I recently got the chance to have a chat with Nick Ahlhelm, an author whose previous works include superhero novel Freedom Patton and online serial Walking Shadows. He’s now working on Lightweight – the serialized super story of an average young man who is just beginning to discover his true nature.
AP2HYC: Can you tell us a little about the world of Lightweight and the main character, Kevin Mathis?
Nick Ahlhelm: Kevin is a seventeen year old high school senior as the story kicks off. He’s a bit of a slacker kid, the smart guy that would rather be playing video games than applying himself. But he starts having these dreams of floating, only he quickly learns they are more than just dreams. They are premonitions.
He quickly finds himself drawn to making a costume and then wearing that costume in a fight with a massive robot. From there, his future as Lightweight becomes his only goal, even as his friend and confidant Millie starts to question his sanity in doing so.
Kevin exists in a world that has always had super-powered beings. From the dawn of time, exceptional beings with exceptional powers walked and shaped the Earth, but it wasn’t until the twentieth century that they rose to more prominence and started to don costumes.
Because of this history, a few long standing powers have formed, often working from the shadows of society. Those powers will play a part in the continuing life of Kevin Mathis.
AP2HYC: You’ve said that this project is something new for you, an experiment – what inspired you to do this?
Nick: While I have two published works of super powered fiction already, Freedom Patton: A Dangerous Place to Live and Living Legends: Old Soldiers, I wanted to bring superheroes to prose in a different way than what has came before. I already have a daily updating serialized story called Walking Shadows, which when I first developed the idea was an attempt to continue the ongoing story drive of a daily drama comic strip in prose form.
From there, I looked at the Kindle Singles format and the continued run of new serials that have risen in the Kindle marketplace. It seemed ebooks opened up a new and obvious way to translate superheroes into prose fiction. For over 70 years, superheroes came from monthly 32 page comic books. So why not try to tell the story of a superhero monthly in prose form. The ongoing adventures of Lightweight seemed like the perfect format to develop this concept as he jumps from adventure to adventure, even as a narrative continues throughout them.
AP2HYC: Other than the connection to Kevin’s powers, what made you choose the name ‘Lightweight’? What do you feel is the importance of a superhero’s name?
Nick: Sadly, the origins of the name Lightweight exists somewhere in my teenage years and where it came from, I cannot say. With that said, I love it because it sounds like a superhero, but sounds slightly disparaging at the same time. Who wants to be called a lightweight?
I think living up to and past that name will be a key part of Kevin’s development through the first several adventures.
AP2HYC: You’re clearly an experienced writer but what did you find were the challenges of switching to a project like this?
Nick: This will be the first time I really have to force myself in to the format as perfectly as I can. I’ve budgeted 8000 to 10000 words for each chapter of this story and if I go way past that, I will quickly find that I don’t have time for other commitments.
Also, I have to more carefully craft each chapter of Lightweight’s story to make sure the narrative continues without holes or a need for retcons. Building a full novel I can go back and change things as need be. Building a series of shorts that will stretch out a year or two or five past now, I need to have some idea where it will go after I’ve passed the parts I’m writing now.
AP2HYC: If you found out you had a super power, what would you want it to be? And, conversely, what’s the worst power you can imagine having?
Nick: I’ve never been the most agile person in the world, so I’ve always thought Speedball’s kinetic manipulation would be handy just to keep from having so many bumps and bruises. Being able to avoid bullets and fight crime would just be a cool add-on.
I’m not sure of the worst power I can conceive because I can conceive of some really bad powers. For example, the one that sounds worse right now (and is proof I have children) is truly explosive flatulence. Nobody wants that.
AP2HYC: What have you enjoyed most about creating the world of Lightweight?
Nick: While I love designing a great superhero world, my favorite part by far of Lightweight is the characters. Kevin is a fun lead to write, a character terribly unlike me outside of his love for bad jokes. His friend Millie is equally as compelling as Kevin. She’s there as a potential love interest, but at no point is she ever a weaker character than he is. She’s there to give him balance, but she’s also her own person. I may like writing her more than I do Kevin in fact.
Even the supporting cast has been fun, from their morose friend Andy to Kevin’s constant foil George, and the villainous Carolyn Bates and Ronin. I think I’ve made some interesting and unique folks that will keep the readers interested for months to come.
AP2HYC: What do you plan to work on next and where do you hope to take Lightweight‘s story ultimately?
Nick: My plan is to continue Lightweight as an ongoing monthly narrative for as long as fans are willing to support it, both from the Kickstarter and from regular monthly series after the Kickstarter. Kevin’s life will continue to evolve basically in real time with him exiting high school after a year of stories and moving on from there to newer, crazier adventures in his city, world and universe.
My writing schedule will see me splitting just about every month between Lightweight and other projects. I’m currently also wrapping up an MMA novel for the Fight Card line of books, Rosie the Ripper, which I hope to launch after the first of the year. From there, I am an annual participant in Nanowrimo and I have a historical superhero novel planned for that one. It will actually have ties to the same city Lightweight takes place in, albeit about two hundred years earlier.