June 15, 2016. Anna Kashina, author of Assassin Queen, interview.
Amy:) Hi Anna, thanks for coming back on my blog. I have really enjoyed the “Majat Code” series. I am happy that we were able to end the series on such a unique note.
Anna:) Thank you so much, Amy, for having me here. I am so thrilled that you enjoyed the “Majat Code” series!
For those who are not aware, there was a point where you wondered if Assassin Queen would ever be published. How did the change in staff and time delay effect the novel?
It’s true that I felt some uncertainty at some point, when things were settling down at the Angry Robot. I had a lot of ideas for book 3 in the series, and I have written down some of it right after I finished The Guild of Assassins, but at some point this uncertainty prompted me to hold back and not write the complete novel. It just kept milling around in my head. In retrospect, I probably needed this extra time, not only to rethink the events and choose the best possible course of action for my characters, but also to convince myself to explore the more risky plot lines I always wanted to develop, but never dared. The whole detour to the Queendom of Shayil Yara, and the events that took place at their royal court, probably would not have been quite so detailed without it.
So, summing up the results, I do think the delay enabled me to write a better book. All these images formed very well in my imagination looked so real when they found their way onto the page.
The flip side of this uncertainty was that I did not start writing the major parts of the book until the contract was signed, which left me much less time than I imagined to complete the manuscript. It came as a surprise to me that I was able to finish it on a very tight deadline without compromising anything in quality, or in the story. In fact, I was so happy with the process that I am considering setting up some deadlines for my next book too. So, overall it worked out well!
What is your biggest challenge when writing a novel?
Keeping it to one book :). I am one of those authors who start out with a short story and end up with a 500-page book. The whole Majat Code series (including an unpublished prequel) was supposed to take place over a course of one novel. I realized, after writing 100 pages or so, how impossible this goal was. At that point the story was still getting started, and already so much fun. So, I just had to let go and do what I wanted. I wrapped up all the events in book 1 with a clear idea of where the sequels should go, and – at that point – a clear understanding that I may never have the opportunity to write it all.
After I signed a contract for the series, above all, it made me very happy that now I get to finish all that story I originally planned out. And yes, keeping it to three books was still a challenge, but this time a manageable one.
I know a lot of scenes get left on the cutting room floor.
Do you feel that Assassin Queen covered all the plot elements and character connections the way you hoped?
When I first started working on this series, I made myself a promise, to never leave out a scene I consider important or simply so enjoyable that I would miss it later on. It was a challenge, but I did manage to stick to it, even when I cut down Blades of the Old Empire from the original length of 175,000 words to the submission-friendly 125 K. The only exception I ever made was for the scene that describes the first meeting between Mai and Kyth and their instant animosity for each other. I kept it through all the drafts but had to do away with it in the end, simply because it bordered on inappropriate in an interaction between a prince and, at the time, a hired bodyguard. It was nice to be able to make up for this deletion later on, in The Guild of Assassins, where Kyth’s and Mai’s ranks level up and they can be much more uninhibited in facing off.
When I approached Assassin Queen with the goal of wrapping up the entire series in this book, I originally believed it to be impossible to include everything I wanted. For example, Ellah was a major character in book 1, and she plays big parts in books 2 and 3, so I knew she needed some long term resolution, and I had no idea what it was going to be or how I could possibly have any space to develop it at all. Surprisingly, the solution presented itself so naturally that it took no effort at all to fit it into the story. In the end, I had my characters do the work, it was just a matter of giving them the chance to do it. And yes, all these plot lines and character connections worked out the way I hoped – sometimes even better than I planned.
Now that we are leaving Kara, Mai, and gang behind, where do you plan on wandering next? During our last interview, you mentioned a possible transition to the history behind the “Majat Code” series. Is this the possible next novel?
There are some layers to this question. It feels sad to leave this gang behind, so I am leaving a possibility open to use the same characters in my future books. I did plan a novel taking place 500 years before the events in the Majat Code books, showing how many of the elements in the current world came into being. As I started working on it, though, the story took more of a turn as a stand-alone, not obviously connected to the series. The style of the world will be somewhat similar, though, and it does center around a cast of superb blademasters, so I am leaving off the final decisions for later. The only definite thing is that there will be a next novel, and it will hopefully be even more fun.
On an entirely different note, who is your favorite author to read? What hobbies do you do to take a break from writing?
My absolute favorite fantasy author is Terry Pratchett. I keep all his books on my shelf, and re-read them often. In the fantasy romance genre, I really enjoy books by Amy Raby and Jeffe Kennedy.
In terms of hobbies and breaks, the answer is not as straightforward. I have an around the clock job and two small children, so I tend to think of writing as my break from everything else. One other thing I really enjoy is designing and making gemstone necklaces. It is very absorbing and peaceful – like a mix of knitting and painting, and I can also do it with my kids.
Anna actually has some of those necklaces designed around the Majat series available. If you are interested, send me an email in the contact section on the right.