April Daniels graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in literature. She completed her first manuscript by scribbling a few sentences at a time between calls while working in the customer support department for a well-known video game console.
She has a number of hobbies, most of which are boring and predictable. As nostalgia for the 1990s comes into its full bloom, she has become ever more convinced that she was born two or three years too late and missed all the good stuff the first time around.
TBL Author Q&A Series: April Daniels
This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!
What would you say was your origin story as a writer? Was there a certain event, person, or intuitive impulse that guided you to follow this literary path?
I started writing Star Trek fanfic in high school. I think that was my second hobby after video games. For a while, I wanted to combine them and write video games. After some research, it looked like the “easiest” way to do that would be to become a published author and use that credibility to apply to work at BioWare or something. (I would like to note that this is a terrible, terrible idea. Both the decision to write for video games and the path I took in attempting to do that.) I graduated college and eight years later I’m finally published. In the meantime, I’ve discovered I really like writing books, and games dev looks like a not so great field to work in. So now I’m trying to make it writing novels, which is also a terrible idea, but in a different and less disagreeable way.
What can you tell us about the publication process, or how would you evaluate your experience? Were there things you wish you had known before getting started?
First, you need a complete manuscript. The idea isn’t good enough; you need to finish and polish a complete draft of the manuscript. Then you query for an agent. This will take forever. You will be frustrated. Many (most?) agents will not even reply. It will seem unfair. It is fair, but you can’t see why yet.
Eventually, you get an agent, and the agent will then begin shopping your book around to publishers. This will also take forever and be frustrating. Finally, one or more publishers will express interest. You will have a very exciting week of contract negotiations.
The book will not come out for another year. When it does, the money will not be as much as you’d hoped. Then you will realize you’re in too deep because even after all of that, you’ll still want to keep doing it.
Can you discuss the themes and topics that entice and inspire you most? In what ways has your writing evolved since you first put pen to paper?
Every single book I’ve ever written is about a lonely lesbian searching for a family. There is typically some element of rupture with a parental figure. They all have anger issues and are subjected to tremendous emotional and physical violence. Early in my work, all my protagonists were amoral and selfish to an absurd degree. That has tapered off as I develop as an artist.
What/who are some of your greatest literary influences?
I am notoriously terrible at picking favorites, so I’ll go instead with the work that has the strongest and most obvious influence on Dreadnought, and that’s Adam Warren’s ongoing Empowered series. It’s an, um, adult book. But if you can get past the cheesecake covers they’re probably my favorite touchstone for depicting superheroes. Simultaneously absurd and heartfelt, with just enough real-world bureaucratic hassle to feel relatable.
What would you say is the most effective way to battle writer’s block or your preferred method for unlocking new levels of creativity or innovation when working?
I’ll tell you when I figure that out. My anxiety has really spiked since it became real to me that thousands of people have seen my work and cared about what comes next. Figuring out how to write through that is the big challenge I have at the moment.
When you finished writing Dreadnought, what was your process for choosing a publishing house and/or agent? Were you drawn to any brand in particular or was there more of a personal connection involved?
I went to queryshark.com and read up on how to write a query letter. Then I went to querytracker.com, and created a list of agents who represented the sort of work I was interested in. Then I sent them all an email asking to be their client. My agent, Saritza Hernandez, was one of those I queried, and after some discussion, she signed me as a client in 2015. Then she began shopping the manuscript around, and Diversion Books made an offer which we signed in late 2015. There was not a lot of competition for this manuscript, but that doesn’t mean I got second-rate people to help me. I feel quite fortunate to have fallen in with some of what I have come to think of as the top talent in the industry. Publishing is a small world with a lot of competition—everyone who can make it in this field is pretty good at what they do.
What can you tell us about your experience as a new author?
It’s been by turns surreal, terrifying, wonderful, exhilarating. On the day Dreadnought was published, I didn’t really feel anything. “Okay, that’s one hassle down. On to the next project.” My agent and my publishing team were all super excited and celebrating, and I kinda just didn’t care that much. I already had another deadline to hit, after all. But about 24 hours later, it finally sunk in that I’d done it. Nothing was going to go wrong; it wasn’t going to be snatched away from me at the 11th hour. I began to laugh and cry so hard I choked and had to go to the bathroom to vomit. That sort of thing went on for about an hour, and then for the rest of the week, I felt goddamn bulletproof.
Is there a specific achievement or experience that has opened up the most opportunity for your writing?
Homelessness crystallized my ability to write. I don’t mean that if you want to be a writer, go out and be homeless, so please don’t take it that way. But there is a very distinct before-and-after quality to my writing. I think it forced me to look at myself and my life in ways I had been reluctant to engage with, and this allowed me to finally get at the core of a character and tell a story with her in an engaging way. I was already a pretty good writer before all this happened, but it was talent and skill without direction. I didn’t have any emotional power because I was scared to confront that sort of pain within myself. Again, I want to emphasize, suffering is not necessary to unlock this sort of work—therapy is safer and cheaper in the long run.
What guidance might you give to fledgling writers/artists?
Small projects, iterated frequently, are how you improve. Do not start writing your sprawling epic that will have eight volumes plus a worldbook. You will completely fuck yourself if you try that. Short stories, novelettes, bite-sized work are where you want to start. Yes, the form is different, but you’ve got to understand how to put together a scene, how to direct the reader’s attention, how to depict emotion and action and cause and effect. Not every skill you learn working in a shorter form factor will be applicable to a longer work, but many, many of those skills will translate just fine. And it’s much easier to get people to give you feedback on something you spent two weeks on and which takes 40 minutes to read than it is to do with a 300-page book. You don’t want to put yourself in a position of realizing that people aren’t even getting past chapter 2 after you’ve sunk an entire year into a project.
Also, Milford style workshops. Google that shit, and live by it.
With Dreadnought out in the world, what’s next for you? Have you already started working on/outlining Book Two, or is there another (older) project, possibly including swordfights, that you’ll revisit first?
Ha! You read my Amazon bio before I edited out the salacious bit. That particular project you’re referring to is on ice for the moment. If it happens, it’ll be under a pen name which I won’t be able to discuss here.
I can tell you that right now my agent and I are working on a new series proposal that we’re going to try and shop around. This one is straight up fantasy instead of a superhero novel, unrelated to Dreadnought except perhaps in theme. I don’t want to say more until we’ve sold it, but I think people will really be excited about it once I’m able to share details.
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