The Debut Club: An interview with I.W. Gregorio, author of NONE OF THE ABOVE

Sweet Sixteener Ashley Herring Blake recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener I.W. Gregorio about her YA contemporary debut novel, NONE OF THE ABOVE (April 7, 2015 from Balzer +Bray/HarperCollins).

headshotIWGAbout the Author:

I.W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night. After getting her MD, she did her residency at Stanford, where she met the intersex patient who inspired her debut novel, None of the Above (Balzer & Bray / HarperCollins, April 7, 2015). She is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books™ and serves as its VP of Development. A recovering ice hockey player, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

Find Ilene on her website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

 

 

NoneoftheAbove_CoverAbout NONE OF THE ABOVE:

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s world completely unravels. With everything she thought she knew thrown into question, can she come to terms with her new self?

Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, NONE OF THE ABOVE is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

Signed copies of NONE OF THE ABOVE are available for purchase from Chester County Book Company (just request that it be signed at checkout!). Other buy links: Indiebound, Powell’s, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Ashley: Intersex is a neglected topic in YA today. What inspired you to write a novel featuring an intersex teen?

Ilene: Personally, I’ve been intrigued by intersex (a biological condition where a child is born with a variation of sex anatomy) since reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ MIDDLESEX. After I began writing YA during my residency lab year, I had this idea for a“YA MIDDLESEX” floating around in my brain for about a year until I met a young girl with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome who inspired NONE OF THE ABOVE.

Ashley: Kristin deals with a life-changing diagnosis, sex, bullying, grief, gender identity and roles, and acceptance. What tools or experiences did you draw on to create her character?

Ilene: Initially NONE OF THE ABOVE was inspired by the girl that I mentioned in the previous question – a seventeen year old girl whom I met during a rotation at our county hospital. She had been diagnosed with AIS only recently, and I had helped with the surgery to remove her internal testes. When she came back for follow-up I remember having an “oh, crap” moment where I realized how unprepared I was (in terms of my medical education) to care for intersex patients. Thank goodness for electronic medical textbooks – and for online support group resources – which luckily got me up to speed very quickly.

After that experience, I took an interest in intersex, reading quite a few medical and sociology books on the subject matter. Most importantly, I interviewed some intersex women and read a lot of first-hand accounts of people’s experiences being intersex.

Ashley: You also work as a surgeon. What inspired you to become a writer? Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?

Ilene: I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I remember, but took a little detour through medical school on the way. A lot of it had to do with familial pressure, of course, and the anxiety that I felt about writing as a career – I actually took a couple of years off after a college to pursue an MA in nonfiction writing, but realized quickly that I didn’t particularly like the “selling” aspect of freelance journalism. So I went to medical school and didn’t write for quite a while, until the itch (and more importantly a story I wanted to tell) found me again.

The first YA novel I wrote got me an agent, but ultimately didn’t sell. By then my YA MIDDLESEX had percolated long enough that I was finally ready to write it.

Ashley: While writing NONE OF THE ABOVE did you ever reach a point where you felt like quitting or weren’t sure you could write the book you envisioned in your head? If so, what helped push you forward?

Ilene: The point where I was closest to quitting probably came early on in the process, when I was struggling to get in the head of my character and despaired of doing justice to my subject matter. I went into writing the book with such baggage as a physician – I was passionate about medical accuracy, for sure, but I also wanted to make sure my characters were emotionally resonant.

Ultimately what got me through were my critique partners Abigail Hing Wen and Sonya Mukherjee (one of your fellow Sixteeners, yay!), who guilted me into submitting something every month, and made sure I knew that Kristin’s story would be missed if I didn’t finish it.

Lightning Round Questions:

In the novel, Kristin is a runner. Are you?

I ran track for a year in high school. But to be honest, I hate running! My preferred exercise is rollerblading.

Planner or pantser?

I started off as a pantser but eventually switched to outlining a bit just to make writing a novel seem like a less intimidating task. Breaking down into chapters is great that way!

You can revive three deceased historical figures for a dinner party. Who do you invite?

Ellen Raskin, because she was the first author I ever wrote a fan letter to…. Only to get a heartbreaking letter from her husband telling me that she had passed away several years before! I still re-read THE WESTING GAME and marvel at how a book can be simultaneously so funny, mind-bending, and heartwarming.

Mozart, because Amadeus is my husband and my all-time favorite movie. I came down the aisle to an aria from The Magic Flute. I want to know how well Tom Hulce really played Wolfie’s character

Nelson Mandela, because I spent seven months in South Africa during medical school, and saw him briefly on stage at the International AIDS Conference. I would love to speak with him to soak in the least bit of the empathy and compassion that allowed him to help a fractured nation to heal.

What were you reading when you were sixteen?

A lot of epic fantasy: Robert Jordan & Mercedes Lackey come to mind. I also remember reading books like WOMAN WARRIOR and THE JOY LUCK CLUB as I struggled to discover my cultural roots.

Favorite writing snack?

Wasabi peas!

If you could go back and tell your sixteen-year old self one thing, what would it be?

Be kinder to yourself, and to others. Calm down and slow down – life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Signed copies of NONE OF THE ABOVE are available for purchase from Chester County Book Company (just request that it be signed at checkout!). Other buy links: Indiebound, Powell’s, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.


About the Interviewer:

Ashley Herring BlakeAshley Herring Blake is former singer-songwriter and teacher turned YA writer. She has a Master’s degree in teaching and lives in Nashville, TN with her husband and two sons. When she’s not writing, she can be found under a pile a books listening to gloomy music. In her YA debut, SUFFER LOVE (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Spring 2016), two teens attempt to wade through an intense relationship complicated by their parents’ infidelities.

Find Ashley on: Website, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

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