Eleanor Russell Montague, the protagonist in Deborah Goodrich Royce’s new book “Ruby Falls,” seems to have it all. A dashing English husband, money and a promising acting career. But just like the roles she plays on screen, Eleanor’s life is not what it seems.
Royce’s book begins with a little girl named Ruby who is abandoned by her father in an underground waterfall in Tennessee, aptly named Ruby Falls. Readers discover early on that Ruby and Eleanor are the same person.
After Eleanor/Ruby finds new footing in Los Angeles following a disastrous end to her role in a popular soap opera, she begins to have strange experiences: Her husband’s personality seems to change overnight; her mysterious neighbor somehow knows her real name; and her dream Hollywood Hills cottage becomes eerie.
Events take a more bizarre turn when Eleanor is cast as the lead in a new version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film “Rebecca.” Fantasy and reality become blurred as Eleanor is accosted by an unseen enemy that toys with her mind.
The surprise ending in “Ruby Falls” is Royce’s nod to both Hitchcock and “Rebecca,” which was written in 1938 by Daphne du Maurier.
Flipping the script for the reader and playing with the concept of identity were things she absolutely wanted to explore, Royce said of the book, which comes out May 4.
Eleanor’s story in a way mirrors Royce’s own life. She played the role of Silver Kane in the long-running daytime soap opera “All My Children.” Royce’s character was the sister of Erica Kane, played by soap icon Susan Lucci.
Royce initially had her heart set on becoming a dancer. Growing up in suburban Detroit, she went to college in Eastern Ohio, graduating with a major in French and Italian and a minor in dance.
When United Artists studio arrived in Cleveland to audition young backup dancers for the 1980 film “Those Lips, Those Eyes” starring Frank Langella and Tom Hulse, Royce was picked. But it gave her the wrong idea that “cracking into the movie business was super easy,” she said.
She eventually made her way to New York City and auditioned for parts in Broadway productions, but soon realized she wasn’t suited for a dancing career.
“I realized about a year into it that I wasn’t as good a dancer as these other young women who had been pursuing it professionally,” Royce said. “I then decided I would give acting a try.”
She landed the role in “All My Children” in 1982, but her character was written out a year later. Royce then moved to California where she spent 10 years in television and feature films, including the 1986 mystery slasher flick “April Fool’s Day,” the teen comedy “Just One Of the Guys,” and the drama series “St. Elsewhere.”
She later moved to France where she worked as a script reader for a film studio, and it there that Royce discovered a new passion: writing.
Her desire to be a writer increased over the years, and when she moved to Palm Beach in 2005 with her husband Chuck, Royce quietly continued to write. She published her first novel, “Finding Mrs. Ford,” in 2019.
“It was only six or seven years ago that I truly came out of the closet as a writer. For me, it was the right decision because it really committed me to it,” Royce said.
Royce’s creativity isn’t limited to crafting novels. In 2017, she and her husband won the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach’s Robert I. Ballinger Award for a top-to-bottom, three-year renovation-and-restoration project at Lido, their circa-1919 landmarked home on the lakefront in Midtown , which they bought in 2014.
The couple’s other projects include restoring The Avon, a 1937 movie house in Stamford, Connecticut; and reconstructing Ocean House, a seaside hotel that dated to 1869 in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. The Royces also restored a Colonial-era farmhouse in Watch Hill, which they own.
Royce is already at work on a new novel titled “Reef Road,” set in Palm Beach during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the moment though, she’s focused on the release of “Ruby Falls” and hopes that readers will enjoy it.
“I want them to feel a tenderness toward the character and her emotional journey. I wrote it like a movie in a way where it’s like peeling an onion from chapter to chapter. It has a little of a fever dream feeling to it,” she said.