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Andrew Joseph White receives Stonewall Honor for "truly disgusting" new novel

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Andrew Joseph White — Peachtree Teen
Andrew Joseph White — Peachtree Teen

Author Andrew Joseph White was astounded by the success of his debut indie novel, Hell Followed with Us, when it came out in 2022. "I was under the impression that I wouldn't get above cult classic — maybe if I was lucky — and then it hit the New York Times bestseller list, and it hit the indie list, and it stayed there," he said.

The dark horror fantasy helped to cement White as one of the most highly anticipated new writers of the 2020s. However, his success came at a price.

"I was startled when it came time to write book two, because I had a lot of pressure," White admitted. "On top of that, I had been working on [Hell Followed with Us] for four years before it was released, so I had a lot of time to sit on the characters and the world and what I was trying to say... [For] The Spirit Bares Its Teeth, I had maybe half of that. I had to jump right into it. I didn't have time to build everything slowly. I had to figure everything out as I was writing and editing it."

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For nearly two years, White wrote and rewrote his sophomore novel. Even in the late stages of copyediting, he was still solving world-building issues and reconstructing the novel's ending.

"I legitimately hated The Spirit Bares Its Teeth until it landed in my hands as an advance reader copy," White said. "It went through seven drafts. It didn't feel right. Even after I fixed everything, it still felt incoherent, because I had fixed everything in bits and pieces, and I couldn't remember what I had removed. I couldn't remember what was still there. So the first time I got the advance reader copy, and I read it through, I was like, 'Oh, I did okay.'"

Shortly after The Spirit Bares Its Teeth hit shelves and early reviews showed he had another hit on his hands, for days, White ignored calls from a librarian interested in the book.

"I have a noted tendency to ignore publishing industry calls, because I don't like talking on the phone. I hate the phone. It's an autism thing," White said.

Finally, when he returned the call, White got the news of a lifetime. "It's the American Library Association being like, 'Hey, you won the Stonewall Honor — congrats,'" White said with a laugh. "They put the book forward and were gunning for it, because it talks about the intersection of transness and disability, especially in a historical context — a 'we've always been here' sort of thing. It was awesome to hear, and I'm so glad I called them back, because I almost didn't!"

The intersections between Queer and Trans identities and disability have set White's work apart from other novels targeted toward older teenagers.

"I didn't know that I was Trans until I was 19," he said. "I had extremely vicious gender dysphoria starting at the age of about 11 or 12. I didn't know what it was. All I knew was that something was wrong."

White also did not know he was autistic until he received a diagnosis in his twenties, explaining the lifelong disconnect he'd felt from peers.

"If you're disconnected from yourself and you're disconnected from others, what does that leave you? The only place I saw that struggle reflected anywhere was monsters, because they are rejected [by] society and very often have a tenuous relationship with themselves," he added.

So White was drawn to the world of the dark: gory video games, horror movies, and books that he can only describe as "truly disgusting," such as Pig, a favorite he keeps on his writing desk at all times. Horror novels were where a young White felt free, before he had words to describe the disconnect he felt from his own body.

"When I was younger, I didn't like YA horror, because it wasn't disgusting enough. If I didn't feel physically ill, it didn't do anything for me," he said.

Now, when White sits down to write a book, he thinks about what his 16-year-old self needed. He doesn't coddle readers and writes horror for fans truly interested in being disgusted.

Writing the books he wanted as a kid means writing books that not all adults will approve of. "The stuff I wanted to read as a teenager wasn't the stuff adults usually want their teenagers to be reading, so I was a little stressed about that. But when the book sold, I was honestly blown away by the fact that my publisher, Peach Tree Teen, didn't try to rein me in. They let me get away with anything."

Fans of Hell Followed with Us will be equally delighted and horrified by the lengths White's latest novel goes to to express feelings of existing as a monster in your own body. The Spirit Bares Its Teeth allows readers to feel their anger and encourages them to find the power in it.

"Anger is what changes things. Anger is a secondary emotion to fear, upset, sadness, and injustice. You can move mountains with rage. That's what it's there for," White said.

The Spirit Bares Its Teeth is available now. White's upcoming third novel, Compound Fracture, will hit shelves in late 2024.