Straight From The Author 27: Deborah Goodrich Royce Reef Road

Listen as author Deborah Goodrich Royce discusses her new book, Reef Road.

When a severed hand washes ashore in the wealthy enclave of Palm Beach, Florida, the lives of two women—a lonely writer obsessed with the unsolved murder of her mother’s best friend and a panicked wife whose husband has disappeared with their children—collide as the world shutters in the pandemic lock-down of 2020.

Recorded live at The Civic Center Library on May 18, 2023

Edited for time and clarity

transcript available below


Welcome to Straight from the Author a podcast that gives you a front-row seat as leading authors discuss their books at a Warren Public Library.

Author: Deborah Goodrich Royce
I am so glad to be here. So this is the third time I have been here to talk to you about a book and it’s very meaningful to come here because I grew up here I was born and raised here on Lorraine — it used to be called Lorraine Street, but now it’s Lorraine Boulevard — Avenue. So it’s, it’s gone up in the world. So it’s just very meaningful to come back here. This book is my most recent Reef Road. And it — it’s been a very rewarding experience in the publication of it. It’s gotten great reviews, it made the Publishers Weekly bestseller list. And I had the chance to go on CNN in January to talk about it because there is a true crime component to the story, which as you know, is a hot topic in the world today. People tend to like, true crimes. So I feel like we’re in this intimate circle because we’ve been here so many times.

So on December the 10th 1948 in Pittsburgh, my mother was 12 years old, and she walked home from school that afternoon. It was a Friday, it was Christmas time, and she went to the local public school and she walked home with her friend, Carol and they had a great discussion about — would they go to the Christmas pageant rehearsal that they were supposed to go to that weekend and it wasn’t certain that they were actually going to show up. And would my mother go to her friend’s house that night. So it was a Friday night Carol’s parents were going out bowling, and they intended to leave Carol home alone, which wasn’t so uncommon in 1948 to leave a 12-year-old child home alone. This was a neighborhood in Pittsburgh called Homewood-Brushton. I was there on my tour a couple of months ago. And I’m going there again this weekend. And I drove through Homewood-Brushton and I was on the phone with my mother who’s still alive and well and friends with many people in this room and she said, Oh honey, you need to get out of that neighborhood. It’s quite derelict now. But when my mother was growing up there, this was an urban neighborhood of row houses, which are, you know, houses attached side by side. And it was a perfectly normal neighborhood. My — we would call it working class. Now my grandmother was a head bookkeeper for the Internal Revenue Service. She was a career woman, which was, you know, rather unusual in that era. My grandfather was a milkman. And Carol’s father was a chauffeur. So that’s kind of the level of jobs that people had, I think my grandmother probably had one of the better jobs in the neighborhood. So my mom was supposed to go to Carol’s house that night. And for whatever reason, my grandmother changed her mind. She just didn’t let her go. The parents left the house at 8:30. There was a lot of discussion about how the evening played out when I later had access to, you know, a vast collection of newspaper articles about the evening. And Carol was really trackable for about an hour she called my mother’s house once and she called this other friend’s house twice, she reached the friend. And then she reached the friend’s mom at exactly 9:30 And that mother was very clear that it was exactly 9:30 Because she had just sent her daughter out to the market to buy milk again, you know, not such an unusual choice. From 9:30 to 11:30. It’s less certain what went on in the household. We know that Carol was baking a cake. There was all sorts of cake baking paraphernalia on the kitchen counter. And the parents returned at 11:30. The father later spoke about finding the back door unlocked. He’d been you know really stressed with his daughter that she must keep the front door and the back door locked. The parents found the backdoor unlocked. It was a door with a window and the shade had been raised. Which conjecture could lead you to believe Did you know — Did somebody knock on the door? Did she raise the shade to peek out? Did she open the door? We don’t really know. But when they returned at 11:30 and they were observed by a neighbor return At that time, there was a very unsettling 21-minute lag. Between the moment they entered the house, and 11:51, where two things happened, the father called the police, and the mother ran outside of the house screaming. What they found when they got there was Carol was no longer in the kitchen, there was blood everywhere. And there was a trail of blood that led from the kitchen to the dining room where she was collapsed on the floor, having been stabbed 36 times. At that point, she was not yet dead. I mean, she certainly wasn’t conscious. And this neighbor who heard the mother screaming, came over the neighbor happened to have a car, which was sort of unusual in a city in 1948. And he drove them to the hospital where Carol was pronounced dead. It has remained an unsolved crime from December the 10th 1948 to now. I grew up knowing about this crime. So people always asked me, when did your mother tell you about this? I can’t imagine she told me about it when I was really little, I’m gonna guess, you know, early adolescence or something, maybe around the ages — the — the — ages of the girls at the time, but I had this awareness that this thing had happened, next door, if you will, to my mother, tangential to my mother. And I knew the effect it had on her. I knew my mother was a nervous person. I knew that she had an exaggerated sense of what we would now call stranger danger, the idea that malevolent forces can enter your house uninvited, she’s someone who was very much aided by the invention of the home security alarm system. And for those of you who know my mother, and for those of you who don’t know, my mother, my mother would murder me if I did not give you the disclaimer, that when I created Reef Road, which has a section of it is a fictionalized story of a writer, obsessed with the murder of her mother’s best friend. Well, no. And I’m telling you, I made the writer and her mother a lot crazier than my own mother and I actually are, so next time you see her — [audience laughs] Yeah, please make mention that I told you that.

So when COVID struck, and I’m talking about the real pandemic lockdown period, for me, Ground Zero date was Friday, March 13, 2020, that is sealed in my brain because it’s my granddaughter’s birthday, it was her first birthday. And we have a house in Florida, and my daughter and my son-in-law, my granddaughter, my husband, and I, and three dogs were all in this house. And on that day of March 13, I remember we were all in kind of this vague questioning, do we have anybody over for cake, what exactly is happening here? And we all now know what happened there. So I was on a second part of my book tour for Finding Mrs. Ford, which was my first book, which is set in Warren and in a New England town. And when you — you have a hardcover, you tour the book, but then your paperback comes out, and you do another little round of touring. So I was doing this paperback tour, so we know that that all came to a screeching halt. So there I am in Florida, with this one-year-old child, three dogs. And if I can say fairly a bunch of slobs, and I’m really the tidiest person in my family. So I decided to start researching this real crime. So lo and behold, there was a treasure trove of material on the internet. I don’t know who the gremlins are, who upload newspaper articles. But they did it in this case, and there were years of newspaper articles really stretching from 1948 till about 1953 mainly concentrated in Pittsburgh because things didn’t go viral then the case that I would most compare it to in our era would be JonBenét Ramsey in that it was a murder at home. It was a child. There were family members implicated and there was a great bungling of evidence there was just a mess. So I start the research. And I am going to circle back because I do still remember the things I say to the slobs in my family. So I, we now you know I’m trying to research a book, we have three dogs and we now have dog hair tumbleweed kind of rolling down the hardwood floors of the house, I thought, I’m actually going to murder somebody here, we’re going to have a completely different kind of murder mystery on our hands. Until I got a Roomba. Does anybody have a Roomba? [ audience laughs] So I actually had a romance with my Roomba. And so by the way, I love dogs, and I named my Roomba, I decided he was male, and I named him Orlando, after a character in my second book. So Orlando took care of my house for me. And I had someone who used to clean for me, she would come by and stand outside the door. And we would strip the beds and put the sheets out. So we had a kind of a system that was functioning. I’m doing this research. And the first thing I decided I did not want to approach this as non-fiction. So there’s a writer I love called Alice McDermott and she wrote one of the most beautiful books, it won the National Book Award called Charming Billy, it’s a novel that really is sort of a loving portrait of a very dysfunctional alcoholic uncle in a family. But it’s told with such love and compassion. She’s an amazing writer, but she’s written a book recently about writing called What About the Baby? And so that — I’m going to digress, but I know where I’m going. What About the Baby? The title refers to, there was that Chekhov maxim that if you, in a play, if you introduce a gun in act one, you darn well better have the gun go off by act three, or your audience is going to wonder, what was the point of that gun? So similarly, if you have somebody at the beginning of your book, pushing a baby in a carriage, pretty soon into the book, people are gonna say, what about that baby? So in her book, she discusses a little bit the difference between nonfiction writing, and fiction writing. And she says, in nonfiction, you have to include everything, it is vitally important your job is — is you know, like that of a reporter, you need all of the facts. Whereas in fiction, the writer’s job is to limit because the possibilities of what you’re writing, so think about that about inclusion or not inclusion. With fiction, the possibilities are endless, your imagination could go anywhere, you could put the sky’s the limit of what you could put in an example of that, which I will come back to what I want to talk a little bit more about why I fictionalized, I didn’t want to really make this book about my quest for bringing justice to the murder of that girl. Most fingers point to an older brother, she was 12, there was a 19-year-old brother and a 24-year-old brother. I’ll go through all the reasons the 19-year-old brother was so heavily suspected. It is  — was not my intent to kind of bring that family down, that this brother is still alive. He’s 93 years old. He has survived everyone, and but he has children and grandchildren. So that was not of interest to me. What I wanted to examine was a greater truth of generational trauma. We are affected by the things that happened to our parents, to our grandparents. And there, there’s a whole field of study called epigenetics, which would posit that we are even affected by the things we don’t know about. If you look at the huge, sweeping cultural events that have happened in our world, you can think about the Holocaust, the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of black Americans, those would be some biggies. There are obviously others, things like that, that go on around the world. But that there would be sort of generational scars that people can carry from those things. That I was looking at the small and the personal. And there’s a terrific book called, It Didn’t Start with You if you’re interested in this subject of epigenetics. And in it. The writer I think his name is Mark Wolynn. He begins by talking about experimentation on mice. And they’ve done these experiments where if they introduce a very particular smell to mice, and then administer an electric shock, two generations later their grandchildren. And let’s assume it isn’t sort of the mouse, you know, storytelling or one mouse didn’t write a book that their grandchildren manifest reactions of extreme stress and anxiety if if that smell is introduced to them. I do think we carry these things with us. But if you forget that part of it, what I do know is this idea of kind of conferred trauma, tangential trauma, things that happen to people we know we’re not actually the victim. We are affected some huge kind of poster child examples would be the writer Dominick Dunne, his daughter was murdered in 1984 in Hollywood by an upset ex-boyfriend. And with Don it really changed his life. He went from being a Hollywood producer to becoming one of our most famous reporters for Vanity Fair magazine about really salacious murder trials, he covered the OJ trial, he covered the Michael Skakel trial. So here’s an example of that. Or this woman, Michelle McNamara. She grew up outside of Chicago, there was a girl murdered in her town and it just ruminated. She ruminated on it and when she became an adult, she married a comic. Patton Oswald was her husband. And she became really fixated on these murders that were happening all over the state of California. And the various police forces thought they were separate killers. And she and another group of what we now very respectfully call citizen detectives. They started digging into this evidence very obsessively. It ended up killing her she, she was a young mom and she, she started using a combination I think of Adderall and fentanyl to kind of power through all this and she died in her 30s. But the book came out that she wrote called, I’ll be Gone in the Dark, and it came out after the case was solved. And it became an HBO series if you haven’t seen it, it’s really extraordinary. And I think she so Dominick Dunne, Michelle McNamara, those are big examples of what I’m talking about people whose the trajectory of their lives or is completely changed by these things that happen to someone else, not exactly to them. So why did I decide to fictionalize it? One, I didn’t want to go after this family. Two fiction, I think can enable you to come more directly to larger sweeping truths. I don’t mean all the little facts. But the sweeping truth, what I wanted to explore was generational trauma. I didn’t want to get into all the minutiae. For example, Carol, the real girl had two brothers. So in an early draft, I wrote what I wrote with the 19-year-old brother and the 24-year-old brother, and a friend of mine who read it said, what’s with a second brother? It’s just confusing. So it’s fiction. I can get rid of him. I don’t have to keep them there.

So March of 2020. April, May, I’m in Florida, the world is locked down. I’m researching. I was able to get the coroner’s report, I got the coroner’s report through the University of Pittsburgh and they had access to those archives. I spoke to the Pittsburgh police department, they weren’t telling me anything. I do happen to know, which has made its way into the book, fictionalized, that the case was reopened in 2008. And, again, not so much trying to solve the case as explore these threads, these burdens we carry. So I’m researching the case in the morning, and deciding I’m going to write it fictionalized. I know I want to tell it from the point of view of a very obsessive writer. So I was able to indulge the obsessive side of my brain, which I have who’s fixated on the murder of her mother’s best friend and murder in general. So her sections are first person you’re in her brain. They’re like diary sections, and she goes down a lot of very eccentric research rabbit holes, if you like that sort of thing. But I like a very complicated layered story. And I wanted the story of another woman. And at that moment, I rewatched the film, Body Heat. So I love the genre of film noir, which was very popular in the 1940s, post World War Two. And in film noir, many of those films were black and white, and you always, in a film noir, had better pay very close attention to the woman, because she’s probably up to something and it’s probably not good. But Body Heat was a later film noir that was filmed in Lantana, Florida, which was 10 minutes from where I was writing the book. It’s with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. It was made in the late 80s, early 90s. Such a good movie, she is really at the peak of her career, and it is just steeped with Florida. And in it, everyone is hot and everyone is sweaty, and everyone is bad. They’re just bad to the bone. And I wanted that view of Florida, and I love Florida. I have a house there, but there’s a great quotation that has been attributed to Carl Hiaasen, he writes all those dark seedy underbelly of Florida books. So a lot of people think Carl Hiaasen said it about Florida, but I think it was Somerset Maugham who said it in the 1920s, about the French Riviera, “a sunny place for shady people.” That is what I wanted to embody in this book. So the storyline of the other woman, Linda Alonso evolved, and she’s younger, I consider 40, a younger woman, and she is married to a very handsome fellow from Argentina by the name of Miguel Alonso, and they have two little children. And about three weeks into the COVID lockdown of 2020, Miguel and the children disappear, and the police tracked down the family car to the long-term parking lot at Miami International Airport. And they find security camera footage and Miguel and the children in their face masks, getting on a plane bound for Buenos Aires, and Linda can’t follow. And that is what Reef Road is. The book toggles back and forth between the story of this writer and the story of this wife whose family disappears. And they’re in this crazy hothouse sort of surreal environment of the COVID locked down in spring of that year, in this beautiful town of Palm Beach, Florida. So the afternoons I would ride my bike up and down the island, and I was it was really like the Twilight Zone because nobody was out. All the beaches had that yellow police tape, which makes its way into the prologue of the book. And I wanted a street name for Linda Alonso I knew that I wanted the writer to live on Oleander Avenue one for all the connotations of oleander being a poisonous flower. And also because there is a street in Palm Beach — so Palm Beach, it’s a long barrier island you know, Florida has these barrier islands like Miami Beach was a barrier island. But on the south end is where they have all these big mansions that are often empty where it you know, very seasonal, but the North End is very residential. It might remind you more if you know Santa Monica or Venice Beach, you know you see the surfboards you see the the bikes and people live there. So I’m looking for a street for Linda and her family and all the street names are very sweet, like banyan or dolphin or hibiscus. And then I come across reef road. And I thought it’s really good because it’s kind of ominous. You think about a coral reef, you could run aground and I just loved the title.

So I’ll talk to you a little bit about cover design, because I’ve loved all the covers of all my books at every one I think is both beautiful, and slightly ominous, there’s something wrong with it. And as we were working on this funny thing is if you put a flower in the middle of a cover, it just looks pretty it looks like literary fiction. But if you move something to the side and the way the petals in the leaves of the bird of paradise are kind of stabbing my name, and then we put this spider in it. So it’s fascinating putting a spider on a book cover and we were very careful to not assume versions were lightly looked hairy and modeled and we thought well are people gonna you know if you’re an arachnophob, will you touch the book? So this looks like a silhouette. And I think it evokes everything I wanted to evoke with Reef Road. And if you’ve read either of my books, I have my first two books I like to call my books, identity thrillers, which is not technically a genre. Oh, yeah, let me pull this out. So when you design a cover, this is called a cover wrap. So the whole rap gets designed and this is What you’re looking at on your computer, I mean, it’s quite interesting. Everything that goes into, you know, what’s on the spine and how it folds around and, and these are really nice details. But so all my books I call identity thrillers, which is not really a genre, but I use it to describe the kind of so there are many kinds of thrillers thriller, it’s a vast category there are, you know, geopolitical thrillers. There are police procedurals, there are domestic thrillers, there are psychological thrillers. And I cross some of those things. Finding Mrs. Ford is slightly geopolitical, because it involves a Chaldean from Detroit, who goes back to Iraq and such. Ruby Falls is very much a psychological thriller. This has certain definite psychological components, but also this true crime component. And the idea of calling them identity thrillers, I think, encompasses one of the things that I find the most interesting in the world and it’s the secrets that people keep. We all have secrets. Most of our secrets are no big deal. And you go through your lives, and occasionally you meet people who really have doozies. I worked for Harvey Weinstein in the 90s. That I went from being an actress in the 80s to being an a story editor at Miramax Films and a story editor is like a book editor. And I kind of liked Harvey and I thought he was you know, he gave me a huge opportunity. I mean, he screamed and yelled, like everybody in the movie business, they all scream and yell. But I didn’t know about his very dark secret life. So I was fascinated when it all came out. Because there were a lot of people in the film business saying everybody knew absolutely everybody knew. And I can be you know, kind of a very literal Midwesterner, I can take things at face value, but I actually didn’t see that side of him. And I think people who have very dark secrets tend to compartmentalize pretty rigidly think about what came out in the Catholic Church, the pedophile priests, most people did not know that was going on. And those individuals picked victims, the victims didn’t do anything wrong, it was a vulnerable moment or a vulnerable child or, and I haven’t written about either of those things, sexual predators. But I do write about people who compartmentalize who keep the kinds of secrets that are so interesting. In books like this, all of my books have thus far twists, I’ve been able to write real twists. And if you don’t know the difference, in a mystery or thriller, there’s either a reveal or there’s a twist. A reveal is very straightforward. It’s like an Agatha Christie locked room mystery. We’re all in the room together, someone ends up murdered, someone else did it at a moment, it’s revealed who did it. So it might be a surprise who it was, but you’re not shocked to your core. With a twist, you’re going along, and you need to pay very close attention because at a certain moment, something is going to flip the story on its head. And you’re going to realize you’re reading something very different from what you thought you were reading. And I think I told you, if you were here for Ruby Falls, I got a terrific note from my editor on that book. And she said I would like you to rewatch the movie, The Sixth Sense. Have most of you seen The Sixth Sense? Okay. So you think one thing is happening. And when you realize — has anybody not seen it? Can I spoil the sixth sense? When you realize Bruce Willis is dead? You didn’t know he was dead. And then there’s a moment you’re like, [gasp] oh, oh, my God. What the director does cinematically is he takes you on this series of flashbacks, where you look at all these scenes [snaps fingers] you’ve already seen from a slightly different perspective. And you realize, oh, they didn’t actually speak to each other. Oh, oh, so she said, rewatch that. She said, when the twist comes, your reader will not have seen it coming. But you want them to be able mentally to say, oh, that’s why this and that’s why that. So I’ve been able to do it for three books.

And before we go to questions, I’ll just tell you a little bit about the book I’m working on now. I got an email last year from a man who began by saying, Remember me? I’m thinking — not yet. He said I was your best boy on Survival Game, which I think is just such a fabulous sentence. because it’s very mysterious, very provocative and got my attention. And in the movie business, of course, a best boy is the job. It’s the head electrician. You’ll see when you watch, you’ll see that on the credits. And Survival Game is a movie. I did have straight-to-video bomb with this kid. I call him a kid, Mike Norris, who was the son of Chuck Norris. Remember Chuck Norris, the martial arts guy? So this was one of those action films. So all right, I did that movie. I don’t remember this guy. But I did that movie. And he goes on. He said, Remember that Thanksgiving dinner we had together? [audience gasps] He said, You were the only actress that nobody visited for the holiday. So now it’s a little weird, because I don’t remember that about me. And I don’t remember him. And then I don’t know how he remembers that about me. And what was this Thanksgiving dinner? And the clincher was he said, you remember when we later ran into each other at the Cannes Film Festival, I was in the British Pavilion and you were standing outside waving at me and you were holding a baby and I wondered for a moment if the child was mine. [audience laughs, gasps, ohs, and ahs] He said, but I knew that couldn’t be possible. So now he’s truly got my attention. So now I’m thinking, well, first of all, I hope that wasn’t possible. Because that was not the nature of our relationship, because I have zero memory of this man. And then I got to thinking about memory. And what a complicated aspect of us it is, we do not remember the same things. You know, we’re all going to walk out of here and remember something completely different about this night. And I thought what if you have a woman with a flawed memory for a particular reason. And you have a man who approaches her with certain data points about her life where she could say, yes, those things are true, but she doesn’t remember him. And maybe he’s telling the truth. And maybe he’s not. And right now I’m calling it Best Boy, because I don’t know if it’ll stay. So I started writing that I’ve got about 100 pages. And then I went on this crazy tour for Reef Road, I started working with a new publicist from South Carolina. She said, [imitates southern accent] they call me the author killer. And she is I’ve been to 81 cities. And it is actually one of the best parts of being a writer because it is a completely different experience. When you sit in a room with people and it’s, it changes the relationship to the book, it changes the whole thing. So I’ve loved doing it. We kind of wrap it up on Sunday, I’ll be at a library outside of Pittsburgh.

And the last thing I’ll say before questions, I got an email through you can email me through my website. And I got an email from a guy who said I’m a journalist. I’m writing a story about Carol, and he gave her last name. And my research led me to you. Do you know anything about that murderer? [audience gasps] Call me. So I called him. I sent him a copy of my book. So he’s coming an hour early to my talk in Pittsburgh on Sunday. So we’ll see what he has to say. So I was in Pittsburgh a month and a half ago, and I have all these cousins there and I had two events, I had a bookstore event. And then I had a private club event, the Duquesne Club, which is an old you know, steel baron club. It’s quite beautiful. So I did my bookstore event and I’m talking, talking, talking, talking and then I see this guy in the back who’s very old. So this brother is still alive. He’s 93. And I’m like, [audience ohs and ahs] so I get back to my hotel room. I call my mother. I’m like, mom, I think he was there. She said, Oh, honey, he was That was him. I know it was him. Like how do you know? She said, I just know it was him. So the next night I go to this club, and the same bookseller comes to the club. And I said, Susan, did you know that that elderly man in the back she said, yeah, that’s Fred. He lives around the corner. He comes all the time. So I said Mom, it wasn’t him. [audience laughs] But anyway, I’m going back may hopefully he won’t show up. So that’s where that is.

So Miguel Alonso is from Argentina. And I always have these tall, dark, handsome men. And one of my best friends is Ileana, I spoke to you about her today so Ileana’s mother is from Argentina. Crazy story. The mom grew up in the Patagonia region and her mother died of the influenza epidemic, and in the grand tradition of that era, they separated the children. So the dad took the son to live with him in Buenos Aires and they left my friend Ileana’s mother with this lunatic aunt who would lie in a divan and hit her with sticks. But that’s another story.

So I went to Buenos Aires with her. And what I was intrigued by, there was this whole period in South America in the 70s, and 80s, where it’s no secret now, the United States was very involved in many ways, you know, we’re with the government, we’re with the revolutionaries. We’re here, we’re there. And it was called, I think Project Condor. We were involved in a lot of that stuff. In Argentina, the government post, not Juan Perón, who was the husband of Evita. But he later married Isabel, and she was the leader after her, I think there was something of a military hunt up. So one of the things they did is they decided to round up the questionable people, the students, the leftists, the teachers, and so dramatic, they would hook these people and drive them long distances, seemingly long distances. But they took them to this former military base, right in the middle of the Capitol. And that’s what gave me this chill. So if you were taken, you were literally being detained, kind of right next door to your mom and dad. And there was this whole story of it’s true, the girls who some of the young students who were pregnant, they were made to write letters to their families, saying, Dear Mom, you know, I had a baby, and the baby and I are gonna go live in Paraguay and tired of Argentina and see around, then they would take these babies and give them allow them to be adopted by the powerful people. And they would drop these people alive out of planes, like these mothers. And that’s all true, it’s very well known. And later, there became this movement of the grandmothers. And they would wear white headscarves, and to evoke the diapers of these babies that were taken from their daughters who were then killed, where it gets complicated, because life is never one thing. The grandmothers and you can read all about these white scarf, grandmothers, they they want DNA records on these kids would now be in their 40s. And some of them don’t want to give their DNA records. And there’s a very famous case of a young man and a young woman who were adopted by the most powerful publishing family in Argentina, I think newspaper publishing. And so these grandmothers want the DNA records on these kids. And these kids are like, you know, we’re kind of at the top of the heap here. We don’t want to give our DNA and we love the family that raised us. So it’s complicated. So it stayed in my mind. I saw it probably 10 years before I started the book. I am writing about generational trauma. And I think it really did make its way in everybody’s storyline, including the Argentine storyline, you can Google it, there’s a lot written about it.

So So I, I write the book, as the reader reads it. I think it helps me to frame my transitions and my revelations. But one of the things I do is I print out — this very old-fashioned — month at-a-page calendars. And I spread them out, I write on a big table. And so Finding Mrs. Ford, if you look at the cover, it’s got this weird question mark necklace, which is a plot point. And there’s a moment after which in 1979, you can’t see that necklace again, but you’re going back and forth. So when I spread out — the nice thing about these monthly page calendars, they also line up correctly, like it was Christmas on a Friday or a Sunday or whatever it was for the year that you’re looking at. So it gives me this visual memory. You can do this on your computer too. But by spreading it out your eye can just glance up and see oh, the last time that girl in the disco in Warren is in that necklace is July the whatever. I can’t see it again after that. So the other — I do a little bit of a timeline just in order to — and I do notes, but I’m pretty scrupulous about those calendars because you don’t ever want to get caught out. If any of you read Annabel Monaghan, she’s a rom-com writer. She’s hilarious. She wrote a book called Nora Goes Off Script. We were on tour together because we have the same publicist. So it was kind of like Frick and Frack. I’m talking about these dark thrillers. She’s talking about rom-coms. But she has now adopted my calendar trick. She said, Yeah, my editor’s always telling me you had 12 Fridays in that month or something, you need to straighten that up. And you don’t want to just rely on your editor catching you in those things. You want to be scrupulous, sometimes — I — Beatrice Williams writes things in chronological order, like if she has a 1942 timeline and a 1980 timeline, she writes them separately, and cuts them together. I don’t like doing that. I like the, because I was on a soap opera. I like that cliffhanger. [mimics organ sound in soap opera] * dun dun dun dun * at the end of the chapter. [audience laughs] And then I pick it up with something from that. So that’s what I do.

Let’s talk about Best Boy, which is in progress. So it’s very clear. So I got the email from the guy. I started thinking about memory. And I started notes and my notes take the form of what if? What if the woman in the case what if her memory is flawed because she drinks? What if her memory is flawed because she has migraines? So we go down a rabbit hole because I used to have migraines. Can you have blackouts in your memory from migraines? Can you? can’t you? So I’m looking all that up. And then I start doing like — the notes go into — I’ll start out — In this case, I decided I wanted her to be a teenager in the 90s because I wanted to bring it up to the present day, which is more complicated, because then you have technology, which is another factor in thrillers that sometimes it’s a lot easier to put it in an earlier time because it’s like there are no cameras. There are no cell phones, there are no credit card records, because that is very tricky to figure out. So the timeline starts working out. And then you know, I started thinking, Well, what if something happened as a teenager that she blacked out? That’s different from the thing the guy’s talking about? And, and then I start writing. And then I might go back and change what I’ve put in my notes. Because it does change a little bit you can come up to a point where you think this isn’t working. So that girl I decided she’s growing up in Royal Oak because I thought about a different area entirely. But I like to really know the place I’m writing about because I think it — people say my books are like movies — that you really want people to be able to see and feel what’s going on. So that’s where that is. Thank you. It’s good to be back. Grab a chair.

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