May is a really timely confluence of “awareness months” for This is My Brain in Love, being both Mental Health Month and Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Starting tomorrow, I’m collaborating with some amazing authors at the Asian Author Alliance on a series of events. First off – an Instagram Live on Thursday, May 7th with the incomparable Stacey Lee (award-winning author of The Downstairs Girl and Outrun the Moon).

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Also this month, you can catch me virtually during the following events:

  • Thursday, May 14th at 4pm ET- Rock the Boat’s On the Same Boat series: Managing Burnout Through Creativity
  • Friday, May 15th at 7pm ET – Isn’t it Romantic panel with Tif Marcelo, S.K. Ali and Farah Heron (produced by Asian Authors Alliance and livestreamed on YouTube)
  • Sunday, May 17th at 2pm ET – Writing the Complexity of the Asian American Experience panel with Traci Chee, Lori Lee and Deeba Zargarpur (produced by Asian Authors Alliance and livestreamed on YouTube & the Books Inc. Facebook page)
  • Tuesday, May 19th at 7pm ET – Politics & Prose (Crowdcast) – YA panel with Adib Khorram (Darius the Great is Not Okay) and Ashley Woodfolk (The Beauty That Remains)
  • Saturday, May 23rd at 9pm ET – PubTalk Live with Sarah Nicholas and special guest Ellen Oh
  • Monday, May 25th at 6pm PT / 9pm ET – Panel at Changing Hands Bookstore with Stacey Lee and Nicola & David Yoon (livestreamed on Facebook Live)
  • Wednesday, May 27th at 7pm ET – Mental Health + AAHM panel at Main Point Books with Emily X.R. Pan, Farah Naz Rishi and Hanna Alkaf (produced by Asian Authors Alliance and co-streamed on YouTube & the Main Point Books Facebook page)
  • Wednesday, June 21st at 8-8:30pm on Instagram Live – Let’s Talk Writing! with Kelly Yang

 

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Books – and bookish friends – have gotten me through a lot of tough times in my life, and this pandemic is no different. With a little help from my friends, I’m so excited to announce the This Is My Brain in Love virtual tour to support independent booksellers (read my previous post if you don’t know why you should support your indie)!

Everyone who buys a copy of This is My Brain in Love from any independent bookstore will get a signed + personalized bookplate, a sticker, and a bookmark. Everyone who comes to one of my virtual events will get scintillating conversation with some of the most incredible writers and humans in the world.

One lucky reader will get a $100 gift certificate to Bookshop.org.

One fabulous educator/librarian will get: 

  • A $100 gift certificate to Bookshop.org
  • A 20 book classroom set of This is My Brain in Love
  • A Skype visit from moi (and possibly a special guest) 

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How to enter the giveaway:

  1. Click on one of the graphics below to buy a book directly from an independent bookseller – if you have a different local indie that you’d like to order from, that’s fine too!
  2. Send your receipt to TIMBIL.indies@gmail.com with the “Giveaway” in the subject line. Put your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. If you’re a teacher or librarian, enter the name and address of your school/library in the body of the e-mail as well. 
  3. Bask in the warm fuzzies and know that you did your part to keep our beloved independent bookstores in business.

On April 30th, I’ll use a random number generator to divvy out the two prizes. 

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Me, at Books Expo America 2015

There have been scores of essays written on why independent and brick-and-mortar booksellers matter. This quote from writer Rob Hart my seem harsh, but his point is valid.

[Online booksellers] will never host a reading where an author can shake hands with a reader. They’ll promote what sells, not what’s good. They’ll sell books with the same reverence and care that they’ll sell a blender, because to them, both items are the same: A product with a price that goes in a box.

Hart’s essay was written way back in 2011, but the truth of it didn’t really hit home to me until 2012, when my beloved independent bookstore announced that it would be closing its doors.

When I first moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania from the California Bay Area in 2010, I was prepared for culture shock. No longer would I be in walking distance to a Whole Foods, a library, a movie theater and a Barnes & Noble. I knew I’d miss the literary scene in sunny California, where I could go to weekly – honestly, it could have practically daily – events at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park.

What a lovely surprise it was, then, to discover a world-class independent bookstore within two minutes drive of my office. Chester County Books and Music Company (CCBMC) was a true wonder, a sprawling, practically warehouse-sized hidden gem of a store with a thriving cafe, a separate music section with a combination of new and used CDs, and a children’s area that was bigger than some libraries I’ve been to.

The booksellers at CCBMC  – including Joanne Fritz, whose middle grade book is coming out in 2021 – were in a league of their own, able to pull up book suggestions at the drop of a hat from an immense inventory. Their carefully curated staff picks were basically guaranteed to please (okay, as the image below shows, I may be a bit biased).

CCBMC staff pics in April 2015

The store was also a cultural scene, being a magnet for visiting authors. As an aspiring author in a new town, it was through CCBMC events for A.S. King,  Beth Kephart, Amy Garvey, K.M. Walton, and Matthew Quick that I formed the writing community that supported and inspired me in my long and winding path to publication. Publishing can be a discouraging, baffling and lonely experience, but it’s been made bearable by the local Philly author connections I made through bookstores, including E.C. MeyersDianne Salerni, Nicole Valentine, Randy RibayBlair Thornburgh, Katie Locke, Eric Smith, Eric Bell, Kacen Callender, Fran Wilde and Alex London.

Whenever I had more than 5 minutes to inhale my lunch in between seeing patients, I would take the short drive over to CCBMC to build my kids’ (and, okay, my own) library. My husband used to joke that I had to go pay my weekly tithe to the book gods. Which is true, except sometimes it was a twice-weekly event.

Then, calamity. The store owners announced that they’d be closing.

I know some might find it odd to grieve a business closure as if it’s the demise of a best friend, but it’s not just the physical space and access to books that saddened me. I mourned the loss of community, and that so many hardworking and passionate book-lovers lost jobs they truly loved.

I mourned the books that would no longer be hand-sold by actual, live people, and feared that readers would resort to online algorithms to determine their purchasing choices. The odds that a quieter, so-called “midlist” book would become a sleeper hit became even more slim.

Then, a miracle. After a swell of local support, the Chester County Book Company re-opened, sans its music wing and cafe, in a smaller space in the same shopping center. Much of its staff remained on board. My daughter got her favorite stuffed animal dozens of new books from the new children’s section.

In April of 2015, one of the proudest days of my life, I had the launch of my debut novel in their beautiful new location, and celebrated with dozens of my friends, family and author buddies.

The store’s temporary closure felt like a brush of death, and I did my darndest to keep it afloat by increasing the frequency and magnitude of my tithes. I purchased every single holiday or birthday gift from that store.

And still, in 2016, it closed again. Several months later, a former staff member re-opened a book outlet in the same location, selling primarily discounted books with a select collection of newer titles. Months later, that business, too, shuttered.

So now my children live in a town without a bookstore. There is a superb Barnes & Noble two towns over where I had planned to launch This is My Brain in Love, but nothing that I can run to during a lunch break, or when my son needs to get the next volume in the series he’s reading right now.

It’s not that it’s wrong to buy books online. When money was tight in the past, I’ve chosen to take steep discounts and free shipping without a modicum of guilt. But when my family has the means and time to, we do our best go to a physical store to buy books, gifts, and even something from the cafe.

In the covid era, bookstores, like the vast majority of businesses in the world, are hurting right. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if we emerged from this pandemic to find local gems like Haverford Children’s Book World, Wellington Square Books, Main Point Books and Shakespeare and Co. gone.

So, to add trademark indie “value” to anyone to purchases a copy of This is My Brain in Love from an independent bookstore, I’m excited to launch a TIMBIL indie ordering campaign, which will include virtual events, signed bookplates, stickers & bookmarks, and a ton of good karma. Full details coming soon!

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Any author will tell you that that waiting for trade reviews is one of the worst part of the publishing business, akin to that nail-biting period when kids are waiting for college admission announcements.

I am so, so thrilled – and, let’s be honest, more than a little relieved – to share that Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and Kirkus have weighed in with their opinions on This if My Brain in Love – and they liked it! They really liked it – to the tune of two starred reviews!

My favorite pull quotes:

  • ⭐ “Readers will come to this story for dynamic romantic and familial relationships, but they’ll stay for its smart exploration of depression, anxiety, and self-care.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • ⭐ “Deftly navigating issues of race and mental health, as well as giving voice to the reality of American teens born to immigrant families, many of whom grapple with different cultural and familial expectations, Gregorio has written a heartwarming foodie rom-com.” – School Library Journal (starred review)
  • “Mental illness is no match for love in this diverse, compelling novel… [Gregorio’s] cast of characters authentically navigate their mental illnesses through the twists and turns of a fast-paced plot, and the romance between Will and Jocelyn sparkles. A sweet, entertaining romance.”  – Kirkus Reviews (affectionately known as “Snarkus” to authors who have felt their reviewers’ bite)

Please excuse the brevity of this post – I’m going to go collapse in relief now.

Here’s a picture of my legendary editor, Alvina Ling, holding This is My Brain in Love with its new bling:

 

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It has always felt fitting to me that the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention is held on the week before Thanksgiving. There’s no conference out there that makes authors feel so unbelievably grateful for the educators that live and breathe the love of language and stories. For me, this year was filled with more overwhelming gratitude than most, because it’s the first time in five years that I have a new book coming out.

Michelle bullaI’ve said it before: It’s a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of a diverse book, must be in want of a teacher, librarian or bookseller to introduce it to a reader. This was absolutely true with my first book, None of the Above, which I was told was a “tough sell” because its main character was intersex. Only by the grace of dozens of teachers, librarians and booksellers is the book still in print – and selling – today.

I was reminded just a few minutes minutes into my signing line for This is My Brain in Love of how wide the impact is that teachers make when one of the attendees, Michelle Bulla, said that she had attended a session of mine in 2015, and that None of the Above is now a reading option in her high school.

Kristin teacher roundtable 1mbThen the next morning, as I prepared for a 8am roundtable organized by the amazing Sarah Mulhern Gross and Mollie Noel on how to teach “contentious” issues using children’s literature, I was approached by Kristin Luettchau, a teacher in NJ who had literally just taught None of the Above in her class – after she had it taught to her in her teacher education program by the wonderful Emily Meixner.

 

THREE GENERATIONS of readers!

Finally, there were the author friends. Oh, how I have missed them. The whole convention had a “class reunion” feeling, and I was able to hug/get copies of books by/eat + drink/laugh with so many incredible people who I haven’t seen in years. I can’t be more thankful for their friendship, their encouragement, their nagging “when are you writing another book” questions.  Continue reading

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(stolen shamelessly from my Facebook page):

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One year ago, I wan’t sure I would ever publish another book.

My medical practice was (and remains) one of the busiest and most thinly stretched in my county, and I had a proposal in my documents folder that needed a good amount of work.

Then Dhonielle guilted me into getting back to it, and Natalie and Laurieand Kathy and Madcap Retreats gave me the energy and *space and time* to work on it, and my agent Jessica Regel gave me the calm certainty that it was worthy, and then OMG Kheryn Callender and Alvina Ling swept in as Fairy Godparents in a dream team with Ruqayyah Daud.

Still, I could not have done this without an incredible community of writer friends (AbigailSonyaKellyStaceyAishaBeckyRandy, you know who you are), who supported me when I felt burned out from writing, and reassured me that there would still be a place for me in the fold when I came back.

I am so happy that I’ll be back soon!

Huge thanks, also, to the readers and interviewees who have helped me make the book of my heart as authentic as possible. It takes a village to write a book responsibly, and thank you Eric + BasseyOozoLynMarieke, Rachel Simon, Uduak, DK and Regina.

Please save the date for THIS IS MY BRAIN IN LOVE, Spring 2020 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It’s a (half*) #ownvoices YA contemporary about navigating love and anxiety and depression across cultures. I like it a lot, and hope you do too.

(h/t Holly Bodger for the tip that it was in PW!)

*The book is in dual narrative!

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I’ve been working on intersex activism for about five years now, and it’s been one of the most rewarding turns in my career. I’ve met amazing intersex adults, even more incredible intersex children, and listened to medical horror stories that would make your hair curl.

So it was an incredible, humbling thing to be asked to participate in the launch this past Tuesday of Human Rights Watch‘s landmark report on intersex genital surgery. Here’s a trailer of the full report, which is available for free online, and is a must read for anyone who likes complex tales with a devastating emotional impact:

Here is a video of the full launch event, featuring Kimberly Zieselman (interACT’s Executive Director, Eric Lohman (a professor who is a parent of a child with CAH), Lynell Stephani Long (intersex activist and interACT board member), and Bo Laurent (widely regarded as the founder of the intersex movement).  My part starts at around 26:00 if you’re interested.

Thank you to the press who have reported on this subject and cast an important light on one of modern medicine’s greatest failures, including the AP, TeenVogue, and Reuters with more to come, including NPR affiliate KPCC, where I’m going to be on AirTalk today (2:39 EST/11:39 PST) with intersex activist Hida Viloria and pediatric urologist Larry Baskin.

I’ve been thinking about intersex for five years, and in addition to being rewarding, it’s frustrating to realize how much more needs to be done. Thank you to Bo and Lynell and Anne & Suegee Tamar-Mattis, and Morgan Holmes, and to the countless people who have been fighting this fight for twenty-four years, for sparking the spark so long ago, and for continuing this often exhausting, sometimes angering, but always important fight.

Things need to change. Here’s hoping that the tide is starting to turn.

More comments and analysis to come.

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Hey, look at Teen Vogue, doing amazing work again:

I’m so delighted to support my intersex peeps by talking about why doctors need to rethink intersex surgeries performed on children before they can rightfully give consent.

Here’s another Op-Ed I wrote earlier this year in Scientific American.

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I’m very proud to have written about intersex in this Newsweek op-ed.  More info on the story behind the story coming soon…

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Instagram royalties

I’ll be honest: When I first went out to agents with None of the Above, part of me worried that traditional publishing wouldn’t touch a project with an intersex main character. For one, it was impossible to write about intersex without talking about testicles and vaginas, and who wanted that? I mean, the word itself had the letters s-e-x in them, so goodbye, sales from people who wanted clean teen.

Even more worrisome to me was just how much ignorance there was surrounding the entire topic, and how many myths there were out there about intersex bodies. True story: One of my first beta readers was really stressed out while reading an early draft of NOTA’s first chapter. She kept on waiting for my main character to pull out her penis during the sex scene (N.B.: most intersex people do not have both a penis and a vagina).

I won’t lie. Sometimes talking about my book to prospective readers feels like pushing a stalled car up a hill. I was told point blank by one of my publisher’s sales representatives that my book was a “tough sell.” Later on, they clarified that it didn’t mean that book buyers weren’t picking up the book – in fact, indie bookstores have been crucial to NOTA’s relative success, and we wouldn’t be on a fifth printing if it weren’t for them. Rather, there was an activation energy of sorts when you told someone about the book, both because it required background info and explanation, and because transphobia—indeed, the phobia of any body that is different from the dominant paradigm—exists.

Times, of course, are a-changing, and the wheel of progress continues to turn. Largely because of the tireless work of organizations like interACT Advocates: Advocates for Intersex Youth, and OII (Organization Intersex International), intersex visibility increases every day. In the two years since None of the Above was published, these organizations have operated on shoestring budgets to increase intersex awareness. These are just some of the highlights of two years of intersex advocacy:

  • May 2016: Four intersex advocates, including myself, presented at the 2016 Society of Pediatric Urology meeting. As a result of the meeting, at least two surgeons postponed surgeries they had already scheduled on intersex children.
  • November 2016: A federal judge ruled in favor of Dana Zzyym, an intersex veteran, who is seeking a passport that reflects a gender other than “male” or “female”
  • December 2016: The UN Committee on Torture formally requested that the US provide information on the number of sex assignment surgeries performed on intersex children.
  • January 2017: The State of New York issued the nation’s first ever intersex birth certificate to Sara Kelly Keenan, who is now 55.
  • January 2017: Supermodel Hanne Gaby Odiele came out as intersex in USA Today, with coverage in Vogue, the NYT, Washington Post and others.
  • March 2017: interACT filed an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court, explaining why transphobic bathroom policies hurt not only transgender students but those born with intersex traits as well.

Despite all these advances, there is work to be done.

  • The nation’s been talking about bathrooms for a while now, and even though the infamous HB2 “bathroom law” was recently repealed, the compromise that led to its reversal also bans any additional nondiscrimination laws until 2020.
  • Emboldened by the recent presidential election, hate groups are thriving, including anti-transgender groups such as the one behind the so-called “Free Speech Bus” that is making a tour across the US. By creating a false equivalency between chromosomal sex and gender identity, the bus erases the existence of intersex people. The irony, of course, is that biology doesn’t justify bigotry—its diversity should promote tolerance.

This last election galvanized a lot of people to put their money where their mouths are. Organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Center saw record-breaking donation levels. With upcoming budget cuts, it’s likely that things will be tighter for a lot of organizations. I will say this, though: interACT Advocates does more with less than most non-profits.

So when I say that 100% of the April royalties to None of the Above will go to interACT, know that if you buy a copy of the shiny new paperback—whether it be for yourself, a dear friend, or your local library—it will benefit an organization that is dedicated to shedding light on one of the human rights issues of our time.

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From http://intersexday.org/en/7th-nyc-iad/

 

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