Writing Your Own Story (Sort Of) by Greg Howard

POSTED ON JANUARY 8, 2019 on School Library Journal’s Teen Librarian Toolbox

Let me start by clearly stating that THE WHISPERS is first and foremost, a work of fiction. I’m reluctant to even call it semi-autobiographical. With that said, there’s no doubt that I left a lot of me on the page. Sort of.

When I first had the idea for this story, I thought a lot about my childhood—colorful family members, small towns in South Carolina where I grew up, the woods I explored with my buddies, those early school friends and bullies who leave a lifelong, indelible mark one’s psyche and memory. But I kept circling back a central missing puzzle piece of my youth—my mother.

 My mother was a conspicuous and fundamental figure in my childhood even though she was absent for most of it. Why she wasn’t around isn’t as important as the fact that she wasthere in a monumental way in the beginning—when your attachments and developmental influences take root and form who you are as a person. She was a local beauty queen beloved by everyone, a steadfast pillar of the church community, a faithful wife and nurturing mother revered by other wives and mothers for her beauty inside and out. She was practically an angelic presence temporarily on loan from God to the good citizens of Georgetown, South Carolina. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

As I grew older and wiser (sort of), the more I realized that my memories of my mother were a mix of the authentic and the imagined—some created from faded Polaroids, others from family lore, but only a scattering from actual events and real-life moments. That’s why I consider the mother in THE WHISPERS to be a tribute to my mother, but also a fully fictionalized character.

To my main character, Riley, his mother is virtually his entire world and when she goes missing, he’s not only completely lost without her, but obsessive about finding her and bringing her home. The world as Riley knows it simply doesn’t work without her. His dad grows isolated and distant, his brother retreats from the family, his grandparents are despondent, and as a mama’s boy who finds himself suddenly without a mama, Riley feels as alone and acutely isolated as I did at his age.

 Growing up a self-aware queer kid the rural deep South only added to my seclusion. It was time when you didn’t talk about such things, neither at home or at school, and certainly not at church. Preachers told me I was going to hell without even realizing (I hope) the oppressive guilt and shame they were imposing on an already sensitive, fragile kid. Authority figures seemed to know without question or a second thought that I was not normal. I never found myself in television, movies, or books, but only ever saw a romantic construct of love represented between a man and a woman. Even at that young age, I felt erased from society and reality. Compound that with the absence of my mother and you have one deeply confused, broken and lonely little boy.

 That was my story, but through writing THE WHISPERS, it became Riley’s.

 Sprinkling the seasoning of my life into THE WHISPERS was deeply satisfying, incredibly cathartic, and at times particularly painful. From Grandma’s fruit salad recipe, to the Pentecostal corn choir, to missing family photo albums and boyhood crushes, to camping trips in the woods, childhood trauma, a country market, nightmares so vivid I remember them to this day, and even to the greatest dog in the history of dogs, Tucker—I lent it all to Riley. And it was interesting to see with those same story ingredients borrowed from my life, how drastically his path diverged from my own.

I used to think of THE WHISPERS as my own story. But the longer I’m away from it, the more I consider it Riley’s story. Those are now his adventures, hopes, pains, dreams, struggles and triumphs. But I’m delighted that my real-life memories served Riley well and found a safe and evergreen place to land. Riley’s was a more fantastical journey than mine, but imagination was important to us both. Imagination was the vehicle of our escape to an alternate world. One full of hope. And in that small yet significant way, Riley and I share this story.

 When writing fiction, I don’t believe you can truly write your own story. At some point the characters hijack it and make it their own, and that’s okay. So, now I can say with definitive clarity that THE WHISPERS is my own story. Sort of.

Harvested From My Life — Greg Howard on His New Novel, “The Whispers”

POSTED ON JANUARY 11, 2019 on Parnassus Musing

Today’s post, contributed by Parnassus bookseller Katherine Klockenkemper, is an interview with Greg Howard, author of The Whispers.

Eleven-year-old Riley used to think the Whispers — magical wood creatures that grant your wishes if you leave them tributes — were a made-up part of the bedtime story his mother used to tell him. But then Riley’s mother went missing, and somehow Riley has become suspect number one in the police investigation. Bullied at school for his “condition” — having crushes on boys instead of girls — Riley is concerned that his difference may be the reason why his mother disappeared. Now he believes the Whispers may offer his only chance of finding her, so he sets out on a camping trip with his best friend, Gary, and his eighth-grade crush, Dylan, to find out the truth once and for all.

That’s what’s going on in The Whispers, Greg Howard’s new novel for young readers. Can you see how I was hooked?

Nashville-based Howard set his new book in the lush country of South Carolina, the perfect backdrop for this exploration of love, loss, and self-discovery. Much needed by today’s young readers, The Whispers handles issues of identity in a way I hadn’t seen before and found refreshing. A touch of magic and plenty of witty narration round out this winning novel, creating an unforgettable and wholly unique reading experience. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, I can’t wait for you, your kids, and/or your students to experience it. It was my pleasure to interview Howard about his new book. Here’s our Q&A. – Katherine Klockenkemper

Katherine Klockenkemper: Congratulations on your debut middle grade novel! You’ve said that this book is heavily based on your childhood. Tell us about the process of sharing such a personal story — how much or little of yourself did you put on the page?

Greg Howard: Thank you, Katherine, and great question. Actually, I left quite a bit of myself on the page in The Whispers. I’m sure my family will think so anyway when they read it. I wanted to write about my experiences growing up as a gay kid in the rural deep South and also my relationship with my mother, but in a fictionalized way. So, I lent my main character Riley many of my own memories, experiences, family members, fears, joys, habits, quirks, etc. And I found releasing all those things to Riley came pretty easily. It was profoundly freeing, actually. One example of this is Riley’s dog, Tucker, who is based on my real-life dog, also named Tucker, and he was exactly as described in the book. But I had Tucker as an adult, not as a child. Riley’s grandparents are pretty much my grandparents; I wet the bed like a champ until the fifth grade or so; the trauma Riley experiences was based on my childhood trauma; and many stories from Riley’s life history and family lore — including the burial of can’t and if, the missing family photo albums, and my mother being a local beauty queen — were harvested from my life.

KK: The details and sense of place were so strong that at times I felt like I was watching a film. Is that the secret to pulling off magical realism in a way that resonates with young readers?

GH: I’ve been told I write cinematically, and I guess that’s because I’ve always been such a huge film buff. I want to see what I’m writing in my mind as I’m writing it. And also, probably because Pat Conroy is my favorite author. His writing is so cinematic and beautifully crafted, especially his descriptions of Southern settings. Conroy’s influence is ever-present in my writing process and I hope it always will be. Plus, having set the story in an area where I spent many years of my youth, when I was describing the setting, I was basically describing it from memory. And during those pre-teen years I think a sense of place gets deeply rooted in our psyche.

As far as incorporating magical realism, I think that comes from that strong sense of place coupled with a decidedly vivid imagination. And at that age, I sure had that in spades, as many kids do. I think it’s easier for kids to accept the possibility of magic, wonder, and fantasy in their material world. They’re more open to it.

KK: How did it feel to write in the voice of an 11-year-old after writing the teenagers in your last book, the young adult novel Social Intercourse? Which age did you find more challenging to write?

GH: It was a completely different experience, for sure. In Social Intercourse, the teen characters are highly self-aware, self-absorbed, and flawed. And though Riley has his own flaws in The Whispers (and I don’t mean the flaws he thinks he has, which he calls his “conditions”), he’s filled with an innocence and a beautiful sense of wonder, kindness, and hope, to which I really enjoyed surrendering myself. And without a doubt, I found the teens in Social Intercourse more challenging to write. But both were extremely satisfying voices to get lost in.

KK: I keep thinking about a character named Sister Grimes — she’s the mother of a bully at Riley’s school. Riley overhears her gossiping about him, suggesting that Riley’s homosexuality would “kill” his mother if discovered. Is this character based on a real person/people or experience from your childhood? (And what is it about hearing things we aren’t meant to hear that motivates us to extremes?)

GH: Ah, yes. Good old Sister Grimes. Well, she wasn’t based on a real person. However, the situation did happen in my childhood when I overheard a lady of the church say exactly that—that it would kill my mama if she knew I was “funny.” I didn’t know what “funny” really meant, but I’d heard it enough to have a pretty good idea. Of course, I wasn’t meant to hear the comment, but I did. And it haunted me for a long time, producing crushing guilt and shame.

When a child hears something like that, especially coming from an adult, it carries a tremendous amount of weight and can do a lot of damage. Adults are always right. That’s what I was always taught, anyway. So, I literally thought that my mama was in mortal danger just because I was who I was — something I knew I couldn’t change.

KK: When this book first came to my attention, I heard it compared to Bridge to Terabithia. Obviously, your book will be sitting on shelves alongside the classics of children’s literature. What do you hope it adds to those shelves? That is, what does your book offer readers that complements what’s already out there?

GH: Well that’s an incredibly humbling thought. But if it proves true, I think what The Whispers will add to those shelves is representation of a segment of children who don’t see themselves in middle grade books very often and who are sometimes erased all together. Some people have told me that I’m courageous for writing middle grade stories with queer main characters, but it doesn’t feel courageous at all. It just feels right. I have a responsibility to those marginalized and sometimes forgotten kids, to let them know that they’re not alone. That there’s nothing wrong with them. That they are seen, and most of all, that they matter. Because I was in their shoes for many years and I know what a dark and lonely space that can be in which to exist.

KK: I’m curious about what kind of reader you were as a kid. What were your favorite books growing up, and how did they shape you?

GH: Unfortunately, I wasn’t taught good reading habits at home, so the reading I did was in school, and the habits I learned from teachers. I was exceedingly fortunate to have wonderful English and Language Arts teachers all throughout school. As I kid loved the Encyclopedia Brown series, The Boxcar ChildrenCharlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and How to Eat Fried Worms. As you can see my tastes were very refined and varied.

KK: Last, our favorite question: What’s your favorite thing about bookstores?

GH: I love all the possibilities that exist inside a bookstore — the many different stories, worlds, and characters waiting to be explored and discovered. And that everyone there is on the same mission — to find that one, or two, or 10 books that we decide to invest a little bit of ourselves in when the choices are as endless as the possibilities.


Navigating PC Pride in Queer YA

(Originally posted on powellsbooks.com blog)

As a gay teen growing up in South Carolina, I’d never heard of gay pride. As far as I knew, I was the only queer kid in the entire state, and I planned to stay safely tucked in the closet where I could pray all that gay away. 

Newsflash: That doesn’t work, so stop it!

Back in those days, finding queer representation in books in the school library was challenging, to say the least. I was so excited to get a glimpse of myself in books like A Separate PeaceBrideshead Revisited, and Of Mice and Men. (George Milton sure notices a lot of details about other men’s physiques, right?) So, naturally, I’m thrilled that LGBTQ teens today have a lot to choose from in young adult literature.

But what I find interesting is that many LGBTQ characters in YA, when not relegated to the background of the story or met with some tragic end, are of the straight-acting, chaste, cute, sweet variety. In queer YA lit, kissing, cuddling, and maybe oral sex is okay, but anything else gets you into questionable territory — especially when the author is a gay man... but that’s a whole other tricky subject for another time. 

Newsflash #2: Queer teens are exploring their sexuality and are just as wonderfully messy as non-queer teens. 

So why shy away from portraying them that way? Are we trying to present the most socially acceptable version of a queer teen to the world in the name of political correctness? Where are all the fabulously effeminate, outlandishly queeny gay boys in YA lit? Oh, that’s a stereotype, some say. 

Newsflash #3: Maybe, but those kids exist too, and they have just as much right to be represented. 

When I first started querying Social Intercourse to agents and editors, most of them said they loved the voice and the writing, but they felt it was too much for YA. Too raunchy, too racy, and too edgy. These responses puzzled me because Social Intercourse is far less racy than many YA romances on the market. Like, a lot less. So, is there a double standard for LGBTQ YA?

Was it maybe because the main character, Beck, is a gay boy cruising a city park looking to lose his virginity in the first chapter? Is that too real? Too honest? Not the kind of queer teen we want representing the LGBTQ youth population of queer YA lit? 

Newsflash #2: Queer teens are...just as wonderfully messy as non-queer teens.

Well, I can tell you that as a gay kid growing up in the deep South — and yes, even today — living out, proud, and loud is still a challenging proposition. With Beck, I wanted to show a somewhat underrepresented gay teen character, one who is unapologetically queer, who knows who he is and isn't afraid of letting his freak flag fly. Beck is a self-proclaimed "femmy choir boy" who wears guyliner and is obsessed with The Golden Girls

Newsflash #4: Beck is a total Dorothy on the outside and a closet Blanche on the inside. 

The point is, that kid exists too, so doesn’t he deserve to be represented? The edginess, raciness, and balls to the walls attitude of Social Intercourse might be what made some of those agents and editors uncomfortable. And it might make a lot of readers uncomfortable, too. But hats off to my agent and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, who never asked me to tone it down or take out any of the naughty bits. I told my agent when I first signed with her that it was important to me not to water the book down to make it more palatable to the masses. I wanted to stay true to the characters, and frankly, true to myself and my experience as a gay teen coming of age in the armpit of the American South. And what I found through talking to queer teens is that it’s still hard for them — better than it was for me, maybe, but still hard. Especially if they don’t blend in.

Look, I’m a sucker for a sweet romance, even one about a straight-acting gay boy coming to terms with his sexuality and ending the story with a chaste kiss with another straight-acting gay boy. (I hate the term straight-acting, but you get my point). And yes, that story probably does have more mass appeal than mine. But my hope is that the amazing success of beautiful books like Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (and the wonderful movie adaptation, Love, Simon) have helped blow the doors down so that characters like Beck can sashay their way right into mainstream hearts as well. I’d venture to bet that readers who give Beck a chance will end up loving him just as much as they love Simon — even if Beck’s flame burns the house down in the process. #SluttySimon!

(Disclaimer: I have Becky Albertalli’s wholehearted blessing to use that hashtag when describing my book!)

In Social Intercourse, Beck isn’t ashamed of who he is, so why should we be? Just like his real-life counterparts, Beck is out, proud, and living loud. I wish I had understood that kind of pride when I was a teen hiding deep in that closet, watching the world pass me by. I would have told myself: Hey you! Get out there! Throw on some guyliner and let your freak flag fly! And let Blanche out for some air. It’s going to be just fine.



“This year adds some particularly wonderful and nuanced books to gay YA, and I’m so excited to have authors of two of them on the site today!”

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SOCIAL INTERCOURSE - The Official Playlist

Some of you know that I live in Nashville and have been in the music business for more years than I care to count. Part of my job is compiling music and creating playlists of our catalog. So, it was a natural step for me to create an official Spotify playlist for SOCIAL INTERCOURSE. Think of it as the movie soundtrack of the book. I compiled music I felt would fit the vibe of the book, and also included types of music that Beck and Jax talk about in their narratives. The playlist sort of follows the natural flow of the story and features such artists as Troye Sivan, Disclosure, The Weeknd, ZAYN, Charli XCX, Adam Lambert, Charlie Pluth, Ellie Goulding and many more. I hope this official playlist provides the perfect musical backdrop for reading SOCIAL INTERCOURSE, or just give it a listen after you finish the book to stay in Beck's and Jax's world a little bit longer. And be sure to "follow" the playlist so you will be notified when new songs are added!

Check it out on Spotify!


YAAAAASSSS!  Especially for a book from a small publisher like BLOOD DIVINE. The more honest reviews a book receives on Amazon and Goodreads only increases its chances of being discovered. So please do me a favor and take a minute to add your review of BLOOD DIVINE to Amazon and/or Goodreads. It doesn't have to be long! Thank you so much in advance!


Meet Rafe, a fierce Divinum warrior and special agent in the Jericho army who delights in killing Anakim Changelings. Roguishly handsome and built like a brick wall, Rafe is an impossible lothario, happily bedding both women or men, and dedicated to the Jericho cause of ridding the world of the Anakim plague. With a sly grin, a sharp tongue, and an even sharper blade, Rafe's cocky swagger gets him into as much trouble as the endless war with the Anakim.(Order on AMAZON: http://bit.ly/BloodDivine or ask for it at your local bookstore!)

(Dream Casting: Jason Momoa)



Author Interview with Greg Howard

With Halloween just around the corner, who doesn’t want spook themselves out a little with a creepy ghost story? Greg Howard has the perfect one for readers who like action-packed paranormal stories, and who don’t mind a little blood and gore.

Check out the book trailer here!

Welcome, Greg Howard!


Blood Divine takes place in Georgetown, SC. How much research did you need to do to put the reader properly in the setting?

Honestly, not a whole lot, only because Georgetown is my hometown. It’s where I was born and where most of my family still lives. So I had a deep connection to the setting ingrained in me, and the real-life places I used like The Rice Museum, The Strand Theater, The Ice House, etc. I did do some research on Mansfield Plantation which was the inspiration for Warfield Plantation in the book. We lived just a short bike ride down the road from Mansfield when I was young. Back then it was deserted and widely believed to be haunted. For some reason, whenever we wanted to “run away from home” that’s where we went. Not very smart. The prologue of the book is an account of something that really happened to us at Mansfield when we were kids. Well…up to a certain point.

Cooper and Randy are too cute together! What was your inspiration for their characters?

My first real-life boy crush (meaning not a fictional TV character or an action figure) was my older brother’s best friend. When I was around eight years old, I thought he was about the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Then when I ran into him years later, as an adult, he’d grown into this gorgeous law enforcement professional and traditional family man. I thought it was so interesting that I still felt like a swoony eight year-old around him. I mean, I couldn’t hardly look him in the eye! It was pathetic. He didn’t have a clue he had that effect on me, thank God.

This story seems to thread together good and evil in a unique way. There are some biblical references to your Anakim creatures. Are you a Bible buff, or did you fictionalize those parts?

While I wouldn’t call myself a Bible buff, I do find Biblical mythology fascinating. When I first conceived, BLOOD DIVINE, I was simply trying to put a fresh spin on vampires and witches. That got me to thinking about Lucifer and the fallen angels of Heaven and pondering—what if they were the origin of vampires on Earth. That’s when the Biblical research started—first with the Nephilim, the children of the fallen angels who mated with humans, and then the Anakim, the children of the Nephilim. And, of course, the Biblical passages I used about them in the book are real. The Anakim were described as giants who ruthlessly slaughtered innocent people, so I made them the first vampires. The Divinum (witches), I fictionalized their origin and history. Since I grew up in the church, it was a fun way to tell the story.

Eunice and Eudora were my favorite characters, and there were plenty of quirky characters to choose from! Who would play these two in the motion picture of Blood Divine?

Eunice and Eudora are fan favorites, for sure! Ever since I saw Mireille Enos play twins in the TV show, BIG LOVE, that’s who I’ve always seen in my head when writing Eunice and Eudora.

Georgetown, where this story is based, is known as the Ghost Capital of the South. Any truth to that?

There was a sign when you entered Georgetown that proclaimed it proudly! So, truth that they claim it, yes! Truth that there are ghosts and spirits there, well there are just too many stories and legends not to at least wonder. Several books have been written about the ghosts of Georgetown. Like I said, we had our own haunted experiences at Mansfield Plantation when I was a kid, and now that it’s been restored into a beautiful bed & breakfast, I’m told by the staff of Mansfield that things still go bump in the night there. Without a doubt the most famous Georgetown ghost is the Gray Man.

What are you reading now?
I just started GLORY OVER EVERYTHING by Kathleen Grissom. I loved, loved loved her last book, THE KITCHEN HOUSE, and can’t wait to get swallowed up in that world again. And the writing is just too beautiful.

If you like __________, then you may love Blood Divine.
The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris.

Name three things about yourself that your readers would never be able to guess. 
I sing in a 140-voice community choir.

I’m a TV junkie.

My age. (wink, wink)

What can we look forward to reading from you next?

I just finished edits on my first YA book that will be published by Simon & Schuster in Spring, 2018. It’s a male/male rom-com (heavy on the comedy), and couldn’t be more different from BLOOD DIVINE. Now that it’s finished, I think I am going to jump back into the sequel for BLOOD DIVINE.

Blood Divine is available now on Amazon!

Follow Greg on TwitterFacebook, or Goodreads.



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Blood Divine by Greg  Howard

Blood Divine

by Greg Howard

Giveaway ends October 10, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway



In Nashville! Join me Wednesday, October 26th if you're in the Nashville area. I will be signing my debut novel, BLOOD DIVINE, at Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt at 7pm. (2501 West End Ave, Nashville, TN 37203).


If you know me personally, you know I'm a TV junkie, so I thought I'd share my favs every now and then and make some recommendations. 

The new show I'm really into right now is THIS IS US. It reminds me a little of Parenthood, Brothers and Sisters, and Thirtysomething, but it feels fresh and has an interesting twist that I did NOT see coming. And usually I can spot a twist from a mile away. Check it out!



Right now I'm reading Proxy by Alex London. It's an interesting YA story, and an idea that I haven't seen before, which is always fun. This from Kirkus Reviews - "Whipping Boy + Blade Runner with a sprinkling of The Hunger Games (plus, of course, a dash of A Tale of Two Cities) = a treat for teen SF fans." (Science fiction. 12 & up)



"An exciting, romantic tale anchored in a great sense of place." Kirkus Reviews

My debut novel, BLOOD DIVINE, is now available in paperback! Get yours today and leave and honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Thanks!

Winding down the winding down...

Today ends my annual 2-week retreat at the beach - Pawleys Island, SC. I come the first week by myself to write and then 8-10 friends come the second week. This year I got through all of the edits from my publisher, Simon & Schuster, on my new young adult book. So while I wasn't working on "new words" so to speak, the week was extremely productive. The second week is always about chilling. That usually consists of standing in the pool most of the day reading. Morning sunrise watching is also a favorite activity on these trips. There's nothing like watching the sun creep up over the horizon of the Atlantic ocean. 

This year I also got married at the beach. It wasn't going to be a big deal, just the friends who were here with us, my sister, and a couple other friends from Nashville. But, of course, our friends made it SO special. They just couldn't help themselves. :)  It was actually the first time I had all three of my best friends in the same place at the same time, a combined 70 years of friendship.

Five years ago when we were here, if you would have told me I would be standing on a beach in South Carolina at sunset getting legally married one day, I might have laughed. It wasn't possible then and it didn't seem like something I would ever get to experience in my lifetime. But - it's done. The same week my debut book came out, I got married after 15 years with my constant and loyal partner in life who I can now call - husband. Can't wait to see what's next.

The reviews are coming in and....

Check out these initial reviews for BLOOD DIVINE! Available now on Amazon. (Print version available soon)

5 stars: "...dark, twisted, and a bit on the scary side...held me captured the complete way through." - Natosha, Gay Book Reviews  (see full review)

5 stars: "Underworld meets Gone With The Wind...kept me completely engrossed from start to finish. A real pro of a job."- Freya, Sinfully MM Book Reviews  (see full review)

5 stars: "I loved this book. I loved the characters, the locale, the backstory, the world building, the pretty much everything about it!" - Dan, Love Bytes Reviews  (see full review)

5 stars: "This book has it all and is written in such a gripping manner that I just could not put it down." - Susan, The Blogger Girls  (see full review)


My debut novel, BLOOD DIVINE, is now available for 

pre-order on Amazon!  


Cooper Causey spent a lifetime eluding the demons of his youth and suppressing the destructive power inside him. But a disconcerting voicemail lures Cooper back home to the coast of South Carolina and to Warfield—the deserted plantation where his darkness first awakened.

While searching for his missing grandmother, Cooper uncovers the truth about his peculiar ancestry and becomes a pawn in an ancient war between two supernatural races. In order to protect the only man he’s ever loved, Cooper must embrace the dark power threatening to consume him and choose sides in a deadly war between the righteous and the fallen.

(Perfect for fans of Stephen King, Christopher Rice, and Charlaine Harris.)

Also available at Kobo and for immediate download at Wilde City Press.




Cooper Causey spent a lifetime eluding the demons of his youth and suppressing the destructive power inside him. But a disconcerting voicemail lures Cooper back home to the coast of South Carolina and to Warfield—the deserted plantation where his darkness first awakened. While searching for his missing grandmother, Cooper uncovers the truth about his ancestry and becomes a pawn in an ancient war between two supernatural races. In order to protect the only man he’s ever loved, Cooper must embrace the dark power threatening to consume him and choose sides in a deadly war between the righteous and the fallen.