Hi there wottareaders, it’s time for another author interview! this is my interview with Anna Kashina, let’s het to know her and her books a bit better shall we? let’s go:
😀 The woman
What can you tell us about you?
A writer. A scientist. A mother. A chronic worrier and self-doubter. An amateur jewelry designer. When I write novels, I also enjoy assuming different identities and personalities. I tend to think of myself as a jack-of-all trades, with far too little time to do everything I want.
Where are you from? Has your country influenced your stories somehow?
I was born and raised in Russia and came to the US as an adult. One obvious influence this had on my writing is the language. I used to read, think, and write in Russian, and changed to English after I finished my first novel. I think the experience, and my foreign language background, have a huge influence on everything I write.
On a more tangible scale, I love Russian mythology and its cross-cultural nature. The Russia I grew up in had both European and Asian parts, and ran from far north to the Middle East. This blend of cultures creates unique folklore that combines elements from all these places, and directly or indirectly these influences are always present in my writing. This may be why I chose fantasy as my genre.
Writers are such for different reasons, which was your thing that made you decide you wanted to become a professional writer?
I believe a writer is someone who can’t help writing. In a way, this occupation chooses you, not the other way around. I wrote my first “novel” when I was six, and continued writing all my life until, in my twenties, I finally created something I was comfortable sharing with others. After that, publishing my work seemed like an obvious next step. In itself, publishing has been a very long and difficult process that definitely doesn’t help motivation or confidence.
By now, I have published 8 novels, but I still don’t think of myself as a professional writer. Professionals write for money, but authors, even super successful ones, usually write because of an inner drive. Money or not, it is still something you can’t live without, if you are an author. So, you can probably think of it as destiny rather than a choice.
One book, one movie, one song, and one videogame?
Book: “Master and Margarita” by M. Bulgakov. There is a particular translation that is better than the rest. If anyone feels tempted after this post, please contact me about it.
Movie: “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Not a serious movie, but I think it is absolutely perfect in its genre. I enjoy it a lot.
Song: “Scarborough Fair”. Purely for musical reasons.
Game: “Might and Magic VI”. I also like its sequels, but this was the game that once kept me at a computer for an entire month. This game is way too old, and I really hope for a remake, and more in the series.
Pineapple pizza, Yes or no?
No. Ugh. Nothing sweet in my main courses, thank you very much.
If you had to define yourself just using one sentence of your novels, which one would be?
If there was one thing she knew how to do, it was being stubborn” (from Blades of the Old Empire). This is my paraphrase of my motto: “Never give up.
✍️ The writer
I’d like to know about your first steps, the very first day you decided to become a professional writer, what made you do it?
I might have inadvertently answered this question above. I never consciously made this decision. I was just writing, because I couldn’t imagine life without it. Of course, once you start writing, publishing your work also becomes a big part of the game.
Do you have any rituals for writing? Any kind of habit or goal to achieve every day?
I don’t. I believe in inspiration. When I am inspired, I just write in every available moment of the day. When I am not, I give myself a break. To me, working on a novel feels exactly like being in love. Once you achieve that state, keeping away from the object of your love becomes hard, so rituals or schedules simply don’t work.
Once I had children, finding time to write became much more difficult, so I sometimes set this time aside, but still my writing is more like binging than a measured activity.
Do you take real people you know and put them in your stories?
Sometimes. For one of my novels, I actually asked friends if they wanted to have characters based on them and what kind of characters, and I had a lot of fun working them into the story. I also sometimes do it subconsciously. One of my favorite Majat Code characters just came out perfect, with a name, a face, and a very distinct personality. I felt as if he was a real person all the time, and writing his dialogues felt like putting him into a situation and watching what he was going to say. It was as if I already knew him from somewhere. It took me years to realize that both his appearance and name closely matched a person I once knew, who passed away about 20 years ago. It was such an odd discovery.
I usually don’t purposely use a real person as a character in my books, but I do watch and learn from different personality traits and actions when I create characters.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
First advice is, have fun. If you don’t approach writing as enjoyment, there is really no reason to write. Second advice is, never give up. Writing can be enjoyable, but it can also be frustrating at times, and when it gets down to publishing it can become brutal. You should not let this affect you.
For new writers, it is great – even though very time consuming – to join a critique group. For years, I belonged to the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, and its alums who are now successful authors feel like a family. I learned a lot from that workshop.
Which would you say was your best and your worst moments as a writer?
My best moments are when I am in love with my book and have time to just keep writing it. I remember one of my highest points was writing “The Guild of Assassins”, I finished the first draft in 3 weeks and I just loved every moment of it. My very first novel, “The Princess of Dhagabad” felt this way too, even though it is a very different book and it took quite a bit longer to finish the first draft.
My worst moments? Rejections. When you wait months for a response from a publisher to receive a one-line form letter about a work you put your soul into. Bad reviews. When my first professionally published novel came out, every bad review made me physically sick. There were good reviews too, but somehow I tended to focus on the bad all the time. It took me years to get past this feeling.
Let’s talk about procrastination, what is the most absurd thing you’ve been doing when you should be writing?
Playing my kids’ games on an iPad. A completely unproductive way to kill a lot of time. It started happening during the pandemics, and I really hope it doesn’t become a long-term habit.
📚 The Books
The Majat Code is a trilogy with lots of action, some romance, and intrigue, what makes this series special?
This trilogy was an absolute fun to write. I just let myself go and created an adventure that I could immerse myself into. Everything about it was so enjoyable, starting with creation of a new world from scratch: geography, languages, customs, food, clothing, and different styles of swordplay. It was a nice place to spend my time in. I also fell absolutely in love with several characters. Especially one of the main characters, who started off as a plot tool and quickly grew to overshadow everyone else, at least in my mind. My fans had mixed reactions about that, and that was fun too – to watch others talk about my characters as real people. This enjoyment will always make me feel very special about the Majat Code.
Your latest novel, Shadowblade, tells the story of Naia, a girl who dreams of becoming a Jaihar Blademaster, and yet this don’t seem to work as well as she would like at first. Tell us a bit about Naia and her arduous task of facing the imperial family.
Naia was inspired by my love for the Majat Code too. I wanted to write something different, yet in the same style. In this book, I stepped back to show what it takes to train a top warrior that could be then sent into action at the highest levels in the Empire. As a young girl in a male-dominated profession, Naia faces challenges I can relate to very well, and having her take control and overcome these challenges without sinking into stereotypes felt special too. In the end, she surprised me many times, and the plot took twists I didn’t expect.
In my dreams, I think of this novel as a distant prequel to the Majat Code, the Empire that later disintegrated into kingdoms, with the Jaihar warriors morphing into an independent guild with its own code that doesn’t obey any authority at all. Naia, as a warrior and a challenger to the Emperor, paves way for the Majat warriors of the future. I am having fun dreaming about these things.
Of all your books, which one is your favorite?
The one that gave me the most enjoyment to write is The Guild of Assassins. Incidentally, this is also the book that won the most awards, from people who read it as a standalone. My guilty pleasure is to listen to the audiobook, beautifully narrated by Genevieve Swallow.
At the same time, books are a bit like children. You love all of them in different ways. You also see some things you’d want to change, even though it is too late. And, I think most authors feel that their latest book is their best, which makes sense, given that we learn and become better all our lives. From that standpoint, I should probably be naming Shadowblade.
What are you writing right now?
I recently finished a science fantasy, The Serpent’s Code, which is based on my background as a biomedical scientist and connects some information about the genetic code with the Book of Genesis in the Bible. It is totally different from everything I ever wrote, and I am still deciding on where to go with it.
For guilty pleasure, I somehow started writing a novel that weaves around the events of the Majat Code – not a good idea from the commercial standpoint, but lots of fund to work on.
And, I am toying with the idea of a fantasy based on Russian folklore, which hasn’t quite shaped up yet, but will probably become my next serious project.
Hope you enjoyed this interview! also, do you happen to have kids? then check out this post with the best reusable sticker books for toddlers! they are amazing.