been hailed by Kirkus Reviews as “a compelling, well-written thriller with an effective, twisty plot,” by explaining that it becomes clear early on that Susan Ford is hiding something, and we spend the rest of the book figuring out exactly that might be.
“It’s really centered around the idea of identity, particularly the identity of women, which I’ve always found intriguing,” Deborah explained. “It is my belief that many of us lead something of an episodic life with very distinct chapters for our careers and families, but what interests me is who we really are when placed in different circumstances and situations.”
Deborah’s choices in settings were deliberate and based on her own life, with the book taking place in her hometown of Detroit and also her frequent summer destination of Watch Hill. The stark differences between the two locations highlight the identity crisis her protagonist faces, as her upbringing in a suffering community on a long decline in tandem with the American auto industry is contrasted against the rarified and gentile resort community of Watch Hill. The book begs the question, can a person come into a new community like this and totally reinvent herself, and what sort of challenges and risks are involved in that process?
Deborah also feels that her experience with stepping away from her success as an actress has helped to further her understanding of how a person’s identity can change dramatically depending on which arenas they are currently occupying. “Fame and recognition is an interesting thing to have and then not have,” she reflected, going on to explain that this shift her life helped set the stage for greater exploration of the themes she now presents in “Finding Mrs. Ford” as well.
Now that her first novel is complete, Deborah can start focusing on other endeavors, both separate and related. Towards the latter, she has already completed the first draft of a second novel, entitled “Ruby Falls,” which she calls more gothic and spooky in nature, in the realm of “Rebecca,” “The Woman in White,” and “Jane Eyre.”
Of course, she’s mainly keeping busy these days preparing for the launch of “Finding Mrs. Ford,” which will take place on Sunday, June 30 at 5 p.m. at the Watch Hill Chapel. The launch is hosted by Literacy Volunteers of Washington County and all proceeds from the event will go towards furthering their mission of providing free literacy (reading, writing, basic English skills) programs to adults throughout the region.
The evening will include a conversation and Q&A session between Deborah and Torey Malatia, a Westerly resident and CEO and General Manager of the Public’s Radio, before transitioning into a book signing and party at the Ocean House.
The book launch could be called the perfect marriage of what Deborah enjoys most; the literary world, and philanthropy. Since meeting and marrying Chuck Royce in the early 2000s, the couple has embarked on numerous charitable adventures, restoring buildings and assisting with the establishment of new businesses and organizations all over the country.
“We’re both really big believers in Main Street revitalization,” Deborah explained.
Having grown up in a suburb with nothing but houses and strip malls, she knows from experience how important it is to foster a lively downtown experience to help attract and retain residents of all ages.
“Westerly has such good bones,” she continued. “The buildings are gorgeous, whether made of brick or stone or wood. It’s just a beautiful town, from the architecture to the community, and we believe that people really thrive wherever there’s a real bookstore, a real theater.”
So as you stroll about downtown Westerly this summer, taking in the murals and architecture and sea air, be sure to swing by the Savoy this summer to pick up a copy of “Finding Mrs. Ford” and discover the thrilling secrets Deborah Goodrich Royce has carefully crafted for you to enjoy.