I’d read a couple of chapters of Jonathan E Hernandez’s One Day as a Lion before we met through social media. Instantly , I knew this was a man of good character — just as I’d
quickly seen that he’s a writer of great talent.
We caught up recently for a quick conversation. I present it to you now as a short transcript…
First question for you, John: How long had you been writing your GORDIAN KNOT trilogy before Aethon said, “Can we publish that?” (Aethon being the publishing house, of course).
The short answer is a long time.
The first book of the trilogy, ONE DAY AS A LION, grew out of a short story called “The Duel” that I wrote in 2012. It was an ambitious but flawed story that got torn apart by my writing group (the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers). I’m glad that they did; it needed a lot of work. The trilogy and book one grew out of a need to address questions that my peers had regarding the story, and short fiction has always been one of my weaknesses. I needed a trilogy to tell the entire story and give the universe the stage it deserves.
I pitched ONE DAY AS A LION to Aethon Books in 2019 during #SFFpit and things moved quickly after that, with some delays along the way because of things like Covid. I finished the trilogy in 2021 – the same year that book one made its debut.
Man, a good writing group definitely sharpens its members, so I’m glad they served you well. So, I love deep-dive extensive universe-building. Your website shows your world-building is pretty darn extensive, alright. Are there more books planned for your universe, or are you moving on to other things?
I have ideas for stories of all kinds, and in other genres. I feel like there’s never enough time to write them all.
I spent a lot of time working on what I call the Pax Universe which is where the GORDIAN KNOT series is set. I wanted an immersive sandbox so that I would be willing to spend enough time there to finish another book or series. My current novel project, working title NOMAD, is set in the Pax Universe as well. I drop Easter eggs in my work to add to the lore. NOMAD explores something that was briefly mentioned in book one.
I’ve been building up intrigue that will come to a head in a few books. It’s my attempt at what the Marvel Cinematic Universe did leading up to the Infinity War. I can’t say more for fear of spoiling it.
The main characters of your trilogy are Pappy (a grizzled human soldier) and Talks-To-His-Spear from The Regime. Why these two characters? What made you choose them to tell your story through?
Pappy is – I say lovingly – a meathead. He’s not a bad person; he’s unsophisticated and sees things in very polar terms. He was gung-ho in his youth and still has that fighting spirit, but he’s just past his prime now. That’s why he’s able to slow down and think… “am I doing the right thing here?” A big part of the trilogy is wrestling with the moral quandaries that come with war. His arc is all about learning how to see shades of grey, so his transformation is starker given his background as a dumb jarhead.
Talks-To-His-Spear is a living mascot for the Regime; their champion, shogun, and a proxy for their military caste. He sees a lot of ugliness and feels bad about what he’s being ordered to do even though he’s supposed to be the one who gives it all the golden seal of approval. He has a strong sense of honor and duty but is also seduced by power. His arc basically leads him to the dark side. I specifically wanted a villain who wasn’t a mustache-twirling “bad guy,” but rather a complex character with aspirations and guiding principles that make sense given his past and social setting. I wanted to show that even someone with a strong sense of ethics can still compromise their own values when put under enough pressure.
When you said your stories are “wrestling with the moral quandaries that come with war”, I knew why I relate to you and your writing so well. it’s a core theme I can’t keep out of my work too, and it’s a compelling one I think — rather than just have characters running around killing people with no inner or outer consequences.
Okay. Tough question (maybe): Can you define what makes a book/TV show/movie “space opera”?
Yeah it’s hard to put a finger on it.
One thing that I’ve observed is that space opera tends to be epic in scale and heavy in themes. It has noble aspirations and asks big, thought-provoking questions. The universes are rich and immersive. Even space opera that doesn’t age well still feels like this giant warm blanket that you want to wrap yourself in. I love getting lost in the lore and geeking out over the literature and tomes. I have a collection of source books and technical manuals from various franchises that I’ve acquired over the years and they’ve evidently inspired me a great deal.
That deep-dive, extensive universe-building again.
Also, space opera can sometimes seem derivative, but it has so much potential and continues to evolve. I lean more towards what I call acid space opera. Like acid Westerns, it’s very aware of its lineage and has fluency in the tropes, but is subversive with morally ambiguous characters. Also with more drugs, violence, and sex. It’s not afraid to be rough-around-the-edges and you need to take risks in order for art to evolve.
Is Jonathan E. Hernandez more a fan of stand-alone books or of series? (and why?)
It really depends. Sometimes storytellers need time to tell the story properly or want to explore avenues that you can’t in just one entry. Other authors always planned on an expansive series. As a reader I can say that it I really enjoy a series, I will likely want and appreciate more. As a writer, I can see why other authors take this approach. A single book can feel limiting whereas you have options when you have an entire volume to experiment and play. You can change the tone between books, show the same event from different points of view.
Some characters really grow over the course of a series and you want to let that happen organically. There are also times when I come across a sequel to a book and I think to myself – did we need this one? Was there a demand for it? Are they attempting something new here? If a book feels and functions like a stand-alone but then gets a friend a few years later, it might just be a product cynically thrown together to slot into an already-existing market.
And the world really does have enough cash-grab sequels. But I like what you said about taking time to tell the story. And sometimes the story isn’t short.
Let’s leave it there, mate, but it’s always great to chat with ya.
Folks, as you can see, the man’s a thoughtful and deliberate writer. From other conversations, I can tell you he cares deeply about the quality of his work.