Darin Kennedy: Doctor by Day, Novelist By Night

Photo Courtesy of Darin Kennedy

Darin Kennedy wrote his first novel, Pawns Gambit, while posted to Iraq as a US Army doctor. After becoming a civilian, he published that novel and its siblings in The Pawn Stratagem chess-themed trilogy with Falstaff Books. Fugue & Fable, a trilogy born of his dual loves of classical music and world mythology soon followed. Kennedy has written one young adult novel, Carol, a retelling of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol with a teenage female protagonist, and numerous short stories.

Daily Dragon (DD): How long have you been interested in chess?

Darin Kennedy (DK): We had a pretty cool chess set on the coffee table when I was a kid, and when I was old enough, my dad taught me how to play. Growing up, quality time with Dad was usually either basketball outside in our driveway goal or a chess match before dinner. It was fun, and I was reasonably good back in the day (though strictly amateur).

DD: How did that love of chess grow into a novel and then a trilogy?

DK: I read more than my fair share of comic books growing up and had a character I made up called the Chessmaster—still have the picture I drew of him somewhere. He had the pouch of magical chess pieces at his side. The pouch is in The Pawn Stratagem, but the other elements came to me over the years until I finally sat down and started writing in the desert of Iraq back in 2003.

DD: The Mussorgsky Riddle, Book I of Fugue & Fable, seems to go in a different direction.  How does it meld mythology and music?

DK: Back in the late 1800s, composer Modest Mussorgsky incorporated more than a little story and myth into his masterpiece, Pictures at an Exhibition, on which The Mussorgsky Riddle is based. Coming into it, the piece already had a gnome, and old castle, a great gate, and Baba Yaga, the Russian witch. How could you not write a story?

DD: Did you draw on your medical training in creating this series?

DK: I incorporated a bit of my psychiatric/psychologic know-how from being a family medicine physician into creating the original situation that allows the events of Fugue & Fable to unfold, and as per usual in everything I write, tried to keep the characters’ injuries & recoveries within plausibility.

DD: Your website has a specific tagline for Carol—Scrooge meets Mean Girls. How does it fit the book?

DK: Good question. Very simply, Carol is about 17-year-old Carol Davis who is the mean girl/soon-to-be multimillionaire in my story whose mean girl life is headed down the wrong path and the ghost of her dead friend, Marnie, tells her that the Spirits of Christmas are coming to give her a much-needed attitude adjustment. I always thought Dickens let Scrooge off a little easy in the original. With my teenage Scroogette, I did not.

DD: Your website says you completed your residency in Virginia before going into the Army and then to Iraq. What was it about being in Iraq that led or allowed you to write when you hadn’t before?

DK: Honestly, college, med school, and residency were all very busy times, and my first two years as an Army physician as well. However, in 2003 I deployed to Iraq in support of OIF1 [Operation Iraqi Freedom 1] and I always tell people that being in a war zone is basically long periods of boredom punctuated by short periods of terror. During the latter, you keep your head down, and during the former, you have to find something to do. I wrote a book, and just last week I finished my ninth.

DD: What is an Army Flight Surgeon, and how did you become one?

DK: An Army Flight Surgeon is basically a military doctor who cares for pilots and their specific needs (as those individuals take multi­­million-dollar equipment up into the air on a daily basis and need to be in tip-top shape). I attended a six-week Flight Surgeon course at Fort Rucker, Alabama, prior to my first job in the Army and got qualified and then was the Flight Surgeon for 1-10 Cavalry out of Fort Hood, Texas for two years before moving to my second duty station where I was back in more of a family medicine role.

DD: According to your website, you grew up reading comic books. Do you think they fed your writing at all, and if so, how?

DK: Absolutely. I think after reading a few thousand comics, in addition to a truckload of novels, that I definitely got the feel for sequential storytelling, though my books have significantly less pictures. I think there are comic book elements to a lot of my storytelling style, more in some series than others.

DD: You’ve led discussions at some conventions along the lines of I’m Sorry, but that Character Isn’t Injured, He’s Dead. What inspired this?

DK: Twenty-five years into medical practice, I’ve seen a few things. I’m not a trauma surgeon, but I know when I’m watching a show or movie or reading a book when they’ve done their research and when they’re just winging it. One piece of advice I always give new writers (and experienced writers as well) is to be careful when they are injuring a character to make the story better, not to accidentally kill them.

DD: Do you have any advice for authors still working toward that first publication?

DK: Write something you are passionate about. It will come through in the way you write your story. Writing to market is okay, but you might miss that wave, and if it’s not something you love, it will show. Then, make sure it is in as good a shape as possible before you start shopping it. Many times, you get one shot with a particular manuscript, so the correct order is Ready, then Aim, then Fire.

DD: What’s next for you?

DK: I have just completed a pretty decent draft of the second book in a new urban fantasy and am working on another set of edits on Book I. I hope to be shopping this series around before the end of the year!

DD: Thanks for joining me.

DK: Thank you for having me!

For more information about Darin Kennedy and his work, visit his website.

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.