Kenneth Johnson’s writing, producing and TV directing resume reads like a best of 70’s and 80’s TV. He’s known for creating the ground-breaking and influential science fiction television miniseries “V, ” as well as producing “The Six Million Dollar Man” and created other iconic Emmy-winning shows such as “The Bionic Woman,” “The Incredible Hulk,” and “Alien Nation.”
Johnson’s “Man Of Legends” is about a man who cannot die. He’s lived for more than 2,000 years and been witness to many of mankind’s achievements and atrocities. His life and those he’s touched is told through the eyes of those who have witnessed his struggle to be a better man in the eyes of the one who cursed him.
After reading an early copy I reached out to the author to discuss his story that hits shelves July 1.
Allie Hanley: I am such a big fan of “V,” “Alien Nation,” “The Bionic Woman” and “Hulk.” It wouldn’t be remiss to say you shaped a good portion of my childhood and teen years with those shows. I even had a bionic woman Barbie doll that went on “dates” with Steve (Six Million Dollar Man) and GI Joe. I named my dog “Max” and wanted him to be on every episode of “The Bionic Woman.”
I was sad when there were no longer any more episodes of “Alien Nation,” -loved the sour milk in lieu of alcohol, and was excited when “V” came back but it just wasn’t on par with yours!
Can you tell me about your new book “Man of Legends?”
Kenneth Johnson: While reading Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad” several years ago I came across a reference to my protagonist, which stirred my imagination. When I learned that Percy Shelley had also written poems about him I began some serious research and realized what an amazing tale could be woven together from all the legends about him. I also saw what a tremendous impact he could have had on the last 2000 years of world history (history is another of my passions). How he could have had life-changing encounters not only with Twain and Shelley (plus his wife Mary), but also sparked a young Tuscan boy to create a Renaissance painting, helped Scotsman James Watt to design the steam engine that kick started the Industrial Revolution, helped get Al Capone arrested, introduced the British Earl of Condom to the item that bears his name, inspired Gandhi, Einstein & so many others. …And made some unwitting mistakes that had ripple effects proving how no good deed goes unpunished.
AH: What made you want to tell the story from many perspectives rather than a narrative from Will’s viewpoint?
KJ: Also…having the different voices and speech patterns of the multiple characters telling the story adds a wonderful spice and sparkle to the reading experience — or listening experience to those who get the audio-book. Wait till you hear how they sound — it plays like an intriguing radio drama. Well, a great deal of the book is from Will’s POV. But he wouldn’t have the necessary knowledge to describe the experiences of the other characters whose voices I employed. Also I wanted the readers, like the characters in the novel, to experience my flawed hero Will as a flesh and blood man. Then through what we hear from Will plus Jillian and Father Paul and the love of Will’s life Hanna, we get to peel back the many layers of his story. To learn how he’d been born 20 centuries earlier and made a mistake back then that brought down a curse upon him: though he can suffer the pain of mortal injury he cannot die. And he must continually move forward every three days, unable to go backwards. Thus he’s on a constant quest to understand why this has befallen him, and if redemption is possible.
That’s the theme which drives the novel and threads through each of the characters in the story: trying to discover one’s reason for being.
And in Will’s case to also understand the mysterious sleek young man whom Will has glimpsed many times over the two millennia…who seems so eager to help him… yet is also consummately dangerous.
AH: With so many perspectives and characters was there one that you really loved and why?
KJ: Unfair! That’s like asking, “Who’s your favorite child, Kenny?” Each character is unique and so is his/her perspective on the story. Together with Will they create a rich tapestry ranging from the sharp reporter Jillian (troubled by her own demons), to a country singer on the skids whom Will jumpstarts, to gritty, streetsy graffiti artist Tito, to five-year-old Maria, orphaned daughter of a prostitute, to Father St. Jacques the ambitious, self-serving French priest who represents Vatican authorities that have been relentlessly pursuing Will for 1600 years. …But I think that Katharine Hepburn-esque Hanna, now 85, who Will saved from drowning in the River Seine in 1937 and who became the love of his life as she traveled with him for a year, and is lovingly reunited with him in the course of the novel, is one who touches me the deepest. She is a sparkplug, a spitfire, a warm, brilliant woman any man would cherish and the romance she has with Will really is one for the ages.
AH: Were you raised religious and how did that play into your story?
KJ: As for me, my mother went to a Methodist Church and so did I as a kid…mostly because I had a crush on a Judy Witherspoon who went there. As a teen and beyond I found it more interesting to learn about various other religions, beliefs, mythologies and superstitions and realized that almost all of them had caused far more harm than good. — But that the worthwhile kernel at the core of each of them seemed a far simpler concept…which is also touched on in my novel: an Ethic. A way of living right.
AH: There’s a few touching pages in your story that you dedicate to the death of a dog and do they go to heaven. Can you elaborate on that?
KJ: The young college student Nicole is mourning her recently deceased, beloved dog and Will explains why it hurts so much:
Because watching a puppy grow through maturity to old age and death is experiencing the whole life cycle. — Which is a metaphor for what Will has been going through for 2000 years…including seeing his wife and children,
and all the others whom he’s cared for, age and die…while he goes on and on. — That’s why he’s avoided Hanna, as much as he loved her…to save her the pain of seeing him still young.
As for the Great Mysteries, the novel certainly touches on them too. And I personally come down on the side of Will and Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of…”
AH: Your style of writing is easily visualized. It wasn’t hard seeing this as a serialized TV show. Any movement in that direction and or where would you like to see this go?
KJ: Thanks for the compliment. Being first and foremost a director I’m always thinking cinematically. I very much hope to turn the novel into a TV project… ideally a four-hour or so miniseries which would allow more adequate time than a movie to really delve into all the mysterious, entertaining, fun, frightening, hopefully thought-provoking material I’ve been able to weave into the book.
AH: What are you working on now and how can readers follow you?
KJ: There is a KJ Facebook page for the novel, and there’s far more info at www.kennethjohnson.us — particularly about our current efforts to mount a big theatrical movie remake of my original miniseries V, as the first of a movie trilogy.