Interview with Greg Howard The Whispers



First, congratulations on the release of your powerful new novel, The Whispers.  It’s exciting to see it so well-received by reviewers, and I wondered if there’s a line or two from a reviewer that really captures what you’d hoped a reader would experience in the book?

Brooks Benjamin, author of MY SEVENTH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS wrote the blurb on the back of the book and I think it captures the essence of The Whispers. He said, “This book is a reassuring hug for any kid who’s had to grow up a little too fast. It’s a reminder that magic is never more than a light breeze away. It’s a story full of hope.”  

I love that.  Thank you.  Can you share a bit about the evolution of this book of hope?  How it came to be?  The original seed for the story?

The inspiration for the story was my mother. I had written a sort of racy gay young adult rom-com for Simon & Schuster called Social Intercourse, and although it probably would have been smart to follow that up with another like it, I had this idea for The Whispers that I couldn’t get out of my head. My mother was the original inspiration for the book and what I went through as a kid after she died of cancer at the age of twenty-six. My main character Riley’s story is quite different from mine, but I did borrow heavily from my life and experiences. We didn’t have a guaranteed home for the book and I’d never attempted to write middle grade before, but my agent, Bri Johnson, believed in the idea and encouraged me to write it anyway. Bri has amazing editorial insights, so after I sent her my first (very rough) draft, she guided and advised me on how to make the story better, stronger, and deeper.

In terms of later stage writing process did the book continue to evolve after acquisition?  Any surprises there for you? 

Well after acquisition is when all the heavy lifting begins. My editor at Putnam/Penguin, Stacey Barney, is an amazing (and tough!) editor. Her insights and direction were really spot-on, so there wasn’t ever any push-back from me. She helped me round out characters, deepen the emotion, and fine tune the story. The surprise for me was that after Stacey’s notes, I ended up adding about ninety pages to the book. Now I can’t imagine the book without those additional words.
Your book takes on subjects that include grief, sexuality, trauma, religion, and more of course.  Could you share a bit about your commitment to these subjects for a middle-grade audience? 

It’s really pretty simple for me. Kids in the middle grades are dealing with issues of grief, sexuality, trauma, religion, etc., so why wouldn’t I write about them? I think it does a disservice to those kids if we as writers of middle grade fiction steer clear of tough topics that our readers struggle with on a daily basis.
I feel the same.  Can you talk about any challenges? 

I think the challenge you always have when writing middle grade fiction is creating something that is entirely authentic to the middle grade voice and experience, while also making it an engaging read for adults. I think it’s important for adults to read middle grade books (as well as young adult books) so they understand what their kids are going through and are able to discuss these issues freely, intelligently, and empathetically with them.

Thanks so much for writing this poignant and brave book, and I hope it makes its way to many readers.  We will be cheering it on as it moves through the world.