Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Anna Kashina?
I tend to think of myself as a jack of all trades. So, here, naming just a few, I am a fantasy author, a mother, a ballroom dancer, a biomedical scientist, a native Russian speaker, a fan of martial arts, and a niffler – not always in this order. I draw on all these in my writing, every day.
Your latest novel, Shadowblade, will be published by Angry Robot in May. It looks interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
It’s a standalone adventure fantasy with elements of romance, which could potentially be a series. The main character, Naia, starts off as a misfit trainee in the elite order of Jaihar blademasters, and works her way through the ranks, only to be thrown into the most dangerous and high-profile assignment their order has ever seen. It has a lot of action, politics, fancy blade fights, and of course, romance.
In a way, I believe this book is perfectly presented by its cover, beautifully created by Alejandro Colucci, so here is another good introduction. If the cover appeals to you, chances are you would love the book, because everything this cover promises is an exact match to the novel. Down to the fact that the cover is really silky to the touch, so you would probably want to read the book in print, just so that you could experience this sensation…
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
There were several layers of inspiration behind the book. I wanted to tell a story of a young woman achieving everything on her all merit in a profession traditionally dominated by men. Of course, I also wanted it to be action-packed, romantic, and fun. On a more serious side, though, through my work on this book Naia has become my own role model. I wish I would have been more like her when I was just starting out. And I am not just talking about the blade skill.
In terms of visual and sensory details, I have always been very inspired by settings based on the ancient Middle East. In Shadowblade, a lush Middle Eastern setting serves as a backdrop for the story.
And then there is the Jaihar Warriors’ art of the blade fights. With my background in martial arts and dancing, I found it irresistible to put advance blade training at the core of my story. This is the first novel where I could truly do it to the level I always wanted to. Every scene was very enjoyable to write – and even more enjoyable to research.
In general – I love strong characters, so a lot of the time my characters become my inspiration. I also draw a lot from my own experiences and my own background. And, I just feel so good when I write. I miss it when I can’t write for any reason at all. This enjoyment is my inspiration too.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
Originally, by reading J.R.R. Tolkien – I assume, like many of us. I instantly fell in love not only with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but also with fantasy overall, and it has remained my favorite genre all my life. I got introduced to romance much later, and it took me more time to feel bold enough to weave a major romantic subplot into my fantasy story. So far, in both of these, Shadowblade is my all-time high.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I have a very demanding day job, and two small children, so my writing schedule tends to be patchy and has to fit into every hole in my day. My best practice is to always carry my laptop everywhere I go. This is the only way I actually get things done.
Research for my books is more multi-layered. While a lot of information can be found on line, or in my bigger-than-necessary library at home, things like working out sword moves requires some hands-on practice. It really helps to have some sword experts around me, and I consult with them a lot, and work through the moves, both before and after I write the scene.
When all this is worked out and the research on a scene is done, my writing process resembles watching a movie. I have to write what I see, though – but I also get to correct things that don’t work. It’s a lot of fun.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I don’t ever remember making a conscious decision to be an author. I wrote my first “novel” when I was six, and I just kept writing all my life until, at 25 or so, I finally produced something I was proud to share with others. That book was written in Russian, but I was already living in the US, and I quickly realized that my future as a writer is closely tied to my ability to shift into English. So, I translated my novel into English, and in the process, I switched languages. From there, it was all about clawing my way up.
I can’t imagine myself without writing, it is something I can’t help doing, rather than something I make myself do. I feel unbelievably happy that my books are being published, and that others are enjoying them too. I really can’t think of a bigger reward.
Looking back to my beginnings… yes, I do think of my early writing fondly. It taught me a lot. I am also glad very little of it survived to posterity. I think I would have been embarrassed to see it now. I tend to feel that each of my books is better than the previous one, so it is much more natural to look forward, rather than back.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Well, my agent would probably laugh at my attempt to define the genre trends, but here it goes. I see some return to the traditional fantasy, after a bit of a dip in its popularity in the last decade or so. Romance is, of course an ever-popular genre in itself. With this, I hope that current genre trends are in favor of fantasy romance. I think it is a good place for Shadowblade to be.
I hear some authors talk about chasing trends. In my case, the best I can do is write what I love, and what I know best. I believe if I manage to do it well, there will always be a place for my books in the genre.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Funnily enough, in the wake of the previous question, one of my pipeline projects is actually a contemporary fantasy with strong science elements that stem from my own background. Another is a novel in the style of Shadowblade, which could in principle be tied into the series. I really enjoy writing these kinds of books.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Jeffe Kennedy’s Prisoner of the Crown. She is the author whose books I really enjoy.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
You know, this question alone just made me think of about ten, in the very first second. Can I do two…?
For anyone interested in Russia, the one book to read is Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, a classical work of magic realism which also gives an amazing view of the Russian society in mid-1900’s. My absolute favorite fantasy author though, is Terry Pratchett. Say, The Fifth Elephant – or since I’ve already broken the one-novel rule, can I just recommend the entire “Discworld” series? [I wholeheartedly endorse this recommendation! — CR]
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I hope they’d be surprised to learn that I am a very poor disciplinarian and absolutely can’t say “no” to my children, who take full advantage of it.
Seriously, though – maybe the major settings in my novels, and my character’s sensory experiences, are based on places I’ve been to, and things I’ve done? This may be why I never write about extreme environments or other planets… I hope this may also make my novels feel more authentic.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
One of my most acute pleasurable experiences recently was, surprisingly, to hear one of my books, Blades of the Old Empire, in the audio format. I can’t wait for the audiobook of Shadowblade, which is released simultaneously with the print edition, and hopefully on the way to me right now. Speaking of further away, though, I really look forward to working on my next novel. I hope it doesn’t sound too crazy…