Geology prof publishes middle grade novel

Fourteen-year-old Alibaster must face a series of challenges to discover the fate of his parents in geology professors new novel. Book cover, from

Fourteen-year-old Alibaster must face a series of challenges to discover the fate of his parents in geology professor’s new novel. Book cover, from

Dr. Jason VanHorn, professor of geology and geography, took a break recently from studying this world to build a world of his own in his new, self-published book “Alabaster Dangermond and the Serpent’s Blade,” released on Tuesday, March 6.

The campus bookstore held a book signing that afternoon, and a steady stream of students, staff and friends came to have their copies signed.

The middle-grade novel focuses on Alabaster Dangermond, a 14-year-old studying at a CIA preschool with this best friend Turnkey Keystone. All is well until the two cross paths with Dr. Zerich Moonshay and his Moonshadow Syndicate.

Inspired by the Hardy Boy mysteries he reads to his four kids, VanHorn developed the adventure story to supplement the standard evening story program.

He came up with Alabaster “kind of on the spot,” pulling a name he had used in other stories. VanHorn explained he picked Alabaster because it is easy to shorten to Al.

“My kids would ask again and again, ‘Tell us another Alabaster Dangermond story.’ And so I had to come up with different adventures. It kinda forced me to worldbuild,” VanHorn said.

While the plot and the characters came from VanHorn’s children, the motivation to sit down and write it out came from his wife, Kelly.

“She had always been the writer in the family,” said VanHorn. He explained he would come home in the evening and talk about the day or want to go do something and she would say, “I’m writing.”

“Finally,” he explained, “she said, ‘Why don’t you write a book?’ So I did.”

The book took about two months to write. The action scenes, he said, were the hardest to write.

“You want them to be realistic,” VanHorn explained.  “But I’m also considering my readers and middle grade eyes and hearts and minds and trying to have a battle be exciting and thrilling and dangerous but not overly so in terms of violence.”

After overcoming the various writing challenges, the novel underwent a sixteen-month editing process, which VanHorn said was just as difficult.

His favorite part of the book is Chapter 10. VanHorn enjoyed writing the introduction of a significant character for that chapter, and he hopes readers will be just as intrigued.

The novel has only had a few advance readers but has already earned at least one enthusiastic fan:

“I had one dad sent me a text the other night. I had given his son the book on Sunday. [His son] couldn’t put it down, and then he took it to school on Monday to show his English teacher, and he wanted to know what the next part is going to be about,” VanHorn said.

VanHorn is planning five parts to the series and hopes the books will encourage kids to read more.

“I hope my book will contribute to all books. And I hope [readers] will like it enough to get the next one and maybe even consider coming to Calvin. You know this book includes geology and geography.”

VanHorn hopes the book will introduce kids to geologists and show what a variety of careers geologists can have.

Lori Feenstra, a development coordinator, agrees. She plans to give signed copies of VanHorn’s book to geology department donors.

“It’s a reflection of the type of faculty we have here and the interest beyond just being in the college classroom,” said Feenstra.