Friday, August 8, 2014

Interview with Anna Kashina

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book? Is it part of a series?
“The Guild of Assassins” is book 2 in the Majat Code series, sequel to the “Blades of the Old Empire” released earlier this year. Like its prequel, the Guild is a fantasy adventure with lots of action and high-level martial arts.  Even more than book 1 in the series, it also has a lot of romance.

This book follows up on the conflict set up in the Blades, but I hope it can also be enjoyed as a stand alone. In “The Guild of Assassins” Kara, an elite Majat warrior, must face the consequences of her prior actions, as she disobeyed an order from her guild to save Prince Kythar--a good man, one she was falling in love with. The penalty for disobedience is a death warrant from the Majat Guild, but the man sent to kill her, Mai, had made a decision to spare her life. And now, Mai is the one to be punished, and Kara is determined to stop this from happening.  This is the start of “The Guild of Assassins”, which leads up to the events in the book.

Do you have a favorite character?
Like in book 1, my favorite character is Mai. In “The Guild of Assassins” I indulged myself in showing different sides of his personality and driving him to all kinds of extremes. He really rewarded me by the way he responded to these extremes, and I have enjoyed getting to know him, and even swooning over him along with some of my characters.

Have you ever had a minor character evolve into a major one? Did that change the direction of the novel at all?
Yes, this tends to happen to me all the time. Originally, Mai was conceived as a minor character. Then he just grew out of these bounds, and ended up dominating the story.

Another character that surprised me even more recently was Magister Egey Bashi, a member of the scholarly Order of Keepers who accompanies the main characters on their journeys because of his extensive knowledge of the kingdom’s affairs.

When I wrote “The Guild of Assassins”, Egey Bashi quickly became one of my favorite point-of-view characters. He is smart, capable, compassionate, and cynical, all in the right proportions, and he introduced the corresponding angles into the story that other characters could not cover because they were too closely involved in the events. Egey Bashi is the only one who sees the good and the bad in each person very clearly, without exaggerations or excessive idealism. He grounds the story, and all the characters. And, on top of all that, he is just so much fun.

I ended up bonding with Egey Bashi so much that I also wrote a short story about his past, “The Majat Testing”, that shows some of his passionate side from his younger days. This story is available for free at all on-line retailers, and I hope my readers and fans will enjoy bonding with this character all over again.

If books were movies, which movies do you think would appeal to the same audience as “The Guild of Assassins”?
I think it should be a range of movies with good action a traditional fantasy elements. “Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl” is the one I was aiming for (without any explicit similarities). When I watch this movie, all elements of the story just click into place. I hope to achieve the same effect with my books -- although in my version Elizabeth would have definitely chosen Jack Sparrow over Wil Turner.

Another angle in my story should appeal to the fans of “Star Wars”, if only for the subtle parallels between the Majat and the Jedi knights.

When I wrote the book, I also watched “Kill Bill”, for the action. This movie has little in common with my book, but the style of the action helped. Some of my readers may pick up on the connection, minus the gore and the harsh realism. Incidentally, the prototype for orbens--the weapons favored by the bad guys in my book--is briefly shown in Kill Bill, a spiked ball on a long chain. It really exists, and is a very difficult weapon to defend against in martial arts. And, it has nothing to do with a mace, an analogy which has somehow been triggered by my original description in the Blades and caused some confusion among the first batch of readers.

How long before you got your first contract? Was it for your first novel?
My path to publication has been too long and thorny for one interview. Let’s just say that I wrote my first “novel” when I was six, and published my first book with a small press twenty or so years later. Technically, this was my first contract, with a publisher called Herodias, which started up and then folded within a year or so back in 2000. The contract I think about as my first was with Angry Robot Books, which I signed last year. This contract was for my fifth novel, not counting the six-year-old’s opus that did not survive to posterity.

What is your writing process? Do you listen to music or do you like silence?
Normally I cannot work to music, too much distraction. However, in the case of “The Guild of Assassins”, my work on this novel coincided with my infatuation with the soundtrack for “Totem” by Cirque du Soleil. A lot of the scenes were conceived and executed to this music, and to me these scenes bear the marks of the rhythms in the music and the show.

Do you outline your story or just go where your muse takes you?
It varies for me, but in the case of the Guild I did have an outline. This outline was mostly driven by the fact that after I finished the first draft of the Blades back in 2009, I just had to write on, and went through the whole story, shaping up some scene and leaving empty spaces in between. At that time I believed a sequel to the Blades will never get written, but I just had to get some of the things that happened between the characters off my chest.

When I returned to the Guild later on, I followed this outline and filled in the blanks. It made my work on the novel so easy, since I barely needed to think of the overall story, just describe the immediate events.

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
I do, sometimes. My writing time is limited, sandwiched between a demanding day job and two small children who expect all my attention. When I need to do something related to marketing, it taps directly into my writing. This is probably one of the reasons my blog tends to be sporadic, not as regularly kept as it should be.

I believe marketing is important, and even though I am backed by the terrific Angry Robot team who really do most of the essential things without my involvement, I still struggle to keep up with the bits that do require my input. In the end, though, it is so rewarding to see the marketing efforts pay off and help my books reach their audience.

What advice would you give a new author?
My most important advice to anyone is: “believe in yourself, and never give up”. This is the mantra that carried me through all my low points and brought me to publication. Of course, right behind that come the ideas about hard work, perfection, and self-criticism. But these are definitely secondary to the main thing. You have to be certain that writing is something you love, something you need, something you cannot live without.

What’s next for you?
I am working on book 3 in the series. Its title has not been finalized yet, but many of the events have been, and I am so thrilled to see how things are turning out!

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