The Whispers, the middle-grade debut by author Greg Howard, is about eleven-year-old Riley.
Riley deals with bullies at school, an unrequited crush, and an absent mother. His mother disappeared several months ago, but the investigation has gone nowhere. So, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands and find the whispers (magical fairies, he believes, who will grant wishes) so he can wish his mother home. The Whispers is a beautiful coming-of-age story that many young listeners will identify with; it’s a natural fit for middle-grade collections.
Now, hear from author Greg Howard about casting the narrators for this audiobook The Whispers, and why listening to audiobooks is a magical experience.
I listen to audiobooks quite a bit—on the commute to and from work, on long weekend walks, while shopping and training at the gym, etc. And for me, a narrator can make or break the experience and determine whether or not I’m willing to commit several hours to the production. On the other hand, a great narrator can illuminate, even elevate the text, holding my attention for hours with no problem.
Some of my favorites are Michael Lockwood Crouch, Bahni Turpin, Robbie Daymond, Julia Whelan, and Will Damron. I have often searched their names when choosing a new audiobook because I would listen to those narrators read the phone book and be happy. I was so honored to have Michael Lockwood Crouch and Will Damron narrate my debut young adult book, Social Intercourse, last year, and I was thrilled with their work on that project.
When it came time to cast The Whispers audiobook, a story that is deeply personal to me, I was scared to death of getting it wrong. The main character, Riley James, is an eleven-year-old boy living in rural South Carolina who is sensitive, quirky, witty, and at times heartbreaking. The story is also told in first-person present tense, so the narrator had to really embody the mind, voice, and emotions of Riley. I’m so thankful that producer Aaron Blank allowed me to be heavily involved in the casting process.
At first, we mainly focused on finding an adult male narrator who had a “youthful sound” and could do a good Southern accent. We reviewed auditions from some of the best in the business, and I would have been proud to have any of them read my work. But I’d also recently listened to the audiobook for See You in the Cosmos and was very impressed with (then) thirteen-year-old actor and audiobook narrator Kivlighan de Montebello’s performance, so I wanted to consider him as well.
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Pretty quickly, Aaron and I decided that the authentic, youthful voice that was unique to Kivlighan, of all the auditions we considered, was the right way to go for this project. Kivlighan also conveyed the emotional journey of Riley in a very authentic and convincing way. And the guy can do kid funny exceptionally well.
It was Kivlighan’s father, Charles de Montebello, who served as engineer and editor on the production, who suggested that we use an adult female narrator to read the prologue of the book, which is a bedtime story Riley’s mama told him every night. It was a great call. Charles and Aaron Blank recommended Robin Miles to me for that role. Another great call. Robin brought a motherly warmth, richness, and depth to the prologue that sets the stage for the whole book.
I was asked to read the author’s note at the end of the book, which I was very nervous about, but it’s such a personal note that I decided to do it. And knock on wood, I hope my presence on the production doesn’t detract from Kivlighan’s and Robin’s brilliant work.
Finally, there was just the music to consider. I knew early on the piece I wanted used on the audiobook. It’s a beautiful, magical, and haunting track by multi-Grammy‒nominated producer, composer, and instrumentalist David Arkenstone called “Ville Lumière,” from his album Parisian Nights. I’ve worked in the music business in Nashville for thirty years and have collaborated with David many times, so I had access to the rights to use the track.
I simply couldn’t be happier with how the production turned out, and I have to admit to shedding a few tears in the grocery store parking lot as I finished listening to the final production. And isn’t that the beauty of audiobooks? The magic and emotion they bring to the mundane activities of daily life. Shopping, working out, driving—all those moments when a printed copy of a book can’t be properly enjoyed, audiobooks are there as a constant, ready, and pliably adaptable substitute.
Learn more about The Whispers by Greg Howard
“A heartbreaking, beguiling debut… This poignant journey through the badlands of grief is crammed with tenderness, wit and warmth.” —The Guardian
“This taut, moving tale delves beyond loss into issues of sexuality, conformity and self-acceptance…a masterful exploration into the power of storytelling but also its dangers, including self-denial and escapism.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A tale of family, friendship and loss, filled with magic and heart.” —The Associated Press
“A dreamy novel recalling Bridge to Terabithia.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A realistic tale of coming to terms and coming-of-age, of friendship and loss, with a touch of magic and humor.” —Kirkus