Writing Superheroes: J Tullos Hennig

Read on and find out more…

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According to Wikipedia, ‘a superhero is a type of heroic character possessing extraordinary talents, supernatural phenomena, or superhuman powers and is dedicated to a moral goal or protecting the public.’ Sounds like a writer to me!

Join me as another one of these unsung superheroes invites into their personal ‘batcave’.


If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes?

As a youngster I was always outside, away from the house, away from people, surrounded by nature. Reading.  Writing.  Scribbling with pencil and paper beside a stream, listening to cicadas. Lying on a horse’s back while he grazed, engrossed in one of the Black Stallion books. I never went anywhere without a book, a spiral and new-sharpened pencils.


What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

There was a time I almost burned them all. The Amazing Spouse wouldn’t let me. So now they are hermetically sealed in a box and buried. Somewhere. Early efforts and first novels should never be inflicted upon the public. 😉


jtulloshennig4x4All superheroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

My mild-mannered identity is the writer, but I’ve had to maintain various other identities over the years. One major identity recently retired; I was a professional equestrian for nearly 40 years. And the second one is an even more, erm, flamboyant somewhat-secret identity: the bellydancer who has danced on tables in Greek restaurants and can zaghareet louder than Xena.

All to aid and abet the milder persona who slouches in front of a computer in sweats and braids, of course.


Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

Amazing Spouse is, well, amazing. My students, both two- and four-legged, who have taught me as much as I have, hopefully, taught them. And there are always the criminals… erm, characters who tap dance in my brain until I have to tell their story. With hobnailed boots, upon more than one occasion.


Where do you get your superpowers from? Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

Tea. Lots of strong tea lashed with milk and honey. And Sriracha sauce.  Only, not at the same time.

The secret lair is lined with books, mostly shelved. No, you can’t have them.  Mine! I have booby traps laid, I’m warning you…


What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

Mental & physical are both important. I keep pushing boundaries. I ask questions and don’t accept pat answers, or accept a long stay in a perceived comfort zone when reading or writing. I still dance, and teach dance, and ride as I can, but….

Only for good? Really? That would just be boring.


Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

Whatever I need to protect my real powers. I can look like an equestrian in hunter sidesaddle kit, or a Fosse dancer, or Little Egypt, or an instructor with whip in a back pocket and armoured in chaps and spurs, ready to project a stentorian “Heels down!” at unsuspecting riders.


What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

I admit to being a bit of a dinosaur. The publishing world has changed so much since I first entered it 30-odd years ago. The midlist author has disappeared, and this new dynamic of having to be some sort of extroverted marketing genius when I’m merely an inward, immersive storyteller…? Gah! I say, but LeGuin said it more aptly in a remarkable speech (and I paraphrase): we need more writers who remember what it means to make art, and not just ones complicit in selling a commodity.

Or at least I like to think we do. Not sure the market is in agreement.


What was the supervillain that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

The body breaking down a bit sooner than I’d anticipated. Older joints are treacherous beggars, I tell you. The adjustment is as much mental as physical.


What important lessons have you learned along the way?

Honour the ancestors. Stand up beneath their legacies, trials, and mistakes, and make a few of your own. Read things that challenge you. Write things that challenge you. And if those things are too hard, put them away and wait. You’ll grow into them, if you let yourself.


What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

The research done, the travel and life experienced, whether it was riding an ex-steeplechaser in Sherwood Forest or running wild with cousins in the woods, or travelling a dusty highway with no more than a thumb, a pack and two bucks in a back pocket. We have a wonderful, amazing planet and I want to keep morphing my own experiences into alternate realities of communication.


What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

The truest things I’ve ever heard: It’s not about being a writer. It’s about the writing.



What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

I’ve several different projects in the works, but the main one is the spring 2017 release of Summerwode. I’ll be working away at the fifth and final installment over the upcoming year.




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