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>> A desperate search for a lost mother

A desperate search for a lost mother

A desperate search for a lost mother

THE WHISPERS is a powerful coming-of-age novel about a boy, Riley, trying to discover why his mother disappeared four months previously. We asked author GREG HOWARD to tell us more.

Without his mother, Riley feels adrift, especially as he comes to terms with his sexuality and identity within a deeply religious family. But he seems to be making little headway with the police, and feels that secrets are being hidden from him.

Can the fairy-like Whispers, from his mother's stories, help him discover the truth about her disappearance?

We asked author GREG HOWARD to tell us more about THE WHISPERS:

Q: What brought you into writing for young people?

A: I read a lot of young adult and middle grade fiction and saw a segment of kids, those growing up queer in the American deep South, underrepresented. It's a unique experience and since I lived it, I felt I could bring something to the table in that arena - especially in middle grade where queer main characters are scarce.

Q: You describe The Whispers as your most autobiographical novel, how difficult was it to write the novel and what was its starting point?

A: It was definitely the starting point. I left a lot of myself and my childhood experience on the page, from characters drawn from my life like my mother and father, to my grandma's cooking, to wetting the bed, to my own struggles with being queer and a whole lot more. It wasn't difficult writing those personal bits into the story, but now that's out there in the world, I do feel a little "exposed". But it's fine. If one kid can relate and see themselves in this book, then it was worth it.

Q: How different is the published version of The Whispers from your initial plans / draft(s)?

A: The first draft was about a hundred pages shorter. I have an amazing agent whose editorial insight help me craft a deeper story. She kept saying "go deeper, go deeper". And when the book sold, my editor had me add even more to the story - add to the emotion, add to the mystery - to make the book what it is now.

Q: Your novel follows Riley, whose mother disappeared four months previously, but we learn about their close and warm relationship through Riley's memories of her. Why did you want to focus on this relationship, between a boy and his mother?

A: Simply because it was my experience and therefore one that I was keenly connected to it. And some of those memories Riley has of his mother are pulled directly from my own memories of mine. I was a mama's boy and when I lost my mother at a young age, I felt completely lost without her and like I didn't belong anywhere. It was like I didn't fit in to the family unit anymore. Add being a self-aware gay kid on top of that and it made for some really lonely and confusing times.

Q: Riley is reluctant to remember the day of his mother's disappearance and you touch on childhood trauma and memory through this. How much research did you do into childhood traumatic grief for this book and what did you discover?

A: I did something I don't recommend which is, I wrote the book based on my own experience with childhood trauma and then did my research. I spoke to a few child psychologists and ran Riley's journey by them after the book was finished. Luckily, they let me know that Riley's experience is completely plausible and more common than you might think. They also gave me resources and clinical information to share with the readers about childhood traumatic grief.

Q: We learn that Riley is gay, but he lives in a conservative society where it is difficult for children to identify their sexuality. Why did you want to explore this through Riley's story?

A: I wanted to show how lonely, isolated, and desperate kids like Riley can feel. Religion also played a big role in me hiding who I was when I was his age, and it instilled great shame and guilt in me. I'm certainly not suggesting that all religion is bad, but just exploring the damage it did to me, and to Riley.

Q: We learn about the 'Whispers' - which Riley describes as fairy-like beings - through the stories Riley's mother tells him. How did they develop as part of the world you created around Riley?

A: I wanted to write about my experience growing up gay in the South, and my relationship with my mother, but I also wanted to bring a fantastical element into the story. I had an experience right before starting the story with these fairy-like creatures deep in the woods at a dinner party one night way out in the country. I don't want to say too much, the book delves deeper into what I experienced, but after that night and what I saw in the woods, I knew I had it.

Q: What would you like your readers to take away from The Whispers?

A: The message of hope and believing in the impossible. That's what drives Riley and fuels his journey. His mantra to himself is Why Not Hope?

Q: Where do you write and what is your favourite time to write?

A: I have a day job Monday through Friday, so I get up at 4AM during the week to write, and then most all day on Saturday and Sunday. I've been doing that for about five years now. Most of the time I write on the lumpy sectional in my den with my three dogs lying all over me. It's not the most comfortable place to sit for hours, but that's where I've done my best writing, so I'm not about to change it up now.

Q: What are your top tips for young writers who want to draw on their own lives in their writing?

A: Most importantly, just the understanding that every kid out there has a story to tell and their story is important. That's the first hurdle - believing in your own story. And also, it doesn't matter when they write their story. They can write it now, or when they're 50, like I did.

Q: What is your favourite escape from writing?

A: Television. There are so many wonderful stories being told on television these days and I love to watch a show with great writing and a great story. It really gets my creative juices flowing.

Q: What are your 'writer resolutions' for 2019?

A: I just turned in my second middle-grade book featuring a gay main character and I have another idea in mind that I would like to flesh out and write this year. And I'd also like to write another young adult novel for readers who loved my first, Social Intercourse.

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