After getting out of an action-packed movie, it’s common to let your mind wander, wondering what it would be like to be a super hero or spy or someone with crazy powers. While most people envision themselves as the one in the midst of all the action, author Kristen Orlando imagined the same setting through another set of eyes.
“My husband and I had just watched the movie ‘Red,’ which is about retired CIA operatives hunted by assassins,” said Orlando. “After we had watched the movie, I was in the shower and thought, ‘What would it be like to be the daughter of one of those top secret spies? What an interesting and dangerous double life you’d have to lead!’”
This thought brought to life You Don’t Know My Name, Orlando’s debut novel about Reagan Elizabeth Hillis, the daughter of super top-secretive government agents. Expected to follow in her parents footsteps, Reagan has been training her entire life. But as an upperclassmen in high school, time is running out for Reagan to choose the life she really wants. With great friends and falling in love, a normal life appeals more than the dangers and risks she sees her parents face every day.
“I’d been wanting to write a young adult book for a while but hadn’t come up with an idea yet and then . . . BAM! I think I came up with half the plot somewhere between shampooing and conditioning. I was so excited about it I literally ran down the hallway in my towel – still dripping wet – to see what my husband thought of the idea.
“He loved it and encouraged me to write it. It was definitely one of those very rare lightning strike moments. I started outlining and plotting right away – well… once I got some clothes on.”
In You Don’t Know My Name, Reagan’s parents are a part of the Black Angels, “the most hidden, secret, underground group in the US government.” So secret that even top officials inside the American government do not know they exist. The Black Angels are very important because they “are the group that takes care of the highly dangerous and controversial issues the United States wants to pretend doesn’t happen.”
“They are the elite of the elite and live extremely dangerous lives,” said Orlando. “But they are also heroes. Silent heroes, but absolutely heroes.” Black Angels have saved numerous lives and prevented attacks and wars from occurring. “They have helped to shape the world into what it is today and . . . [n]o one will ever know.
“I don’t know if a group like the Black Angels really exists in the CIA, but I like to think there could be a similar group out there. I greatly admire the very brave men and women who are silent, selfless heroes.”
These Black Angels are very powerful and highly educated in many different fields, specifically weapons and mortal combat. “I started out with exactly ZERO knowledge when it came to fighting and weapons,” said Orlando, who had never taken a self-defense class before. “It was important to me to do extensive research for this book because I wanted You Don’t Know My Name to feel as real as possible.”
To expand her knowledge, Orlando started with research, focusing in on the CIA and martial arts. Even though Orlando is scared of guns, she went to a shooting range and learned how to shoot.
“I really wanted to know what it felt like to hold a gun, what it felt like to pull the trigger, and what it actually does to your body when you fire a bullet – it really does knock you back. I wanted to be able to describe all of those feelings accurately in the novel.”
You Don’t Know My Name also focuses on the people in Reagan’s life and the relationship she has with them. Reagan has witty friends that are always there for her and a cute boy she’s crushing on and parents that expect her to follow a certain career path.
“I love the Hillis family… I wanted to show a loving family that deeply cares for one another,” said Orlando. “But I also wanted to create parents who have very high expectations for their talented daughter and are planning a life for her they aren’t even sure she wants. I think a lot of teens face this pressure.”
Growing up, Orlando thought she would become a doctor because her parents and many other family and friends were in that field. “I even applied to college as a Biology major even though I secretly wanted to be an English major and writer,” said Orlando. “My parents couldn’t be prouder of me now of course, but it took some convincing that I could actually make money and support myself while pursuing my passion.”
And other parts of her life put into the novel? Orlando’s good friend Jamie, whose last name inspired Reagan’s last name. And Luke, the cute boy next door, is based off of Orlando’s husband.