Interview: Her Name is Knight author Yasmin Angoe discusses debut novel

Yasmin Angoe, photo credit Tamika Williams, Creative Images Photography
Yasmin Angoe, photo credit Tamika Williams, Creative Images Photography /

Yasmin Angoe’s debut novel Her Name is Knight follows Nena Knight, an assassin who goes by the codename Echo. She works for The Tribe, a secret international organization whose mission is to protect the people and countries of Africa. They also happen to be her adoptive family.

Nena’s story follows a dual timeline that begins in the present where she’s a trained assassin who is looking for more than just her next kill.

We also get a look into Nena’s childhood to learn more about her present motivations. She was taken from her home in Ghana as a teenager and is looking to gain back the power that was taken from her.

Culturess had a chance to talk with Angoe about Her Name is Knight, how she created Nena Knight, the difficulty of writing a dual timeline, how she balanced the darker moments in the book, and what’s up next for her as an author.

Yasmin Angoe talks Her Name is Knight

Where did the idea for Her Name is Knight come from? What was the first spark?

Yasmin Angoe: I always enjoy writing about women, and for years I never saw women who look like me or were from my family’s country as the lead protagonist in the thriller and action genre. Those are the genres I love and devour, so I decided to create what I’d like to see more of in these books I love to read and movies I love to watch. I also wanted a story that was culturally rich and dealt with more than just “getting the job done.” I wanted a story that gave the reader a lot to unpack as well as provided a thrilling experience. The idea of Nena came first. She was going to be the head of a criminal organization, but then being the boss didn’t feel right for her, and everything just kind of dropped into place after I started thinking about who Nena would be and what kind of journey she was going to be on.

The title immediately draws you in. How did that come about? Was it the original title or did it come later?

Yasmin Angoe: My agent, Melissa Edwards, gets full credit for the title. She is the title extraordinaire. Me, not so much. I’ve never been good at titles and pitches. Melissa titled book 2 as well. We got to both titles by brainstorming ideas from the descriptors Melissa used in the submission packet to editors. She’s really talented with how she writes a pitch, among many other things. The original title was Wudini, which is Twi for “killer, murderer” which is what Nena is, to be honest. So, you’ll see Nena referred to as wudini in the books.

The cover is GORGEOUS!! How much input did you have in it?

Yasmin Angoe: Thank you so much!!! I never imagined it would be so beautiful. I didn’t know what to expect really. All I knew and said was if we used a model, she had to be like Yetide Badaki from “American Gods” who I happened to watch while I was writing Nena and could totally envision her as Nena. My editor, Megha Parekh, is so fantastic because she put together concepts that I could pick and choose what I liked and not she kept me and my agent very involved in the whole process. The designer, Anna Laytham, really did her thing. I don’t know how she did it because I didn’t even know what I wanted other than that one thing. But whew! Hats off, Anna, thank you!

As you note in the first pages of the book, you cover some serious topics that can be triggering for some. How did you balance showing those darker moments on the page but also not making it too much for the reader?

Yasmin Angoe: Honestly, I gauged it by how I felt as I was writing it. The dark moments in the book were as difficult to write as they were to read. I know what it takes for me to cringe when I’m reading or watching something that seems just too much for me, but I also look for the reason behind why it is in there. Is it gratuitous? Glorifies trauma? Therefore no reason? Then there may be no reason to include it in the work.

There was a purpose for taking both me and the reader there. I wanted to show Nena’s strength and that the story doesn’t center around Nena’s trauma and pain but rather how she rebuilds herself and reclaims her power on her terms. I wanted to explore what this person learns about her guilt (that she shouldn’t have but does).

Recognizing all of that helped me balance the dark moments and know when I’d given enough for the reader to feel what Aninyeh felt and understand what Nena was doing. I hope this makes sense because it’s hard to explain how carefully I tried to craft my words so that the emotional impact of the scenes came through over any actual physical act. And I worked so hard to be as respectful as I could be when writing those scenes. It was a truly emotional process for me and again, it didn’t come easy.

I love a dual timeline, but I also know it can be hard to write. Was it a struggle to intertwine the timelines in a way that propelled the story forward and gave the reader important moments from Nena’s past?

I love dual timelines too! And at first, it was difficult because I was switching back and forth between Aninyeh and Nena, and doing that kept taking me out of the moments when I really needed to dig in. So, what I did was then write all of Aninyeh’s story first. When I did that, her story poured from me like water. Then I wrote Nena’s and was able to better understand who Nena was, why she made the decisions she made, why she felt the way she felt about the new people in her life, and the people she thought were gone from it. I wrote each timeline as if it were the sole story, so each would have a full arc. And then I plugged the Before where they fit with the Afters to make the whole story fluid.

I have read that some authors can have a hard time writing action scenes. With an assassin as the main character, action is practically her middle name. Did any of the action sequences give you trouble or is that where you thrive?

Yasmin Angoe: I wish I thrived! LOL. I did a lot of research. I watch a lot of TV and movies to be able to envision how I might write these scenes because I wanted to write them as if the reader is there watching it on the screen because that’s how I saw them. I searched YouTube and online for Krav Maga, which is the basis for Nena’s fighting style. I have an associate who takes fighting classes so I asked her for moves that would do this or that. And then after all that researching, I wrote the scenes and then I acted some parts out myself…by myself. My family members would sometimes walk by and see me in mid-punch or something crazy. They’d stop. I’d freeze in mid-action. They’d shake their heads and walk on.

What message do you want readers to take away from Her Name is Knight?

Yasmin Angoe: I really don’t have a definitive message for the readers. I want them to take away what they will because I cover a lot of things in the book that I hope will get people thinking about being a survivor, a fighter, a woman, an immigrant, a Ghanaian, a Black woman, etc. I want the reader to connect with stories about people who don’t look like, are from, or live like they do. But most of all, I hope the reader finishes the book and is like, “Damn, I’m stuffed,” because Her Name Is Knight gave the readers everything they needed to be fed.

Is there anything you’re working on or that’s coming up that you can share with us? Or are there any non-spoiler-y things you can share about book 2 of the Nena Knight series?

Yasmin Angoe: I turned in Book 2 not too long ago and with it, I continue tugging at the little unsolved thread I left in Book 1 to see what unravels. The cast is back, and we get a deeper look into the Tribe—which I’m totally obsessed with because someone has them in their crosshairs.

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Her Name is Knight is available now. It’s also being adapted into a series by Endeavor Content & Ink Factory!