Danielle: Welcome to Fresh Fiction, Penny! Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your debut novel, FOR THE LOVE OF APRIL FRENCH.
Here’s the bio I’ve been using everywhere!
“Penny Aimes was assigned Hoosier at Birth but made her way to Austin, Texas, where she lives with a beautiful accountant and a very loud bird. Her debut novel FOR THE LOVE OF APRIL FRENCH is the story of a trans woman who has always seen herself as a stopover for others on their way to a happily ever after and the cis man who knows his home will never be complete without her. Both kinky and unrepentantly fluffy, it is a story about letting go of fear and believing that you can love and be loved in return. It’s also about embracing your community and letting your community vice you a little versa now and then.”
“Kinky and unrepentantly fluffy” comes from a very kind review from Talia Hibbert, which is also quoted on the front of the book. A funny thing about that quote is that we had to keep revising the attribution as Talia got more awards and honors. I think we finally settled on “NY Times best-selling author Talia Hibbert.” I obviously got my blurb at the exact right moment.
Because this is your debut novel, I would love to know your journey into publishing. Also, what’s something you wish you had known before you got started with this process?
I have always wanted to be an author and have tried my hand in a lot of different genres, but I came to romance late because of fear and internalized transmisogyny. I got there eventually, though, and when the pandemic hit I read nothing but romance for months; I couldn’t stand anything with world-ending, life or death stakes and I needed a guaranteed happy ending.
I’ve always found that whatever I’m reading is what comes out when I sit down to write and I soon began a romance novel. Unlike all the other stories I’ve ever tried to write, though, APRIL FRENCH demanded to be finished. With support from my wife and an amazing beta reader, Rebecca Fraimow (an accomplished author in her own right), I did finish it, just in time for the #CarinaPitch event.
I don’t know that I have the stamina for the traditional publishing apply-and-wait journey, but a Twitter pitch and an immediate response sounded doable, so I took my shot and had the joy of meeting John Jameson, a transfem Carina Press editor who championed APRIL FRENCH and really helped me polish it into something worth reading.
I wish I had known how wonderful it feels to have a book out there in the world, and to have a team assembled behind you to make it happen. I think it’s easy to give up on a dream when you can tell yourself it won’t make you as happy as you imagine, but I wouldn’t give up this journey now for anything.
April was such an interesting character—she has resigned herself to just being a “rest stop” for other people to figure out what they want, and also keeps her own deep and true desires hidden from the world. Where did the inspiration for April come from? How do you think readers will relate to her?
It’s funny—I had a very small-scale experience like April’s early in my transition, when I joined an online kink community to explore my interests and have some new experiences being desired. There were a lot of young trans girls there and before I knew it was a moderator and sort of unofficial “Wendy in Neverland” to the lot of them.
It was just a small facet of my life for a short period, but it left me with the idea of this woman who no one really sees and then one day someone does and it changes everything.
I hope people relate to April as a woman with a unique set of circumstances. Physically, when selecting a model for the cover and describing her, I thought of April as both beautiful and as unmistakably trans, and that is who she is emotionally, too. I think her insecurity and fear to reach for her desires is universal, but it’s rooted in experiences I hope trans women recognize and cis folks can learn from.
Dennis is a wonderful love interest and wants nothing more than to make April happy. He’s never been with a trans woman before, but after their initial one-night stand, he’s ready for something more. What are some of your favorite things about Dennis as a character? What were some of the challenges of writing him?
Obviously, the biggest challenge of writing Dennis was writing a character outside of my own race. If I were starting the book from scratch now, after the conversations I’ve seen and absorbed in the last year, I probably wouldn’t do that, but there was no way to go back and make Dennis white. His identity was too baked in to his story and his personality. I’m eternally grateful for the feedback and support I got from my editors and from Lynn Brown, a sensitivity reader from Salt and Sage, for helping me craft his story in what I hope is a sensitive way.
My favorite thing about Dennis is his easy confidence paired with his new caution. I’ve described Dennis as a recovering alpha and I think that gets it across. He knows what he wants and he goes for it, but he knows he can make mistakes and he is so committed to not doing that. I like that he comes from a family of strong women who all love to dunk on him and he just takes it with a smile, and I think he’s really funny, in a dry way that’s more for himself than anyone else.
I really enjoyed how diverse and inclusive FOR THE LOVE OF APRIL FRENCH is, as well as the insight it offered into kink and what that means to different people. Why was it important for your book to showcase these aspects of your characters’ lives?
The story is set in the same place I live, so I’ve tried to populate the background of my stories with people who look like the people I see. One of the earliest keys to this story was that April was friends with a lot of other trans girls through her D&D group, and I tried to show a diverse set of transfem experiences through that.
In the same way, my experience with kink has always been that everyone comes to that notional place for their own reasons; even people who share a lot of the same kinks may be coming from very different places. For Dennis and April especially, it’s about spending your life at the mercy of wealth and power and wanting to play with those dynamics in a safe environment; it’s also about being able to put some distance and plausible deniability around the feelings you’re catching.
I love asking authors about what they are reading! What’s a recent read that you adored and you highly recommend?
I’ve been very luck this summer to have a surfeit of trans-led romances to read thanks to what I’ve been calling #transgirlsummer, especially THE CALYX CHARM by May Peterson, FAKE IT by Lily Seabrooke. I’m so excited and honored that my book coincided with two established trans romance authors publishing their first books with trans heroines! R. M. Virtues and E. E. Ottoman have also created some indelible trans heroines this year.
What can readers expect from you next?
I am working on my second novel (slowly), which features a couple of April’s friends from D&D falling in love with each other, in a fake relationship story. I do intend to circle back to kink and the gang at Frankie’s eventually.
Rapid Fire Random Questions
Cats or dogs: Cats.
Book you recommend the most: This is hard! I’ve been shilling like crazy for my #transgirlsummer cohorts and I am always an advocate for Rebekah Weatherspoon and Talia Hibbert in particular, within romance. Outside of romance, Terry Pratchett and Max Gladstone get a lot of love from me. But trying to think of one book to recommend above all others… it might have to be A SAFE GIRL TO LOVE by Casey Plett. Required reading for anyone who wants to understand the hearts and minds of trans women.
Favorite smell: Books is always a good answer; getting my author copies of FOR THE LOVE OF APRIL FRENCH and smelling the paper was a very visceral “this is real” moment.
Fellow bird owners will know that conures smell good. It’s a dry, dusty kind of smell, not unlike paper, actually.
Ketchup or mustard: Ketchup, unless it’s honey mustard, in which case I’ll drink it straight.
You’ve been invited to a costume party – what do you dress up as?: Princess Peach – I already have the dress!
What fictional city/location would you visit?: Ankh-Morpork, I suppose, but I’d probably wind up in the gutter by the end of the first day. Still, I’d have to see it.
Favorite childhood movie: The Jungle Book is the one I watched over and over.
How do you practice self-care?: I think the most important and hardest practice of self-care is to be kind to yourself, the way you would treat someone you love who was exhausted or burnt out.
Breakfast or dinner?: Breakfast! Migas with queso for preference.
You have a totally free afternoon – no deadlines, no obligations, no Twitter notifications! What do you do?: Nap!
“This book gave me every last one of the Intense Romance Feelings I crave.” —USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Talia Hibbert
April French doesn’t do relationships and she never asks for more.
A long-standing regular at kink club Frankie’s, she’s kind of seen it all. As a trans woman, she’s used to being the scenic rest stop for others on their way to a happily-ever-after. She knows how desire works, and she keeps hers carefully boxed up to take out on weekends only.
After all, you can’t be let down if you never ask.
Then Dennis Martin walks into Frankie’s, fresh from Seattle and looking a little lost. April just meant to be friendly, but one flirtatious drink turns into one hot night.
When Dennis asks for her number, she gives it to him.
When he asks for her trust, well…that’s a little harder.
And when the desire she thought she had such a firm grip on comes alive with Dennis, April finds herself wanting passion, purpose and commitment.
But when their relationship moves from complicated to impossible, April will have to decide how much she’s willing to want.
About Penny Aimes
Penny Aimes was assigned Hoosier at Birth but made her way to Austin, Texas, where she lives with a beautiful accountant and a very loud bird. Her debut novel FOR THE LOVE OF APRIL FRENCH is the story of a trans woman who has always seen herself as a stopover for others on their way to a happily ever after and the cis man who knows his home will never be complete without her. Both kinky and unrepentantly fluffy, it is a story about letting go of fear and believing that you can love and be loved in return. It’s also about embracing your community and letting your community vice you a little versa now and then.
About Danielle Jackson Dresser
Danielle Jackson Dresser is a contemporary romance author (her debut novel with Berkley will be out in 2022!), avid reader, lackluster-yet-mighty crafter, and accomplished TV binge-watcher.
Once upon a time, she was a publisher publicist and continues to cultivate her love of books and reading by chatting with the best authors in the business as the Editorial Manager of Fresh Fiction and co-host of the Fresh Fiction podcast. Danielle is one of the Boozy Book Broads, a monthly author chat show streamed live on YouTube. She also moderates panels, interviews authors, and hosts a book club at Love’s Sweet Arrow, the romance-focused independent bookstore.
Danielle lives in Chicagoland with her very own romance hero husband, darling daughter, and two tempestuous cats. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @DJacksonBooks.