Q: You’ve said, “I love writing about women and for years I never saw women who look like me or were from my family’s country in the thriller and action spaces, in this way, as the lead protagonist.” Can you say more about the inspiration for this novel, and for your character Nena Knight?
A: I created Nena to put a woman who wouldn't normally be seen in a space in which she would never be expected. She’s been through horrible things and so she compartmentalizes so that her past doesn't consume her and be able to move on with her future. So I wanted to explore what that looked like with her.
I also wanted her to be like Ginger Rogers from back in the day. Ginger Rogers was a phenomenal dancer and partnered often with Fred Astaire. So when asked, she said something like I can do everything the men can do. Only backward and in heels (or a dress).
Those words resounded in me because that is absolutely what Nena is. A Ghanaian woman who can do anything her male counterparts (the ones we always see in movies and read in books from our favorite authors), but backward...and in heels and a dress (if she must, but she prefers jeans).
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it “A parable of reclaiming personal and tribal identity by seizing power at all costs.” What do you think of that description?
A: Oh boy, when I saw that review and that line I was like YES!!!!! Because I am a storyteller and all my stories have deeper messages and discoveries that I want the reader to make with me.
So being called a parable is an honor. And reclaiming personal and tribal identity is absolutely what Nena is doing.
Her Name is Knight is a story of one person who decides she’s going to continue writing her story. She’s taking back her name when she renames herself. She’s reclaiming the power that was stolen from her. She’s reinventing herself in the way she wants to be.
She literally tells the reader, “I can write a book about all of it.” And she has, this parable.
Q: Did you need to do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: I did do research. Internet, of course, books, TV. I also have my own experiences growing up as a Ghanaian American.
I had several interviews with people I felt would give me the best insight - my sisters for medical stuff, a law enforcement friend to discuss weapons, another friend who's been practicing martial arts for years to discuss fight techniques.
My greatest research tool was my mother who worked with me on the language and helped me recall what the landscape and climate of Ghana could be. We discussed the culture, etc. She is also my keeper of stories so from many stories she told me, are what helped guide me as I crafted this story.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I knew how the bulk of the story would be, but as I wrote it was always evolving. I didn't write to an outline, I had the whole story mapped out in my head. During revision was when I made changes that I felt best fit where I wanted the story to go.
And then there was one significant change in the story when it went to my developmental editor.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Now I'm working on doing editing work for clients. Nothing of my own at the moment as I come up on launch day. My mind is too scattered to focus on being creative for myself.
But Book 2 in the series has been completed and turned in. I'm just waiting for the notes to come back. I'm a little bit nervous, to be honest.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb