Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Anna Kashina?
I am a biomedical scientist and a writer, not necessarily in that order. My day job is being a professor at a major US university. Writing is reserved for the rest of my time. More recently, I am also a mother of two, which taps seriously into all the other occupations.
Your novel, Blades of the Old Empire, is due to be published in February by Angry Robot Books. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader? Is it part of a series?
I hope readers would see it as an adventure fantasy in the best traditions of the genre, which also includes some elements of romance. It does not push the boundaries or create new concepts, it is intended as a fun, fast-paced read. It is book one of the Majat Code series, with book two, Guild of Assassins, coming out this August. I do have plans for other books in the series and hope to see them forthcoming later on.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
As it turns out, these are two separate questions. Generally, my inspiration for writing comes from a desire to get some unresolved emotions out on paper. I can only do it in the form of fantasy, ideally set in a world that does not exist in real life. But a lot of ideas for these stories also come from my dreams. In a big sense, it almost seems as if these worlds do exist somewhere and find their way out into my books.
With Blades of the Old Empire, it was somewhat different. I wanted to write a traditional fantasy. And then, as I sat down to write it, the story just emerged. Once it got going, all I had to do was write it down. So, in this sense, I had an even stronger feeling that not only the world, but this particular story existed somewhere, and just found its way out through me. The feeling was very special, one I still miss.
How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction?
I grew up in the former Soviet Union. Back then, reading was pretty much the only form of entertainment available (we had no TV, and people did not go out much). I was reading ever since I can remember; everything I could lay my hands on, but my favorites were always fairy tales and myths, and this probably started my early interest in fantasy. The first true fantasy I read was The Lord of the Rings, and after that I was hooked on the genre.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Now that I have a publisher, I love it. It means I can focus only on my writing and somebody else will do the rest. Of course, I used to see it differently before I found a publisher and an agent.
I write for enjoyment, and I do have a demanding day job; so, unlike many authors, I don’t have a routine in which I must sit down and write something every day. If I need to write something, I just sit down and write it, whenever I can. But the most rewarding times are when I feel inspired, and then keeping from writing becomes a torture and I literally use every available moment to write. This yields some of my best work.
I usually do research as I write, on an “as-needed” basis. If I feel very inspired, I leave blanks for the parts that need researching, sometimes with a note of what needs to be in there, and then fill these blanks later.
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?
My first was a self-illustrated “novel” written when I was six years old, which ended with the words “and they sailed to the east, where the sun sets.” When my father politely pointed out to me that the sun actually sets in the west, I was so ashamed that I destroyed that “book”. I am sure it was for the best.
My first novel that I look back fondly on was written when I was in high school, co-authored with my grandfather, Vladimir Keilis-Borok. It is a historical novel about the pirates and Queen Elizabeth of England, written in Russian under pen names. I still think it is very good (probably for young adults) and maybe some day I will translate it into English.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
This is difficult to tell. Personally, I really enjoy traditional fantasy that explores the familiar concepts well. I believe there are not enough such books out there – partly because the professionals in the industry, who have literally seen it all, tend to be attracted to new things they have not seen before. As a reader, I still like the old, and I hope we get more books published in the “good old” style. I hope my book would appeal to readers like myself, those who like to have fun with a book and don’t care about anything else.
My books also tend to have lots of romance (which is even more true about the upcoming Guild of Assassins), and I don’t think there are enough books out there that blend fantasy with elements of romance (usually these two genres are somewhat separate). I hope my books will appeal to the readers who are not straight romance fans, but enjoy good romance elements in their adventure story.
What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
The Guild of Assassins is the next in the pipeline. It is a sequel to Blades of the Old Empire, even though each of these books can be read as a stand-alone. I am working on book three in the series.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
At the moment I am reading Amy Raby’s Hearts and Thrones series: a great example of traditional adventure fantasy with elements of romance. I am enjoying it very much. I mostly read non-fiction at work, so even though I do have several historical reference books on my shelf, they are on hold for the moment.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I hope, that English is not my first language…? (Unless, of course, my name already gave it away.)
I grew up in Russia and came to America as an adult, so for the first few years I was really conscious about my limitations in the English language. At that time, I felt that if I could make one wish, it would be to know English as well as I know Russian. I feel that in the past decade I have achieved that state, and possibly switched to English as the dominant one.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Well, I am both anticipating and dreading the release of my books. I hope readers will like them, and sitting around and waiting is just so unnerving. I am sure many authors can relate to this feeling, of pouring out your soul, defeating impossible odds, putting your work out there, and waiting for the reaction it would cause… All in all, fingers crossed!
Blades of the Old Empire is published by Angry Robot Books in the UK on March 6th and in the US and eBook format today.