We are pleased to provide Brookdale Eagles the story books based on ‘Aladdin.’ So please take home the books today and begin reading. Read to your parents, your guardians, your brothers, your sisters, even your dog or cat,” said Leroy Jones Jr., the 4-H youth development agent for the Midlands Region of the 1890 program.

Three writers shared the journey that led to their books while emphasizing the lessons they hoped readers gained from them at the 14th annual Page Turner Book and Author Luncheon on March 7.

Book lovers from romance to mystery came together at the Orangeburg County Convention Center for The Times and Democrat’s fundraiser for the Newspapers in Education Program.

Deborah Royce, John Cribb and Annabel Monaghan were the writers featured at the event.

Proceeds from the luncheon fund the free electronic delivery of The T&D to area teachers in Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties for use as educational tools in the classroom.

‘Thread that ties my books together’

Royce, whose literary thrillers examine puzzles of identity, delved into the meaning of her latest work, “Reef Road.” It is based on the 1948 murder of her mother’s childhood friend, who had been stabbed 36 times, and examines the lasting scars left from a single violent act.

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Following the still-unsolved murder, her mother, for example, had to have a detective escort her to school and endured prank phone calls from other kids.

Royce had later begun to research the true crime herself, during which one of the victim’s brothers had become the prime suspect.

“It was utter chaos,” she said, noting that she ultimately decided to write about the death of her mother’s best friend not from a nonfiction perspective, but rather through a fiction book which explored the idea of generational trauma.

“That’s what I wanted to get at. Generational trauma is a very big subject that plays out at the individual level, and it plays out at the cultural level,” Royce said.

She said her own daughter’s best friend was violently attacked in her daughter’s apartment, something which she doesn’t generally discuss, but which shows that “things do repeat.”

“Reef Road” involves the interconnection of the lives of two seemingly unconnected women — one of whom has her family go missing — in Palm Beach, Florida, during the COVID lockdown of 2020. She said the book “peels the onion” to reveal what one woman has to do with the other.

Royce said she enjoys uncovering the secrets that her characters keep.

“That is the thread that ties my books together,” said Royce, who referenced the work of English filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, who was known for probing issues underlying his characters’ motives and actions.

‘It is just an amazing story’

Cribb is a bestselling author who has written about subjects ranging from history to education.

His work includes co-authoring “The American Patriot’s Almanac” and “The Educated Child,” both New York Times bestsellers; co-editing “The Human Odyssey,” a three-volume world history text, and developing on-line history courses.

His novel titled “Old Abe” has been hailed for its vivid portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. The novel is one of two historical novels Cribb has written. The other is titled “The Rail Splitter,” which tells the story of Lincoln’s remarkable journey from a log cabin to the threshold of the White House.

“Lincoln’s life really was an amazing life. That journey that he made from a log cabin to the White House, which is the story of ‘The Rail Splitter,’ it’s an amazing story not because of the way I wrote it, but it is just an amazing story. It is in many ways the American Dream,” Cribb said.

He continued, “Then, of course, as president, he really was that giant hero in that epic struggle to save our country when it was literally falling apart, to save our founding principles when a lot of people were ready to cast them aside and, of course, help lead the fight to free millions of enslaved Americans.

“I tell people that I think you understand the American story a lot better if you understand Abraham Lincoln’s story because, in a lot of ways, he stands center stage in that great American story.”

Cribb shared stories from Lincoln’s life growing up on the Indiana frontier, where he not only helped carve out a farm and home, but also explored the world of books.

The author said Lincoln had very little schooling his entire life, but loved books and once said, “My best friend is a man who can get me a book.”

“He actually turned himself into a great grammarian,” Cribb said, noting that Lincoln also studied and became a successful attorney.

Cribb reflected on Lincoln’s stand against slavery and talked about the Lincoln–Douglas debates, which were a series of seven debates between Lincoln, the Republican Party candidate for the United States Senate, and incumbent Sen. Stephen Douglas, the Democratic Party candidate.

“Lincoln knows that in 1858, the country was still very young … and that this grand American experiment in freedom and democracy and self-rule is still unproven and it’s going to be tested in a hard way because the cords that had been holding the country together are beginning to stretch and pull apart over the issue of slavery,” Cribb said.

He continued, “Lincoln hates slavery because he knows that in robbing people of their freedom, slavery robs them of any chance to really guide their own destiny and rise in the world and make a better life for themselves. That was what Lincoln was able to do out on the frontier.”

Cribb said Lincoln continued to call attention to the threat that slavery posed to the nation’s fabric, even with The Gettysburg Address given five years later in 1863 as president.

“He goes to give that great speech at Gettysburg after that horrible battle there as president. He says that they have to keep fighting so that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the Earth,” Cribb said.

Lincoln knew what was at stake for freedom throughout the world.

“That’s why he calls America the last best hope of Earth,” Cribb said.

‘The most fun I’ve ever had’

Monaghan lives in Rye, New York with her husband and three sons. Her books include “Nora Goes Off Script” and “Same Time Next Summer.”

She shared the story behind “Nora Goes Off Script,” giving the audience a lesson in the pieces of her heart that went into writing it.

Monaghan said she doesn’t like research and that her books come from what’s in her own head.

“It’s just stuff that’s in my head that has sort of tickled me over some period of time. I collect things in my mind that I think are funny, more interesting, or just sort of stay with me. They will rattle around in there and drive me crazy until I open up my laptop and write something,” she said. “So ‘Nora Goes Off Script’ is basically a confluence of things that have tickled me over some period of time and all wound up in a novel.”

Monaghan continued, “‘Nora Goes Off Script’ is about a made-for-TV romance writer who writes a more serious screenplay about her divorce and ends up falling in love with a man who plays her husband in the movie. That’s basically the story, and a bunch of other stuff happens.”

She said the Hallmark Channel and its somewhat general theme of women finding their Prince Charming in one way or another was part of her inspiration for writing the book.

“I can honestly tell you that writing this book is the most fun that I’ve ever had in my entire life. But, like I said, this did not come out of nowhere. I think the main influence in this story is that in 2019 I had surgery. I was stuck in bed for about three weeks, and I got hooked on the Hallmark Channel,” she said.

Nora’s love interest stemmed from actor-singer Justin Timberlake’s month-long stay in Monaghan’s hometown in 2017.

“Within a couple of days, the women in my town were showing up to do their errands — full hair and makeup, outfits decked out on the wild off chance that they were going to run into Justin Timberlake. I thought it was so funny because, truly, what were they thinking was going to happen?

“I thought it was very interesting that maybe there is a universal fantasy that some of us share, that maybe there is some A-list celebrity out there who we we’ve been watching for a long time who, if he got to know us, might think we’re the best,” Monaghan said.

“I admit that I had thought that about Paul Rudd over the years. I think that if he met me, he would like me. But we’ll see. It hasn’t panned out so far,” she said.

She said her experience as a mother also helped her develop the character of Nora, who is a mother whose husband has left her and her two children. Nora now has to navigate this part of her life with a new love interest.

“As much as I would love to write about something else, I have a feeling all of my books will probably all be love stories, but they will all also be, in some way, about motherhood. While I didn’t set out to write about motherhood, I also didn’t set out to write about single mothers,” Monaghan said.

“I didn’t set out to make a statement about what it’s like to be a single mother. I’m not a single mother, and it was wonderful to me when this book came out, I immediately got a lot of response from single mothers and also single fathers saying that I had gotten it right, that much of the way of (Nora’s) feelings and the way she was managing her life resonated with them,” she said.

She said the fact that she was heralded as some type of hero for writing about an older woman being in a romantic situation was strange to her. She said, Nora, at 39, was not old.

“I find that line of thinking to be so dismissive of women and also of men. I think that we’re all better than that, and I do think that it’s possible that at some point, your life experiences and the wisdom that you’ve gained from being vulnerable and going through a few things may make you a better partner, not a worse one. I’m not trying to start a church, but that’s the way I think,” Monaghan said.

She continued, “So by the time this book was done … I really respected (Nora) because, in the end, she has a love affair with herself and with her work and sort of transforms her own life. She’s her own Prince Charming, and I forgave her for writing all those stupid movies. So I hope you enjoy the book.”

‘It inspires you to read’

The authors signed copies of their books and spoke with attendees following the luncheon, some of whom said they thoroughly enjoyed the event.

Faith McCurry, dean of development and marketing at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, said, “I look forward to it every year.

“It’s a great time to be with friends and to hear from these authors whose books I haven’t had the chance to read. It inspires you to go read.”

Landis Bozard and Cindy Hargis, employees at the Orangeburg County Library, said they also enjoyed the luncheon.

“We had a really good time. It was nice. The authors were very interesting,” Bozard said.

Hargis said, “I just like listening to them tell their stories and how they get started.”

Both said the event was also a good way to bring the community together.

Deandria Bennett, a technical assistant at the library, said, “I thoroughly enjoyed the authors. I thought they were really engaging and really relatable. I really felt that was key.”

“The first author grasped my attention with the whole mystery murder. I love true crime. The male author brought Abraham Lincoln alive with different aspects of his life that we never would have thought about,” she said.

The luncheon’s higher education sponsors were Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, South Carolina State University and Claflin University. Orangeburg County was a table sponsor for the luncheon.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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