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The Importance of Inclusive Literature with Middle Grade Novelist, Greg Howard
Episode 5425th January 2022 • Just Breathe: Parenting Your LGBTQ Teen • Heather Hester
00:00:00 00:57:56

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Heather is joined by Greg Howard, an author that writes novels aimed at middle-grade students.  What is fantastic about Greg’s books is that he taps into stories about marginalized youth, specifically LGBTQ+.  Listen as they talk about Greg’s books, his motivation, the effects his books have had on readers, and the importance of having representation for the often forgotten middle-grade readers. 

Do not miss these highlights:

02:07 - A look into his latest book, The Visitors, which is about a middle-grade ghost story about the spirit of a boy who is stuck on a deserted rice plantation. 

05:31 - How Greg taps into where the kids are and evolves it through his new books

10:21 -  The 2 big reasons why Greg wrote his book, The Whispers

14:56 - Reading their kid’s book helps parents gain so much insight and will be able to see things through their kids' eyes

19:37 - When you read stories about marginalized people, it should change your perspective and develop more empathy for them. 

20:52 - Why the topic of suicide is not inappropriate for middle-grade readers, especially given the youth suicide statistics 

31:47 - Greg shares some of his experiences of being a queer kid

39:53 - There is a need to recognize that are dealing with different issues and that their stories are valid, have value, and they need to be represented and seen.

43:15 - What is the fear inherent ins parents that their queer child will read about another queer child committing suicide. 

50:17 - There is usually more than one reason that kids commit suicide.  It is rare that there is a single cause. 

52:59 - The most important thing for marginalized youth is to know and feel like they're being seen and heard

Howard’s Books

The Visitors - https://amzn.to/3tTzxtz

The Whispers - https://amzn.to/3nSqiG4

Middle School’s A Drag - https://amzn.to/3nTRS5Z


About our Guest:

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 of writing stories. Greg writes about LGBTQ characters and issues as his focus is writing the kind of books he wishes he’d had access to as a gay kid growing up in the South. He currently resides in Nashville with his three rescued fur babies--Molly, Toby, and Riley. Greg’s latest middle-grade offering, The Visitors, will be published by Putnam/Penguin on February 1, 2022.

www.greghowardbooks.com

www.fb.com/greghowardbooks

www.instagram.com/greghowardbooks

https://twitter.com/greghowardbooks

https://www.goodreads.com/greghowardauthor



Transcripts

JB Intro/Outro:

Welcome to Just breathe parenting your LGBTQ tea, the podcast transforming the conversation around loving and raising an LGBTQ child filled with awesome guests practical strategies and moving stories host Heather Hester always makes you feel like you're having a cozy chat. Wherever you are on this journey. Right now, in this moment in time, you are not alone. And here is Heather for this week's amazing episode.

Heather Hester:

Welcome to Just breathe, I am so happy you are here today. I am really excited to share today's guest with you. Greg Howard is an acclaimed author. And he is here to talk about his latest book called The visitors. And he writes for middle grade readers, which is something we don't see enough of. And so I am really excited for you to hear about this new book about his background and reasons for writing this book and writing to these readers. So without further ado, here is greg howard. Greg, I'm so excited to have you on my show today. And to have all of my listeners hear your story and hear about your writings and all of the really amazing things that you are doing for our kids. And for a the just a group of our kids that don't awfully often get literature written for them. A lot of us have, you know, we have kids in high school kids who are in college, then there's there is great. LGBTQ literature for them is wonderful. But you are writing for middle grades, which is awesome. So I want to start right out with your new book that's coming out. It is called the visitors. And it is your third book. Correct?

Greg Howard:

It's actually my fourth book.

Heather Hester:

Okay, well say, Well,

Greg Howard:

you're right as my fourth middle, I'm Excuse me My third middle grade book. Well, I do have one way.

Heather Hester:

Oh, that's right. You did say that. Okay. So just tell us about tell us about the visitors. And then I'd like to also hear about just your whole process because these other two books sound really awesome as well. So I know everybody out there wants to hear about all three.

Greg Howard:

Sure. Well, thanks for having me, Heather. It's great to be here. And I really appreciate what you're doing as well. The visitors comes out February 1, just around the corner. It is a middle grade ghost story. And I hadn't kind of hadn't written a ghost story before. My books tend to go in different directions, book after book. But it's a middle grade ghost story about the spirit of a boy who is quote, unquote, stuck on this deserted rice plantation. He he knows that he is dead, but he doesn't know how to leave this place to be free of this place. And he has become, you know, friends with some of the other ghosts from this plantation. He doesn't really know how to move on. We don't really know his story. He just knows that something bad happened when he last came to this plantation when he was alive. And then we have these modern day kids that show up and they're doing a podcast for their school. And they're doing a podcast about this mystery surrounding a missing boy many, many years ago that you're trying to uncover what the mystery was kind of like a true crime podcast actually is exactly what it is, but for middle school, so they end up befriending the spirit and kind of help him figure out what happened in his past that has caused him to be stuck here, and how he can possibly move on. And it's, I'll be honest with you is the hardest book I've ever written. It deals with what some will deem topics that are not, quote unquote, appropriate for middle grade. Because, you know, we are marketing milligray books to gatekeepers, you know, to parents, to librarians and teachers, not directly to the kids. So sometimes they feel like oh, that's not appropriate for middle grade. That's not appropriate for middle grade. So luckily, I have a publisher, Putnam penguin who's very supportive. And even though we're delving into always write stories about queer kids, that's just because I was a Christian. And I didn't have books that I could see myself represented in and I know that you know from my own experience of representation is so important. Because if I would have seen myself in books, when I was that age, it would have made all the difference in the world to me, so I don't pull any punches. I always say I have to write, I have to meet the kids where they are, you know, not where I romanticize them to be, or we all want them to be, but I have to meet them where they are. And if kids are living it, I'm going to write about it.

Heather Hester:

Wow, I that's so interesting to me. How do you really tap into where kids are? Because we're about the same age? And I mean, that really takes a lot of like, I'm sure research. I mean, can you talk about that process?

Greg Howard:

Sure. Well, you know, when I started writing middle grade, the first middle grade book I wrote was called the whispers. And although it is fiction, it's kind of a tribute to my mother, my mother died when I was just five years old, she was only 26 years old, she died of cancer. And this was at a time, you know, when there wasn't a lot of great options for people with cancer. And it was just usually a diagnosis. And then several months later, they die. But I wrote that story as a tribute to my mother. And so it naturally included a lot of characters from my life. Of course, I fictionalize them, family members, things that I actually experienced, I put in, I put a lot of myself into that book. And when I was writing that book, I was just writing it for me for that kid, I was for that last lonely, gay kid out in the country, who, you know, just felt kind of hopeless about their lives because of what they were being told in church and what he was been told at home. So I just wrote it. From my perspective, I wasn't honestly really thinking about our kids today, going through the same things I was back way back then, you know. But what I found when that book came out, and I went out in the world, to conferences, and festivals and school visits, when we used to be able to do that kind of thing. I had kids come up to me, that told me their stories. And for some of them, I was the first person they ever told that they were gay or lesbian or trans queer in any way. I was the first person they ever told that to, and they told me that they also went through are going through actually those very same things that I did, and it was just kind of shocking to me thinking, Oh, okay, well, this, obviously, things have gotten better since I was a kid. But for some kids out there, it hasn't changed a whole lot, especially kids in small communities, especially kids in the South. Kids are still being marginalized, they're being othered. And they're being bullied. And there's not all there's not always acceptance in the home for them. So it's very surprising to me that kids today going through the same thing. So as I just you know, continue on this middle grade journey. And I wrote my next book, middle schools a drag, which is kind of a fun, upbeat book about a, it's about a 12 year old boy who just he considers himself kind of an entrepreneur. So he starts his own Junior talent agency, and signs up all the talented kids in school to his talent agency. And his first client is a 13 year old, aspiring drag queen. And so it's a lot of fun. But for that book, I kind of took the next step in, I had talked to a lot of kids that were this age, from, you know, being on tour with with whispers and getting letters and emails from them. And I kind of had a better sense of, okay, things haven't changed a ton. But they have changed some and I want to kind of lean into the positive changes that have occurred for kids today. For instance, in that book, middle schools a drag, the parents are very accepting, they're very supportive of their gay son, sometimes much to his chagrin, he they're always trying to say, you know, set him up and see who he thinks is cute and all that kind of thing. He even makes a comment they will claim on gay bachelor Junior edition if there was such. So and the high school course there's sorry, the middle school, there's still the bullies, you know, but it's a more accepting environment. So I kind of went in that direction for middle schools that drag and the struggle being with the kid having all these supportive people around him, his best friends, his family, but yet he wasn't comfortable yet, with the world, knowing what in the world at that point is what is your school? Right, right, you know, so that's kind of been the journey of kind of tapping in starting with what my experiences were, how things have changed how they haven't and then kind of evolving through my new books.

Heather Hester:

That is so cool. And and visitors, it seems to me it sounds to me like you really kind of went back to your roots to your childhood and tapped into a lot more of not only what you went through personally, but also your surroundings.

Greg Howard:

Right? You're exactly right. I did kind of go back to that. The personal elements in the whispers were what really connected with people. And so I wanted to, you know, put more of that in the visitors. But it started at this deserted rice plantation, which is the setting of the book in Georgetown, South Carolina. And I grew up just down the road from a deserted rice plantation in Georgetown, South Carolina. So I knew that setting and that the feel of the area very well. And this plantation was supposedly haunted, I believe it is haunted. But me and my brother and my two friends would ride our bikes down there in this creepy long dirt road, just like I described in the book to get to the manor house. And but the first thing you come upon is the old what they call the slave village. It's where the enslaved people lived. And there's still a few cabins there, they're kind of rundown. But when I was a kid, I thought this place was beautiful and magical, you know, I just had all this romanticized view of this plantation and what it was like, because when I was a kid, we were taught this very, actually whitewashed, you know, history of that area, and of the antebellum south, and of these plantations, you know, we were told things like, Oh, well, you know, the, the planter treated the enslaved people like family, it's like, okay, you know, things like that, and they were treated so well. And this planter at this plantation, even built them a chapel. And, you know, so we were given this very skewed view of that time. And, of course, over the years, and being a grown man now, and having done a lot of reading and my own anti racism work myself, you know, we learned just how far from the truth that was, this was a place that horrendous, horrendous things happened. So I wanted to address that in this book. Because quite frankly, it's a subject that young white readers don't really have to think about if they don't want to. And I'm hoping that it will encourage some meaningful conversations about this subject. And the other big reason I wanted to write this book is because when I was 12 years old, and I knew I was gay, you know, I wanted to die. I literally thought about death all the time, when I was 12, I thought about ways to kill myself, which is shocking even to hear myself say right now, but I was, you know, it, like I said, in a religiously oppressive environment. And there weren't a lot of options for me, knowing that I was attracted to boys. I knew that was not a possibility in the life that I was living. And so I was incredibly depressed. Of course, we were diagnosed with depression back then. So I was dealing with this depression, I had a horrible stepmother. Because, you know, I told you, my mom had passed and and had this abusive stepmother in the picture. And, and, of course, the bully at school, the bullying, actually from the pulpit, it was a lot for 12 years. You know, and that's just the the time when I, when I really realized that I wanted to die. So I wanted to explore that in this book. It's a subject that's not really dealt with a lot in middle grade. But the fact is, it's happening every single day, and kids are getting younger and younger and younger. And it's something I felt like we need to be talking about, those were kind of the two big reasons why I wanted to write this book, and I found a way to kind of marry them both.

Heather Hester:

Wow, that is really, really extraordinary. I, I cannot wait to read this. Because I think that in and talking, you know, kind of going back to talking about you doing your anti racism work and really kind of addressing that in this book. It is so timely, right? And and you're right. I mean, so many kids who read this are really have the choice of whether or not they have to think about it right? Or may not be faced with it, or excuse me, I just I mean, so I think there are three really timely, amazing topics that you address and address in a way that is so honest and accessible. And I to me, I feel like this is a book that not only Middle Grades can read, but that All Grades should read, including adults.

Greg Howard:

Yeah, and that is the case with all my books. I mean, they're written with that age group in mind, but they're read by all ages. And I want to write books for middle grade readers, but I want them to be books that their parents will enjoy reading with them, where teachers will enjoy reading with them. So I tried to make them kind of span those age groups.

Heather Hester:

Right? Well, which is, you know, you've kind of this is going to be a total aside, but stick with me for a second here. So in our house, we are very big Harry Potter fans. And I was I'm a reluctant Harry Potter fan, it took me a long time to be talked into it. And then once my oldest talked me into it, I've now read the series through three times, twice out loud, and then once quietly, but they the writing, right, it is meant for middle grade readers, technically, technically, middle grade, it does get very dark at the end, but it is I just thinking about the whole idea of reading this aloud to your child, you have hit on such an awesome thing. Because in reading this to your child, all parents will gain so much insight and they will be able to see things through their kids eyes. And it will, it's at least sounds to me like it will present opportunities to have conversations that are so needed. And in a way that's just really natural and not scary. So

Greg Howard:

yeah, and you hit on something very important. Because,

Heather Hester:

excuse me, I'm so sorry,

Greg Howard:

when we try to keep these books out of the hands of students, which is going on now. And my books are on these lists that are out there that they're trying to take from the shelves. When you do that you're doing a few things. One of them is you're erasing those kids, the kids that are represented in those books, the marginalized kids, the other kids, queer kids, you are racing them and you're racing, the only some of the only representation they're going to find of themselves. The other thing you're doing is going back to your point, you're excluding yourself from the conversation. Because in a lot of times, we know that if a kid wants to read a book, they might find a way to read the book. You know, right. Well, we did. Right, exactly, yeah, but what you've done by quote unquote, banning or taking them off. So if you just removed yourself in the conversation when you could be having meaningful conversations about the book with your child.

Heather Hester:

Right. Right. And it's gonna be uncomfortable. And that's okay. Yeah, I mean, being uncomfortable is okay, because that is where growth happens. And that's where, really, if you can sit with that, just uncomfortable feeling. Some really cool things happen and really amazing connections happen with your kids. That, you know, just if you could just sit, sit with it, sit through it, and then take your own time to kind of process and be like, okay, yes, this was hard. Why was it hard? Why is that hard for me? Right, right. Because there are just, there are so many things that as adults, you know, there's a whole host of things that need to be worked through.

Greg Howard:

By sometimes we haven't dealt with it either.

Heather Hester:

Right, exactly. We don't even realize we haven't dealt with it until we're reading a book with our kid or reading an article. And I think too, like just kind of circling back to you are some of these conversations. I mean, having a conversation about suicide, having a conversation about racism, having a conversation about queer kids, whether your kid is queer, or whether their friend is queer, or just being an accepting human being. Right. Those are scary conversations, right for a lot of parents to have and you have opened the door in a way that takes some of that scariness away. Well,

Greg Howard:

I hope so. Because the other important thing about kids reading these books, um, you know, I don't want just queer kids to read my books. I want I want a lot of different people to read my books because you learn empathy. When you read stories about marginalized people about other people, you get a perspective that maybe you don't have to think about, you know, if you're a straight cisgender white kid, you know, reading a book about a girl a queer person of color queer kid of color, you're learning things that you're never going to necessarily address in your daily life. And it does teach us empathy.

Heather Hester:

Oh, for sure it does. I mean, it absolutely does. And I mean, I think that's one of the reasons that it should be. If not required reading suggested reading and on write on these lists of, you know, books that will enrich your life or make you think or explore so many things are suggested, right, for us to to explore different arenas. This was just one more. Right. So I think part of this work is also, again, normalizing it.

Greg Howard:

Right. And, you know, there's one of the subjects in this book that some gatekeepers are going to say is not well, there's probably more than one is just not appropriate for middle grade is the suicide of, you know, 12 year old boy, that's addressed in this book. Some some, they're gonna say it's not appropriate for middle grade. But one of the reasons why I felt very strongly about doing this and telling the story is but like I said earlier, because kids are dying. And because kids are seeing that they're, they don't have hope, they don't see hope in their lives. And if I could give you just if you don't mind me just giving you a couple of statistics here, a few statistics. This comes from the Trevor Project, some facts they pulled together, but I'm just going to read a few of them. So we can understand suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. That low number is 10. LGBTQ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth, you know, and they're almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide than heterosexual youth. And then the statistic which is also heartbreaking is LGBTQ youth that come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as their LGBTQ peers who've reported no or low levels rejection. So these figures are just staggering. And we had here in Middle Tennessee, I'm in Nashville. And over the last few years, I started seeing new stories about kids who were had committed suicide, and those kids had been bullied for being queer or being perceived to be queer. And I list several of these kids in the, in my author's note in the book to pay tribute to them to know that their stories are valid, and their stories have meaning. So with you know, with the statistics like that, and with what's happening in the world, it's hard for me to accept someone saying this is not appropriate for middle grade. Roger.

Heather Hester:

Well, and I think that you, you're talking about something that people don't want to talk about, because it's uncomfortable and scary, but to the adults. But it is very real for the kids. Absolutely. And it is something that kids are literally dying to talk about. Yes, one person.

Greg Howard:

Exactly. And I'm happy to be that one person, and I've been that one person, you know, when kids come up to me at book signings, and they come out to me and they tell me, I'm the first person that came out to and that's very humbling. I mean, I gotta tell you, Okay, when I worked with I wrote my first book that was published, it's why a book called social intercourse. Kind of a racy raunchy comedy wrote romantic comedy for gay kids. Teenagers, definitely teenagers enough. I don't want middle schoolers getting that book. Maybe later, but you know, when I first wrote that book, I had never gone to a book signing, I'd never done a book festival. So I just thought it was gonna be this fun hoop to do time. And just a lot of adoration and all that kind of thing. But like, you know, when the first kid at my table comes up to get me to autograph social intercourse, and they tell me, I had not seen myself in a book until I read this book, or this book helped me through some really dark places, and some dark moments in my life, and I am gay and lesbian. I'm trans. I've never told anyone, and I thank you for writing this book, man. I was so incredibly humbled so fast, that I had a whole new just outlook on what I was doing. I wasn't just writing books for the fun of it. You know, social intercourse was a very fun boat to write, it's a comedy. But some kids have read it and found such a deeper meanings for their own personal lives in that book that I had there kind of redirect my thinking and understand everything I write. Kids are really soaking this in, you know, and so I just at least want to respect their lives, and that I'm not just writing fluff, you know, I'm writing about their lives.

Heather Hester:

Right, which Oh, my goodness, bravo. I mean, really? Bravo, because it hasn't been done. Or at least it hasn't been done often enough, right. I mean, years have

Greg Howard:

been done often enough, in my opinion, I mean, middle grade is getting better. There's some authors out there that are doing it, like Shannon Hitchcock, and Donna Gephardt and several others, but there's still so much work that can be done in that middle grade arena. I'm thrilled with how queer lid has taken off in young adult, I think it's wonderful. But we can do more for younger readers. We absolutely can. And I think one thing as that I also get, though, I told you about those good happy things. Well, I say happy, you know, when kids reach out to me and share themselves with me that that's a happy kind of thing, because they're they they have found someone to talk to. Right. But at the same time I have gotten those angry letters from parents, you know? Yes. Let's

Heather Hester:

talk about that a little bit, because I was reading some of the comments that you have have received and i Wow.

Greg Howard:

Yeah, it's, it's, at first, it really took me by surprise, you know, because I feel like what I'm doing, I'm not trying to harm kids. I'm trying to help kids. You know, I did get I'll tell you one story. I did get this letter after the whispers came out. Now the whispers is a very sweet, innocuous story, it the kid is gay, but it's about so much more than that. It's really about his relationship with his mother. That's what the book is about, and about finding hope in kind of a dark world. But he's gay. And he talks about the fact that he's attracted to boys, you know, at the beginning of the book, he's ashamed of it, because that's what the environment around him has put on him. And of course, he finds his way through that. So it's not depressing all the way through the end. But I got this letter from a guy and the letter started out, it was actually an email, I'm sorry, it started out with something like, I have never before throwing a book in the trash. Yours is the first. And I thought, Oh, wow, wow, this is going to be good. And he went on to tell me that his son had been reading the whispers. And not sure where the sun got it, maybe from school or whatever. And the dad was asking the kids oh, what's going on in that book you're reading and something the kid said, May the dad curious. And so the dad looked at the book, and I maybe read the description and saw that it was about a gay kid, and went off on me about pushing my homosexual agenda on his son. And that is not my right to push my views and my agenda on his son. And that the book didn't need any of that in it, it would have been a good book without it. I don't think you read the most I don't think he knows. But then he was kind enough to include a picture of the whispers torn up in in the trash can. Now, my goodness, some people have said, When I tell him that story, they've said, Wow, man that must have really, really depress you or hurt your feelings, because that's your work in the trashcan. And honestly, Heather, the first thing I thought about when I saw that I was heartbroken, not for me, but for that man, son. Because if that kid is queer, he just saw his dad throw him in the trash can. He saw He saw what his dad feels his worth is if he's queer, he might not be. But that's what broke my heart is that kids are getting these messages so young. And that's the same kind of message I got when I was that kids age. And this was in 2020. You know, so it's like, we still have a lot to do and know, you and I can't go into every home and teach parents how to parent. But but we can, you know, we can offer our experiences. Right,

Heather Hester:

right. Right. Exactly. Well, and I think stories like that are really important. Because I, I believe that everybody has the capacity to shift and the capacity to grow and Um, I, you know, I think in hearing a story like that, if that resonates with anybody, you know, to me, that's stop and think about why it resonates like does it really do angry? Does it make you like, oh my gosh, I would totally do that. I would you know, and why, and then Ryan, have the courage to ask why. And think about your kid like this is, you know, I always kind of go back to like, it's one thing to allow yourself to process through like every adult needs, like their process time. But the process time needs to be separate from what they're showing to their kid, right? About how these tearing a book up and throwing in the garbage, like how that's affecting your child, or what you're the language that you're using the words that you're using the thoughts that you're conveying. Really think about that, what is teaching your child and not just, you know, as to whether or not they may be queer, but in a greater sense of just being an empathetic accepting human being? people's differences.

Greg Howard:

Right. Exactly. Exactly. And going back to that parent, and what you're saying, I know you talk a lot on on the show about parenting, where kids, it was kind of the point of it, I guess. But you know, it, it reminded me, you know, that guy, you know, I kind of saw that guy's one dimensional, and I can't see him changing because of what he did. Now, that's unfair of me. You know, because there's always like you just mentioned, there's always the possibility of change of growth. And I have my own experiences of being a queer kid, I knew I was gay. I knew I liked boys when I was five years old. I mean, my earliest memories of watching the kids shows I was attracted to the boys, I knew that, you know, and I know I was five, because my mom died when I was five. And I remember thinking these things while she was still alive. So that's kind of how I understand that it was around five. But my father was what I was getting to. My father wasn't like that, like that man I just described. He was very religious man. And we went to a church, a God, Pentecostal Holiness, organization, I know you're familiar with it. And the kind of environment I grew up in as a queer kid was an environment of omission. Nothing about who I was, was ever talked about, meaning, you know, my queerness. It I didn't, like I said, I didn't see myself on television, didn't see myself in movies, didn't see myself in books. And during that era, if I did see myself in movies, it was in some horribly tragic way, you know, which gave me no hope. But my dad went from being the one who ignored it. Make sure he didn't make too many comments about it. Or I'm not talking about me, but just about, you know, gay people in general, there were a few comments, I remember. And every time he would make one of those comments, I would die a little bit inside to be honest with you, because because I took it as him talking about me. But over the years, he did change. And I remember when I first came out to him, I was a grown man, I must have been 30 something and I was in a relationship. And I'm still doing this going down there for Christmas and leaving my partner here. And I just didn't want to do that anymore. Because that was just living this dual life that I was trying to get away from. But I remember taking my dad for a ride in the car, and I just thought it was like, I got something I want to tell you. And he said, okay, and he must have been in his 50s or 60s at this point. I said, you probably know this, because I assume that everyone knew. I said, you probably know this already, but I'm gay. And he got very quiet. And then he said, Well, no, I did not know that which I was really shocked by that he had not he not even suspected. And, and I said, Well, I said, I know how we were taught in church, you know, and so how does that make you feel about me? And what's your take on that? And he said, Well, he said, All I know is that you're my son, and you're a child of God. And that's all that matters, as long as you're happy. And that was a just a beautiful moment. And it was almost like that's all he had to say. And that was the end of the conversation and that was okay with it, that was enough for me at that time, you know, but the point is people can change. And parents can change. So when I get so angry at this father who tore up the book, and you know, what message that is saying to his son, I'm just hoping that there's room for growth and change there.

Heather Hester:

Right? Well, and I think, you know, in cases like that, that's, that's, like me that signals such fear, right? There's so much fear. Oh, that's good. Yeah. Right. And where does that come from? You know, not that we, we could spend, you know, figure out everybody's, you know, the source of their fear. But I leave when we get those, like, responses like that, like it is, I think about that. And I think that's probably something that I've used to kind of process through family members who have said things to me and other people who have said things to me, I look at it, and I think, okay, you're, you're afraid, you're right, you're afraid of my shifts, you're afraid of my, you know, my child or whatever, you know, what I'm putting out in the world? And? And that's on them. Right? I mean, all I can do is be in what you're doing. I mean, being authentically, you really can do all we can do. And, and then the rest is, you know, it's just, I don't know, I just think that we just kind of keep putting all of this, you know, like he said, You just kind of take your your second book was like such a spin on the positivity. And like picking these beautiful positive pieces. Both are necessary, right?

Greg Howard:

You're exactly right. It's all relevant to the queer experience, it was relevant to my experience, and you made me think of something that I wanted to bring up, because we talked about some of those negative emails I've gotten in negative comments I've gotten just because my characters are queer. But I've also gotten some from what we like to call woke people, you know, progressive people, who are who will really say the first third of the whispers. And because Riley, the little boy in that feels shamed for being gay, he knows he's attracted to boys. But there's a shame about that, you know, they will just go off and reviews about I told my child to stop reading that book, because this is about gay shaming, and bla bla bla bla bla. And first of all, okay, you haven't read the book, because Riley's journey, he gets to a very healthy, positive place with both his family and himself. It's a journey, it's an arc, you have to have an art, but with us exactly. But it also discounts people's experience or kids experiences who do feel that way. So I just, I hope that progressive people, the best term I can come up with right at the moment, who don't want their kids to get any kind of negative messages about being queer. That is certainly not my goal. My goal is to meet kids where they are. So if they are feeling ashamed, because of what's going on in their life, I'm going to address that. But I will promise you that in all of my books, these kids end up with hope. And that is the point of my books is to give queer kids hope.

Heather Hester:

And love that I

Greg Howard:

keep reading to the end.

Heather Hester:

Well, and I think you have to, you know, you you are naming things that our kids go through. Exactly, exactly. You may not want your child to feel shame, you may not want them to be bullied, you may not want those things or to recognize that it is happening, but it is happening. And and there's you know, I remember Connor felt such incredible self loathing for so long. And there was nothing I could say to make that go away. Right. I couldn't say, Well, you shouldn't feel that way. Right, is that's completely invalidating his experience. And, and it's part of their experience, and, you know, you know, circling back, having literature like yours to read where they can see themselves is so vital. Right? And just kind of allowing again, it's uncomfortable, it's uncomfortable that your kid might feel shame.

Greg Howard:

Right. And I I appreciate that there are parents out there who only want their kids to have positive messages about queerness. And about being I appreciate that so much. I would just say, Just recognize that some kids are dealing with a different aspect of that they're dealing with a polar opposite of that. You know, and we need their stories are valid too. And they need to their stories have value, and they need to be represented and seen. So just, you know, stop reading the book because the kid was ashamed of being gay. We, again, you're erasing the kids out there who do feel ashamed.

Heather Hester:

Right, exactly. And I think, you know, again, kind of just thinking about the value that even, you know, queer kids advocating for other queer kids like this is going to give empathy, teach them empathy in a way that nothing else they read, or learn, or are told can do. Right? So absolutely, none of us want our kids to have negative experiences ever. But

Greg Howard:

it's right. Right? That's, and I know, I'm gonna get that pushback in the visitors. You know, because it's about, you know, there is a story about a queer boy who's bullied, and he does commit suicide. And I know, I'm going to get the same kind of pushback about this shows a, you know, dire, bleak future for any queer kid. But again, kids are dying, you know, and we have to, we have to honor their stories. But like I said, I promise in all my books, there is hope. And there is a way forward for those kids. So you know, if, if the visitors saves even one kid out there, who was feeling lost and hopeless and thinking about suicide, and it gives them hope, that it will be worth any pushback, I get any horrible emails, any bad comments, any bad reviews, I can take it. I'm a grown man, a grown person, and I can take the heat if it will save even one kid out there.

Heather Hester:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And, and I think that this, maybe the, not the spin, but the another way of thinking about this is that this opens up, you know, for any parent who's like, I don't want my kid to, you know, read about suicide, or read about, or read about this, right? Is this opens up a conversation, right? Because this, these conversations need to be had. And I actually just interviewed yesterday, the lady who founded the teen suicide prevention society, and she was fascinating. And what she's doing is extraordinary. And, you know, a lot of shared, you know, a lot of these same statistics, and that we know are true. Right? And so I just having in part of her thing was, we need to make it easy to have these conversations. Right, exactly. So that is what your book does. When it's also the success. All right, I just think there's the myth that kind of shoots down that myth that talking about it will make it happen. Not true.

Greg Howard:

You know, that's interesting, Heather, because I have heard that, and I think that that is the basis of some of the fear, you know, and I know it is in some cases, but I'm glad you brought that up, because it's almost like they fear that if queer kid reads about another queer kid who commit suicide, that they're going to do it. And that, first of all, that is giving these young readers so little credit. I mean, it's giving them so little credit. But yeah, as a parent, I guess people do fear Oh, if they read about being queer, they're gonna be queer. You know, which is ridiculous. But I guess that thinking is out there.

Heather Hester:

Oh, it's totally out there. Oh, wow. It is, um, I will between reading about it. And then, you know, being friends with somebody who is it might be contagious.

Greg Howard:

I wonder if that is what a lot of times is behind all these book panning issues, you know, and it's I think it's also the fear of something that they don't understand. Oh, for sure. No. Recent recently. I was told about, I don't I don't watch Fox News. If some of your listeners do, that's fine. But I don't it's not a network I watched but I was told that my book was talked about on Fox News on Laura Ingraham show called the Ingraham angle. Yeah. And I was like, what? And what happened is this school board director in Pennsylvania, emailed me and said that they had just finished reading middle schools of drag and loved it and just thought it was wonderful and you know, pat myself on the back here, and that if they'd have been a gay boy When they were 12 in middle school, it would have made them feel like they weren't alone in the world, all these great things. And then they said, oddly enough, I heard about it on the Laura Ingraham show on Fox News, because they're having some issues with book banning in their district. And they were watching Fox News is recognizance. And they're watching Laura Ingraham show as because it's because they saw that she was going to be talking about this and and so she sent me the link and I look at it and they're talking about this one teachers suggested reading list given to her students and this is like a teacher of the year you know, it's like is really lauded teacher and Laura Ingram's like you know, and one of the books on this list. And boom, right on the screen is the cover of my book full screen. You better word which has, you know, on the cover, it has the boy Mikey and it also has the the aspiring drag queen, Julian on there. And she even said what it was about, you know, cuz she had to get in the part about this firing drag queen. And then they just she and her moderators just talked about how sickening it was, you know, the books like this wrong list. And it was a surreal experience. It really was. But one great thing that came out of that was that school board director said at the end of their emails, like I loved it so much. And I think it's so important. I'm going to recommend that it be added to the libraries in all of our district at all the high schools and middle schools. And I thought well, thank you, Laura Ingram, you know,

Unknown:

right, exactly.

Greg Howard:

You never know. But again, I think goes back to that fear, you know, which is hysterical to us right now.

Heather Hester:

Well, it is. And I think it's probably hysterical to us because we understand it, right? Because we have very close connections to that. Right?

Greg Howard:

And that doesn't make us better than anybody, it just means that we've had experiences. And we have faced that fear, you know, from different you've faced it as a parent, I face it as a queer kid. You know, we've had that experience already. So it's not like we're better than anybody. We've just experienced it.

Heather Hester:

When I think that's kind of how I view like, I totally Oh, my goodness, it's the last thing I think I think I'm, you know, I think you may feel the same way. Like, we're just out here saying, Okay, we did it, you can do it too. Like, exactly, you can do this too. And, and, and seeing things like that when you do think holy cow, like that is craziness. Yes. And you also are like, huh, yeah, okay, like, you can recognize certain pieces of it right? And kind of exactly where it's coming from. And then you're like, Okay, you know, it, there are positive things to come from it, such as

Greg Howard:

exactly, and such as, yeah, and these kids that are finding their voice. I mean, let me say the positives, you know, of getting emails from parents, because we kind of talked about every end of the spectrum from, you know, progressive people not liking it, because it kind of shows the reality to people who are just to get it all together. But there have been so many beautiful letters of from mothers and fathers and caretakers and guardians, that they read one of my books with their kid and they tell me that their kid came out to them, because they read this book, and they read the book together, and how it really brought up some meaningful conversations that they had not yet had. Even with social intercourse. As you know, I said it was raunchy and racy, you know, Rom Com. But even that one, a friend of mine from college said, I gave this book to my, my 17 year old son, and he said, I need more books like this. I'm gay. And so there's, you know, there's those things happening out there that give me so much hope and just want just make me want to go on just right.

Heather Hester:

Right. Well, it gives you that like, okay, I can do this, right. I

Greg Howard:

mean, I think reminds you of why you're doing it. Yeah, that's exactly. It

Heather Hester:

reminds you a new end you realize, okay, this is it's making a difference, right. And it's touching lives. It's saving kids. And that is the ultimate, right? That's your ultimate because exactly. I mean, and thank goodness, you. Do you mind me asking? You know, you referred you talked a lot about being 12. feeling hopeless. Realizing knowing from age five that you were queer. Were you like aware of your reason? Like what was your reason for sticking around for staying?

Greg Howard:

Oh, that's a good question. You know, when I was backing up a little bit when I was writing the visitors, I Of course, you know, I was doing a lot of research about suicide for this age group, especially with queer kids, and talking to some professionals, mental health professionals in that work with children. And one thing they they all told me separately was that kids don't choose to commit suicide commit suicide because of one reason. Or usually, let me say usually because I don't remember. They said, Absolutely not. There's usually more than one reason. So you know, combination for me, it was the abusive stepmother. And it was the the hiding who I was living that duality. That was so stressful and depressing. And just feeling the shame that I was being taught at church, you know, that I was going to hell, you know, there were that was just the only option for me was hell. So I figured, you know, why go through life like this? Why go through life feeling like this and feeling horrible? You know, I think what saved me was finally talking to people with the same experience. Finally, you know, reaching out to others that I might suspect felt the same way I did, instead of staying locked into my own little world of self hate and self loathing. I started reaching out, you know, and that continued from the time I was 12. Even through college, I was still just because in college, I was still very closeted. And I was starting to reach out to people, though, and talking to people. And once I realized that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't the only 12 year old in the world out there who felt this way. Because when you're 12, well, let me say when you're 12, when I was 12, yes. Right. There are no phones, there is no connection to the outside world. I thought I was the only kid that had this problem. And yes, I thought it was a problem back then. So I think just reaching out to people and talking to people and finding people who, who felt the same way I did gave me hope. It kind of brought me out of that dark spot.

Heather Hester:

That I kind of wondered, but I thought that might be a good thing to, to put up put out there.

Greg Howard:

I appreciate the parents out there who are willing to have those conversations with their kids. And give them some some positive feedback. And some hope I didn't have that, you know, I couldn't go to my dad or my stepmother and tell him this. But I know that there are a lot of great parents out there, like yourself, who kids can talk to. And I just encourage parents just to let your kids know that there's nothing they can't talk to you about. There's nothing that just gonna make you love them any less than you do. If they tell you, you want that open line of communication. Right.

Heather Hester:

Right. Right. I mean, that's the biggest thing. That is the most important thing for them, for them to know and to feel like they're being seen and heard.

Greg Howard:

Right? If I would have had a parent say that to me, when I was 12. Son, if there's anything you ever want to tell me. No judgment, no shame. You can tell me anything. And we'll we'll work through it. And it's not gonna make me love me last, oh, my Lord, how different my life would have been through those horrible years.

Heather Hester:

Right? I mean, yes, really, really. But I'm so I'm so grateful. So very grateful that you had a reason for staying. And, you know, through all of that, because that is pretty horrific. And for a fact, for a long period of time. It was just, you know, a year. Isn't that

Greg Howard:

what we all want? We just all want to know that we're not alone. Oh, my gosh, if you can give that gift to somebody that's worth everything.

Heather Hester:

It's worth everything. Yeah, that's why I do what I do. You know, exactly. I'm doing it. So Wow. That is it is my honor. Really. Like you. I feel humbled all the time. It is a gift I am grateful for so is there anything else that you would like to share? We'd This has been so much fun and so wonderful.

Greg Howard:

It has and I think if there's any, you know, final thought to share is that just how much representation matters, you know, and giving kids access to books in which they can see themselves can change their lives. It really can. I've said often that librarians, you know are my heroes and because they're on the front lines, you know, right So we need to support them, because librarians every single day are not only changing lives, but sometimes they're saving lives just by putting the right book into the hands of a kid that needs it can save that kid's life. And I just, I'm heartbroken by what's going on in the world with keep pulling books off the shelves. But if we can just keep putting the message out there, you and I and your listeners, that kids need this representation, they need to see themselves in books, and it will save their lives. Just keep pushing that message and sharing that message.

Heather Hester:

Absolutely, absolutely. And every single voice matters.

Greg Howard:

Every single and every story matters. Yeah, everyone has a story. And everybody's story has value.

Heather Hester:

That's right. That's right. So those are powerful words to remember, and a really lovely way to end today. And I'm just grateful that you took time for my show and all of my amazing listeners. And I will put in the show notes, all the links on how to get the visitors which is coming on February 1 Correct is

Greg Howard:

right. Yes. All right. Yeah, have me this has been wonderful.

Heather Hester:

Oh, you are so welcome. So very welcome. Thank you so much for joining me today. As a reminder, all of the links for Greg's new book, The visitor as well as his other books, the whispers, and middle schools of drag you better work will all be in the show notes as well as links to his website and other awesome resources for you. On my website, remember that you can sign up to receive just awesome updates about the podcast about things that I will be offering that are new coming up in the next month or two. As well as any new resource that I come across that I just think that is wonderful and I want to share with you. So I'm looking forward to connecting with you. Until next time.

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