About the Book
A middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.
Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.
Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.
1. If you had one sentence to convince someone to read The Whispers, what would you say?
Fairies, hobgoblins, and mystery, oh my!
2. What was your favorite scene to write in The Whispers?
Honestly, I think it’s the scene in which Riley helps his Grandma make her famous 5-4-3-2-1 Fruit Salad. There isn’t anything flashy or necessarily exciting about that scene, but boy does it take me back. So often as a kid, I helped Grandma make her fruit salad while Granddaddy sat in his recliner in the living room watching television. I wrote Riley’s grandparents as carbon copies of my own so that scene is very vivid and nostalgic to me.
3. Riley’s dog plays an important role in The Whispers. Can you tell us about some animals that have been memorable or influential in your life?
In The Whispers, Tucker is part guardian angel and part spirit guide to Riley. You get the sense that Tucker knows exactly what’s going on even if Riley doesn’t, and he’s desperately trying to help Riley find the answers he seeks.
There was a real Tucker in my life, and he was exactly as described in the book—a black and tan, one hundred twenty-pound Rottweiler-Shepherd mix. He was a wise old soul, and hands-down the greatest dog in the history of dogs. Smart, loyal, loving, gentle, intuitive—he was special, and a rescue. But I had Tucker as an adult, not as a kid. He passed away about twelve years ago.
And as a kid, we once had a beautiful German shepherd named King who followed us everywhere, looking out for us. I remember many days exploring the woods behind our house with King right by my side.
4. Riley seems to have strong opinions on snacks. What are some of your favorite snacks, and do you snack while writing?
Riley definitely knows his snacks! I was a big snacker as a kid as well, but I’ve always been a potato chip guy. I’ll leave the Flamin’ Hot Funyuns to Riley. We also ate a lot of Nature’s Candy, as Riley calls it—the nectar of honeysuckle blooms, boiled peanuts, berries found in the woods, and sugar cane cut right off the stalk. Since I write from 4AM to 6AM every day, my only writing snack is coffee. Sometimes I’ll get crazy and have a protein bar. But hands down my favorite snack since childhood is potato chips.
5. How do you approach writing what some people might see as “tough topics” for middle grade readers?
I don’t really approach tough topics any differently. You have to write from a genuine place for kids without worrying about what people will think, or if someone will have a problem with it. Kids can spot a lack of conviction a mile away. Especially when it comes to writing for and about queer kids, I feel I owe them authentic portrayals of LGBTQ characters because when I was young, I never saw myself in literature, or televisions shows, or movies. That kind of underrepresentation can make a kid feel immensely lonely and invisible. It’s better today, but middle grade fiction still has some catching up to do in comparison with other genres such as young adult.
Even topics dealt with in The Whispers such as religious oppression, trauma, grief, and mental health, you just have to write it raw and honest and then let your editor guide you during revisions. I’m lucky to have an editor who isn’t afraid of tackling tough topics in middle grade fiction. The fact is, there are kids out there dealing with these issues right this very minute. So, if something isn’t too much for them to handle, it shouldn’t be too much for us to write about.
6. Has your work in the music business influenced your writing in any way?
I came to Nashville to be a songwriter right out of college, so if you told me all those years ago that today I would be writing children’s fiction, I would never have believed you. There’s a lullaby in The Whispers that’s pretty important to Riley’s journey. Originally, I used the lyrics to Billy Joel’s, Good Night, My Angel for the lullaby Riley’s mom sings to him. But after some early reads, my friends encouraged me to use my own words and write the lyrics myself, which ultimately, I’m so glad I did. It made it more honest and personal.
Also, I create playlists and compilations a lot in my music industry job, so I always like to make them for my books as and after I write them. Here is The Whispers Playlist with music I feel captures the heart and spirit of Riley’s story. Enjoy!
About the Author
Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.
Blog Tour Schedule
- January 14 – Novel Novice – Creative Instagram Picture + Spotlight
- January 15 – Pages Unbound – Author Q&A
- January 16 – Bookish Connoisseur – Creative Instagram Picture
- January 17 – Velarisreads – Review
- January 18 – The Desert Bibliophile – Playlist
- January 21 – Bookish Bug – Review + Creative Instagram Picture
- January 22 – A Bronx Latina Reads – Review
- January 23 – Buttons Book Reviews – Author Q&A
- January 24 – The Hermit Librarian – Review + Book Aesthetic
- January 25 – Andy Winder – Author Guest Post: The Whispers is a middle grade novel that features a queer protagonist. What influenced you to write LGBTQ middle grade and what are some of the positives or challenges of writing in this genre? Do you have any LGBTQ middle grade book recommendations?