Author Interview: Ania Ahlborn
To keep the creep spin going for February’s “Women in Horror” month, I’m delighted to have horror phenom Ania Ahlborn drop in on my blog, wherein we dish about important things like playing in cemeteries, the evils of paranormal romance, and how to attract Oprah’s attention to horror (let’s hope the SEO metrics play in our favor). No really Oprah, over here.
So tell us a little bit about yourself. Like this whole playing in cemeteries part. Where exactly were your parents?
Ha! That’s a good question. Sometimes I have to go back in my memory and remind myself that all the time I spent alone wasn’t due to negligent parents, but due to our horrendous financial situation. My parents and I moved from Poland to the US in the early 80’s, and if I take my mother’s word on it, my folks had, quite literally, a couple of twenties in their pockets. We were homeless for a time, living from “sponsor to sponsor”, which basically translates to living with and off the kindness of complete strangers. My parents didn’t speak a word of English, but they somehow managed to score menial jobs; lots and lots of jobs, which is how I found myself with so much alone time.
By the time they gathered up enough cash for us to rent a house of our own, I’d taught myself how to speak English by way of Sesame Street and Scooby Doo. Who knows, maybe that’s why I grew up “strange”. Everything I knew about life I learned from Hanna-Barbera. If there were ghosts haunting a place, you grabbed your friends and your dog and went to investigate. I had no friends and no dog, so I investigated on my own; and with a cemetery just next door, I was a ghost hunter before I my fifth birthday.
What was the first, scariest book or story you remember reading? What scared you about it?
The first one I can remember was called Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. I actually have it on my Kindle now, for old time’s sake. I’m pretty sure WTHC was the first novel I ever consumed. For a kid as young as I was, that first novel experience is pretty significant as it is. I’m sure being so involved with the characters, being able to relate to the little girl in the story, all of that really punched Hahn’s narrative into my subconscious. I can’t say that it really scared me as much as haunted me. Even as a kid, I was rarely scared as much as I was darkly fascinated.
Why write horror? Do you not see all the women making oodles of cash writing paranormal romance?
Ugh, okay, here’s where I have to get real. I can’t handle paranormal romance, and maybe that’s because I can’t get past the fact that the romance occurring in these books are completely fake. I’ve had my share of romance. I’m a chick just as much as any woman writing paranormal romance is a chick. And yet, I’ve never experienced that gushy sparkly pre-packaged weird stuff that’s being labeled as “romance” today. I am and always have been a fiercely honest person—honest with myself, honest with others.
To me, writing is about telling the truth. It’s about connecting with other human beings on a subconscious level and saying “hey, remember that terrible moment you went through and thought you were alone? You weren’t. Remember that terrible feeling you had and thought you were crazy? Here it is. We are the same.” I think that, above all else, horror is about raw, unbridled honesty. It’s about fear and desperation and facing eye-opening obstacles. To some people, horror is just horror. To me, it’s beautiful. It’s real, even if the monsters are only metaphors.
Seriously, why do you think so many ‘Best of Horror’ lists only flag Mary Shelley, Anne Rice, and Shirley Jackson?
I wish I had a good answer for this, but I really don’t. Maybe it’s the fact that so many female authors tend to tip the scales toward romance-based stuff in general. I mean, I’m not going to lie, I’ve got some romance going on in my books too. In The Shuddering there’s quite a lot, and it would have been easy to let it get away from me. As you said, what am I doing here? I could be making fat stacks of cash on a different bookshelf. But I always manage to reel it in because I don’t only want women reading my books.
One of my goals is to have a diverse readership, and I think that maybe Shelley and Rice and Jackson had that same goal at one point as well. That’s why they transcended “women’s fiction” and ended up on the horror lists. I actually hate the fact that there’s such a thing as “women’s fiction”. Just putting those two words together has me shooting glances over my shoulder, waiting for the feminists to call me out as being insensitive. If I’m coming off that way, my apologies. Then again, a lot of people would say that “women’s fiction” is empowering, so I really don’t know. Next question!
Strangest curse you’ve ever heard.
Hmm… I don’t know about the strangest, but the one that’s always been my favorite has to be the Poltergeist movie curse. If you read into that stuff, it’s really pretty creepy. Did you know they used real skeletons for the scene where Diane slips and falls into the half-dug pool in the backyard? Okay, I don’t know if that’s officially true, but I read it on the internet…
If Oprah called and said she’d feature one, and only one of your books, which would you give her? Why?
You know that asking an author to pick a favorite book is like asking a mother to pick a favorite child, right? It’s just… wrong. But since we’re talking about Oprah, here, I’ll make an exception. I’d probably go with my soon-to-be-released fourth novel, The Bird Eater. All of my books have a different personality, but The Bird Eater has some really gritty, malicious paranormal stuff in it that makes me giddy. Not that Seed wasn’t malicious; I mean, demons. But because I really do feel that my work is getting stronger with each new book, I’ll put my best foot forward with The Bird Eater.
I hear tell that Seed is on the development slate for Amazon Studios. What’s up with that? And, more importantly, which part am I going to play?
You never know “what’s up with that” when you’re talking about Hollywood. Last I heard they had hired two writers with a pretty impressive track record to work on the script. Since then, however, there’s been nothing but crickets. That’s normal, though. These types of projects take years to get rolling, as does any project that involves a million different people, all of them eccentric. Patience is key. Sometimes people ask me about the movie deal and I have to stop and remind myself that, oh yeah, there is a movie deal. In my opinion, when stuff like this comes up—when writers get books turned into movies or shows or whatever—it’s a nice bonus, but you have to stay focused on the work itself. And as far as what part you get, we’ll have to duke it out. I call dibs on Mr. Scratch.
Which writers have influenced you? Which ones make you despair of ever reaching such greatness?
I always feel so generic when I say Stephen King, but what am I supposed to do, lie? I just love King’s style. His writing is so easy to read. It’s like a warm blanket on a particularly cold afternoon. I love Joe Hill. Heart Shaped Box was fantastic, and still my favorite by him. Gillian Flynn is incredible. I’ve read all of her books and can’t wait for the next one. And John Ajvid Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In is just awesome, awesome stuff. But my earliest serious literary influence was Bret Easton Ellis. I used to be obsessed with him, and while I don’t write the same type of stuff he does, I think some of that former love seeps into my work from time to time. As far as writers I don’t like, I don’t point fingers. Yes, I have a list of authors that I roll my eyes at, but it’s a surprisingly short list. Writing is hard enough as it is. The critics are out there to sling their opinions on who’s worthy and who isn’t. I’m a writer, so my feet stay firmly in the writer’s circle. I can only hope that when it’s my turn to be toted as “overrated” and “talentless”, the authors of the world will stand by me just as I stand by them.
What are you reading?
Right now, Hell House by Richard Matheson. Not at all scary, but fun nevertheless. It’s like reading an episode of Ghost Adventures, but with all of the woah’s and dude’s taken out of the dialogue. And yes, I love Ghost Adventures. Not gonna lie.
What can we look forward to reading next by Ania Ahlborn, what’s it about, and when can we buy it?
Well, Oprah’s already doing a segment on it, so maybe you should just tune in. 😉 No, but seriously, The Bird Eater is my next release. It comes out in April, but there’s a rumor that Amazon is going to make it available in March as a promo. So, if you’re impatient, you may be in luck. The Bird Eater is about a guy who’s trying to recover from the death of his little boy and the harsh aftermath of a failing marriage. He picks up and leaves Portland, Oregon to return to his childhood home in Arkansas, where he begins to pick up the pieces of both his present and his past. Unfortunately, his soul-searching is interrupted by a darkness that’s been looming in his old home for decades. The Bird Eater is a ghost story with a particularly tender yet surprisingly malevolent twist, and I’m really excited about it getting into readers’ hands. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon. When you see the creepy bird skull on the cover, you’ve arrived at your destination.
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