February is Women in Horror Month and I wanted to check in with some of my favorite writers of horror fiction. Ania Ahlborn is the author of several creepy books of which I would recommend, starting with Brother, and then working through her extensive back catalog. Her most recent release, If You See Her, is about buried mysteries, haunted houses, and the ghosts of past sins coming back to haunt you.
Ania and her husband, Will, have a toddler we will refer to as “R” in this interview. I wanted to find out how Ania has been balancing her writing career and motherhood.
(Interview conducted by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann)
CEMETERY DANCE: Ania, it’s so good to know we have a whole hour to chat. Tell me about the Suntup edition of your book I keep seeing on social media! It makes me drool. How does that work, did the publisher just contact you?
ANIA AHLBORN: Yeah. It’s kind of wild. My editor at Gallery sent me an email actually asking if I would be interested. ASKING. Like I’d say no!
And I was like, “yeah, sure.” Only after I agreed did I go to the site and realized that holy crap, Suntup has done limited editions of some crazy books.
It’s a gorgeous edition.
I can’t help but wonder if Brother has made it into the hands of (Stephen) King or (Joe) Hill because of the work they’ve done with Suntup themselves. Can you imagine?
That must be very flattering and validating of your work.
Honestly, it’s a bit weird.
That a specialty publisher would make this very special, special edition of your book? So worthy, Ania.
When it arrived I looked at it, of course. It’s stunning. But I felt very detached from the whole thing. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s just way too surreal. Will was more excited than I was. I was just like, “wow, this is beautiful.” : Sticks it back on the shelf.
I am, however, absolutely thrilled that I have something like that to hand down to “R “later. (Laughs)
And you’ve released If You See Her this year, and had a story in Hex Life, right? So you’ve had a very full year.
Yes. In Hex Life and in Other Voices, Other Tombs . And I’ve been working on this headache of a first draft.
A lot of writing for having a little one running around. Can you tell us more about those challenges of writing with a wee one?
It doesn’t feel like a lot. I feel like I’m doing nothing. I know that isn’t the case, but some days all I can manage is a measly 500 words and I’m spent. So, exhaustion is a big factor. That, and it doesn’t help that I start “working” at around 9:30 or 10 PM, after a full day of running after an almost twenty-one month old.
It seems like early mornings or late nights, right?
Our kids would get up if they heard us making coffee in the morning.
And I’m crazy, so we never sleep-trained. “R” will sleep through the night every so often. He’s really good at putting himself back to sleep on his own. But he still gets up about 70% of the time. And guess who gets up with him.
Oh gosh, Ania! Mom life. Do you feel comfortable telling us more about this story you’re working on now in stolen moments?
Yeah, sure. Unfortunately, I don’t have a title for it yet, so we’ll just call it something hokey, like Project X.
Basically, I’ve always been into stalker stories. I find them so irresistibly creepy. But it seems like almost everything you find these days is very romantic-based. Like in You, we’ve got a guy stalking this girl he’s obsessed with. Or sometimes it’s the reverse, where you’ve got some crazy ex-girlfriend thing going on. Those types of stories are fine, but they’re not really my cup of tea. Project X is me trying to fill that gap, I suppose. A stalker story for people who aren’t into the relationship-based modus operandi.
That synopsis sounds so intriguing! What’s the plan for this one? Submissions? Or will you self publish like If You See Her?
It’s been a bit tough, honestly. This type of thriller feels a bit out of my wheelhouse. Pair that with the late hours, the kid, all of it… oof. This one has actually already been sold to Earthling Publications for a limited hardcover release. The rights will revert back to me once those copies are sold, and then we’ll see. At the moment I’m planning on self-publishing, but if I can find a good home for it, I’m willing to explore those options as well.
That’s already making me want to preorder to make sure I get one.
I’m about a year out from my deadline, so I doubt there’s a way to do that just yet. But I’ll definitely be yelling about it on social media when the time comes.
ON TWITTER?! (Knows Ania despises Twitter)
Yeah, my favorite! I can’t handle Twitter, Sadie. I just can’t.
Well, I miss you there when I’m doing my shoutouts. Speaking of which, it’s #WiHM. Tell me how you feel about taking a month out of the year for women in horror.
I think it’s great. It’s necessary. I mean, I still get private messages from dudes telling me that they don’t usually read female authors but hey, good job honey, your books are actually pretty swell. I think that overall, most readers are intelligent enough to grasp the concept that gender doesn’t mean a damn thing when it comes to storytelling. But there are still some that don’t get it.
For me, personally, I read a fair balance and I feel like people mistake “female horror writers” as a genre or something.
Yeah, well. I think a lot of guys mistake “female” anything as a sub-genre. Hey, full-circle. All we do is write stalker stories about guys who are hot on girls they can’t have. I’m pulling from the concept of Cape Fear, but that’s about it. And I say that because it was written in the ’60s and, whoa boy.
Whoa boy in a bad way?
I hate talking badly about other authors or books, and to be fair, I’ve never anything else by John D. MacDonald. I think it’s just a reflection of the space thrillers were filling at that time. Male dominated. Very alpha. The women are all damsels. You know the drill. It’s also very flippant about rape, which is just… yikes. But again, another time, another place. I’m currently watching a documentary about the Ted Bundy murders, but it’s told from the female perspective. And it’s really incredible how far we girls have come since the ’70s.
Like how? In their naïveté?
In a lot of ways, yes. But there was also this sort of expected helplessness on the part of the female. For example, in the documentary one of the women started a self-defense course for girls on a college campus.
She was teaching them karate, and when the Bundy killings started happening, those classes blew up. Girls were desperate to know how to protect themselves. But then it cut to this interview of three convicted murderers sitting in prison. And the interviewer tells them, “you know, a lot of young ladies are now protecting themselves against men like you.” The convicts flat-out say, “you fight, you die. Submit, submit, submit until it hurts.”
Oh my god. I just got chills. That’s horrifying.
The ’70s saw this boom in women finally saying “NO”. And men really didn’t like that. They still don’t.
This is exactly where we get all of these anti-abortion bills…the majority of which are written by and voted in by men.
“Don’t fight this. We make the rules.”
And to get us back on the subject of WIHM, I think that line of thinking is still there, to a point. It’s like this left-over vibration that many people don’t respond to anymore, but it’s still humming, and some guys are still about it.
That’s where you get those weird messages like, “wow, you sure do write well for a girl.”
That isn’t to say that there are a LOT of people like that out there. Most folks are fantastically supportive.
Is it harder to write horror after having a child?
No. I think I’ve tapped into a whole new reserve. So, this is weird, but hey…
When I was pregnant, I’d walk my dog in the neighborhood every morning. And occasionally there would be, like, a stray dog, you know? And I’d get this feeling…this overwhelming feeling, like, if it came at me…it would be done for.
Then I had “R,” and I’d take him and the dog for walks…and it was even crazier.
Primal mama-bear mode?
Yeah, absolutely primal I-will-murder-you feelings.
It’s honestly super-creepy to feel that, if you ask me. Because it’s coming from somewhere else.
Like, some weird detached place. And it’s only gotten stronger for me as he’s grown. I will bury you, you know? I’m ready. Just gotta head to Lowes to pick up a shovel and a tarp, but I’m good. Let’s do this.
You scare me Ania. I would love to see that crazy motherhood anxiety, fears and protection feelings channeled into a story!
Well, I did! “The Governess,” which appears in Other Voices, Other Tombs. That is, perhaps, my most honest autobiographical piece of fiction. I wrote it at the height of new-mom anxiety and it still creeps me out to this day.
Everyone buy it! My last question was going to be about what scares you the most these days?
Something happening to my kid. Predictible.
So that’s been a recent fear, yeah? What would you have said 10 years ago?
Yeah. Having a kid is a mind-bender. You think about things you never would have before. Ten years ago…
I’ve always had a thing about diseases. Ever since I was little. I wasn’t a sickly kid or anything, but I’d get this stomach aches. Honestly, I probably had an ulcer or something…And every so often I’d think to myself, “they’re going to take me to the hospital and when they open me up it’ll be nothing but black.”
That is super creepy. You kinda scare me, Ania Ahlborn.