I cannot hide my excitement so the first question I ask Deborah Goodrich Royce is “who did you play in Beverly Hills 90210?” It turns out that she played Sandy, the girlfriend of none other than my early-twenties-crush Jason Priestley. Royce’s big break came in 1982 with a lead role, Silver Kane, on ABC’s soap opera All My Children. Her career took off and roles followed in movies like Remote Control, April Fool’s Day, and Just One of the Guys and television shows like St. Elsewhere and 21 Jump Street.
But Royce said goodbye to the glitz and glimmer of Hollywood years ago. This autumn day in 2020, she is seated in her conservatory room in Riverside, Connecticut gathering inspiration for her next book and posting book reviews on Instagram. In a video, she invites her followers to witness the arrival of a special package.
It contains the very first prints of Royce’s second novel Ruby Falls. She cuts open the box and exclaims to the camera: “Oh wow, look at her! I am absolutely overjoyed, beyond excited! Isn’t she beautiful? She’s a little spooky.”
Royce was drawn to storytelling, but it was only after some detours in life that she threw herself into writing. In 1992, 10 years into her acting career, Royce, her first husband and their two young daughters moved to Paris. “I knew I couldn’t continue acting from France, so I was grateful when I met a woman who worked for Canal+, a French movie studio. She was looking for native language readers,” says Royce.
Royce fell in love with the job as a reader and, upon her return to the US, her combined acting and reading experience, landed her a job as the story editor for Miramax films. Helping to develop films like Emma and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain, Royce worked with writing partner, Mitch Giannunzio. This led to a grant to develop an original screenplay, Susan Taft Has Run Amok. “In many ways, Miramax became my writing school,” says Royce. It was to bring the next big chapter of her life – becoming an author.
The Episodic Life of Women
Royce describes the transition from acting to writing as a very natural one: one episode of life gliding into the next.
“As women, I feel that we live episodic lives,” she says. “And although men are starting to go down the same route, they have historically followed one career path.” Royce’s experience is that people believe they have to do their best work in their youth. In contrast, Royce says it was turning 50 and seeing her youngest child leave the nest, that finally allowed her to dive deep into writing.
Her first book, the thriller Finding Mrs. Ford was named one of Forbes’s Top 5 and Good Morning America’s Top 10. Royce’s second book, the freshly unboxed Ruby Falls which she showed her followers in a sneak preview, is also a thriller. It is the tale of a young actress, a new husband she barely knows, and her growing suspicion that the secrets he harbours may eclipse her own.
Royce classifies Ruby Falls as meta-gothic. “Don’t think vampires – think Jane Eyre,” she says, referring to her main character who, like the main character in Brontë’s classic novel, is a young woman in a distressing situation where others might not be who they seem to be.
Common to both of Royce’s novels, is the focus on identity. Royce wonders: Who are people? Why do some present themselves as something they are not? What if they’re concealing something?
“Most of us conceal something – usually something benign – but I love to write about that,” says Royce.
On the topic of identity, it seems natural to ask Royce how being a writer is different from being an actress. “As a writer, I get to say exactly what I want to say – and that is an enormous privilege,” she says, adding that the celebrity world lost its charm for her years ago and she enjoys a much quieter life.
“One day,” I said to my husband “I think I’m a better writer than I was an actress.” He promptly replied, “Oh yes, absolutely,” says Royce bursting into laughter.
Although books play a big role in Royce’s life, she has by no means lost interest in movies. When she and her husband Chuck Royce got the opportunity, back in 2001 to restore and later reopen the Avon Theatre Film Center in Stamford, Connecticut, they jumped at the chance.
The 1939 landmark is a non-for-profit theatre that features independent, classic, foreign and documentary films. Famous directors and writers (Robert Altman, Jane Fonda and Richard Gere to mention but a few) have visited the Avon to showcase their films and discuss their work. The late Gene Wilder – a long-time friend of Royce’s and one of the first and most avid supporters of her writing – also made regular appearances at the Avon. Wilder would have been thrilled to know that Royce’s next novel is in the pipeline.
It is a parallel timeline story that takes place partly during a pandemic (inspired by Covid-19) and takes place partly during the aftermath of an unresolved mystery. Drawn from real life, Royce was influenced by her mother’s best friend who was murdered when she was 12 years old. “It affected my mother deeply and made her fearful, so I wanted to explore how an act of violence affects the surrounding people,” says Royce.
When asked by a reader on Goodreads.com what the best thing about being a writer is, Royce replied that it is “that magical feeling when you sit at your computer and your characters do or say something that you just never thought of.” Royce explains that the plans and outlines where she’s going but sometimes, the book takes her somewhere else. In many ways, Royce’s writing process bears a striking resemblance to her real, episodic life which likely still holds many surprises.
Finding Mrs. Ford is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Indiebound. Ruby Falls is also available for pre-order. See more on Deborahgoodrichroyce.com.