In this interview, Kwame Mbalia talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com, about his book, Tristan Strong Destroys the World (A Tristan Strong Novel, Book 2).
“The very first gatekeeper of one’s work that one would meet will be oneself.” ~Kwame Mbalia
Kwame, who is from Wisconsin, was named after the first president of Ghana, and his name also means “born on Saturday,” which was the day he was born in. He was steeped in west African mythology as a child, as he heard stories about these, and as a writer he wanted to create stories which were based on this mythology, to pass on to others. The Tristan Strong stories are, for him, about storytelling and how these get carried on for others to listen to.
Where the mythological characters are concerned, Kwame notes that the traditional tales leave gaps where authors like himself can create other stories, to expand on these, so that a larger representation of the characters can be given. “These stories have been around for a long, long time,” he remarks, adding that he includes them in his books to pay homage to the traditions around them.
Kwame remarks that each of his books is centered around a theme, with the theme of the first book, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, being that of grief, both for the lead character and the world he finds himself in.
The themes he writes about in Tristan Strong Destroys the World are trauma and diaspora, and these are interrelated with what the characters and real-world people deal with. Kwame remarks that readers can get an idea of how one person, at least, handles concerns such as grief.
Where the consistency of his books is concerned, Kwame remarks that there is a large team of editors which makes sure his stories remain consistent over time and, in addition, Kwame also re-reads what he wrote to ensure consistency. He notes that food is one of his favorite things to write about, noting that: “Food is a wonderful way of world-building,” as it shows different aspects about the culture that prepared it. He also enjoys writing dialogue, particularly humor, as this shows the degree of friendship and camaraderie amongst the characters.
Kwame remarks that would-be authors will encounter gatekeepers - people who can reject and prevent one’s work from seeing the light - along the way, but the very first gatekeeper one would meet will be oneself.
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