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Local writer Greg Howard has begun to make a name for himself in the world of Young Adult (YA) and, increasingly, Middle Grade literature—especially for LGBTQ+ and allied readers.
Last year, I talked with Howard about his then-new middle grade release, The Whispers, and just a little under a year later I sat down with him again to discuss his new book and some upcoming work. Middle School’s a Drag: You Better Werk hit the shelves on February 11, 2020, and if you haven’t seen it yet, look for it, especially if you have young readers around.
Middle Schools A Drag Book Cover
James: So, last time we talked, you had just released The Whispers. How has the response been?
Greg: Well, it was interesting, because it was everything from getting letters and emails from parents and teachers and kids who just loved it, and parents who told me they were able to have conversations with their kids through it, to some very ugly emails and letters. Which is very interesting to me because The Whispers is such a sweet, innocuous story. I mean, it is gay lite, you know what I mean? that is not what the story is about, in a lot of senses. There is a kiss, and he has a crush. And it's a very chaste kiss...
I even got this one email that kind of broke my heart from this father who wrote me an email and just laid into me about how his 12-year-old son had picked up this book... I didn't even know that was still a thing but apparently it is: he laid into me about pushing my homosexual agenda on his son and how dare I ... blah blah blah. He even sent me a picture of The Whispers ripped up and in the trashcan.
And I thought to myself, "Oh my Lord, if that if that kid is gay, he just saw his dad throw him in the trash, basically." That thought just broke my heart. So heartbreaking letters like that but also some very heartfelt and beautiful letters too.
Also, I just found out this week, by the way, that The Whispers nominated for the Edger Award for Best Juvenile Fiction. That's an award given by the Mystery Writers of America so it's like the Oscar of mystery writers, so very excited about that.
James: Your new book is Middle School's a Drag. So you're doing something very different this time around...
Greg: Very different from The Whispers, yeah. This one took a more comedic route. Although The Whispers had some comedic elements to it... But, yeah, this one I just kind of went in a little different direction.
When I was a kid, I was a little bit of an entrepreneur. We had this storage room and laundry room off of our carport in South Carolina where I lived. My dad had a big oak desk in there, and I would go in there and start businesses, so to speak. I called it The Anything Shop. I started a little general store that my dad built for me out of cardboard, and I gave croquet lessons and charged kid money. You know, just a total rip off: I was making up the rules as I went. That's kind of what started the idea for this story, because Mikey, in the story, considers himself a kid entrepreneur. And he works out of his family's storage room laundry room off the carport like that.
James: So how did the drag kid element come into play?
Greg: I got inspired when I was watching Good Morning America... They had a special on drag kids, and one in particular whose name is Desmond Is Amazing, and it was really the first time that I had seen kids doing drag, very seriously, like this was their passion, this is something they wanted to do to express themselves and perform. And I was just amazed, in an incredibly good way... I felt very happy for these kids, and these parents that were supporting them. So that gave me the idea of bringing a drag kid into the story, which has not been done yet in Middle Grade.
So all this gave me the idea for one of Mikey's businesses to be a junior talent agency. His first client is this drag kid named Julian, who's an eighth grader, and his drag persona is Coco Caliente Mistress of Madness and Mayhem. That's where the idea started from. I'm really proud of it. People are liking it, which is always good, you know, and I'm hoping this will reach even more kids than I reached with The Whispers.
James: What would you say is the theme of Middle School’s a Drag?
Greg: This is a fun, uplifting comedy. It's about a boy, Mikey, who is gay and he knows he's gay and he's even out to his parents and his best friends. But he hasn't made like the big announcement to the middle school yet, and he's really worried about coming out that way. It's not about him not accepting he's gay because he does. He's just worried about how people are going to treat him when they find out, so that's kind of where this one's coming from.
Mikey learns from Julian, the drag kid, about being confident in who you are. The quote at the beginning of the book is by the drag kid that inspired me, Desmond: "Be yourself always." So I use that as the quote opening the book. So, this book, to me, is just pure joy; it's just fun. It's easy to read: people are telling me they read it in a day or weekend. I love that, there's lots of hijinks in it, lots of gay stuff, lots of queer stuff.
James: Have you heard from people? Are there any common thoughts or responses?
Greg: The thing that I'm hearing most is the pure joy people feel when they read it. When I write I don't think about making people feel a certain way, but I am hearing a lot of people saying that that's what they felt when they read it. And that made it left them feeling hopeful and triumphant. And I like it that they're using the word hopeful again, because that was a big word with The Whispers. It ended with a lot of hope, and the theme of the book was hope, and I love the fact that people are finding that similar theme in this book, even though it's so completely different from The Whispers.
James: With the book tour starting, are there festivals or events you are looking forward to?
Greg: I love doing SE-YA Book Fest in Murfreesboro. It's one of the bigger YA book festivals, and it has Middle Grade. It has all the big writers in YA and Middle Grade. I think the big name this year is gonna be Angie Thomas who wrote The Hate You Give and On the Come Up. I love going to that one.
What I love about those festivals is that a lot of them have student days, so there's one day that they bussed in kids from schools, and those are the best. It is amazing to see this big open room full of writers giving autographs, and these middle school and high school kids acting like they're rock stars. That's so friggin’ cool, because I never met an author when I was that age. They are just enamored, and we all love it. We just love seeing their excitement about books.
James: Tell me about what you're working on now: Do you have anything in the works?
Greg: Well, I just actually turned in my latest book called The Visitors. It will be out next summer, 2021, and it's a ghost story. I've always wanted to write a ghost story, again based on my childhood. We grew up next to this old deserted haunted rice plantation in Georgetown, South Carolina, and we had our own little ghosty experiences there.
I wrote this story kind of harkening back to my times there, and it's about the spirit of an 11-year-old boy who had died mysteriously on the plantation. These present-day kids come and befriend him, and they help him figure out how he died, so he can be free of the place, because he's stuck there. That was fun to write, I loved writing that one, and of course my life was a little more settled, so it was easier to get it out and on the page.
James: What motivates you?
Greg: I mean, this is my dream for the rest of my life! It makes it all worth it, talking to the kids and ... we talked about this, but here's just not enough yet in Middle Grade literature for [LGBTQ] kids. I mean, YA [Young Adult] is great! There's tons of stuff, but not enough a middle grade, so I'm kind of making that my focus right now. I did write a YA novel, Social Intercourse when I first started, but I have kind of found my niche in Middle Grade writing about queer kids. It seems to be working, and it seems to be resonating with parents, with teachers, and with kids. My goal is to give queer kids their happily ever after, one story at a time—that's my mission.
James: So, with The Visitors that will make three Middle Grade books. We talked last time about the challenges, about the gatekeepers and things like that. As a writer, what do you enjoy about writing for those kids?
Greg: I think one is I just enjoy the voice of that age group... Somehow I'm able to tap into it… And I love the fact that I can write these books that are getting into the hands of kids who are seeing themselves represented, you know? There was another review, I think on Amazon, where somebody said about The Whispers something like "this would have been a great story. But why did the kid have to be gay? That just ruined it."
I just want to shake that person and say, "Because there are kids out there that they need to see themselves in the books they read!" I don't know about you, but I never saw myself in books, except by imagining something is going on [behind the scenes].
I love that I had this one parent at my Parnassus event for The Whispers... She picked it up and read the back to her son, who was like 11 or 12. When she said the kid has a crush on this older boy, he looked up at her and said, "Mom, it's like he knows my life!" And I'm thinking, "Yes, I see you, I see you kid!"
James: So, what are your longer-term goals?
Greg: I'd love to keep writing books for Penguin; they've been amazing. And I would like to do more school visits, which is something that I just started doing this past year with The Whispers.
In Chattanooga, I spoke with this rural middle school in front of 300 sixth graders. And then I spent a period a classroom and did a writing workshop. And that was amazing and inspired me to do more of that. In that writing workshop there were about 30 kids. I had at least four of them come up to me and come out to me after, in tears.
I'm not talking just flippantly saying, "Oh, hey I'm gay." These kids were terrified. They came up to me separately at the little book signing after the writing workshop. They would tell me then, and they would speak very quietly, and they were crying. And I just want to help these kids and tell them it's gonna be okay. What I usually end up saying is, “Thank you for telling me that. I want you to know that you're not alone, and you are loved.” And I always ask them if they have support at home, and luckily, so far, they've all said yes, which I think is wonderful and amazing. So I want to I want to do more of that.
NOTE! Since the publication of this article, it has become widely known that Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood and Marriage Story producer David Heyman’s Heyday Television is adapting Middle School’s A Drag for television, with its joint venture partner NBCUniversal International Studios.
You can find Middle School Is a Drag most anywhere books are sold. It can also be purchased online from Amazon in print or for Kindle. For more on Greg Howard, check out his website!
Rumble Boxing, the boxing-inspired group fitness studio, opened its doors for the first time in Nashville on June 20 at 609 Overton St, Nashville, TN. The hottest workout on the block is hosting its official grand opening from August 4th-7th with daily classes, membership specials, and prizes from local vendors. The new Rumble Boxing studio is currently offering a buy one class, get one free promotion for the Nashville community.
Rumble Boxing delivers 45-minute, 10-round, strength and conditioning group workouts, crafted around teardrop-style aqua boxing bags and high-intensity strength training circuits. This brings all fitness levels together to experience what Rumble is known for: combining the sweet science of boxing with high energy and positive vibes.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
This boutique fitness brand offers serious benefits like increased stamina and strength, with cardio that’s actually fun. The seasoned trainers at the new studio are thrilled to serve their local community while offering this fun, new modern approach to boxing and welcome members of all fitness levels to the Rumble family.
The new Rumble Boxing studio is owned and operated by Blake Baskin and Antonio Compton. With their background in the fitness industry, this dynamic duo is excited to bring their passion for boxing and group fitness to Nashville. As business and life partners, Blake and Antonio aim to create a strong community within their new Rumble Boxing studio and share their message of non-apologetic inclusivity.
Black and Gay-Owned Business
Rumble Boxing Store with Dolly Parton Mural
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“We own who we are, and this brand aligns with that perfectly,” said Antonio. “This is what we want to create and bring to this community: a fitness class that is designed for anyone and a place for people to be who they are. As a Black and gay-owned business, we want to help lower the division we see in the world right now. Our goal is to bring people together through Rumble, set everything aside, and have fun.”
To echo their message of acceptance and inclusion, Blake and Antonio commissioned a local Nashville artist to paint an 11 X 6-ft. mural of Nashville icon and philanthropist, Dolly Parton. The massive portrait features the country star in Rumble Boxing gear in the lobby of the studio.
The excitement and buzz around Rumble allowed Blake and Antonio to recruit top-tier trainers to head up the new studio, including Head Trainer Oronde Jones, a well-known celebrity trainer in the Nashville market.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“Compared to other fitness classes, Rumble is a class you can truly get lost in for 45 minutes. With the dark room, you don’t have to worry if anyone is paying attention to you. The music is awesome and inspiring, and the beat drops right when you need it the most. Also, with boxing being a sport you can never truly master, you’re always improving and crafting your skill. On the floor, you’re consistently doing something new, which prevents you from ever hitting a plateau.” Said Oronde Jones about his favorite part of Rumble.
Rumble has massive brand loyalty and widespread appeal, partly thanks to attracting top names like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Jason Derulo, David Beckham, and Kevin Hart to its studios.
About Rumble Boxing
Founded in New York City in 2017, Rumble is a group fitness concept delivering a mix (or combination) of boxing-inspired circuits and the transformative power of resistance training. Pro and amateur fighters glove up together, no matter their fitness level or skill, to reveal their inner fighter. The experience is a 45-minute, 10-round, full-body cardio and strength workout crafted around specially designed water-filled, teardrop-style boxing bags. Rumble was founded by Noah Neiman (former Barry’s Bootcamp Master Trainer, and cast member of Bravo’s Work Out New York), Eugene Remm (Co-Founder of Catch Hospitality Group (Catch Restaurants, CATCH STEAK, Lexington Brass), Andy Stenzler (Co-Founder Cosí, Kidville), and Anthony DiMarco (13-time IRONMAN, former Managing Director, Google).
Who would have thought that we would have to get through a pandemic in order to appreciate the small things we have, such as the ability to simply pack our bags and hit the road?
For two years, there’s been nothing left for us travel junkies to do but sit at home and try to find new destinations that we will conquer once we defeat what appears to be the biggest villain of the 21st century. But once that happens, hold your bags tight because we will be up for some of the most interesting travel experiences. Take a look at some ideas for your post-COVID traveling plans:
A Gay Cruise
One of the best options to have in mind when all of this passes is a good, nice and long (pun intended) gay cruise. Or cruise in general, for that matter. Bear in mind, social distancing will still be a thing in the post-COVID world. But COVID-19 likely doesn’t mean that cruises will cease to exist. On the contrary, though cruise ships will probably keep the number of passengers smaller than before, it is believed that they will become an even bigger hit in the following period, especially because they are all going to go a lot more environmentally-friendly. On the bright side, is there any better way of celebrating the end of the pandemic than by cruising around some magnificent seas, stopping by at great cities and having romantic dinner nights at nice restaurants?
A getaway in nature
On the other hand, there is always the option of stepping away from the hustle and bustle of large cities, and spending some time in a place that’s not only healthy, but also beautiful. Some of the destinations that plenty of people will look for are the ones that can cater for both peace of mind and amazing things to see or do. One such destination is New Zealand, one of the greenest countries on Earth right now. Not only will you be visiting the magnificent country that gave us the beautiful Shire from Lord of the Rings; this is also a destination that’s excellent for everyone who prefers relaxing to partying. If you’re up for some partying, you will be able to hit Auckland, while if you’re for something calmer, there’s plenty of amazing places that you can see and visit.
Dancing Around at Pride
Pride parades are also events that you want to have in mind for the post-COVID world. Such events have always been quite important, but it seems that they are now more important than ever. The virus has canceled more than 75 Pride parades all around the world, which is one of the reasons why we must support the ones that will see the light of day once the pandemic stops. Truth be told, the upcoming Prides will perhaps be the best Prides ever organized. Give the gays a couple of weeks of quarantine, then let them outside and see what kind of party they are able to throw!
A road trip
If you’re, as well, waiting for the day to wake up and say “long gone are the days when we were not allowed to go wherever we wanted?”, and if staying at one place gave you a lot to think about, then your first post-COVID travel experience should definitely be a nice road trip. You can practically choose which country you want to tour, and you can either take your own car (you have probably missed it so much), or rent one at your destination. Australia is an amazing country for this, though, as it offers the possibility of seeing the Great Ocean Road, which is an amazing thing to see and experience. On the other hand, if you do not want or cannot leave your country, you can also choose to go on a domestic road trip – there are amazing things to see in your vicinity as well.
Holiday for a single guy
If you’re single, or you’re traveling someplace with another single friend, then you should definitely organize a nice vacation for yourself or for you and your single friend, and hit one of the best European cities. Europe has been greatly affected by the virus, which means that now it’s time to pay it back and get it back on its feet by traveling there and seeing all the amazing things it offers. Any city you choose in Europe – you will not make a mistake. Apart from being able to see great landmarks, you will also have the chance to have a drink at great gay clubs and pubs, and join unforgettable gay parties. And if the gay scenery is not your forte, worry not, as Europe indeed has to offer so many different and magnificent things.
This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.
When I was 14 years old, I surreptitiously made my way through the stacks in the local library until I came to the Psychology section. One after one, I took down the books whose titles I thought would provide an answer, went to the table of contents and, if there were any, I flipped to the pictures.
Eventually, I landed on one with a word I had never seen or heard: Transvestite. And on the next page there was a black and white photo of a man wearing a dress, looking like he had just crawled out from under a rock. I can still see the expression of guilt on his face.
Not long after that, the newspapers and TV broke the story of Christine Jorgensen, a former member of the U.S. Army who had gone to Denmark to have Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS). Of course, the majority of the reports were always accompanied by some sort of joke, such as “Christine Jorgensen went abroad and came back a broad!”
America's First Trans Celebrity: Christine Jorgensen youtu.be
But those two events rescued me. I learned that I was not the only person in the world with this “affliction,” this sense that something wasn’t right. And I got a word I could apply to it and maybe even hope for a cure. But it was too early. I knew that to say out loud, even maybe, that I should have been born a girl, would mean being ostracized, becoming part of the joke, so I chose the path followed by most transgender people of my generation. I put all of my energy into making sure that no one knew.
And that wasn’t easy. For no matter what I did, I couldn’t match the image of the all-American boy, so I became the class clown. If I wasn’t the John Wayne male, at least I could be Lenny Bruce. It was my way of deflecting the mismatch, and, to some extent, it worked.
Others like me took varying escape routes, becoming athletes, businessmen, or whatever role they could slip into and hide behind. Most married, had kids, and did whatever was necessary to survive, with varying results, but never with happy endings.
Segue to the present. The scenario I described above is, to a great extent, still being played out, but now there are exceptions. Transgender kids today can find some consolation on the Internet. They can learn early on that they aren’t “afflicted.” They can make contact with others like themselves. And they can read about transgender people who are proud of themselves and what they have accomplished as well as hearing about transgender children whose parents accept them and allow them to be who they are.
But the information highway is not all smooth driving. And naïve youth can get lost on detours and take wrong turns, winding up as prey to the trolls, predators, and religious zealots—as well as various other kinds of bullies—who inhabit the virtual world.
So is it any better today for our transgender youth? Most still have parents who reject them and peers who bully them. Nearly half of transgender teens have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having attempted suicide  compared to a rate of 1.6 percent for the general population.
It’s far from a perfect world. But I believe it is definitely better than the one I grew up in, because it’s a world where the President of the United States has condemned “the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender”; it’s a world where the parents of transgender children have publicly supported their sons or daughters and stood up to schools that would try to discriminate against them; it’s a world where the medical and psychiatric professions have come to recognize that being transgender isn’t a disease. All these things were inconceivable possibilities on the day I sneaked into the library.
Nina Simone To Be Young Gifted And Black youtu.be
When I was a teenager, Nina Simone had a hit record titled “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” that has since been covered by artists as diverse as Elton John, Rah Digga, and Faith Evans. A portion of the lyrics say, “We must begin to tell our young / There’s a world waiting for you / This is a quest that’s just begun.” That same message applies today.
To be transgender is not a curse; it’s a gift. As Derrick Moeller, a graduate student in Education at Iowa State University and a transman explains, “Having to contemplate what your gender identity and gender expression looks like is a privilege that most folks don’t have to go through” . Rather than being rejected they will know that they have been blessed, so that their plea “Why was I made like this?” will be replaced by a prayer of gratitude: “Thank you for making me like this.”
 Grossman, A.H. & D’Augelli, A.R. (2007). Transgender Youth and Life-Threatening Behaviors. *Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviors* 37 (5), 527-37.
 Tiffany Herring, January 28 2015 Iowa State Daily [goo.gl/YSL3SC].