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The Next Big Thing – Lizzie Stark

The Next Big Thing is a literary game of tag in which writers answer questions about a work-in-progress. I was tagged by fiction writer, essayist, and awesome person Matthew Salesses.

What is the working title of your book?

Pandora’s DNA: How the breast cancer gene changed everything

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

I tell the story of the so-called “breast cancer genes” —  the morass of legal quandaries, scientific developments, medical breakthroughs, and ethical concerns that center around the BRCA mutations — through the lens of my family.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

In some form, this book has been following me my whole life — the huge amount of breast and ovarian cancer in my family tree has had a big impact on me. The first “real” short story I wrote imagined the life of my great aunt Trudy, a nurse who died of breast cancer at age 31. I wanted to know why she didn’t seek treatment even though she knew she had cancer. After I cut off my healthy breasts at age 28, I had a much better idea.

I’m still asking questions about the cancer in my family tree, only now I’m interested in how the legal history and medical history that surrounds the BRCA mutations has shaped my treatment, as well as in the emotional truth of what it means to be a person dealing with all this.

What genre does your book fall under?

Narrative nonfiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’d like Xena Lucy Lawless to play me, and for Idris Elba to play my husband. Because, come on, theres no film that can’t be improved with a judicious application of Xena Lucy Lawless and Idris Elba, right?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

To answer this would imply that it’s drafted. But since I intend to make my delivery date — deadlines are next to godliness for journalists, after all — it will have taken about ten months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

If I’m allowed to shoot high: Siddhartha Mukerjee’s The Emperor of All MaladiesRebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or Susan Gubar’s devastating Memoir of a Debulked Woman.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My family.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Silicone injections adulterated with snake venom! Hitler’s mom’s early chemotherapy at the hands of Jewish doctors! Lumpectomy pioneered by economist John Maynard Keynes’ younger brother! Nose jobs from 1000 BC!


Check out my latest narrative nonfiction book Leaving Mundania, a romp through the surreal world of grownup make believe.

The Next Big Thing

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