Disciplined Writing: An Interview with Chris Kennedy

Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy
Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy

Chris Kennedy is an American science fiction and military fiction author and a former naval aviator and school principal. He is a member of the SFWA and the SCBWI. Chris’s full-length novels on Amazon include the Occupied Seattle military fiction duology, The Theogony and Codex Regius science fiction trilogies and the War for Dominance fantasy trilogy. Chris is also the author of the self-help book, Self-Publishing for Profit: How to Get Your Book Out of Your Head and Into the Stores.

Daily Dragon (DD): Your first published series was The Theogony.  What’s that series about, and what inspired it?

Chris Kennedy (CK): Hi Nancy! Thanks for having me. The Theogony is a military sci-fi trilogy that looks at history through the lens of alien interaction. Nothing you think you know about history is really how it happened—the majority of history’s greatest events are all as a result of alien intervention. The Theogony looks at Greek and Indian mythology…from a slightly different point of view.

In Janissaries, the first book of the series, aliens show up on Earth and request the services of a group of special forces soldiers for a mission they have. They also warn us about a race of aliens that are coming who will destroy the Earth: “You might want to do something about that, too.” Everything proceeds from there, as Lieutenant Shawn “Calvin” Hobbs leads his forces to the stars to try to save the world.

DD: You published these yourself, starting in 2014.  How does the experience of self-publishing compare to your expectations going into it?

CK: People ask me all the time, “Why did you self-publish?” The answer is easy—79 agents turned me down and I refused to give up on the story I had written. I’m glad I didn’t, as The Theogony series has sold almost 45,000 copies. How does that compare to my expectations going into the self-publishing process? It greatly exceeded them! I had no idea how the books would do, and I intentionally set my expectations low to avoid being disappointed. Certainly, it is a lot of work, but if you are willing to do it, there are opportunities for authors to make money writing… despite what people will tell you.

DD: How do your past jobs as a naval aviator and an educator influence your writing and publishing?

CK: I was a naval aviator for 20 years and then an elementary school principal for another five, and it wasn’t until after both of those jobs that I started writing. I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have become a military sci-fi author if I hadn’t been in the military; it gave me the background necessary to write it authentically. My first story, Red Tide: The Chinese Invasion of Seattle, was straight military fiction, and its main character is a former naval aviator. It’s unlikely I would have been able to write it (or even conceive of the story) without having been an aviator.

DD: What part of producing the books, aside from the writing, do you most enjoy?

CK: It’s definitely not the editing, as I hate editing. That’s a necessary part of producing a good book, though, so I try my hardest to do a good job at it. What I really enjoy (besides the writing) is the cover design process and working with other creatives. There have been a number of times that a cover designer has done something different than what I asked, but it was much better than my idea, and I loved it!

DD: Do you have a favorite part of promotion?

CK: Without a doubt, my favorite part of promotion is attending conferences and conventions. Not only do I get to meet readers and fellow authors, but I also get to help out aspiring writers and pay it forward for some of the success I’ve had. I love it when someone says, “I think I could be a writer if I just knew this one thing,” and I can answer their question and help them along the way.

DD: How did you come up with the branding for your military science fiction series?

CK: The cover designer and I were sitting in Panera, talking about what I wanted and what he was able to do, and he said, “Hey, what if we take one picture and cut it into thirds, and use one of them for each of the books in the series? That way, you can put the three books next to each other and have them form a picture. Wouldn’t that be cool?” I thought that was a great idea, so we have used it for both of my sci-fi series. Both series also have a set of images to set them apart from my other books and tie them together as a series; The Theogony uses unit insignias and the Codex Regius books use military awards.

DD: The lead character in The Theogony series, Lt. Shawn “Calvin” Hobbs, returns in the Codex Regius series. What draws you back to him?

CK: I thought the series had ended when I wrote Terra Stands Alone, the third book in the trilogy, and I was contemplating what to do next, but my readers said I couldn’t stop writing the series. They asked for a trilogy of trilogies (“like Star Wars, but better!”), and I said that if folks wanted to keep reading them, I would keep writing them, which is why I wrote the Codex Regius books (which deal with Norse and Arabian mythology). I also have the third trilogy figured out, and I have about 15,000 words into the first book of that series.

DD: How did you build the world for these two series?

CK: The Theogony universe is built on a number of mythologies, although Greek and Indian are the primary ones for the first three books and Norse and Arabian mythology for the second trilogy (although you will see a hint of the Arabian influence to come in When the Gods Aren’t Gods, the second book of The Theogony). If there is a mythological creature, it must have come from somewhere…I just tried to figure out what the world that created them would look like.

DD: How would you classify the Occupied Seattle novels, and what led you to write them?

CK: The two Occupied Seattle books are near-future military fiction, and they deal with a Chinese invasion of Seattle as a means of getting the U.S. to let them have Taiwan. I happened to see a story on the Detroit auto show one day, and there was a blurb about the Chinese bringing over a car to the show. The representative said that if it was successful, they would build a plant on the West Coast to make them. As I was driving home from work, I thought about that and what events might cascade from it. One thing led to another in my mind, and before I knew it, the Chinese had attacked Seattle.

DD: You’ve also written a fantasy series, The War for Dominance. What is it about?

CK: The genesis of this story was a short story I created for Baen’s “Fantasy Short Story Contest.” In that story, creatures from a land of magic come into our world at a sci-fi/fantasy convention looking for a thief. Able to move around as cosplayers, they find their thief and return to the world. [SPOILER ALERT!] The person they find, however, is a rube for the real thief, who escapes with the royal jewels at the end of the short story. I realized that I wanted to write more of this story, so I created the War for Dominance trilogy. In it, the rube goes back to the world of magic to clear his name, but gets a LOT more than he bargained for in the process—he ends up in a world at war, with no way home.

DD: What do you find most challenging about switching from science fiction to fantasy?

CK: The hardest point of making the switch was building a platform in the new genre. Even though sci-fi and fantasy are somewhat similar, each has a very different group of readers, with little crossover, and I didn’t do as good a job as I should have in building up my fantasy platform before I launched my fantasy book. It has come along, but that was a major reason for why the book wasn’t as successful as I would have liked to have been when it was first released.

DD: You’ve also written short fiction, a short story prequel to The War for Dominance and a contribution to the Riding the Red Horse anthology.  What draws you to the shorter forms of fiction?

CK: I like to challenge myself to become a better writer with everything I do. I start out every morning by reading blog posts on writing and marketing, and try to incorporate what I read into my authorpreneurial career. Writing short stories forces me to do things differently than I normally do, condensing the story to its essence. It’s also something different than the books I usually write, and variety keeps things interesting!

DD: After doing numerous convention panels on publishing and marketing, what do you see as the biggest misconceptions writers have when they start publishing, either with a publisher or independently?

CK: The biggest misconception people have is that “I could never do it; I don’t have enough time.” It’s surprising, though, how much you can accomplish if you are disciplined. You don’t have to do a whole lot (writing, marketing, etc.) each day, as long as you do something. If you only write 500 words a day, that equates to 180,000 words over the course of a year—enough for 2-3 full-length novels! Three years ago, I was unpublished…today, I have over one million words in print and have sold over 65,000 books, even though I have held a day job for most of that time. If I can do it, starting with nothing, so can anyone reading this (as long as they are disciplined)!

DD: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

CK: The most important thing to remember is that you can’t start promoting a book once it launches; in fact, you actually have to start working on promotion 4-6 months prior, so you can develop a following who will be waiting for it. If you wait until your book is launched to start promoting it, it’s FAR too late—and you are unlikely to be successful.

DD: What’s next for you?

CK: Wow, the sky’s the limit here recently, as I have had a number of other authors ask to work with me, and I am trying to accommodate all of them. First, I’m working with Mark Wandrey on a future sci-fi mercenary series that is going to be GREAT! Mark has the first book nearly finished, and I love it. I was late to an event because I lost track of time while reading it. Look for books from both of us in the fall. I am also going to be in a “First Contact” anthology with 13 other awesome sci-fi authors. That should be out before Christmas. Finally, I am working with Thomas A. Mays on a dystopian YA sci-fi novel where I will be writing a female main character (my first!). I need another one of me to do everything I want to!

DD: Thanks for your time.

CK: You bet! Thanks a lot for having me!


For more information about Chris Kennedy and his writing, visit his website, https://chriskennedypublishing.com/.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.