Deborah Goodrich Royce, REEF ROAD: A Novel

Deborah Goodrich Royce, REEF ROAD: A Novel

In this special episode (a live event during publication week!), Zibby interviews former actress and author Deborah Goodrich Royce about Reef Road, a brilliant, absorbing, and expertly-paced psychological thriller about two women whose lives collide when a severed hand washes ashore in Palm Beach, Florida. Deborah talks about the real crime that impacted her personal life and inspired the story, her love of dual timelines and shocking twists (and her tricks for accomplishing them), her best advice for aspiring authors, and the artistic process behind her striking book cover.


Host: Zibby Owens, welcome to Greenwich. Zibby is, by New York Magazine, New York’s most powerful bookfluencer. She is a regular contributor to Good Morning America and other broadcast outlets. Her memoir, Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature, as well as children’s book Princess Charming, those are her two books that she’s written. Beyond being an incredible book fan, Zibby is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School. She lives in New York with her husband Kyle Owens of Morning Moon Productions and her four children. She began her adventure in books with a thirty-minute daily podcast called “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” in March 2018. It has won many awards and is regularly in the top two hundred of Apple Arts charts. She’s hosted 1,300-plus authors on the show, including novelists, actors, memoirists, chefs, athletes, musicians, politicians, thriller writers, business leaders, poets, playwrights, and more. Zibby Media also encompasses —

Zibby Owens: — Move on. .

Host: They got to get the whole feel for it. Zibby Media owns Zibby Books, Zibby Mag, Zibby Audio, Zibby Classes, Zibby Retreats — I’ll cut to the chase — Zibby’s Book Club, and Zibby’s Bookshop, which is opening in Santa Monica coming up very soon. We’re excited to hear about that as well.

Zibby: We didn’t even talk about you, Deborah.

Deborah Goodrich Royce: I’m going to talk. We’ll talk. We’ll figure out me.

Zibby: This is the main event, is hearing about Deborah Goodrich Royce. Should I be giving your bio?

Deborah: No, I’ll walk them through it.

Zibby: Okay, you walk them through it.

Deborah: You want me to start with that?

Zibby: Yes, yes.

Deborah: Hello, everyone. Thank you, Zibby, for coming. Zibby, I really want to add my kudos. First of all, having a Z name — this is my darling daughter Alexandra, who, when she was two, called herself Zaza. We have a Za. We have a Zibby. I just love the zip of the Z name. I’m the writer of this book, this incredible visual — don’t you love that? We can talk about how you put a spider on a book cover. Becky Ford is the artist who helped me do that. You can never make a spider too hairy or gross. We ended up with sort of a silhouette. I’m an actress turned author. This is my third book. We’ll touch on things along the way.

Zibby: How many of you have read Deborah’s book already? So good, right? It’s about half. For the people who haven’t read your book — also, this is going to be, if everything records properly, a podcast episode on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I’ll cover all the bases for people listening to that too. Deborah, tell us about Reef Road. What is it about?

Deborah: We’re going to get a little dark. On December the 10th, 1948, my mother’s best friend was murdered. She was twelve years old, as was my mother. This happened in Pittsburgh in a very working-class section called Homewood Brushton. It was a Friday night. It was December. The girls had been to the practice for their Christmas pageant at their church. My mother thought she would go over to her friend’s house that night. It turned out, for whatever reason, my grandmother said no. The parents of the real girl went bowling. They left her home. They were adamant that they locked the front door, that they locked the back door. When they returned at eleven thirty that night, the back door was ajar. There was a window, and the shade had been raised. There was a very unsettling twenty-one-minute lag from the moment the parents came home, heard by the neighbors at eleven thirty, and twenty-one minutes later when two things happened. The father called the police, and the mother ran outside of the house screaming. We can talk about that twenty-one minutes if you want to. I had always known that this had had happened. I’d always known it was an unsolved crime. I had always known that it had created a lot of discomfort and anxiety for my mother. My mom is still alive. She’s fine. It had been in my consciousness. I don’t think I knew it as a very young child. I’m certain my mother wouldn’t have told me when I was little. At a certain point, it was in my sphere of awareness.

The pandemic locked us down in March of 2020. I know exactly where I was. It was my granddaughter Annabelle’s first birthday. We were all in Florida on Friday, March 13th. There was that weird moment — remember? — where we’re like, are we going on? Is this happening? Two weeks, we’re going to do this for two weeks. There we all were in Florida. I had been on a book tour. I wasn’t able to travel. I thought, this is the moment when I’m actually going to finally research this real piece of, not really our family history, but this next-door history. Lo and behold, there was a vast amount of material available on the internet, every single newspaper article. There were a lot covering this crime. It was all there. I was able to reach the University of Pittsburgh and get the coroner’s report. I spoke to the Pittsburgh Police Department. They would not release the police report, but I happen to know some things about that, which we can get to. As I did this research and as I took my notes, I thought, I don’t want to write this as nonfiction. I don’t want to say what I think happened about this real family.

Most suspicion has always fallen on the brother, a significantly older brother for a twelve-year-old girl. He was seven years older. Those years are meaningful years, from twelve to nineteen. There are all of these questions and answers and testimony and statements and retractions about where the brother was that night. He was supposed to be at work at the railroad yard. Was he there? Was he not there? Did they see him? Did they not? As I was going through this, I thought, I am going to write a piece of fiction that, as a theme, really deals with both generational trauma and tangential trauma. I’m going to make it a thriller, which I like to do, with a twist in it. Reef Road is a dual narrative of two women, a writer who lives alone with her aging dog in a dreary apartment behind the Publix grocery store in Palm Beach and a younger woman named Linda Alonso, who lives on Reed Road. She has a very handsome husband from Argentina and two beautiful little children. About three weeks into the pandemic lockdown, they disappear. The police reveal security camera footage of them in their facemasks getting on a plane bound for Buenos Aires at Miami International Airport. She can’t follow. The book toggles back and forth between the stories of these two women. You start to figure out what one has to do with the other. It is set in this very claustrophobic, hot house setting of the pandemic lockdown of 2020.

Zibby: Wow. Deborah, it’s one thing to research everything that happened in the house next door and go through that deep dive, but it’s another to then use that and make it into such a beautiful novel and figure out who these two women are and all of that. How did you jump from the actual things that happened into these characters? Why divide it like that? Why the two viewpoints?

Deborah: I love a dual narrative. I like dual timelines. I like dual points of view. I like that peeling of the onion. I like to call my books identity thrillers. That’s not really a genre, but I think it applies to a certain type of thriller that is really focusing on puzzles and the secrets that people keep as you, bit by bit, start to peel the onion and realize what’s going on. I like to write a twist. The difference between a reveal and a twist, in a reveal, we’re in a locked room. One of us gets murdered. One of us is the murder. At a certain point, it’s revealed who it is. In a twist, you come to the point where you realize, I didn’t even know that was what was going on at all. The two points of view, with the writer, it’s first person. Her sections are written like journal entries. She’s quite obsessive. She’s quite ruminative. There is certainly a side of myself that I got to indulge. She’s fascinated with arcane murder statistics, so I got to go down all these weird rabbit holes about murder, who gets murdered, murders of women, famous murders. With her, I really wanted to look at that secondhand trauma and what it is.

I’ve read a book recently called It Didn’t Start with You. It’s a nonfiction book about epigenetics. It has blown my mind that at some genetic level, we take on trauma. It begins with a study of mice, these mice who are exposed to a particular smell and then given electric shocks. Two generations later, their grandchildren, when exposed to that smell, have reactions of stress and anxiety. They’ve done a lot of work with children of Holocaust victims, children who were not there, who didn’t experience it. It’s a very real thing. That’s what I’m exploring with the writer. With the wife, Linda Alonso — I think I had very recently rewatched Body Heat. Have you ever seen that film with William Hurt and Kathleen Turner? I think it was made in the eighties or nineties. It is a steamy film noire. Kathleen Turner is at the peak of her sultriness. It is set in Lantana, Florida. It’s hot. They’re sweaty. They’re bad. Everyone’s bad. Particularly, the woman is bad. In noire, you really have to pay attention to the woman. You really should look twice at what she’s really doing. I wanted that noire plotline to play out with the wife. Then I wanted to wind it all together and unravel it.

Zibby: I work with a lot of twentysomethings. There are a couple of us who are older on my team. One of us referenced Kathleen Turner, and nobody knew who we meant. It was so depressing. Glad that we all know what we’re talking about here. Part of the book really deals with fear of something happening to children, something happening to people you love. Of course, writing this in the context of the pandemic, perhaps that’s what it was tapping into. Did you, while you were writing it, need some sort of vehicle for all the uncertainty in the world? Do you feel like you maybe just shoved that into these characters, or was this more of an analytical experiment?

Deborah: No, it wasn’t analytical at all. I think we were living in a state of fear. Raise your hand if you Clorox’d your bananas. I have to digress because I love the digressions. I keep pointing at my beautiful daughter. We’re all in this house together, parents, kids, grandkids, lots of dogs. We had dog hair tumbleweeds rolling around the house. I’m trying to write. Alexandra’s trying to raise a child. I had a romance with my Roomba. I got a Roomba. It was the only thing that kept us from killing each other. I named him Orlando after a character in another book. We could put Mr. Orlando to work to clean the house while we were doing our things. There was terrible anxiety. I was writing it really day and date with what was going on. For those of you writers out there, there’s a great piece of wisdom. If you just write down what’s going on every day, you’re writing history.

I look back at it, and the book isn’t about the pandemic, but the pandemic is a fantastic setting for a thriller. It serves to impose the kind of constraints on your characters that wartime would. They’re boxed in. When the younger woman’s husband gets on the plane and she can’t follow him because the borders are closed, that is an obstacle which is very convenient. Alice McDermott, in her book What About the Baby? — you’re writing. That’s a wonderful book for writers. Annabelle, have you read that? Wendy, have you read that? It’s a very good book. In What About the Baby? she talks about, in nonfiction, the work for the writer is to include everything. You have to get it all in there. In fiction, you have to decide what you’re writing, what you’re telling. It’s absolutely limitless. For example, the real murder victim, whose name was Carol, she had two brothers. A friend who read an early draft said, “What’s with the second brother?” It was confusing. In fiction, it’s very easy to exit stage left brother number two. In nonfiction, you can’t do that. I did feel this permeating feeling of anxiety that we were all living in. I just didn’t see any point to avoid it. I thought it was actually helpful.

Zibby: Speaking of brothers, talk about why you decided to have the brother come in as this new character and how you ended up writing what came next.

Deborah: Well, I’m probably not going to talk about that so much, but there is a very strong storyline that has to do with Argentina. I had the opportunity to travel to Argentina about a decade ago with one of my best friends who is half Argentine. One of the things that just left me shocked and completely riveted — I never got over it. Right in the middle of Buenos Aires is this large military facility that, turns out, was the detention center in the late seventies and early eighties when the government was rounding up students and leftists and union leaders. They would hood these people and drive them what they thought were very far distances, but they were imprisoning them right in the middle of Buenos Aires. The juxtaposition is just so awful. I really never forgot that. That whole storyline of those people, they were called the disappeared, makes its way through Miguel’s storyline into this book. It is an important thread. We’ll stop there.

Zibby: Sorry.

Deborah: That’s okay.

Zibby: When you go about writing a book like this and your other books, when you sit down to start it, what comes first? How do you approach the whole project? Do you outline the whole story ahead of time? Do you know what goes on or not? What is your process like?

Deborah: That’s a great question. The term I’ve always heard is, are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plot it all out or fly by the seat of your pants? Then I was doing a radio show last week, and the host said, “Do you write with a compass or a map?” I’m not going to forget that. I write with a compass. I kind of know where I want to go. It’s not fully by the seat of my pants. I think it’s a more precise expression. Make a note of that, Wendy. Don’t you think? It’s a little more precise. I have a compass. I know certain points I want to have happen, but I don’t have a map. I take copious notes. My notes take the form of, what if? What if this happens? Let’s say something’s going on in this room, and somebody gets murdered. What if somebody walked out of the bathroom at this moment? What if that person did this? At a certain point when I have enough notes, I’ll start writing. When I start writing, it might change the direction of the notes. Then I do go back and tweak the notes. I also do timelines. Because my books are so nonlinear, timelines are really useful. I write them out, but then I do this weird, kind of antiquated thing. Do you remember month-at-a-page calendars? I print them out. I print them out because they’re correct. If you’re looking at October of 1975 or June of 2010, the number date falls on different days of the week. I start making notes on those. It is very visually helpful for me to see. My first book, there’s a necklace on the cover. The object is a very important plot point. There’s a point after which you cannot see that necklace again. You can get confused as a writer if you’re jumping all around. I just make a note. July the 5th, ixnay on the necklace. You just can’t see it again. I go back to that. Those are some of the little techniques I use.

Zibby: Interesting. Talk a little bit about becoming a writer at this point in your life.

Deborah: Yes, because I’ve led a very long life. I started as an actress after I went to college. I was a French and Italian major. Studied a little bit in France. Came home. I was cast in a movie in my college town of Cleveland. It was a big film with Frank Langella and Tom Hulce. I was a background dancer. In the twist of fate, this got me to New York. I came to the city to audition for the choreographer, who was probably not quite who he said he was when he kept inviting me, “Come to New York. Audition for me.” I took him very literally, so I came to New York. I auditioned for him. I wasn’t cast. I ended up deciding to try acting. I had a nice run as an actress, about ten years. I started with a very big role on a soap opera called All My Children that was around for forty years. I was on in the early eighties as the sister of the star. Susan Lucci played this character, Erica Kane. She had this, again, bad, bad, bad sister named Silver, a very realistic name, Silver Kane. I played that. When I was written out, Paramount Pictures flew me to LA to do this project with Christopher Lloyd. I had a ten-year run as an actress in film and television. It was great fun. It was very interesting. I recently did CNN because of the true crime component of this book. They asked for clips from this miniseries I did with Mark Harmon. I played the woman who married Ted Bundy. Very cute Mark Harmon played Bundy. I spent three hours looking — I don’t know if anybody knows how to do this better, but trying to find this very old miniseries, what I came up with on YouTube was Marcy’s Movies. Somebody named Marcy had — I don’t know. Not even by modern technology, she had taped this at home. I spent the whole evening looking for these clips, which I dutifully got to CNN at one in the morning, which they then didn’t use. I was glad to see this Mark Harmon thing again because it was actually good. It held up. I worked for ten years as an actress.

Then my first husband, who had grown up in Paris, had the opportunity to go there. In the early nineties, we moved to Paris. Alexandra was a little child. She went to her grandmother’s Montessori preschool in Paris. She had a younger sister. We all lived there. It was the first step in what would lead to my writing career. I was hired by a French film studio as a reader. This is a basic job. All studios, they keep freelance people who read manuscripts, synopsize manuscripts for the studio heads, and write a page of comments. I did that. Now we’re in ’92 and ’93 living in Paris. Then we moved back to the States. My first husband was hired by Julia Roberts to run her development company. I was hired at Miramax to be the story editor, which is like a book editor. I did that in the nineties. Through these twists and turns — Miramax, in a lot of ways for me, was like my writing school. Being in that editorial chair and working with very, very fine writers for that period of years, I really had to figure out what I thought about story and structure and character and everything. When I left that job, just because it was very taxing as a mother — we can talk about doing it all, doing it sequentially. I ended up going through a divorce, getting remarried, coming to Connecticut, and writing along.

There’s some of my writing group friends here. One of the things I found very important was being part of a writing group. I found it a very nurturing environment. I would strongly advise writers, only do that with kind people. You should never do that with unkind people. Being in a writing group setting, I started to get a feel for my voice. Not that I was modifying my voice for my fellow writers, but I started to notice what they recognized about the way I write. It was a clarifier for me. The real turning point came at this magic moment when I was an empty-nester, so in my mid-fifties, which was eight years ago. I thought, I will get serious. I had this book in mind. I started telling my friends I was writing a book. My husband, who makes modesty a practice, he’s like, “Oh, my god, I really wouldn’t tell people that.” I said, “You know, I can handle it if I don’t actually write the book. I will be able to say to my friends –” I wasn’t putting it in the newspaper. I would be able to say to my friends, if they said, “So whatever happened to that book?” “Nothing.” That was a moment where I really committed myself. Then now I have my third book coming out.

Zibby: What are your skin-care techniques?

Deborah: I do a variety of things. I do see a dermatologist. I’ve done fillers and laser and Botox and all that stuff. I’m older now, so I’ve done a little more lately. I am in my mid-sixties. I like SkinCeuticals, all their products, like their B5 Gel and that TNS Serum and all that stuff. That is a weird thing. How much attention do you put into how you look? How much attention do you put into what you’re really doing? Obviously, it’s what you’re doing which is more important than how you look. As women, we do have that additional thing sitting on our shoulder about aging, about weight, about skin. It’s all that. We all have it.

Zibby: You look amazing. Whatever you’re doing, I want to start doing. I didn’t mean to belittle all of the success of the book, but this is all fun to know. When you think about projects that you still want to do, what little stories or germs of ideas do you have? What do you want to do next?

Deborah: I got an email last year from a man. He began with, “Hey, remember me?” I’m thinking, hmm, not yet. He said, “I was your best boy on Survival Game,” which is a provocative sentence. A best boy in the movie business is the head electrician. I knew what he meant. Survival Game was a movie I did with the son of Chuck Norris. Do you young people remember Chuck Norris? He was a famous martial artist movie star in the eighties. I did a movie with his son. So far, okay, I did that movie. He said, “Do you remember that Thanksgiving dinner we had together? You were the only actress who didn’t have anybody come see her for the holiday.” I thought, gosh, poor me. Why did I have nobody come see me? I don’t remember. Then he said, “Do you remember when we saw each other at the Cannes Film Festival?” Now I’m really getting a little nervous. He said, “I was in the British pavilion. You were standing outside. You were holding a baby. I looked over, and I wondered for a minute if the baby was mine, but I knew it couldn’t be possible.” I’m thinking, I really hope it wasn’t possible because we did not have that nature of a relationship. I have zero memories, not a shred. I thought, so what if you have a woman who has a flawed memory, holes in her memory? Why does she have them? What if this guy comes along? What if he’s telling the truth? What if he’s not? What if there’s something else going on? Right now, I’m calling it Best Boy. Someone asked me last week, “Are you going to tell that guy you’re writing this book?” I said, “I don’t know.” He’s a writer too. The guy is real. The real guy is real. In the book, I don’t know, it might be something different. I’m working on that.

Zibby: I feel like a DNA test is in the future. I know you’ve given advice on doing a writing group. The way that you do the calendars is brilliant. Do you have any advice for someone just starting out, I guess this lady over here, or somebody who’s trying to be a writer? What else would you say at the very beginning?

Deborah: I would say pay attention to your time. Block out your time in ways that you can really change the way you organize your time. Don’t say “I’m going to write from nine to five every day” if you can’t really write from nine to five every day. We’ve got Avery over here, who has a book coming out. She’s a young mom. I don’t know how she does it. She can tell that story. What I did starting is I used my trusty devices, and I blocked out windows of time. For me, three hours is the minimum. It’s hard for me to get my head really into something in under three hours. People in my writing group would sometimes do ten minutes a day, challenges and stuff. I need at least three hours. I can go about six. I would block it out on my calendar. Because I’m very obedient, I would obey my phone. The other thing I would do is go into a different part of my house. I have a home office that’s off my kitchen, but the kitchen is noisy and trafficked and busy. I have this beautiful conservatory on the other end of the house where we used to have lovely dinners before I took it over. It’s a beautiful room. It looks out on a river. I write way down there. I have this giant round table. I like paper. I like to do all my research on the computer. Often, I’ll print it out and spread it out. There’s something visually for me. People use all kinds of computer organizational techniques for their research. I just respond to seeing it there. My eye will latch onto something and remember something that I don’t know I’m looking for. That’s something about paper that’s very helpful. Because I write in a glass room, I don’t have the walls that some authors have to stick things on. I use those metal mesh trolleys that you can use to organize your garage or your pantry. I just spread papers out there and on the table. I’m a paper spreader.

Zibby: Are there any books that you’ve read lately that you’re obsessed with or that everybody should read or just authors who you’ve always admired?

Deborah: I’ve been on a Joyce Carol Oates binge lately. I came late to the table with Joyce Carol Oates. Maybe it’s a generational thing. She’s enough older than I am that I wasn’t really keyed into her when I was younger. Her writing is so supremely gorgeous. She switches genres in a way that I like. I don’t like to be bound by one thing or another. I just read Charming Billy by Alice McDermott, which is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read in my life. I was late to the table with that. I’m always reading, like you. Those are a couple that really stand out strongly for me now.

Zibby: Would you like to open it for questions? Can we?

Deborah: Yeah.

Zibby: Yes?

Female Voice: I think I told you, but I also worked in film. The last time I saw you, you were back at Stanford. Every time I hear you talk, I think — we were both readers early on a long time ago when we were young. Don’t you always have these visions when you’re writing? Don’t you write visually? Aren’t there pictures in your mind when you’re writing?

Deborah: That’s a good question. We were both readers in the film business. The question is, do I write visually? I do, but I don’t like writing screenplays. I don’t like the mechanics or the format of it. I like to write novels, but I see it very visually. Completely. I also like to write real places. People make one choice or another to fictionalize a place or write the real place. I always kind of jump out of my seat when another writer is writing a place that I recognize. I just think, oh. You fictionalize, Annabelle. It’s just a choice, one thing or the other. My husband’s always telling me whatever place I put in a book, that we’re going to get kicked out. He said we were going to get kicked out of Watch Hill. Now we’re going to get kicked out of Palm Beach. I don’t live in LA anymore. We didn’t get kicked out of there. I’m setting Best Boy in Greenwich, by the way, just so you know.

Female Voice: .

Deborah: Oh, to the guy. I’m like, “Hi. Hey, how are you?” I don’t remember him. I didn’t know what to say. He’s quite handsome. I showed Leigh, my wonderful assistant Leigh. I said, “Look at him. He’s rather cute.” Didn’t he write about motorcycles or something?

Female Voice: Yeah, he was the motorcycle guy. He was very cute.

Deborah: My guy.

Female Voice: The dual timeline or the dual points of view in Reef Road are really distinct. I’m wondering if you wrote one of them all the way through and then moved on to the next one or if you alternated as you wrote.

Deborah: That’s a good question. There are distinctive points of view. You go back and forth. Did I write one all the way through and go back and add the other? No, I write it as you read it. Maybe because I was on a soap opera — soap operas are all about the cliffhanger. They always have the organ and people staring at each other. I put a lot of attention into the transition of one chapter to the next. For me, it’s very helpful to write it as I read it. I’ve got all the notes and the timelines in the chronological order and separated out in different ways. When I’m writing the book, I write as you’re going to read it.

Female Voice: When you decided to write about the crime, did you have to do anything special to feel comfortable writing in that genre because it’s so new to you?

Deborah: Did I have to do anything to write about a crime because it’s new to me? No. First of all, I’ve known about this crime my whole life. I’m writing it from a point of view of a woman who is obsessed with it. I’m not writing in the voice of an FBI agent or a police officer. That would maybe be something really different that I would have to do. She’s just obsessively looking at all this and picking it apart. I just had to go way into my own head, which was easy.

Zibby: Annabelle.

Annabelle: When I was reading this book, by the time I got to the last fifty pages, my heart was in my throat. Everybody I’ve talked to has felt the same way reading this book. Did you have a hard time coming down from that? You’re writing this book that’s going to give me a heart attack. Then you have to go out for dinner and talk to the normal people.

Deborah: It’s always a weird transition when you stop writing at the end of the day to shake it lose. I find that I have to be a little bit quiet and process a little bit. For me, it’s nowhere near as hard as when I was a young actress on All My Children. It was my first job. I played such a crazy character day in and day out. I was so in the headspace of that one character that it was a little harder to keep my equilibrium. It was very difficult. I was not in good equilibrium then at all, but I feel I am more now. I don’t know if that’s a life stage or the fact that I’m diving into different characters’ heads and not just one. I don’t know. It’s a good question.

Zibby: Anybody else?

Deborah: Becky.

Becky: I was fascinated by how not likeable either of your female protagonists were, and yet I loved your book.

Deborah: That’s an interesting question. I do like all my characters, but their behavior is not really good. The writer really, really loves her dog. The wife really, really loves her children. Those are their redeeming qualities. It’s an indulgence of a certain point of view and people a little out of control. Louisa.

Louisa: I’ve got a question about how you and the artist worked together to create the book covers. All three are so — every time I look , I look for .

Deborah: This is Becky Ford, who is not only a writer, but she’s really one of the most talented painters I’ve ever met in my life. I have many of her paintings in my house here and in Florida. Becky’s a part of my writing group. We connected on covers early on. I’m with a smaller publisher distributed by Simon & Schuster. I don’t like their covers at all. I was able to just take control. I worked with Becky on all three. What we ended up with — we went down a lot of rabbit holes, many, many different ideas. Becky really worked them through. Each cover is something beautiful; generally speaking, a flower or a face. Then something’s wrong. This is quite gorgeous, these birds of paradise, but they’re off-center. The background’s really black, and then the spider in the middle. We looked at earlier versions. In a weird way, if the flower were centered and smaller, it looks like literary fiction. It just completely changes the tone of what it is. By the flower being oversized — do you see how the leaf is stabbing my name? There’s a little bit of violence to it, which is good. We had a lot of fun doing all that.

Zibby: Anybody else?

Female Voice: Throughout all three books — I’ve said this before. I love your writing because I can visualize it. I’m a person. I learned something from the book. Because you’re so meticulous in your research, whether it’s about a place or the or about Ruby Falls — is that something that you set out to do? I love a book that not only entertains, informs, and it sort of educates somebody.

Deborah: I think I’m just following the things I’m interested in. If you’re remembering Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield was talking about his teacher. When they were in class and kids would stand up to talk, they were meant to yell at each other and say “Digression!” if somebody went off subject. Holden Caulfield said, “But I like those digressions.” I think I like the digressions. That’s very indulged with the writer. I didn’t know if it would work because the writer’s voice is very meta. She is self-referential. She’s referring to writing. She’s talking to the reader at certain points. I had a lot of questions when I was writing this, if it was just too out there. There are other people who do things like that. To look at the most exalted example would be The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which is a novel that has a very meta voice of — if you haven’t read it, I won’t tell you. I was a little nervous about treading on that territory, but so far, people seem to like it.

Female Voice: Some of these really lucky people get to read these wonderful stories where the characters sort of like Downton Abbey Gosford Park and turned it into Downton Abbey, which is such a stroke of genius. This is a question about — we all like writing and want to keep going. Did you ever think about taking one of your characters or one of your stories and trying to make it a Downton Abbey, not even a TV show, but just a book that goes on and on with the whole story and a family?

Deborah: The question is about sequels. Have I seen a sequel to any of my books? Not yet. The first one, Finding Mrs. Ford, could go on. The other two, I don’t see it so much.

Zibby: I have to say, Deborah, I have so much respect for you, not just in your ability to write beautifully, speak beautifully, how you help so many other authors with your series at the Ocean House every summer, and all the way you support all these other people. It’s really amazing, and all the good you do with the restorations. You’re just such a multifaceted, really interesting, awesome woman. Thank you for inviting me here. I hope everybody here has bought a copy from Diane’s bookstore over there of Reef Road. Give it as gifts and everything else. I just want to say congratulations.

Deborah: Thank you, Zibby. It’s always, always a joy to see you. Thank you. Thank you all.

Deborah Goodrich Royce, REEF ROAD: A Novel

REEF ROAD: A Novel by Deborah Goodrich Royce

Purchase your copy on Bookshop!

Check out the merch on our new Bonfire shop here.

Subscribe to Zibby’s weekly newsletter here.

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts