An Interview with Anna Kashina

AnnaAnna Kashina was kind enough to drop by my blog today to talk about her Majat Code series, among other things. The third novel in the series, The Assassin Queen, was just released by Angry Robot Books. To start things off, I will shamelessly steal from Anna’s author bio by way of introduction…

Anna Kashina was born in Russia and moved to the United States after receiving her PhD in biology. She has been writing for as long as she remembers herself, and completed her first novel (published in Russia) when she was in high school. Her fantasy and historical fiction appeared in original editions in Russia, Germany, Australia, and the US. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she combines her writing with a successful career in biomedical research.Anna is the 2015 Prism Award winner for “The Guild of Assassins”, which received the first prize in the fantasy category and the “Best of the Best” grand prize.

Welcome, and congratulations on the publication of the third book in your Majat Code series! For those who may be unfamiliar with the series, could you provide a taste of what the books are about? And for those who do know the series, without giving too much away, can you give us a hint of what’s in store in book three?

Hi, Alison, thank you so much for the chance to stop by! I love to talk about my series!
The Majat Code books are adventure fantasies with elements of romance. Each has a standalone story, but together they continue the same overarching plot that comes to a full – and hopefully satisfactory – conclusion in “Assassin Queen”. The books center around the Majat warriors, highly skilled mercenaries and assassins who hire out their services and follow a very strict code. Throughout the series, their resolve to follow the code is thoroughly tested as they face a powerful enemy plotting to overthrow the Majat and restore the notorious rule of the Old Empire.

In book 3 the conflict erupts in full and leads to the final showdown. There are also some subplots involving a royal family in a very fun desert kingdom. I hope that the fans of the series as well as the newbies will enjoy it!

After writing two previous books in the Majat series, along with a few shorter companion pieces, was there anything about the characters or the world that took you completely by surprise this time around?

Assassin QueenMy characters have been surprising me all through the series, to the point that I started thinking of them as real people. In book 3 I was especially fascinated by the way several of the characters, who tended to be somewhat immature before, took charge and accomplished seemingly impossible things, which resolved some of the standoffs and ultimately saved the day. Some scenes literally unraveled in front of my eyes. It was the strangest thing to see them do things I had no idea they were capable of. In “Assassin Queen”, more than any other of my books, I found myself just following their whims and letting them do what they want. I am very happy with the result.

The second book in the series, The Guild of Assassins, won the ‘Best of the Best’ 2015 Prism Award, which is given by the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal branch of the Romance Writers of America. Prior to receiving the award, did you consider yourself a romance writer? Did receiving the award change your approach to the third book in terms of romantic content?

Funny you asked. When I wrote “Blades of the Old Empire”, book 1 in the series, romance was very far from my mind. Yet, a few main characters are young and attractive, and I found them developing interests and relationships before I knew it. In fact, the only relationship that wasn’t quite working out was the one I planned from the start, so the characters really took control right there.

When the book came out, many readers and reviewers commented on how the story seemed so romance-heavy. So when I was working on the sequel, “The Guild of Assassins”, I decided to just let it go. I allowed the characters to follow their hearts, and what came out was, I believe, true romance by the conventions of the romance genre.

I was tremendously honored and thrilled to receive the award, for which I was nominated along with some authors I really admire. Among other things this award did teach me that romance is a genre I feel natural and comfortable exploring in my books. So, when I wrote “Assassin Queen” I allowed all the romantic elements to happen, without holding back. I would say it is less of a conventional romance than “The Guild of Assassins”, but it is still up there. I hope it will appeal to the readers of both fantasy and romance genres.

Shifting gears a bit, let’s talk about your first novel, which was published in Russia. You wrote it while you were in high school, which is quite amazing! How long was it before the novel was published? How do you feel about that novel now?

That novel, “In the Name of the Queen”, was historical fiction –again, with elements of romance – co-written with my grandfather. It features Queen Elizabeth of England, Sir Francis Drake, and has been inspired by our love for the novels by Rafael Sabatini and Sir Walter Scott. This book remains very special to me, because it holds the essence of my closeness to my grandfather and the memory of our good times together. It was also very rigorously researched, and the story is seamless. But, I was in 10th grade when we finished it, and I would have definitely written it differently today.

It got published about 6 years after we wrote it, I believe just because historical fiction about England is always popular in Russia. The print did sell out, and the publisher promptly spent the money and went out of business, as tended to be the trend in Russia in those times.

I sometimes think about translating this book into English, which would really mean rewriting it completely following the same story line. Some day, I might actually do it.

I think that sounds like a fantastic idea. I for one would love to read it! On a related note, I’m always fascinated by people who write in multiple languages. When did you first begin writing and seeking publication in English? With your English novels, do you ever find yourself coming up against concepts or phrases that would be better expressed in Russian and wishing you could switch over?

Around the time I moved to the US I wrote my first not co-authored novel that I considered publishable – “The Princess of Dhagabad”. It was in Russian, but I quickly realized that if I wanted to achieve something with it, it needed to be in English. So, I took a big dictionary and translated it, word by word. I was surprised to realize in the process that the two languages are completely different. Very often there is no direct translation for words or concepts. I write in English now, but for the more difficult concepts I still come up with a Russian word first, and often I cannot immediately find an appropriate English equivalent. In these cases I usually put the Russian words down, to return to later when I edit the draft. Very often it is hard to say it as well in English, and I have to get around it by rewriting the whole passage.

In general, I think Russian is better for descriptions, and English – for action and dialogue. So, a perfect book should really be written in both languages at the same time?

Your day job in biomedical research seems far removed from the secondary world fantasy you typically write. Have you ever written anything more on the science fiction side inspired by your work? Does your day job inform you writing in other ways, even when you’re not writing science fiction?

Somehow I enjoy keeping these two sides of my life separate. Every time I try writing science fiction, I tend to feel too constrained by everything I know. My imagination just does not fly the way it tends to do with fantasy. This sense of letting go of all boundaries and constraints of my everyday life has always been a big part of the appeal for me, both in writing and in reading.

At the same time, I do consider writing and science very synergistic. In both, it is essential to keep in mind both the big picture and the details. It is also essential to lay down every thought very clearly. When I write, I do better science, and vice versa. When I cannot find time to write fantasy I tend to feel miserable and less productive in my day job. And I do feel so blessed to be able to have two creative professions at the same time.

There are quite a few speculative fiction writers living in the Philadelphia area. Do you think there’s anything particularly speculative or fantastic about the city to draw such authors to the area? What are some of your favorite things about living in the Philadelphia area? Are there restaurants, attractions, or other places you’d recommend to someone visiting for the first time?

I actually believe Philadelphia is one of the best kept secrets in the US. It looks shabby on the outside – especially when driving from the airport–but once you are in the city, everything just magically changes. When I first moved here I was terrified, and it took all but five minutes to blend in and realize how good this place is. In some ways this change of perception felt like stepping through the looking glass into another world.

To me, there are many things about Philadelphia that factor into this attraction. It has rich and diverse history, and is very active and dynamic without being overwhelming. It is also ideal for living a quiet, comfortable life. I do enjoy the restaurants, and art galleries, and shows, and the fact that in the Center City you can just walk outside at midnight and feel very relaxed. I also appreciate the fact that I can shop for food in big supermarkets selling ethnic foods. And, I love living in the forest and working in the city, only 25 minutes away. In the end, I guess it comes down to having a lot of things just right to fit your lifestyle. I am not sure if our great writing community is the result of this, but this community by now is part of the attraction too. It does seem amazing how many wonderful speculative fiction authors live here and how open to interactions they are.

Now that the third book in the Majat series is out, what’s next for you? What else are you working on or do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

I am working on a new novel that will hopefully become a part of a brand new series. True to my current passion, it will have a multicultural setting, adventure, intrigue, fancy swordplay – and, of course, romance.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks so much for having me. These were great questions I really enjoyed!

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