I was an utter bookworm growing up, a book-a-day reader,” says I.W. Gregorio (the pen name of Pennsylvania surgeon Ilene Wong). “When I was in elementary school I would say, ‘I want to be a writer.’ Then reality hit.” For Gregorio, reality was the need for a stable job in what her family considered a practical field. “I was raised by typical first-generation immigrants who were one step removed from poverty. The idea that anyone would go into the arts was frightening for them.”
As a child, despite her voracious love of literature, Gregorio was encouraged to study science, and she later went to medical school. “I convinced myself that I could do both—that being a doctor and being a person outside of writing would give me the insight and the stories that I wanted to tell.” So Gregorio pursued her day job. “It paid the bills, but I also had a discrete and targeted time to get [writing] done. I’m a procrastinator by nature, and my choice to not pursue writing wholeheartedly allowed me to actually become a writer.”
Gregorio fits her writing into a two-and-a-half hour block at the end of each day. She scrapped her first manuscript, a thinly veiled fictionalized memoir. Eventually, an experience with an intersex patient inspired a new story, which became None of the Above (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, Apr.).
The novel follows Kristin Lattimer, a high school senior who discovers that she is intersex (she has both male and female genitalia). Kristin’s classmates’ response to the revelation is to bully her, but Darren, a newfound ally at school, helps her pull through.
Gregorio’s connection to the story motivated her to continue work on the book. “Publishing is scary,” she says. “You have to be persistent and you have to believe in the story you’re telling.” Her belief in the story was strong, and she netted her agent Jessica Regel with a partial manuscript submitted at an SCBWI conference in New Jersey; Regel eventually sold the book to Alessandra Balzer. Working on the book with Balzer and her team proved a valuable experience for Gregorio. “They had a vision that meshed with mine,” she says. “The things we did to the book helped make the characters as three-dimensional as possible.”
Gregorio says she has enjoyed making school visits and hearing from readers across the country, including intersex readers grateful that their story is being told, and cisgender kids who are able to empathize with Kristin.
Since publication, Gregorio has experienced a “basic sense of satisfaction.” Her lifelong dream of being published is now attained, and that accomplishment calms her: “I felt before that I was groping for something, that I was a little unfulfilled, that I had not lived up to a potential that I had.” She adds, “That’s not to say that I don’t want more from a second book.”
To see all six of this season’s Flying Starts authors and illustrators, click here.