Ania Ahlborn is the bestselling author of the horror thrillers Brother, Within These Walls, The Bird Eater, The Shuddering, The Neighbors, and Seed, and the novella The Pretty Ones. Her latest release is The Devil Crept In, out now from Gallery Books. Recently, Ania was kind enough to take time out from exploring the dark corners of her imagination to share a few words with us.
CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: You were born in Poland. How old were you when you came to America? What brought you here?
ANIA AHLBORN: I was about three years old, and while I can’t remember the plane ride over, my first memory of America is: San Antonio in the summer, so hot and humid I can hardly breath, standing out on the lawn of my aunt and uncle’s apartment complex in nothing but my underwear, and suddenly feeling fire crawling up my legs. I’d stopped dead on top of an enormous ant hill. Liberty and opportunity brought my parents to the United States. Fire ants eating their toddler was an unexpected bonus.
Your bio says you hail from Albuquerque and now live in Greenville. Poland, New Mexico and South Carolina are three seriously different places—how has living in such diverse environments influenced your writing?
There was also Portland, Oregon, between Albuquerque and Greenville. But, yes! There has been a ton of moving around for me over the past few years. As far as being an influence, there’s really nothing like experiencing new environments to get a feel of what life is like in other places, and for understanding what people on different coasts are all about. Being able to pinpoint the nuances of a certain geography only makes fiction that much more engaging. I wouldn’t say that all of my moving about has consciously influenced my writing as much as it creeps into the nooks and crannies of my narrative.
When did you start to gravitate toward horror?
No, seriously, five. Maybe six. Though, at that age, it was less horror and more Scooby Doo, oh-my-god-the-ghost-cartoon-is-on. I’ve always been into spooky and unusual stuff. My mother has told me many-a-time, “you’ve always been creepy;” which, to be fair, when your kindergartner hands you a bouquet of fake flowers collected off of dead people’s graves, as a mother, that’s probably enough to trigger some sort of existential crisis.
I hit the “real” horror pretty hard at around nine or ten. Though, when I say “real,” I mean movies like Troll and Dolls and books like Wait Till Helen Comes. Not exactly terrifying, but for an elementary school kid, my taste reached beyond my years.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Has horror always been your genre of choice, or do you see yourself expanding beyond it?
I knew I wanted to write for a living after spending a summer at my grandmother’s house. I was twelve-ish, and my cousin and I were desperate for things to do, so we started writing a story in tandem. I became completely obsessed with the process, and that was it for me. That was not horror. It was, like, awful tweeny giggly romance stuff. Though from what I recall, I was always purposefully messing up the story by making the guy character do weird, off-the-wall stuff. That was my adolescent id coming out, I think. It pissed my cousin off pretty well, if I remember correctly. That dark streak never fails me.
A few of my books (Brother, The Neighbors) lean more toward psychological thriller than horror, so, I’ve expanded. Though, I can’t say I can see myself going back to those tweeny giggly days; unless it would be, like, Heathers revisited.
Who are the biggest influences on your writing?
Stephen King. Ira Levin. Poppy Z. Brite. Gillian Flynn. Bret Easton Ellis, among others. I was completely obsessed with Easton Ellis in college. They way that man can spin a story is pretty phenomenal. I also have some pretty heavy leanings toward the eighties. So, my penchant for movies like The Breakfast Club, and I already mentioned Heathers, tend to color a lot of my stories. Music, too. The Cure. Depeche Mode. New Order. I’m a big jumble of pop culture influence. I grew up when MTV was king.
It’s sad that, in this day and time, I still consider this a valid question, but…what obstacles have you faced as a woman trying to make a career writing in a traditionally male-dominated genre?
Sad, indeed, but totally legitimate. You’ll be happy to hear, however, that I haven’t really faced all that many obstacles. Maybe they’ve been there and I’ve just ignored them and plowed through whatever was in my way, but as for my experience, I can only speak fondly of all of the folks I’ve worked with and the readers that frequent my social media, etc. Of course, you get the occasional creeper, but that’s par for the course.
Why do you think some people have difficulty reconciling women as creators of horror?
Because women are delicate flowers who can’t possibly know how to convey terror. After all, our place is in the kitchen. Lucky for us, that garbage disposal has quite a bit of horsepower, so these days we can shuck practically anything. Hands. Feet. Misogynistic opinions. Sorry, what was the question?
Tell us a little about your new novel, The Devil Crept In.
Devil is a story about a ten-year-old named Stevie, who discovers his cousin, Jude, has gone missing. Stevie and Jude live in a pretty rural town, and neither come from particularly good families; so, when Stevie sees the local authorities yukking it up rather than buckling down and seriously searching for Jude, he decides to take matters into his own hands. And what he finds is far darker than anything he expected. Devil zeros in on the dichotomy between the world of kids and adults and poses the question of, what if the kids are right and the adults are wrong? What if monsters are real? I wrote Devil wanting to highlight a few themes, the main one being the nightmare that is “growing up.”
What are you reading these days?
I’m not reading nearly as much as I should be right now. My schedule has been completely insane, and my to-be-read pile is growing taller by the day. I recently finished up You by Caroline Kepnes, which was fantastic; As Good As Gone by Amy Gentry, which was also great; The Couple Next Door by Sheri Lapena. Lots of dark thrillers that, coincidentally, have been written by women. I’m in the middle of No One Knows by J.T. Ellison, and am eager to tackle Nick Cutter’s latest, Little Heaven.
I’m currently working on an edit of a novella called I Call Upon Thee that’ll be released this fall. Me, being that weird kid, I have some unresolved issues with Ouija boards. I figured I’d exorcise those demons in this next release. Beyond that, I’m working on a psychological thriller in the vein of many of the books I mentioned above. I’m trying to channel a little bit of Gillian Flynn, I suppose. But in the end, it’ll get so dark and twisted it’ll be nothing but Ahlborn. “Creepy,” as my mom would say. I’m trying to discover how deep this dark soul-pit goes. Also, I’m actively trying to scar my editor for life. A girl’s gotta have goals.