THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOKS, “IN TRANSIT,” BY KATHLEEN GERARD AND “TWO THIRDS WATER,” BY RODGER LeGRAND, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON OUR AUTHORS PAGE.
THE BOOK: Saving Phoebe Murrow.
PUBLISHED IN: 2016
THE AUTHOR: Herta Feely.
THE EDITOR: A number of editors were involved in the revision process, including Emily J. Williamson, who also acted as my agent in securing the UK publisher; Ann Starr, the publisher at Upper Hand Press (US); and Joel Richardson, my editor at Twenty7 Books in the UK. Numerous other writers and readers provided invaluable insight into the story, the characters and how the novel could be improved. I’ll be forever grateful to all of them.
THE PUBLISHER: Upper Hand Press, based in Ohio, is the US publisher. Ann Starr’s goal is to publish the works of authors who are passionate about their stories, and whose work she admires and connects with. At Twenty7 Books in the UK, an imprint of Bonnier-Zaffre, it was wonderful to work with a very talented staff, from book cover design to editors to marketing and promotion.
SUMMARY: A cyber-bullying episode, which targets 13-year-old Phoebe Murrow, is at the heart of Saving Phoebe Murrow, told through the eyes of five characters, including Phoebe and her mother. Set amidst the complicated web of adolescent relationships, the novel tells a story of the devastating impact social media can have on teen girls. Isabel, a DC lawyer, does everything she can to keep Phoebe from harm, but fails when the mysterious Shane appears on Facebook and flirts with her teenage daughter. Mother-daughter relationships, teen girls, self-harm, bullying, and modern society’s attachment to electronic devices are topics I explore. Thematically it’s about love and betrayal. Especially the latter.
THE BACK STORY: In 2008, I read an article in the Washington Post style section about Megan Meier, a 13-year-old who was cyberbullied and then committed suicide. The boy she’d been flirting with on MySpace (Josh Evans) turned out to be a 47-year-old woman, the mother of a former friend of Megan’s.
It was shocking to me that a mother (Lori Drew) was capable of such meanness, and I thought I might want 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. The idea gestated in my conscious and subconscious mind for three years, but took only nine months to complete the first draft, then several more years before the final draft could be submitted to agents and publishers. Perhaps it should be noted that although Megan’s story “inspired” my novel, Saving Phoebe Murrow is not “based” on that event.
WHY THIS TITLE? The title was one of the most difficult aspects of this novel. I went through various working titles, including The Dangerous Edge of Things and The Strange Shape of Love, but my publishers weren’t wild about either one. In tossing around different ideas with my UK publisher, I suggested Saving Phoebe Murrow, which is the title both publishers ended up using. On a side note, quite a long time ago I wrote a short story about Marilyn Monroe, titled “Saving Norma Jean.” And, in another life, I co-founded an organization with the name Safe Kids Worldwide.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? If you like novels about domestic dramas, ones that tackle a few social issues along the way, I think you’ll like this. It’s been compared to Big Little Lies (Liane Moriarity) and some of Jodi Picoult’s novels. Saving Phoebe Murrow just won the 2018 National Indie Excellence Award for Contemporary Novel and was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction category, which might be an indication of who will enjoy this most, though a number of men have read it and given it a thumb’s up. I’ve been invited to a couple dozen women’s book groups where discussions around parenting, mean girls, cutting, and social media’s impact on teens (and adults) grew quite lively. The two women in the novel have very opposite parenting styles, and the teens in the story are at their mercy, so that raises a lot of conversation (some of it quite loud!). Finally, it’s fairly fast-paced and I’ve heard people say they stayed up all night reading the story! (Music to an author’s ears!).
REVIEW COMMENTS: “A little frightening in today’s world. A must read for mothers!” –Joyce Chaplin (Colleton County Memorial Library) June 28, 2016
“Feely’s novel reminds us of the heartbreaking fragility and mystery of the teenage mind…a finely crafted plot…and compulsively readable.” –Washington Independent Review of Books September 9, 2016
“I thought at first this story would mainly be about (Phoebe) being bullied, but there is so much more! Infidelity, work stress, the difficulties of raising children…and the struggle between being a good mother and a good wife. I flew through this book…each chapter ended with my curiosity being piqued and I lost a few hours of sleep!” –Kara the Redhead Book Blogger
“This novel is both thought provoking and frightening! It sucked me in and then left me with mind-numbing, stomach-turning feelings.” Kim Gay, Book Reviewer (remitted 5-star review to NetGalley) June 30, 2016.
AUTHOR PROFILE: For more about my writing see: hertafeely.com. Briefly: my work has been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies, and I received the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and a DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities artist fellowship.
The other part: I’m originally from Europe…born in Yugoslavia then moved to Germany at age three, and finally, to the US when I was seven and a half. It was a tough transition, and I was subjected to bullying (the old-fashioned kind before social media) for being German. I believe I unconsciously drew on this painful experience in writing Saving Phoebe Murrow.
Most of my short stories and memoir pieces seem to end up focusing on some issue that I feel passionate about, though it’s not something I’m aware of until the work is finished. One of my memoir pieces, “The Wall,” featured in two lit magazines, is about immigration, an issue very close to my heart. I’m very sympathetic to the refugee situation and feel terrible about the prejudice and discrimination that’s happening around the world.
In 2011, I co-edited a book titled Confessions: Fact or Fiction? that explores the very murky boundary between memoir and fiction through the stories of 22 writers.
I’m also the co-founder of Safe Kids Worldwide, started back in 1988. In addition to working on my next novel, Her Other Life, I own a small business (Chrysalis Editorial) that aims to help writers hone their work for publication and develop their writing skills.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I encourage writers to believe in their creative abilities. For that matter, I encourage all people everywhere to believe in their own creativity regardless of the subject, the problem, the issue they’re facing. We are highly creative beings. With Saving Phoebe Murrow, I hoped to stimulate conversation about social media and this thing called the Internet – everything from the problems inherent to social media to the limitations of the Internet. We now live in a world that’s more “connected” than ever, and yet in our attachment to electronic devices (cell phones, in particular) we are also becoming isolated and failing to connect with the people sitting beside us. This is something very new we are all grappling with and need to figure out, using our creative abilities. Finally, I thought it would be helpful to readers and book group discussions to provide some resources on cyberbullying, which I do in the back of the book along with a reader’s discussion guide.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Local bookstores carry the novel, but if it’s not in stock, you can always ask them to order it. (I encourage readers to frequent their local booksellers.)
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Upper Hand Press (The latter offers paperback only.) PRICE: $17 paperback; ebook price varies (between $8-$9.50); audiobook from Barnes & Noble is $14.99, but $26.80 on Amazon unless you have an audible membership, and then it’s free.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: I love hearing from readers, so you can contact me through my website: hertafeely.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a personal Facebook account and an author page (Herta Feely)…happy for you to “friend” me or follow me. My twitter handle: @HertaFeely If you’re interested in finding out more about Chrysalis: chrysaliseditorial.com. And my blog: http://chrysaliseditorial.com/blog/.