Monday, April 10, 2023

Q&A with Deborah Goodrich Royce




Deborah Goodrich Royce is the author of the new novel Reef Road. Her other books include Ruby Falls. She has also worked as an actor and a story editor, and is the creator of the Ocean House Author Series in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.


Q: You've said that Reef Road was inspired by an actual crime. How did that crime lead you to write the novel, and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: My process in creating Reef Road began with research into the real crime that occurred in 1948 Pittsburgh—the unsolved murder of my mother’s 12-year-old friend. And as I delved into the facts of the actual case, I made the decision to fictionalize the writer researching the murder of her mother’s best friend.


From there, because I wanted the story to have complex and overlapping layers, I developed the story of the wife whose family goes missing in the early days of the Covid lockdown and the backstory of her Argentine husband. Each of these characters represents a piece of the puzzle that is Reef Road.


Q: In our previous interview, you said of Reef Road that “it is a deep dive into questions of identity. Who are people, what do they reveal, and—far more interestingly—what do they conceal?” Can you say more about that?


A: The Writer, the Wife, the Argentine husband, the cop—these characters are individuals who have secrets. No one is exactly who he or she seems at the beginning. And everyone fits together in ways that are not evident when the book begins.


To me, there is a rhythm and cadence to the unfolding of a novel, especially a novel like this one, where—bit-by-bit—truths are revealed that make the reader recalibrate everything that was understood to that point.

Q: In an interview with Publishers Weekly, you said, “I believe the quarantine was conducive to the atmosphere of claustrophobia and anxiety that permeates Reef Road...Reef Road is not technically about the pandemic, but the pandemic saturates all of it.” How would you describe the relationship between the pandemic and the events affecting your characters?


A: Setting is extremely important in my novels. There is not one accidental detail of time and place. Palm Beach, Florida at the time of the pandemic quarantine was both unique and universal. Unique in that it is a very specific place with all that entails—climate, architecture, culture, inhabitants. And universal in that we were all around the world experiencing the same Covid lockdown.


The quarantine served to place limits on every character in Reef Road. A prime example of that would be Linda’s inability to follow her husband Miguel when he and the children flew to Argentina because at that moment in time, the borders of the country had been closed to all but Argentine citizens.


That is a very convenient box to place around a character, a set of limitations that restrict choices. Since fiction is inherently limitless, the writer has to impose them. A setting like a lockdown helps with that.


One final point is that a setting like the Coronavirus lockdown instantly telegraphs to the reader exactly what constraints will exist for the characters. It is like picking up a novel set in Paris in 1944. You know immediately many things about what the characters can and can’t do because of World War II and the German occupation of France.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: Reef Road, like all my novels, exists on more than one level. At the surface, it is a plot-driven thriller. But, at a deeper level, it is a meditation on generational trauma. It asks us: how do we leave the past behind, both ours and that of our parents and grandparents? How do we learn and grow and thrive unfettered by the chains of old wounds?


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I received an email last year from a man asking if I remembered him. He listed a series of events that I do, in fact, remember, and he placed himself within the context of those events. I do not, however, remember him. It got me thinking about memory and its fallibility and I began writing about a trigger similar to this email in which a man approaches a woman about a shared past that may or may not be true.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The author series I host at the Ocean House Hotel in Watch Hill, Rhode Island kicks off on April 12 with the wonderful novelist Lauren Willig and her new historical fiction, Two Wars and a Wedding. This year’s line-up of authors is amazing and runs the gamut from Chris Bohjalian to Katie Couric. Please check out my Instagram or website or the Ocean House events website for more information. I would love to have you join us!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Deborah Goodrich Royce.

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