Superheroes are awesome. Even more awesome: a young trans girl who becomes a superhero. The two come together in April Daniels‘ Dreadnought, an #OwnVoices tale about finding your place and kicking-butt at the same time.
Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, she was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But then her second-hand superpowers transformed her body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl. It should be the happiest time of her life, but between her father’s dangerous obsession with curing her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, Dreadnought’s murderer haunting the streets New Port City, and the classmate who is secretly a masked vigilante, Danny’s first weeks living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined.
Congratulations on Dreadnought, which is coming out in January! I’m so excited to read it. I love the cover art.
Yeah, people are really excited about it. I always have to find something that’s not great (I can be a little pessimistic), so I was a little bit surprised how much people love it. But I’m very glad to hear it.
Well, I personally think it’s gorgeous. Can you tell me a little about how you got the idea for Dreadnought?
The idea was to write the book I wanted when I was sixteen. It popped into my head on the last day of my then contract job. I was going to be unemployed the next day, so I decided why not write a book for the next few weeks.
What led you to want to write a trans character like yourself?
There just aren’t many. I wanted to write the book that i didn’t have when I was young. Since I’ve started writing, I’ve seen a lot more trans fiction come up. I think we’ve all got the same idea to fill the gap.
I’ve seen that. The conversation around representation, diversity, and who writes what is hitting a pique. One of the things I’ve been asking Own Voices writers has to do with our internalized stereotypes about our particular identities and marginalizations. Did you run into any of that while you were writing a trans character like yourself?
I don’t think so. I was pretty cognizant from the get go of what you see too much of, and what I didn’t want to create. The way trans women are depicted in the media—even when they’re trying to be sympathetic—it tends to focus on a few things and mostly usually the transformation. They really want to see the first makeup experience, first stockings, those sort of things. I did’t want to do that. I didn’t want to write fetishization, so I chose to write about my character after her transition.
The way you did that is fantastic, by the way. The idea of the character’s transformation being instant is great. Are there are particular pet peeves you have about trans women in young adult fiction, or any fiction?
Honestly I haven’t read a lot of YA about trans women, but there are a few tropes in adult-aimed fiction that get under my skin. There’s a real Madonna/whore mentality that’s very common. We’re either these sexless, virginal women who never think of sex, no sir, or we’re the most depraved people imaginable, eternally consumed by the need for sex; often, we’re depicted as literal predators. There’s nothing in between. It’s not like there aren’t trans women who aren’t dramatic colorful characters, because there are and all of that is valid. If you want to be a sexual person or someone who isn’t sexual, that’s great. But out of the whole spectrum, most of what we see is a dichotomy. There’s very little out there that treats us simply as people.
Did any of that come out in writing Dreadnought? I haven’t read it, but I did see that the best friend of your main character decides he deserves to date your MC.
Danny’s best friend, once she transitions, assumes she’ll be up for whatever he suggests. I tried to write Danny as someone who is fifteen. She’s aware of sex, and she experiences sexual attraction. But not ready to experience it yet, and she kind of knows that, although she doesn’t think of it in those terms. The book doesn’t have a heavy romantic plot, but she does have crushes. I wanted to write a trans girl who was at the stage where you are aware of sex and weren’t sure if you were ready or not. That kind of in-between space isn’t a place we get to inhabit very often. If anything, mainstream society makes a point of making it difficult for us to have normal, healthy development. Like I said about the fetishization—we’re often treated as sexually deviant, simply for existing. I wanted to get away from that.
Writers who commit to writing their own voices often have a difficult decision. They worry they’ll be rejected, or they already have been rejected by the industry due to their subject. Did you struggle with this, or was it a non-issue?
No. I didn’t ever think it would be picked up to become the next Hunger Games, but I wasn’t ever worried about getting published. I love my editing team. They’re all incredibly experienced and committed to making this great. It’s a smaller company so there wasn’t the money to make this one of the come out of nowhere smash debuts, but, you know, even most cis authors don’t get that so it’s no big deal.
It was such a long process to getting it published. Getting an agent and getting a publisher together took almost two years. During that phase, several people told me that we can’t represent this, not because of the trans perspective, but because they don’t think they could sell a superhero book. To a lot of agents, superheroes are the genre that never happened. There have been quite a lot of superhero books, but it never caught fire like urban fantasy did.
Oh, wow, now that you mention it, I never did see it take off. Why do you think it’s important for young readers to have a character like them?
It makes a difference in how happy you are. Just the acknowledgment that there are people in the world that have felt the way you do can be really important to people that age.
Last question, and on an entirely different route, I skimmed through your blog and saw that you’re into gaming. Did that play any part in writing Dreadnought?
One of the villain’s plots was pretty heavily influenced by my interests, though I don’t want to give too much away. Some of the hints of the structure of the superheroes of this world were influenced by my soft spot for high drama and the mundane facets of every day life also.
Fantastic. Well, April, thanks for speaking with me. Congrats again on your debut, and I can’t wait to read it!
Thank you for having me.