Andrew Joseph White, a budding and formidable voice in the Queer Goth Horror/Fantasy/YA reading realm, takes the wheel of the BAM Blog. Today, he answers his own questions: "Why did I want to write these books? Why am I the one to write them?"
As a tribute to Andrew's fans, we're offering 20% off unsigned copies of his new book, The Spirit Bares its Teeth, set to release September 5th. Be sure to also pick up Hell Followed With Us, his exhilarating debut novel.
Andrew, take the wheel!
"One of the most integral parts of being an author, I find, is looking at the sparkling new idea you’re cradling in your hands—holding it up to the sun to see all its facets, inspecting the way it catches the light—and saying, Sure, it’s pretty, but what are you doing with this? Why is it yours?
My books have a lot of weight and a whole lot of things to say, so skipping these questions isn’t an option. My debut, Hell Followed With Us, is about how queer identity connects with monstrosity and the effects of fundamentalist Evangelicalism on trans kids in the USA; my second novel, The Spirit Bares its Teeth, tackles the intersection of ableism and transphobia alongside the horrors of patriarchy. But why did I want to write these books? Why am I the one to write them?
So, presented in chronological order: The Six Questions I Asked Myself While Writing Hell Followed with Us and The Spirit Bares its Teeth.
1. Why did I want to write Hell Followed with Us?
When I found the sparkling idea of my debut, I was newly out as trans and so, so angry. I wanted nothing more than to express my burgeoning rage the only way I knew how. I wanted to write about a trans boy wreaking havoc. I wanted to break things. Simply put, I wanted to write about queer monsters being loved and fighting back against awful people. Trans folks are often held to impossible standards in exchange for crumbs of acceptance, and this book would be a chance to be messy and bloody and real.
"I wanted to write about queer monsters being loved and fighting back."
2. Why focus on religious horror?
Hell Followed with Us focuses on a specific kind of religious horror: the horror of the majority. America is beholden to a belief system—that is, Evangelical Christianity—that many citizens have no stake in or connection to. It will shape your life even if you do not believe in it. The inability to escape is the horror, isn’t it? Especially with how much American Evangelicalism is weaponized against queer and trans children. Facing down a powerful system that does not find worth in your existence is terrifying on an existential level, adding another layer of horror on top of your run-of-the-mill monster apocalypse story.
3. Why am I the one to write it?
I grew up with no idea that I was transgender or autistic. All I knew was that I connected more to the monsters in stories than I ever did the people, and eventually, I wanted to be a monster more than I wanted to be human. Not only should trans and autistic writers be at the forefront of trans and autistic stories, this connection to monstrosity means I trusted myself to confront questions of monstrousness and my identities in a compassionate way that would hopefully connect with young readers.
"The inability to escape is the horror, isn’t it?"
4. Why did I want to write The Spirit Bares its Teeth, then?
I learned I’m autistic while writing Hell Followed with Us, and it put my entire life into a new, illuminating perspective. I wanted to write a book that would help me understand myself, and provide a mirror for autistic teens to see themselves in. I also wanted to write a book that went in a new direction: from the violent power fantasy of Hell Followed with Us to a cold, claustrophobic story where the protagonist was unsure and ineffectual in the face of more dangerous men. And thus, The Spirit Bares its Teeth was born!
5. Why focus on medical horror?
The focus on medical horror arose naturally in The Spirit Bares its Teeth—after all, medicine is already scary in real life. For a main character whose mind operates through the lens of anatomy and surgery (in contrast to the ethereal ghosts that populate his world), the story would, of course, take that to its natural conclusion. Add on top of that the way marginalized people are treated by the medical institution, the incorrect beliefs held in previous eras, and an utter lack of anesthesia, well. It was an obvious choice.
6. Why am I the one to write The Spirit Bares its Teeth?
If I’d had any books with autistic characters written by autistic people, even just one, I think my childhood wouldn’t have been so confusing. I grew up with no understanding of why I was different, and that experience is integral to writing a protagonist who feels the same way. Yes, it’s a similar answer to the one I gave above, but that’s genuinely why I do what I do. I want to make the world a little more accepting for the teens of today and tomorrow. Why would you make art for the next generation if not to look back over your shoulder and say, “I made it, and you’ll make it too, I promise”?
Andrew Joseph White is a queer, trans, New York Times bestselling author from Virginia, where he grew up falling in love with monsters and wishing he could be one too. He received his MFA in creative writing from George Mason University in 2022. Find him at AndrewJosephWhite.com or on Twitter @AJWhiteAuthor.