Ania Ahlborn is a horror author who has been compared to many of the greats. Originally having published her first novel, SEED through Amazon’s KDP services, the novel quickly picked up steam and caught the attention of Amazon directly, who contacted her agent and picked up the novel and republished it under their own imprint. In my opinion, when Amazon wants you directly involved with their team, that’s saying something.
I met Ania through Twitter, like I have most of my author and blogger friends, and immediately had a connection. We’ve shared many great conversations on publishing, and she’s someone whose opinion I both trust and respect. She’s a talented author with a lot to offer the world in terms of both advice and experience for authors, as well as great stories to readers, and she’s only just begun. Her new novel, The Neighbors is coming out late next month, and if you like to immerse yourself in the world of horror and psychological suspense, I’m certain it’s a story you will not want to miss. I for one, and very much looking forward to it.
So without further ado, let me open – if only for a moment – the mind of horror writer, dog owner (points for that), and cemetery appreciator, Ania Ahlborn.
1. I don’t think horror writers are just regular people who like to scare others, I think they love the dark, love to be scared themselves, and they’re not afraid to see what’s hiding in the dark corners of their imagination. What brought on your love for all things horror, and what is it about making people nervous to turn the next page that you love so much?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that horror writers aren’t regular people, but you’re right, we see things differently from others. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to the darker things in life—cemeteries, creepy noises, scaring myself with my own imagination even when it meant I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep later. My parents had nothing to do with this. They were very much ‘normal’ in how you define parents as being normal. Unlike the cool parents of today who expose their kids to stuff like zombie flicks, I remember my mother watching Designing Women and my dad watching Matlock and McGuyver. I grew up on stuff like ALF and Fraggle Rock, so there’s no real explanation as to where my love of the dark side came from. I guess the creepiest and perhaps most appropriate answer would be that my love of the strange and unusual has everything to do with nature rather than nurture. It’s in my genes. I was born bad.
2. Have you ever had a supernatural experience that deeply terrified or disturbed you? If yes, tell us about it.
Absolutely. As that strange-and-unusual-loving kid, I got myself into some pretty weird situations. One of the strangest experiences of my childhood had to do with a Ouija Board. My best friend and I got into playing it somehow, and it became a bit of an obsession for us both. One day we were sitting around in my room—the blinds closed, candles burning, the works—when I decided it was time to take a break and get a drink. My friend stayed behind in my room while I ran out into the kitchen to get a couple of sodas from the fridge. Suddenly I hear her screaming, so I bolt back to my bedroom only to find her sitting where I left her, her arms quaking, the Ouija planchette held above her head like a hat with the point aimed at the ceiling. As soon as she saw me she dropped it and began bawling, and even though she didn’t say as much, I knew that what had just happened had been beyond her control. She refused to ever play the Ouija Board with me again. And to make that story even more creepy, the same guy kept coming to the board every time we’d try to summon someone up. The guy said his name was N.B. Forrest. Neither of us knew who that was until we looked it up in the Encyclopedia (no Google back then, folks!). We found Nathaniel Bedford Forrest sitting on a horse, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The way my friend was holding that planchette over her head hadn’t been a coincidence.
3. What makes Seed and The Neighbors stand apart from other book in the Horror genre.
I’m the author, so I’m too close to the work to answer that accurately. Naturally, I want to say ‘everything’, but I’m biased. All I can say is that SEED has affected readers in ways I hadn’t expected it to, and I hope that THE NEIGHBORS does as well. Even though SEED has been categorized as horror, I’ve been told time and time again that it’s surprising how literary my writing is, and maybe that’s what catches people off guard. Many writers focus on the situation, plugging in characters that will work to advance that story along. I start with the characters—ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. I think that readers find the characters relatable and realistic for that reason, and when you mix realism and horror together, well… you get magic.
4. Out of all the horror books and movies available in the world, tell me which one of each has personally scared you the most, and why?
The scariest horror movie I’ve ever watched was The Exorcist. I was eight or nine and seriously in over my head with that one. But if you want to talk about the movie that most deeply affected me on a psychological level, I think I’d have to go with Kubrick’s The Shining. There are images in that movie that will never leave me, and I’m not talking about the spooky twins either. I’m talking about the subtle nuances—the pattern of the carpet, the repetitive whir and silence of Danny’s Big Wheel going up and down the hallways. The music in itself was a masterpiece. A lot of people can call The Exorcist camp and over the top, which it totally is. I just recently rewatched it and laughed more than I cringed. But The Shining will forever be creepy as hell because it’s subtle. It gets between the wrinkles of your brain. I can’t say I’ve found a horror novel that has affected me as much as the celluloid version of The Shining did, but that’s because I’m a visual person. I think the first half of Del Toro and Hogan’s THE STRAIN would come close. Certain images in the first half of that book haunted me for a few days. And then there’s Stephen King’s FULL DARK, NO STARS. It’s a book of short stories, but they’re so dark and brutal—possibly the darkest King has been in a long time. Those didn’t scare me as much as they genuinely thrilled me. But that’s because I’m sick, remember? It’s in my blood.
5. In the past few years, zombies have really come to the forefront of the genre in many ways. What are your thoughts on this? Are you pro zombie, or against?
I’m anti-zombie unless you’re going to do something seriously kickass with them. I’m talking total reinvention. My problem with zombies is that they’re so damn predictable. I mean, how many times can you ‘shoot ‘em in the head’ anyway? I avoid zombie movies, and that’s only two hours of my life, if that. To think about dedicating ten times that amount of time to a zombie novel makes my brains ooze out my ears and my ankles bend at unnatural angles. But I do think zombies can be done well. If I was to write a zombie novel, I’d base it in modern times and the zombies wouldn’t be zombie at all. They’d be regular people doped up on bath salts, because what’s scarier than a regular person losing their mind and trying to eat your face off while completely high? Not much, at least not in my opinion.
6. If you decided to dabble in a genre outside of horror, what would it be and why?
Well, THE NEIGHBORS is actually being categorized as a thriller rather than horror, even though I wrote it as a horror novel. I guess these days, if there aren’t any monsters or supernatural elements, thrillers and horror are kind of interchangeable. But if I was to go beyond horror and beyond thrillers, I’d probably go straight-up literary. I’m in love with character development, with back story, with personal triumphs and failures, with stigmas and dark secrets. I think contemporary literary fiction would bode well for my brain-children.
7. In writing both Seed and The Neighbors, were there ever moments where you found yourself scared or apprehensive about what had just spilled from your imagination and onto the page?
God, yes. Not as much with SEED as with THE NEIGHBORS, but there were definitely moments in both. SEED has some seriously taboo moments. I’m still waiting on hate mail from PETA. But THE NEIGHBORS, there are a few particular scenes that make me squirm just thinking about them. The fact that they came out of my brain, that they’re permanently on the page, it makes me a little uncomfortable—because there’s always going to be that moment when Mom says “so, I read your book” and you think to yourself “oh god, kill me now.” THE NEIGHBORS gets pretty twisted, but I can’t wait for it to be released. Despite my minor apprehensions of being called deranged (it’s happened once before, so inevitably it’ll happen again), I love the story, I love the characters.
8. Do you feel like people who know you in real life, look at you in a different light when they read your books and experience what really goes on in your head?
They say they don’t, but I think they do. I think it’s impossible for readers to keep fiction and the author completely separate because at the end of the day, this stuff does in fact come out of our brains, out of our subconscious. As writers, we can say “oh, this story doesn’t represent me as a person”, but I firmly believe that every story, regardless of whether it’s fiction or fact, represents the person who wrote it to some degree. To say that it doesn’t is to say that authors don’t put themselves into their writing, and that’s just flat-out untrue. But I do believe that the better a person knows an author, the less sideways they look at them. People who I’m not very close to raise their eyebrows, like, “my my, I never thought she was that kind of a girl”, but the people who know me best have known I’m that kind of a girl for years.
9. After The Neighbors comes out in November, what’s next for you in terms of writing? And as a second part, do you have any plans to step away from the standalone novels and write something in a Horror series?
I’m already at work on my fourth novel. The third is pretty much done save for some editing, and it’s a fun old-school monster horror throwback. The fourth is going to end up being more of a thriller, so I’m sort of yo-yoing between those two genres right now. I don’t really write to fit into any specific category. I write whatever is in my head at that point in my life and let the chips fall where they may. I don’t think I’ll ever step away from standalone novels completely. That’s where my heart is, but I have been considering writing a serial for Amazon’s new Kindle Serials series. I have no idea what kind of a story that would be, but that’s about as series-y as I’d get.
10. Was there a defining moment in your life that showed you the beauty of darkness, or have you always had an insatiable appetite for exploring what others might be afraid to?
I just genuinely like making people uncomfortable. It’s fun to push the envelope. My favorite thing to do is to develop characters, so naturally my favorite topic is the utterly deranged psychology that some of these people have. That’s exactly where THE NEIGHBORS came from—the twisted psychological states of otherwise normal people; John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer. I’ve never met a serial killer in person (at least I don’t think I have—wouldn’t it be something if I had?) but the simple fact that these monsters exist among us is enough to feed that insatiable appetite. People don’t like to think about their friendly neighbor burying kids in his basement, but I take a sick sort of pleasure in saying “hey, look, nobody knew Ted Bundy was a murderer until it was too late”, and what makes that scary is that it’s utterly, indisputably true.
11. Whenever I see a movie or novel in the horror genre, when it has kids, it’s instantly scarier. I mean I’d rather have a mob of full-grown zombie men and women coming after me, than a mob of zombie children. In your opinion, what is it about children in the horror genre that makes them so scary?
Soiled innocence. That and the idea that they were brought into the world as monsters rather than sweet little babies without an iota of sin. If our society was somehow led to believe that being ‘born bad’ was a real thing, we’d go extinct. People would stop having children because the fear of birthing a monster would outweigh the benefits of having a kid. But now I ask you, how would we ever know if being born bad was a reality? If someone actually figured it out—pinpointed a gene in our DNA that undeniably made us good people or deranged lunatics, do you think we’d be allowed to know? Ponder that for a minute, and then be afraid.
What’s your preference?
Demonic possession, death by zombie, or haunted by creepy children: haunted creepers by far.
Dawn of the Dead – remake or original: Neither! Just shoot ‘em in the head and get it over with. Let’s watch Halloween or Friday the 13th instead.
Spiders or Snakes: Spiders. Wait, what do you mean by ‘preference’?
Ghosts – real of fake: There’s no such thing as fake ghosts, are there? What’re you saying?
Spend a night in the Amityville House or the Pet Cemetery: Definitely the house. Haunted houses are lovely.
Vampire Movie: The Lost Boys
Favorite Halloween Costume: Anything creepy or scary. Sexy has been ruining October for years.
Scene from a horror book or movie: I’m going to go back to The Shining—Danny riding his Big Wheel. Either that or Jack being locked in the walk-in pantry and losing his mind, only to be, like, “Wendy, honey, (I’m going to kill you) I LOVE YA’!” So twisted. So perfect.
Favorite supernatural creature: Vampires, but, like, 30 Days Of Night vampires.
Seed or The Neighbors: Ha! Tricky! Okay, I’ll bite. THE NEIGHBORS. And I expect all of you to love it too. (Or else I’ll kill you.) I love ya’!
With nothing but the clothes on his back—and something horrific snapping at his heels—Jack Winter fled his rural Georgia home when he was still just a boy. Watching the world he knew vanish in a trucker’s rearview mirror, he thought he was leaving an unspeakable nightmare behind forever. But years later, the bright new future he’s built suddenly turns pitch black, as something fiendishly familiar looms dead ahead.
When Jack, his wife Aimee, and their two small children survive a violent car crash, it seems like a miracle. But Jack knows what he saw on the road that night, and it wasn’t divine intervention. The profound evil from his past won’t let them die…at least not quickly. It’s back, and it’s hungry; ready to make Jack pay for running, to work its malignant magic on his angelic youngest daughter, and to whisper a chilling promise: I’ve always been here, and I’ll never leave.
Country comfort is no match for spine-tingling Southern gothic suspense in Ania Ahlborn’s tale of an ordinary man with a demon on his back. Seed plants its page-turning terror deep in your soul, and lets it grow wild.
Andrew Morrison sacrificed everything—his childhood, his education, and the girl of his dreams—to look after his alcoholic mother. But enough is enough, and now he’s determined to get out and live his life. That means trading the home he grew up in for a rented room in the house of an old childhood friend—both of which are in sorry shape.
The only thing worse than Drew’s squalid new digs and sullen new roommate is the envy he feels for the house next door: a picture-perfect suburban domicile straight out of Norman Rockwell, with a couple of happy householders to match. But the better acquainted he gets with his new neighbors—especially the sweet and sexy Harlow Ward—the more he suspects unspeakable darkness beyond the white picket fence.
At the intersection of Blue Velvet and Basic Instinct lies The Neighbors, an insidiously entertaining tale of psychological suspense and mounting terror by the boldest new master of the form, Ania Ahlborn.