George Mason University alum Andrew Joseph White said he has wanted to tell stories even before he knew how to form letters. White, who graduated with an MFA in creative writing in May, published his first young adult (YA) book, Hell Followed with Us, an LGBTQ post-apocalyptic horror story, less than a month later in June 2022.
Now a New York Times bestseller, the novel was an American Booksellers Association Winter/Spring 2022 Indies Introduce title and received an American Library Association Booklist Starred Review and starred write-up in Kirkus Review.
JOURNEY TO PUBLICATION: White, who also has an BFA in creative writing from Mason, chose Mason because its creative writing program is more accepting of genre fiction than many others. This was especially important for the MFA, because White’s application consisted of the first chapters of what would become Hell Followed with Us. White started writing the novel in his senior year at Mason and signed with Peachtree Teen in early 2021 as one of the new imprint’s first three books. While at times White simply had to trust the process, Peachtree Teen’s small team impressed him. He said he was glad to debut with an up-and-coming press before working with a larger publisher where authors may have less control.
DARKER THAN FICTION: White has been deeply fascinated by monsters since he was very young. He connects this with the fact that unrecognized gender dysphoria and undiagnosed autism can make individuals feel like they are not entirely human. White’s debut novel coincides with legislation in multiple states seeking to severely curtail trans people’s rights. In this environment, White’s story, which acknowledges how life sometimes seems to require monstrous actions to survive, is one he feels that a lot of LGBTQ kids need. Hell Followed with Us is also a way to provide young trans readers something he never experienced growing up—a YA trans protagonist. “The whole point of the book is telling queer kids that you can make it out of hell alive. You might not be in one piece; you might not be okay. But you are still alive.”
EXPANDING REPRESENTATION: In addition to a trans protagonist, Hell Followed with Us features an autistic character, Nick, as the secondary lead and love interest. White emphasizes the need for autistic YA characters who readers can take seriously and look up to. When White began research to ensure the character was an accurate depiction of autism, the Winchester, Virginia, native realized how much of what he was reading applied to his own experience. This led White to base Nick on a version of himself, and the process has allowed him to embrace his ability to write characters who are both authentically trans and autistic.
LOOKING AHEAD: White says he would love to win a Lambda Literary Award or Stonewall Book Award one day, and he already has more LGBTQ YA horror novels and an adult novella in the works. When White is not writing, he likes to play horror video games, which are another source of inspiration for his stories; read work by queer YA fiction contemporaries; and spend time with his cat.
White will be part of this year's Fall for the Book. He appears on Saturday, October 15, at 11:30 a.m. in the Wilkins Plaza Tent.