By Brian Knight and Ellie Knight
When Thea discovers a new role-playing game online, she breaks her parents’ rules to play. In the world of the game, Thea falls for an older boy named Kit whose smarts and savvy can’t defeat his near-suicidal despair. Soon he’s texting her, asking her to meet him, and talking in vague ways about how they can be together forever. As much as she suspects that this is wrong, Thea is powerless to resist Kit’s allure, and hurtles toward the very fate her parents feared most. Ripped from a real-life story of Internet stalking, WHO R U REALLY? will excite you and scare you, as Thea’s life spins out of control.
Margo Kelly’s debut novel WHO R U REALLY? is now available from Merit Press, and Margo was kind enough to let my daughter, Ellie, and I gang up on her to talk about it.
Hi Margo. Thanks for agreeing to talk with my daughter, Ellie, and I.
Brian: As a public speaker, you’re already something of a professional communicator, but there is a difference between the spoken word and the written one. Was the transition from orator to author a challenging one for you?
In some ways, yes, because much of my public speaking has been on non-fiction topics such as business, sales, and recruiting. Now I’m writing fiction for the young adult audience. These are two completely separate worlds. However, any great public speaker includes stories, personal details, and a bit of hyperbole to keep the interest of the listeners. So that art of engaging the audience has definitely helped me translate stories to paper.
Ellie: Did writing WHO R U REALLY? bring back the trauma of your daughter’s experience?
The process of writing the story was very therapeutic for both me and my daughter. As she recovered from the ordeal, we would play the “what if” game. What if she’d done this instead of that? What if the predator had done that instead of this? The tough part for both of us was when we received the advance reading copies from the publisher. That was when we both realized the story was actually going out into the world for everyone to read. I have to admit there was a flash of panic for me. It was an extreme moment of vulnerability—feeling naked. Not only would people be judging the story for its merit, but also people would be judging my parenting choices and my daughter’s naivety. We wish we could explain a couple of things to every reader: 1) This happened to my daughter six years ago when she was eleven going on twelve. 2) This book is mostly a work of fiction. While many of the scenes happened in real life, there are also many that are a product of our “what if” game all those years ago.
Brian: Is WHO R U REALLY? your first writing project?
I have written non-fiction articles for magazines in the past, but WHO R U REALLY? is my first novel to be published. I’m currently polishing my next story, and I cannot wait for people to read it.
Ellie: Was writing WHO R U REALLY? a cathartic experience for you?
Yes, it was. It allowed my daughter and me plenty of opportunities to discuss what happened and what could have happened. We’ve both grown and matured through the process, and we’re closer than ever.
Brian: Do you think you would have become a published novelist without your daughter’s harrowing experience to motivate you?
The simple answer is yes. The long answer is that the path to becoming a traditionally published author can be a tough and time-consuming one. While I wanted to share my daughter’s story and it served as a great motivator, if no publisher had picked it up I would have continued pursuing the publication dream.
Ellie: Can you tell us about your next book?
My next book is still under wraps, but hopefully soon it will be out where I can announce the details.
Brian: Who are some of your favourite writers? The ones who inspired you to share your story in print?
Dean Koontz is my favorite author in the thriller genre, but Laurie Halse Anderson is the author who inspired me to share the story of WHO R U REALLY? with the world.
Ellie: How is your daughter coping following her terrifying experience, and has it made her more cautious online and in life in general?
My daughter is thriving (through the assistance of a great counselor and the benefit of time). The experience definitely made her more cautious online and probably a lot less trusting of people in the real world as well. Her trust was violated in a very intimate way, and it’s taken time for her to get to a place where she wants to trust people again. But she’s there now (six years later). She’s happy. She loves life. And she’s seeking out new adventures.
Brian: WHO R U REALLY? is already getting great reviews. Were you surprised to find such overwhelming success with your first literary project?
I’m thrilled with the reviews that have come in for WHO R U REALLY? … and yes, I’m a little surprised, because as I continue to improve my writing skills, I see things that I wish I would have done better in my debut. But since there’s nothing I can do about that now, I’m focusing on making my next project better than ever. And I hope readers will keep coming back for more!
Ellie: What practical advice would you offer teens today about staying safe while on the web?
- Only accept friend requests on FB (and other social media) from people you know in your everyday life.
- Be transparent with the people in your real life who love you.
- Trust your parents. You don’t have to always agree with them, but trust that they have your best interests in mind.
- Keep your actual birthdate, phone number, email, street address, even city private. No one online needs to have that personal information about you.
- Most importantly, remember that there is strength in numbers. Use the buddy system, and do not ever meet an online acquaintance by yourself. Not ever. Just don’t even play with the idea.
Thanks for talking to us, Margo. Best of luck with WHO R U REALLY?.
Margo Kelly loves to be scared … when she’s reading a good book, watching a good movie, or suffering from the hiccups. She loves writing thrillers for young adults and hopes her stories give you the goose bumps or the itchies or the desire to rethink everyday things. Margo is represented by the not-so-scary, but totally awesome, Brianne Johnson of Writers House. WHO R U REALLY? is her debut novel.
To learn more about Margo, please visit her website.