Today we hear directly from Herta Feely, author of Saving Phoebe Murrow.
It’s September. Crickets and cicadas screech in full chorus as I sit on a small third-story balcony overlooking a forest of oak trees, trying to imagine what readers might like to know about the writing of Saving Phoebe Murrow.
1) Are you wondering how I chose Phoebe’s name or Isabel’s?
2) Because Phoebe was bullied, do you wonder if, perhaps, I was ever bullied, or if I was a bully?
3) Do you want to know why the story is set in DC in 2008?
4) Do you ask: What are you working on next?
So, question one. The characters’ names. I’ve always liked the name Phoebe. It contains a kind of vulnerability and softness that I wanted for the eponymous 13-year-old character. As for Isabel, her character actually began with the name Susan in a short story, which then became part of this novel. In that story, which you’ll recognize in Saving Phoebe Murrow, a woman is getting a manicure and while there experiences anxieties about her teen daughter, from whom she feels estranged yet is dying to understand. After changing Susan to Isabel, I also changed the last name from Winslow to Winthrop, which helps reflect Isabel’s rigid upbringing (as in the Puritanical Winthrops of Massachusetts), hence her rigid father, John Winthrop.
#2: Yes, in fact, I was bullied as a young girl when fresh “off the boat” from Germany and new to the U.S. It was quite painful and stayed with me for many years. I only remembered this after writing the novel when someone asked me about bullying. I imagine that experience allowed me to tap into emotional truths for 13-year-old Phoebe in the novel. (I don’t recall being a bully. Bossy, yes. Bully, no!)
#3: The story is set in DC , where I’ve lived since 1982. Though this novel reflects certain peculiarities of DC culture, perhaps even exaggerates them for dramatic effect, the essential aspects of the story could take place anywhere. I chose 2008 because teens still heavily used Facebook then and it was an interesting election year, which allowed me to bring certain aspects of the city to the fore.
#4: I’m working on All Fall Down, a novel about Charlotte Cooper, a woman about to reach the pinnacle of her career, until everything falls out from under her. It’s also a love story between a London-raised Nigerian sculptor and Charlotte, the human rights activist.
To hear more from Feely, check out her website. Be sure to come back tomorrow for the giveaway!
For another novel that features a strong female protagonist in a unique setting, try Beloved: A Senual Noir Thriller.