Interviewed by Merriam Saunders
Q: Can you tell us a little about your upcoming debut?
Troy Hayes, a 16-year-old with Tourette syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, is fed up with the humiliation, loneliness, and pain. He writes a list of ten things to complete by the tenth anniversary of his diagnosis – culminating in suicide. But the process of working his way through the list changes his life. He becomes friends with Khory, a smart, beautiful classmate who has her own troubled history. Khory unwittingly helps Troy cross items off his list, moving him closer to the end, while showing him that life may have more possibilities than he imagined.
Q: How did the very first idea for your story come to you?
I’ve wanted to write a story about a kid with Tourette syndrome for a while, but the time was never right. Not for readers -- it’s always the time to learn about the life of someone else. It had to be right for me. This would be an own voices novel and I knew it would be difficult and take me back to a more painful time in my life. Then one day while on a walk, the idea came to me – a boy with Tourette syndrome and a bucket list. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that I could actually do it.
Q: Your book deals with Tourette’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Can you tell us a little about how that influences the characters and plot?
The book is as much about Tourette and OCD as it is about the main character. The disorders are almost characters themselves. They influence Troy’s behavior and are main factors in his decisions. He doesn’t know a life without them. As a person who has lived with these disorders almost my entire life, it was important for me to show readers just how present they are in a person’s day to day life.
Q: How did you find a balance between writing authentically about mental health while still keeping your story entertaining and age appropriate?
For the story being authentic about mental health, and suicide, it’s the only way to tell it. I know the story is direct, almost in your face, but these are actual issues teen face today. More than people realize. And dancing around them won’t help anyone. However, I wanted to show there is more to life. We tend to forget that, or don’t know where to find it, but in the majority of cases, it’s there. It was very important for me to show those times, both for the main character and the reader. Finding the right balance was difficult, but I really thought and planned how day-to-day life would be if Troy, the main character, were a real person.
Q: Did you have to do special research to write this book?
This is an own-voices novel so a lot of the information came from personal experiences. However, everyone has different experiences and characteristics when it comes to neurodiversity and mental health. I read and listened to a lot of other personal stories. I also spoke with doctors and parents who had children in hospitals.
Q: Who is your favorite character?
My favorite character is Khory because she is so positive, or at least she tries to be. I grew up as a negative person, more focused on what could go wrong than what could go right. My husband is like Khory, and it has made such a huge difference in my outlook on life. I wanted someone like that for Troy and the readers.
Q: How can writers who write about a suicidal character ensure that they aren’t romanticizing it?
Suicide is not something to be romanticized. It is an act of someone in a lot of pain who cannot see another way out. It is final and should be treated as such. As authors, if we are going to discuss this subject, it must be done realistically and with all the thoughts and emotions involved. It takes a lot for a person to get to that point in their life; readers should see that.
Q: Tell us what’s next!
I am still writing, of course! Before I began writing and teaching martial arts, I worked in law enforcement. The story I wrote after List of Ten used a little knowledge from that time in my life. It’s a young adult thriller that’s currently with my agent.
Halli Gomez teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults. She has written several stories with neurodivergent characters including her young adult novel, LIST OF TEN (Sterling, March 2021).
When no one is looking, she sock skates through the house and talks to dogs like they are human. When people are looking, she enjoys reading, outdoors, and breaking out of escape rooms with her family. Halli lives in North Carolina with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.