Greg Howard – Q&A

Greg Howard
Greg Howard
Greg Howard was born and raised in the South Carolina Lowcountry where his love of stories blossomed at a young age. Originally set on becoming a songwriter, Greg followed that dream to Nashville, Tennessee, where he spent years producing the music of others before eventually returning to his childhood passion for writing stories. Greg’s critically acclaimed, debut middle-grade novel, The Whispers was nominated for an Edgar Award and is currently being adapted for film. His second middle-grade novel, Middle School’s a Drag, You Better Werk! is being adapted for television by Harry Potter producer David Heyman, Heyday Television, and NBC/Universal.

Greg writes for and about LGBTQ youth, creating the kind of books he wishes he’d had access to as a young reader. Also, the author of the young adult novel Social Intercourse, Greg’s latest middle-grade offering, The Visitors, is in stores now. When he’s not writing books, Greg enjoys traveling, reading, hiking, and spending time with friends. He lives in Nashville with his two rescued fur-babies—Molly and Riley.

Greg can be found at:
Twitter: @greghowardbooks
Instagram: @greghowardbooks
Facebook: @greghowardbooks

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

My debut middle grade novel, The Whispers, was inspired by my mother. She and I were extremely close – I was a mama’s boy – but she died when I was very young. The Whispers was also inspired by my childhood and growing up with that grief. I escaped into my imagination quite a bit, and the main character, Riley, is somewhat trapped inside his mind since his mother went missing. I wanted to tell my story through Riley.

What came first the characters or the world?

The character of Riley is largely based on me when I was his age, so for this story, he definitely came to mind first. The world around him was pieced together by my own experiences.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

I already had an agent, so I can’t say that it was “hard” to get the book published. I was very lucky. The waiting was the hardest part. There was about a four month period of complete silence after we went out on submission. We finally started hearing back from editors and the book ended up going to auction with five publishers bidding for the rights. I spoke to the editors from those houses, but really connected with Stacey Barney at Putnam/Penguin. It helped that Penguin’s UK imprint Puffin was also very interested in publishing the book. Eighteen months later The Whispers was out in the world.

How long did it take to write?

The Whispers took about five months to hammer out a first draft. Then, my agent and I worked on it for about another month or so, fine tuning and revising. I’m lucky to have a very talented editorial agent. The book would not be what it is without her guidance.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

Sometimes I will create a playlist of music that “feels like” the story I’m writing. I did this for The Whispers and it included over 50 tracks and had a cinematic feel overall. Some of the artists on that playlist were Max Richter, Ólafur Arnalds, Chad Lawson, Celtic Woman, and David Arkenstone. I still listen to it from time to time and it puts me right back into the story.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

The thing I hear the most is about readers bawling their eyes out at the end. The Whispers is first and foremost a book about hope, but it seems to pull all kinds of emotions out of readers. I promise I wasn’t trying to make people cry! Others appreciate the representation of an eleven-year-old gay boy in the book.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

It wasn’t so much as reaction, but I received a video from a mother recently of her daughter reading a section of The Whispers and it made my heart smile. I had never heard a young person reading my story aloud. That was magical.

What can you tell us about your next book?

I’m writing a new middle grade novel in which a twelve-year-old boy finds a doorway to the past and attempts to alter history in order to save his family. The working title is The Travelers.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Sparingly. I usually don’t read the negative ones because, nine times out of ten, they are not literary critiques of merit – which I don’t mind at all – but rants about how LGBTQ characters and stories don’t belong in children’s books or in schools. I don’t have the time or patience for those. Plus, it’s very emotionally draining to read them, because it’s the kids who are the real victims there, not me.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

Absolutely. I would love to write an adult queer lit mystery and I have several ideas for such stories. I will get around to it one day. But, I owe Penguin this new middle grade novel first!

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I was in the music business in Nashville, TN for over thirty years. I retired a few months ago. It’s nice to focus on writing now.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Pat Conroy is my favorite writer. I’m from the same area of the American South that he was, so his stories speak directly to my soul and his writing is just so beautiful. I’m also inspired by the works of Toni Morrison. She makes me want to be a better writer.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I mostly read adult genres – literary fiction, queer lit, mysteries, and thrillers. Depends on my mood.

What is your biggest motivator?

The young readers out there who don’t have access to books in which they can see themselves. Representation matters. It can save lives.

What will always distract you?

Great television. I devote way too much time to “my stories,” as my grandmother used to call them.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I have some say, especially in the beginning of the process and in choosing an illustrator for the cover. The final say is out of my hands, though. I have book covers I love, and a couple I don’t.

Were you a big reader as a child?

I wouldn’t say that I was a “big” reader as a child. That came later – when I was in my early twenties and I would read anything and everything. I didn’t know to be intimidated by a 900 page book then!

What were your favourite childhood books?

I absolutely loved the Encyclopedia Brown books and the Box Car Children series. How To Eat Fried Worms was also a favorite!

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

I’m lucky that my favorite bookshop is located in Nashville, TN, where I live. Parnassus Books was founded around eleven years ago by Karen Hayes and #1 New York Times Best Selling author, Ann Patchett. It’s going stronger than ever. The staff is amazing. The customer service is amazing. The book selection is amazing. The events are amazing. And the shop dogs – you guessed it – amazing!

What books can you not resist buying?

Anything a bookseller recommends to me while I’m shopping.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

For some reason I have to be on the sofa, on my laptop, with my dogs piled around me. And usually first thing in the morning is the best time of day for me to write, before my head gets clouded with life stresses.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

I just counted nine on my end table. But that doesn’t include my audiobook wish list.

What is your current or latest read?

I recently finished Lark Ascending by Silas House. One of my favorites this year.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis. I’ve never read one of his books. It’s time.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

A film adaption of The Whispers is in the works. It’s being produced by Peter Spears who also produced Call Me By Your Name and Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Nomadland. The screenplay is currently being written. Also, my middle grade novel Middle School’s a Drag, You Better Werk! is being adapted for television by NBC/Universal and Harry Potter and Paddington producer, David Heyman.

Finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

As a gay kid growing up in the American South, I didn’t have access to books about boys like me. That made me feel incredibly alone, and like I was the only boy in the world who liked other boys. One book, one story in which I could have seen myself would have made all the difference to me. It would have let me know that I wasn’t alone. It would have given me hope. And I know from talking to kids today that there still exists problems of access and representation. So, my mission is to write the kind of books that I wish I would have had when I was young. I want to give those kids hope. And I want them to have their happily-ever-afters.

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