Shells Chats with author Darin Kennedy

What's your background with writing?

Let's see. I took all the same courses that everybody took in high school and college, your basic English and composition classes/courses, a few literature courses, wrote more term papers than I can bear to remember, but for many years through med school and residency, any writing or creativity took a back seat to learning how to be a physician. There was an occasional song or poem that came out of those years, but as far as short stories or anything longer, not so much. My big "break" was my deployment to Iraq in 2003 as an Army physician during OIF 1. After things settled down, I had a lot of free time on my hands, so I started writing a story that had been kicking around in my head since I was in high school. I got home with about half a novel written, worked on it off and on over the intervening years, but have gotten really serious over the last couple of years trying to edit it into good enough shape for publication. For me, writing this book has been like a second education. I've read books, blogs, websites, you name it, to try to get my writing chops up to snuff.

Who are your inspirations/influences?

Like anyone who writes fantasy, I have to give big credit to Mr. J.R.R. Tolkien. That being said, I avoid trying to do anything like his work. I fully believe, however, that Tolkien DNA is an integral part of most fantasy being written today. It's hard to escape him. I also owe a lot to Piers Anthony, and if you read Pawn's Gambit, you will see influences from his work on me. I am a huge fan of Stephen King and hope that my characters and dialogue leap off the page with at least a tenth of the strength that his do. I also have a long history of reading comics and am well versed in all things Marvel, DC, Comico (yes, I said Comico), among others. I owe Matt Wagner a lot, as his two series, Mage and Grendel were huge influences on me in multiple ways. Lastly, Mr. George Lucas for bringing us at least three fantastic archetypal movies along with the Wachowski Brothers for bringing me the Matrix. As far as the classics, I dig Thomas Hardy.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment as a writer?

I would have to say completing Pawn's Gambit, and being reasonably satisfied with the (almost) final product. I am still doing brain surgery on a few chapters close to the beginning to have them match the rest of the book in action, suspense, and pace, but otherwise it's done. Also, I have been quite pleased to have gone from having no short story publications (or publications in general) as of June 2010, to now having eight different short stories accepted at three publishers with six of them available for purchase this year. Not bad for six months work.

Has being a doctor influenced your writing at all?

I'm sure that some of the things I've experienced in my practice has come through in the writing, particularly the time in Iraq as an Army physician. I'm curious when I write hospital scenes, if the doctor thing helps or hurts. I know what doctors sound like. I talk to them every day. The rest of the world thinks they talk like McDreamy or McSteamy or McRib or whatever the Grey's Anatomy stud muffin du jour is being called this week. I think some of my experiences in the Army come through as well, though I tend to steer clear of writing about medicine or the military just on general principle.

You have written several short stories, which is your favorite?

I've heard that's like asking a mom which one is her favorite kid. I have a couple of favorites. I'm really proud of my first story, "Necrodance", from Pill Hill Press's "Flesh and Bone" anthology. I had never written much in first person before that, and have been told by many people that I really nailed the voice of the sociopath main character (is that a good thing?) I'm especially proud, however, of "Nightmare at 200 Feet" from Pill Hill Press's "Bloody Carnival" Anthology. Jessy Marie Roberts, the editor, gave me the honor of first story in that one along with an incredibly positive e-mail about that story and actually put that one in their Anthology Sampler to showcase the kind of stories they put out. After all the sleepless nights it took the week prior to submission to get that story just right, I give it my number one spot for now.

Can you tell us a little bit about "The Pawn Stratagem?"

The Pawn Stratagem is a story that has been kicking around in my head since around the mid 80's when I was still in Junior High/High School. Like a good wine, it has slowly fermented over time. I tried to start it a couple of times before, but never got more than a few pages before I became distracted. Iraq in 2003 changed all that, and after working on it over the last couple of years, it has grown from a single novel idea into a trilogy. In short, it's the story of Steven Bauer, a man who discovers he is an integral part of a mystical chess game that occurs every few centuries. As the White Pawn, his role is to seek out and gather the other five pieces of the White, help them discover their powers/abilities, all the while keeping both himself and his new friends alive, as the forces of darkness are already fully gathered and are on the hunt.

Where did the idea of "The Pawn Stratagem" come from?

Like I said before, it's been slowly cooking in my head for over twenty years and has been through so many permutations over the years, I'm glad to finally have it all down and almost completed. I think there's a little "Mage" in there, a little "Matrix", a little "Incarnations of Immortality", a little "Dark Tower" - all stuff that I loved to read and watch over the years. Plus, I grew up playing chess with my dad just like Steven, and there's a lot of me, my family and friends in there as well.

Where or when will "The Pawn Stratagem" be available?

That's an excellent question. I've seen some interest from both agents and publishers over the last year, but nothing firm. Once I am done with the Chapter 4-8 brain surgery, I plan to start submitting again, both to literary agents and to the few publishers who still accept unagented manuscripts. It's far from a done deal, but I am confident that 2011 is going to be the year. "Pawn's Gambit", the first book is otherwise complete while "Four Corners", the second part, is about 50% done (first draft). The third part is roughly planned out, but will get moved to the front burner if and when "Pawn's Gambit" is accepted.

Who was responsible for the cover/book design of your book?

I was at DragonCon in 2009 and came upon the fantasy chess art of one Roy Mauritsen. Since the art coincided well with my story, I contacted him via e-mail, and over the last year or so, we have become good friends. As for the cover mock up on my website, Roy took a cover idea I had and ran with it just so I could see what he could do. Believe it or not, the picture on my website is just a quick one afternoon mock up he threw together. If Roy gets to do my cover for real, that will be AWESOME, as his artwork is BEAUTIFUL. If you don't believe me, see what he is capable of on his website -

How was it to work with that particular artist?

Roy is a consummate professional, an awesome graphic artist, and quite possibly one of the nicest human beings on the planet.

How do you handle marketing your book and what suggestions would you have for others for marketing their work?

I am marketing both my short stories and my novel on Facebook, Twitter, and via normal agent and publisher channels. Honestly, not much to market till the book has an ISBN number. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for the interview. This is my first one, and I have really enjoyed answering your wonderful questions.

What projects do you have planned for the future?

I plan to complete the remainder of "The Pawn Stratagem" over the next couple of years and also have another novel or two in the works. As for short stories, will probably continue to keep my feet wet at Pill Hill, along with Wicked East and Blood Bound Books. May also try to get into a Static Movement anthology this year.

Any events or
book signings for the future?

Had two successful book signings in Charlotte, NC back in October 2010. No more scheduled for right now, but if anything new gets published, that could change in a hot second.

Any advice you would like to give to new writers who may not know how to approach the publishing world?

As far as publishing goes, I'm clearly still learning as "Pawn's Gambit" still exists mainly on my hard drive. I would recommend that you read, read, read. In a few weeks, you can learn so much. Go through Nathan Bransford's blog history and read all you can from his old blog posts along with all the comments. (Until recently, Nathan was one of the most blog-prolific literary agents out there, though he has recently changed jobs and now works for CNET) Numerous other agents also have blogs full of good advice. Use websites such as QueryTracker to help you find/keep track of your submissions. When you are submitting, follow the instruction for THAT agent. Don't get canned just because you didn't format something right.

As for short stories, I've had some success there and am pretty new at it. Try websites like Duotrope to find markets for your short fiction. Definitely proofread the heck out of your stuff before you send it in. (You'd be surprised what makes it through sometimes) Biggest thing here: decide what's important for you. If you just want to see it in print, there are many non paying markets that will publish your stuff as long as it's good. If you want to get paid, get ready for some competition and some waiting.

Most importantly, don't ever give up.

Where can people know more about you?

Check out my website, for all the latest and links where you can check out the various anthologies with my short stories. If you are interested in Pawn's Gambit, I definitely want to hear from you.


  1. Thanks for doing the interview. And two after the great Michael Moorcock, what an honor.

  2. Great interview, Shells!! And good luck on this Darin, sounds like your moving in the right direction. I read one of your shorts in Bloody Carnival, and enjoyed. Keep us posted on your progress.

    All the best!!
    Charles Day