Nicholas Ahlhelm has let his love for superheroes as a concept pretty much overwhelm his good sense. A fan of super-powered prose fiction since he discovered Wild Cards at twelve. Since then, he has expanded his reading and viewing to cover superheroes through every means he can find, whether comics, prose fiction, movies, television, or transmedia sources. In the mean time, he regular maintains three fiction-producing website publications: Metahuman Press, Pulp Empire, and The Dead Walk Again.
I was wondering where you get your story ideas?
That is always the toughest question ever for a writer, I think, mostly because ideas come from everywhere. In the case of my current project, Lightweight, it came to me as a teenager that a gravity controlling superhero would be something cool and a bit different. From there, bits and pieces have developed over the years whether from strokes of inspiration, random dreams or just bits of cool dialogue that popped into my head and needed to be saved for the future.
What is the usual process for your fiction writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Neither and both? Man, I am bad at straight answers.
Generally, I work from about a page outline of what I want a novel to be, usually broken down into a few paragraphs and story beats. I develop some detailed character outlines for my major players, then I start writing. As I write, I usually put down a rough idea of what I want to accomplish in the next chapter or two before I start writing that chapter. From there, it becomes a lot easier to get everything out on the page.
Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
I’m a world builder. I think you ask a lot of people in the super powered fiction milieu and they will say the same thing. My superhero novels all take place in the same universe, as do many of my short stories, so the world is built to some level already. With that said, I like to have strong ideas for who and what my characters are as they enter the story. Sometimes a few background details change as I go, but I hope it helps people like Kevin and Millie in Lightweight feel more like real people.
Chaotic. I have two daughters, age 13 and 4, and I stay home with one of them during the day while I work my “day” job at night. So I have to pick up and write whenever I can find time in that currently hectic schedule. Sometimes I get a hundred words done in a day, sometimes 3000. It all depends on how much work I can fit in my schedule.
Are you a full time writer? If so when did you make the decision and what factors led to the decision. If you are not a full time writer…Is your plan to one day being a full time writer?
I am by no means a full time writer, although I think with some frugalness and a game plan, I have the potential to make a living as one. I have several irons in the fire now and I see revenues increasing on an annual basis.
I have a loose five year plan to hopefully set this up as a full time gig and move away from the dreariness of a 9 to 5. But things like five year plans often change, so we will see by the time 2018 rolls around.
Can you tell us about your experience working with your current publisher? (Any other publishers?) (Or your self-publishing experiences?)
Lightweight will be published through my Metahuman Press line so I know the publisher and he’s a good guy. I have worked for a few others in the past, most notably Pro Se Press and Airship 27. I cannot say enough about how easy both publishers are to work with. I hope I am half as friendly and engaging to the writers of my anthologies as Tommy Hancock and Ron Fortier have been to me.
I continue to publish anthologies through Metahuman Press as well as the occasional standalone novel. My goal with my own endeavors there is to design things I want to read as well as write. Through books like Modern Gods, Presidential Pulp and Aliens Among Us, I think we’ve created some great books with awesome themes.
What is your current release and (without spoilers) tell us about the new book or series.
Lightweight is now seeking funding on Kickstarter. It is my attempt to change how super powered fiction is released. My goal is to fund a monthly ongoing superhero prose project. I would write an approximately 8000 word story every month and release it as a digital ebook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. I would then collect the stories into “arcs”, basically full length novels that form a longer narrative out of the interconnected short stories. Funding pays for some great cover art for the series by Brent Sprecher, but will also serve as proof of concept that monthly continuing shorts will be a viable format in the modern market space.
The series itself focuses around Kevin Mathis, a 17 year old that suddenly finds he has powers over gravity. It all starts with dreams of floating, but he quickly realizes his dreams are tapping into something else and it is that something else that will be a major factor in his story. In the mean time, he develops a compulsion to use his powers to become a superhero, first to defend his friends and later to defend his city. His friend Millie is his only confidant and an equal player in the story. She starts out as an aide to our lead, but will grow as a character in her own right.
I have two other novels set in the same universe, Living Legends: Old Soldiers and Freedom Patton. Old Soldiers is the first of a planned trilogy of tales. I have taken over two dozen public domain superheroes from the Golden Age of comics and transported them into the modern world. In doing so, I have worked to frame them in a new light and hopefully make them shine while telling a compelling tale of these figures lost in time.
Freedom Patton is my modern take on the all-American hero archetype. He is that archetype framed through a Millennial’s mindset. He ends up embroiled in an attempt to form a new country out of a significant portion of southern Iowa, a place I spent many of my younger years.
With convention season pretty much at an end in these parts, I have no appearances or signings planned for this year. Next year remains open however. Folks can pay attention to my website Super Powered Fiction for details.
As an author what inspiration or advice would you give to a writer who is working to make the transition to Author?
The advice I give to anyone that says they want to write for money is to keep writing. You will never get anywhere by just saying “I’m a writer”. You have to put words to paper (or screen). Finding a way to avoid the never-ending ability to avoid writing is always an author’s greatest tool (and one that I on occasion still fail at to this day.)
I am terrible at picking favorite writers, because every answer always comes with a “but he/she wrote these books I didn’t enjoy as well” in my mind. With that said, the writer I’ve clearly read the most by is Stephen King. King is certainly an influence on my own writing and world building, but I can name as many bad books by him as good.
That being said, Firestarter is my favorite novel by him. I love that even in the late 70s the book covered some seriously superhero-oriented tropes but framed through a thriller narrative focused on a father defending his daughter. The novel moves at a breakneck pace and keeps the reader’s guessing in a constant manhunt. It’s ending also just opens up so much room for great new tales, something it still saddens me that King never did.
If you would like more information about Nicholas Ahlhelm you can find his books on Metahuman Press & Amazon, and updates about his writing on Twitter, Facebook , Goodreads, and on his Super Powered Fiction website. Be sure to check out the Kickstarter for Lightweight.