Friday, August 20, 2010

Dark fantasy author Anna Kashina talks about her new novel Ivan and Marya

Recently I favorably reviewed the fantasy book Ivan and Marya by Anna Kashina. While corresponding with the author, she agreed to an interview. Please enjoy her comments about creating this engaging story based on folk tales from her native Russia.

Anna Kashina was born in Russia and moved to the United States in 1994. After publishing a novel and a short story collection in her native Russian, she switched languages and is now writing in English. Her fantasy works have been published in the U.S. and Australia, as well as in German translations. Her most recent novel, IVAN AND MARYA, is a dark romantic fantasy based on Russian folklore, published this year by Drollerie Press. She lives in the U.S. Northeast and combines her career as a scientist with her passion for writing.

1. The Ivan-and-Marya flower is the central symbol of your novel. When did you first learn about the folklore associated with this flower?

Ivan-and-Marya is one of the most common flowers in Russian forests that blooms around Midsummer. The folklore associated with this flower really starts with its name and goes deep into the Russian culture. Ivan and Marya used to be the most common names for boys and girls in Russian villages, and the most frequent characters in the folk tales. I loved reading those tales when I was a child, and always felt that combining the two names in a flower in itself suggests a magical story, one that has to be associated with the Solstice and the ancient Russian traditions of Midsummer celebration. I was happy to be able to relay some of this folklore in my novel.

2. In "Ivan and Marya" I felt you successfully mixed third person and first person writing. What were your reasons for taking the separate approaches to telling the stories of each title character?

Actually, I first wrote the whole story first-person in Marya's pont of view. In this particular fairy tale, Marya is in the camp of evil, and I was really interested in giving the traditional tale an unusual twist by telling it from the evil's point of view. Of course, Marya herself is not really evil, just a victim of circumstances, which became even clearer to me as I wrote. I found it an interesting challenge to relate to a fairy tale anti-hero in first person and to bring out the reasons for the readers to like her and sympathise with her. When it was finished, however, I realized that something was still missing. One point of view was not enough to show how the two main characters were a match, how they were worthy of each other despite being near opposites. I felt that I needed another dimension to contrast Marya's point of view with Ivan's. But since Ivan was the traditional good guy, it was much easier to relate to him without the additional intimacy of the first-person view. So, his story came out naturally in the more traditional third person. As I worked on it, I loved the contrast created by the two narratives, immersing into the darkness of Marya's world in first-person and then emerging into the light of Ivan's story. I was aware this kind of narrative was not traditional, but I felt it was working and I just went with it. The two points of view ended up equal, and this balance finally made the story complete. I probably shouldn't say such things, but I am pretty happy with the result.

3. Your writing indicates that you are strongly in tune with your connection to the natural world. What elements of Nature inspire you the most?

Forests. To me, nothing compares to the calm, peaceful feeling of being surrounded by trees and hearing their whisper, to the beauty of the timid flowers that grow in the deep forest shade, to inhaling the smells of earth and leaves. I feel really alive when I am in a forest. I must have been a tree in my past life :-). Forests cover large parts of Russia and are really abundant in the areas around Moscow, where I grew up, so I have spent a lot of time in a forest as a child, and it was my favorite pass time just to walk around and watch everything grow. While I enjoy writing about many elements of nature, forests are my favorite and I was really glad for a chance to give glimpses of both their peaceful and ominous side in "Ivan and Marya".

4. Any additional comments?

First, I wanted to thank you, Tracy, for the interview. I enjoyed the chance to share some of my thoughts and experiences and to talk about my novel.

I also wanted to share a link to the awesome trailer for "Ivan and Marya", made by my cover artist Olga Karengina:

If you like it, please vote for it between September 21 and 26 at:

Read an excerpt

Buy the novel at Drollerie Press

Finally, more information about me can be found at my website ( and my blog ( I am also on Facebook and Twitter (akashina), and I always welcome friends, fans, and followers!