Derrick Ferguson: Who is Nicholas Ahlhelm?
Nicholas Ahlhelm: Man, I’ve been asking that question for years now! The short answer is that I’m a writer, editor and blogger living in Eastern Iowa. I’m a lover of all things superhero and a whole lot of wrestling.
DF: How long have you been writing?
NA: Since I was knee high to a grasshopper. I started the site that would evolve into Metahuman Press back in 2003 and published my first book back in 2008.
DF: For the folks at home who don’t know you, clue us in on your background.
NA: I was born and raised in Iowa and have lived there for most of my life outside brief excursions to St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois. I mainly used my allowance to buy comics, first issues of G.I. Joe and Transformers before jumping into basically every superhero comic I could find on the newsstand. That history shaped what I wanted to do as I reached adulthood and decided to start a serious attempt to become a professional writer.
DF: Writing. Editing. Publishing. Which one is the most difficult and which one gives you the most satisfaction?
NA: Editing is by far the most difficult. The publishing process is complicated, but can be learned, and once you have it down, it remains just a variation on the same theme to usher one book as another. Editing on the other hand can take you anywhere. Some stories require a firm hand while some need a lighter touch. And some writers respond better to one than the other. It can be a hard thing to figure out what works best until you’ve started to know your regular writers a bit.
The most satisfying personally will always be writing. Ushering my own stories from a blank sheet of paper (or at least a blank screen) to a final draft remains astonishing to me. I still sometimes find it amazing I can accomplish it at all.
DF: What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
NA: I promise I’m not just saying this because I’m here to talk about it, but the answer is Lightweight. Two and a half stories into the first collection I can already say this is the most solid tale I’ve ever told. The character is strong and the story around him has literally had twenty years of gestation before making it to the page.
DF: You are most definitely a superhero fan to the max. What do superheroes represent to you?
NA: Untapped potential. While conceptually superheroes have been around for seventy something years, they still possess so much room for amazing stories. Years ago it was Steven Grant that I first heard describe superheroes as a setting rather than a genre. By that he meant they were just a trapping layered over sci fi, mystery, historical fiction or whatever. And that has shaped how I’ve seen super powered fiction ever since. This is room to tell new stories and stretch the reality of fiction, no matter the form it takes.
DF: Why are we so fascinated with the concept of superheroes?
NA: I think in many ways, superheroes are the action hero of the twenty-first century. When we can see people in real life doing stuff like parkour and our technology in our phone can do half of what we saw in any 80s sci-fi movie, society needed something bigger in their heroes. And I think because of that, the comic book style superhero rose to prominence for the same reason kids loved them for years: they are larger than life, but still grounded in a level of reality.
DF: Superhero prose fiction is hot right now. You’ve been involved in that genre years before its current popularity. Why is superhero prose popping right now?
NA: I’m not sure if it’s hot now, but it does seem to be the growing market trend. I think the reason is two-fold. Obviously, the popularity of superhero films has a lot to do with it. Superheroes have money potential, even if so many of the comics don’t really realize it.
Secondly, I think that a lot of writers have latched on to the fact that a lot of story potential exists in superheroes, either by expanding the concept into new territory or by subverting it into something else.
DF: Tell us about Metahuman Press.
NA: Metahuman Press is my small press outfit. I’ve been running it for several years, dating back to the first printing of Freedom Patton: A Dangerous Place to Live and the early numbered Pulp Empire volumes. In the last few years, we’ve expanded with a few original novels, but our main focus is still super powered and new pulp anthologies.
DF: Tell us about Lightweight.
NA: LIGHTWEIGHT is my attempt to innovate super powered fiction. Comics have ran character’s lives for decades and decades month in and month out. Lightweight is my attempt to tell a prose storyline through approximately 8000 word chapters, each published as an ebook monthly and collected periodically. The goal is to tell individual tales that will build a greater narrative as they continue, until they form a massive project that truly follows the life of a super powered young man.
Lightweight is the tale of Kevin Mathis, a 17 year old high school senior that suffers from dreams of floating. Only he learns those dreams aren’t just dreams. He finds himself in dangerous situations and feels a compulsion to act. With a costume in place, he becomes Lightweight. But even as he embarks on a career in crime-fighting with the help of his friend Millie, he begins to learn his entire world may be at the center of a centuries old war.
DF: Why Kickstarter?
NA: My goal with taking Lightweight to Kickstarter is two-fold. I wanted to make sure my cover artist Brent Sprecher, a veteran of the gaming world, gets paid a professional salary for his cover work.
At the same time, I also needed to prove that the concept had enough power to draw in fans of superheroes. My plan is to dedicate a significant portion of my life to Lightweight in the future. I want to make sure I can find a market for monthly super powered prose before I dive into it feet first.
DF: There’s a plethora of Kickstarter projects so why should the good folks at home throw their support behind Lightweight?
NA:While Kickstarter is always filled with great projects (which I spotlight every Monday in fact on my SuperPoweredFiction.com blog), this is the first time anyone truly attempted a monthly ongoing superhero prose story, at least outside fan fiction sites. My plan is to keep Lightweight going for years to come. I have plots for nearly three years of stories with outlines for nearly five more. But without proof of concept, they may never see light of day.
DF: What’s the future of Metahuman Press and Lightweight?
NA: Metahuman Press has several projects coming in the near future. Supernatural West, I Was A Teenage Metahuman and the second volume of Modern Gods are all in some stage of the production process with several more books to follow through the end of the year and the beginning of the next.
The future of Lightweight is in the hands of the people out there. If you’re a fan of superheroes, support the project on Kickstarter. It could be years before I attempt a project of this scope again should the Kickstarter not succeed.
DF: What’s the future of Nicholas Ahlhelm?
NA: A lot more writing. I have a “Fight Card” novel I’ve been ushering into publishable form in the last few weeks, followed by a half dozen short stories for various Airship 27 and Metahuman Press anthologies. Of course, I’ve already got my annual Nanowrimo project in the development stages for this November, a huge tale that will serve as a back story for Lightweight.
And of course, if Lightweight is successful on Kickstarter, a whole heck of a lot more writing for him. Here’s hoping I get to tell my complete tale of Kevin Mathis and company over the next several years.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Nick Ahlhelm: I just want to thank all the backers that have supported the project so far and will do so in the days ahead. Nothing makes a writer’s heart happier than knowing someone is reading his work and wants to read more.