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Author interview: Herta Feely

19 Oct

Please join me in welcoming author Herta Feely to One More Page today to discuss her debut novel, Saving Phoebe Murrow. Herta is a writer and full-time editor. In her previous work, she was a journalist, press secretary and activist, co-founding Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization dedicated to saving children from unintentional injuries. Herta has received the American Independent Writers’ award for best published personal essay. She now lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and two cats, Monty and Albert. She has two sons, Jack and Max. Welcome Herta!

Feely, HertaYour new novel, Saving Phoebe Murrow is released on 20th October; please could you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write it?

The story revolves around a cyber-bullying episode focused on 13-year-old main character, Phoebe Murrow. The novel was inspired by an article I read in 2008 about Megan Meier (a 13-year-old girl in Missouri), who killed herself after a similar event carried out on MySpace. It turned out that the boy who initiated the cyber-bullying against Megan was actually a 47-year-old woman (Lori Drew), the mother of a former friend of Megan’s, who wanted to know what Megan might be saying about her daughter, Sarah.

It was shocking to me that a mother was capable of such meanness and I wanted to write a novel to understand how someone could do this.

As a latecomer to social media, I was also intrigued by this method of communicating. How MySpace or Facebook or Twitter (and all the rest) could go from being a friendly venue to a vicious and destructive one, and how easily people can make nasty comments when not having to face the person they are aiming their darts at.

I don’t believe that teens fully appreciate the consequences of their posts when they are cruel or vindictive. Nor can they handle the 24/7 nature of social media when the messages are negative. It’s difficult enough for adults to deal with.

The novel centres on a relationship between a mother and her daughter; how to you feel your own experiences as a Mum and daughter fed into the book?

This question makes me smile, because usually people ask me how I could write such a novel when I’m the mother of two sons. But I think your question is the better one. As for the first part, I had a rather difficult relationship with my own mother and much of that is illustrated in the relationship between Phoebe and her mother, Isabel, though I do think many girls, even those with much better mother/daughter relationships, experience various aspects of feeling not understood, not appreciated, and so on in their teen years. There’s also the natural separation that occurs between children and their parents during the teen years, which is a difficult phase for parents to navigate. As for the second part, I believe that I was the kind of Mum who was sometimes a bit too strict and then too lenient, hence a dollop of Isabel and a smidgeon of Sandy. I was far from perfect, believe me, though at all times, like most parents, I very much loved my children and believe my husband and I taught them (and hopefully role-modeled) the important values in life.

To introduce them to us, please could you sum up Isabel and Phoebe in 5 words each.

Isabel: loving, concerned, rigid, overly protective

Phoebe: smart, kind, creative, sensitive, vulnerable

 

Which character did you find most difficult to write and how did you overcome these challenges?

To be honest I didn’t find it difficult to inhabit any of my characters. While one might imagine, after reading the novel, that it was difficult for me to write Sandy, in fact her sometimes misguided way of thinking flowed quite readily. I’m not sure why. Perhaps we all have aspects of ourselves that are contradictory, inconsistent and not so readily understood. Some of writing fiction is a bit of a mystery and I believe this is what keeps the writing fresh and makes for interesting reading. Most authors don’t simply manipulate their characters to do this and that – I know I don’t. I feel more like a channel for them to express themselves through.

 

Saving Phoebe Murrow is a frightening story of the dangers faced by children growing up in a social media world. What Saving Phoebe Murrowresources would you recommend for parents who are concerned about the themes raised? 

I would first and foremost recommend that parents go online and look up any question they might have about social media. That’s what I’ve done and I’ve found amazing amounts of articles on the various topics as well as dozens of organizations dedicated to teaching parents, children and educators about online safety. I think it’s absolutely critical for parents to understand and be aware of the many social media platforms or apps available to children and teens. And to know their positives and also their risks, because there are many. (I recently looked this up and stumbled onto an article that outlines 16 different social media apps, which age group they targer, and what the risks are.)  All this is unfamiliar territory for many of us parents because we didn’t grow up with social media, but with the widespread use of electronic devices, social media and Internet use is now firmly part of every child/teen’s world and it’s terribly important for us to know that world. I hope I don’t sound like I’m scolding or proselytizing, but I’m afraid not familiarizing ourselves is tantamount to not caring about what food we feed our children. A few resources you might start with: http://www.meganmeierfoundation.org
What would you like readers to take away from the book?

First, I’d like readers to thoroughly enjoy the read. And, second, I hope the novel stimulates conversations about everything from parenting to social media use, from mother-daughter relationships to mean girls and the impact adult behavior has on our children.

And finally; what can we expect next from Herta Feely?

I’m happy to report that I’m firmly ensconced in my next novel, All Fall Down (working title), in which Charlotte Cooper, a human rights activist, is about to reach the pinnacle of her career as the head of a human rights organization based in London. Her past catches up with her, though, and the job becomes elusive. The spotlight occasionally shines on human rights violations and artifact destruction in the Middle East as we discover Charlotte’s past and who she truly loves. (I was a bit surprised to discover that this novel is as much a love story as a female crusader story.)

Thanks Herta!

Saving Phoebe Murrow by Herta Feely is published by Twenty7 on 20th October in paperback and ebook formats.