Alexandra (A.J.) Van Belle
Lauren Bieker, FinePrint Literary Management
A. J. Van Belle is a writer and scientist who pens grounded, twisty science fiction and fantasy novels. Represented by Lauren Bieker of FinePrint Literary Management, A. J. draws on their expertise in genetics, ecology, and statistics to inform the world-building in their speculative fiction. Also a professor with five years’ experience teaching university writing courses, A. J. has authored short stories that have appeared in anthologies and journals from 2004 to the present. When not writing stories or code, A. J. explores the woods with their two dogs and invites their husband and teenage daughter to listen to the plot ideas simmering in their brain.
What does mentorship mean to you, and why do you want to be a mentor?
Being a mentor means the chance to be part of a writer’s growth and the excitement of collaboratively developing a novel. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a writer is passing along what I’ve learned and helping other writers reach their potential. I currently have a long-term commitment to mentor a younger writer. We’ve worked together for two years and I find mentoring a highly enjoyable way to help someone else while enhancing my own writing life.
My favorite recent comment came from a now-agented author of adult fiction who said I provided agent-level feedback before she started querying. I also regularly do free professional-level query letter critiques for CPs.
I am grateful to be part of Rogue Mentors and serve on this wonderful team dedicated to uplifting other writers. I wouldn’t feel I’m doing my part without using my years of industry experience to give back to newer writers and help bring fresh voices to the world.
What is your mentorship style? What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses?
My mentorship style is enthusiastic and collaborative. My strengths include decades of experience, a keen sense of plot and structure, and an open, friendly working style. I have a strong editorial eye and ability to motivate, with a contagious energy and passion for the books I work with. My scientific background helps me come up with world-building solutions my mentees may not have thought of.
My biggest weakness as a mentor is that I become significantly invested in my mentee’s or CP’s work, to the point where I care almost as much about their success as about my own. I know that sounds like one of those classic “weaknesses that’s really a strength” interview answers, but in this case, being as invested in mentees and critique partners as in family members means my work-life balance may not be as healthy as it should. However, with that said, I’m not sure I want to change it, because I genuinely care about the success of everyone I’ve worked closely with.
What makes a great mentee? Describe your ideal mentee/mentor relationship.
I view mentees as junior equals and the mentoring relationship as a chance to put two (or more) heads together to achieve greater creative fire than one person alone. My ideal relationship involves lively discussions about plot and character development, and in that relationship I also see myself passing along encouragement and positive motivation. I’m happy to work with a mentee via whatever combination of communication methods works best for them: email, chat, text, phone, and/or video chat.
A great mentee is excited to engage in discussions on writing and plotting. They are eager to find ways to make their book better but also has a clear idea of what the book is trying to accomplish. The mentee’s book is ultimately their own. My advice is always only a suggestion, and the author has to feel confident that the book is a true representation of their creative vision. If I was confident they understood the reasons for my suggestion, yet the suggestion didn’t feel right to them, I would be glad to accept their decision.
Ideally, my mentee and I would communicate frequently and go through at least two rounds of revision to get their book polished and ready for querying.
How would you describe your normal working speed?
What kind of communication can your mentee(s) expect from you?
I'm happy to communicate via phone, email, Zoom, or Discord chat and can adapt to my mentee's preferred communication style. I plan to set up regular check-ins at a frequency that works for both of us--weekly, for example--and can also discuss questions and work out plot tangles in between meetings/chats.
There are times when my work may mean I have less availability for between-meeting discussion, and when that's the case, I'll communicate it clearly. I want mentees to feel I'm there for them even during my busier times.
At the beginning, we'll set a projected timeline for the revision, with sub-goals along the way. We can always adjust our timeline, but having a plan at the start will give us something to aim for and will give the mentee a sense for when they can progress to the next step (querying, for example).
What kinds of communication are you able to accommodate?
Email, Zoom/Skype/Video, Text/Whatsapp, Social Media DMs, Phone calls
Are you able to make accommodations for mentees that request them?
Indefinite/As long as the mentee needs to complete our work together
Check all that apply: What do you plan to offer as a mentor?
Full manuscript critique, Multiple manuscript passes and query support, Line notes/edits
How polished should your submissions be?
I'm flexible and would consider manuscripts that are already highly polished as well as those that still need significant development. It's all about fit!
Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary, Magical Realism
I would love to work with adult and YA science fiction of all sub-genres. Send adult and YA fantasy my way too, especially if it's a fresh, unexpected take.
In all genres/age levels, I love unconventional structures, including multiple POVs, interleaved timelines, and nonlinear storytelling. Give me gritty worlds with strong character relationships, and morally gray main characters with hearts of gold. I enjoy both hard and soft science fiction, both high and low fantasy. I'm drawn in by execution and the way everything fits together, rather than by favorite tropes or vibes.
Please do not send me:
Genre romance isn't a great fit (although I love romantic subplots in other genres).
What are some of your favorite books?
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty
All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
What are some books, movies, shows, games, etc. that you've recently enjoyed?
Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid
Sword Stone Table edited by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington
Is there anything else you want potential mentees to know?