We welcome 2018 mentee, AJ Vanderhorst, to chat about his #WriteMentor experience and his recent, great news.
Tell us a little about you and your writing journey to date.
I’m a middle-aged, moderately exhausted dad, and I’ve been seriously trying to write fiction since 2013. My first manuscript about a Dragon Agency in Kansas City got some traction (PitchWars) and agent interest, but ultimately struck out. The fact that I wrote in myself, my wife, and our four boys might have had something to do with that. My second novel is an adult mystery/thriller with magical realism. It’s been on the back burner for awhile, waiting to be revised and polished. My second middle grade fantasy, and latest book, CASEY GRIMES AND THE SENTRY OAK, aka MOSTLY INVISIBLE BOY, hit the ground much more polished and easier on the eye, thanks to WriteMentor. It’s about a mostly-invisible (really) suburban kid who infiltrates a secret forest society responsible for monster control. As you may have guessed, I’m still a little on the fence about the title.
What made you apply for WriteMentor 2018?
I’d pushed CASEY GRIMES about as far as I could, but felt it still wasn’t quite ready. In particular, I had doubts about pacing and interiority—whether I was getting my mc’s thoughts and feelings on the page. The lineup of mentors was impressive, and Stuart made the tone of the whole contest so personable. And what was your experience like? Amy Wilson critiqued 20,000 words of CASEY, and her feedback was spot on. I think I took every one of her suggestions to heart. Then I got to work pushing the same changes forward through the other 36,000 words. That was tough, but my skills got a bump as a result—pacing and interiority especially. That was really cool.
What happened after the programme ended?
My story got several agent nibbles in the showcase, but ultimately they were passes. I queried widely afterwards, and ended up with around a dozen page requests. I was still waiting on a few of those when I received an offer of publication from INtense Publications. The cool thing was, they’d originally found my entry on the WriteMentor showcase. It wasn’t the superstar agent offer I’d dreamed about, but after years of waiting on queries, it was the right offer at the right time. Sometimes you know when you’ve waited long enough.
What’s next for you?
INtense Publications has a robust pre-pub process, so I’ll be doing edits and publicity stuff for CASEY GRIMES leading up to its release mid-2020. At some point I also have to nail down this book’s title. (Help! Feel free to advise!) And start outlining my next CASEY book…at least a little…before I plunge in.
What one piece of advice would you give to other unpublished writers?
Everyone in publishing has an agenda. Writers, agents, editors, everyone. As a writer, you need to match your work with an agenda you can live with. Ideally, one that will help your writing flourish. INtense Publications is founded by active educators, with an emphasis on publishing books kids want to read. I’m a parent myself, not interested in writing “message books,” and I found that refreshing.
Where can we follow you/find out more about you and your writing?
I’ve had many jobs, including journalist, teacher, paramedic, and baby whisperer. One time in fifth grade, I built a traffic-stopping fort in a huge oak tree, using only branches and imagination, and slept there for a week.
Currently, my wife and I live in a woodsy house with our six proteges and a ridiculous number of pets, including a turtle with a taste for human toes. This makes me an expert on wild, dangerous things—invisibility spells, butcher beasts, hungry kids, you get the idea.
My debut middle grade fantasy novel, CASEY GRIMES AND THE SENTRY OAK, aka MOSTLY INVISIBLE BOY, will be published mid-2020 by INtense Publications.