by Julie, having survived the winter storm over the weekend in Somerville
I am so glad to introduce you all to Nikki Knight, who you already know as Kathleen Marple Kalb! Her new series launches February 7, and she’s here to tell us all about it.
Call Me Anything, Just Call Me
Writers really vex about pen names.
When my agent was shopping my first historical mystery, he wasn’t sure I should use my real maiden name: Marple. He thought it was a little too much. I said I’d been Kathleen Marple Kalb on the air in New York for years now, and editors, and later readers, might remember the name.
Plus the fact that I’d spent most of my adult life showing my driver’s license to prove that I really was born Miss Marple. There’s a long history of memorable fake names in radio. But mine isn’t one of them!
So, Kathleen Marple Kalb I stayed, on the air, and on the cover of the Ella Shane historical mysteries for Kensington.
But then, when Crooked Lane picked up LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD, my first contemporary mystery, set at a Vermont radio station, a pen name was part of the deal. I saw it through the lens of radio: my traffic reporter buddies have always used different names on different stations, even though everyone recognized their voices and knew it was the same person.
So that part wasn’t too tough.
Coming up with the actual pen name, though?
That was a challenge.
Much earlier in my writing journey, before I realized that I’d need every single scrap of potential connection to agents, editors, and readers, I’d noodled about possible pen names. I always leaned toward family names, like my grandmother’s perfectly old-fashioned first name, Violet. Or maybe my son’s first name as a last name. I’d read that Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara Michaels, one of my favorite authors, used her kids’ names, and that sounded like a nice way to honor my family.
But I couldn’t. My husband and I have always kept a firewall around our son’s privacy. On my social media, he’s “the Imp.” In this scary world, I just don’t want my boy’s real name out there. We’re determined to protect his privacy…even if he’s going to throw it all away in his first week of college!
So what on earth to call myself?
I thought about honoring some of my radio pals – I almost picked “Julie Belmont,” for my best beta reader and my favorite on-air partner. Or maybe Winnie Something, a tip of the cap to my current employer, 1010 WINS.
Finally, it hit me.
If I’m going to use a pretend name on a book about a DJ, why not choose a really classic name for a woman jock? And why not have fun with it? Crystal Starr was in play for a minute or two, until I ran it past my husband.
He laughed. And then, doing his very best imitation of my radio voice, he pronounced it: “Nikki Knight.”
More perfect than even he realized – in the run-up to publication, I’ve had people reaching out to me and asking if I’m the Nikki Knight they worked with way back when.
But more evidence that I chose the right name: a tip of the cap to radio, a long line of women DJ’s who’ve worked their way into the business…and especially, to my husband, who not only gave me his name, but mine!
Question: Readers, do you think much about a writer’s name, or do you just accept it at face value? (One randomly chosen commenter gets a copy of LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD)
ART: Author photos taken by Steven Kalb, 1010 WINS studio picture from my personal collection.
Nikki Knight is the pen name of award-winning radio news anchor and mystery writer Kathleen Marple Kalb. She writes the Ella Shane historical mystery series for Kensington, and her short stories appear in several anthologies. Her “Bad Apples” was an Honorable Mention in the 2021 Black Orchid Novella Contest.
LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD (2/8/22) follows New York City DJ Jaye Jordan’s new start at a tiny Vermont radio station, after her husband survives cancer but their marriage doesn’t. She thinks she’s got enough trouble with protests because she replaced angry talk with love songs…and then the talk show host turns up dead in a snowman in front of the station. Plus, her second-chance romance with her old crush – the governor – turns out to be much more dangerous than either of them expected. Add in a colorful cast of locals, the cranky station cat Neptune, and Charlemagne the Moose, who has flatulence issues…and it’s more fun than anyone should be allowed to have in maple sugaring season.