Women in Horror: Ania Ahlborn
If you’re a horror writer looking for a career role model, you could do a lot worse than bestselling author Ania Ahlborn. Seed, her first novel, received a print release through 47 North in the summer of 2012. Curious readers latched onto her undeniable talent, and before long, Ahlborn was being touted as one of the best new voices in horror. Over the past seven years, Ahlborn has steadily released nine horror novels, initially through Amazon’s in-house publishing arms before moving on to Simon & Schuster in 2014. Although most of her books are steeped in the rich tradition of gothic horror, recently she’s been dabbling in psychological thrillers. Her newest book, Apart in the Dark (January 16; Simon & Schuster), sees two of her most recent horror novellas hit print for the first time. The Pretty Ones, with its two outcast siblings brooding creepily through 1977’s Summer of Sam, is another solid effort from Ahlborn. But the second novella, I Call Upon Thee, is a real corker. It alone is worth the price of admission.
Most of Ahlborn’s stories follow a somewhat similar pattern: a (usually) male protagonist, cursed with some sort of drug, alcohol, or general mental health problem, is shipped off to a remote location (a childhood home in Arkansas, say, or perhaps the split-level beach home of a cult leader/mass murderer) and forced to face the unavoidable past. I Call Upon Thee treads steadily down Ahlborn Avenue as young Maggie returns to her childhood home in Savannah to deal with the suicide of her ‘overgrown goth girl’ of a sister. But hiding in this tale of buried familial conflicts is a stealthy, genuinely frightening Ouija board cautionary tale. Ahlborn admits that I Call Upon Thee is somewhat ‘autobiographical’ in nature, lending even more credibility to an already eerie series of events. Turn on the lights for this one.
Taking a break from shopping around her newest manuscript, Woman of Horror Ania Ahlborn was generous enough to answer a few questions for Ghastly Grinning.
Ghastly Grinning (GG): You’ve stated that you started hitting ‘real’ horror hard at age 9 or 10; you’ve admitted to a college obsession with Bret Eason Ellis. But what about the years in between? Who did you read as a teenager?
Ania Ahlborn (AA): My Easton Ellis obsession started in my high school years. I also read a lot of Anne Rice. Otherwise, my English classes kept me busy, introducing me to the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Golding, Ernest Hemingway, and Upton Sinclair.
GG:Most of your novels are written from the perspective of a male protagonist. Is there a reason?
AA: Yes. The main character happened to be a man. 😉
GG: From the outside, your career looks like a textbook example of how to succeed as a genre author: crank out a steady stream of quality novels through 47 North and Thomas & Mercer, build a fiercely loyal following of fans, then bust out with some inevitable bestsellers. Looking back on the past half-dozen years, is there anything you would have done differently?
AA: My success is mostly an illusion, at least from a financial standpoint. You’d think that with nine books out, I’d be sunning myself on the beaches of Greece. Trust me, I’m not. This industry is a dog, and if you judge your success by bestsellers or how much royalties you have coming in, you’ll never be happy. I try to follow the philosophy of “keep your head down, keep working, and don’t rubberneck.” I wouldn’t say I’d have done anything differently, though if I could give my past self a bit of advice, it would be to cut myself some slack when things don’t go exactly the way I hoped they would.
GG: How often do you get recognized in public?
AA: Absolutely never.
GG: You’ve cited 1987’s Dolls as an example of the ‘real’ horror you discovered at age 10. Your new novella, I Call Upon Thee, has some scary doll stuff that, admittedly, sorta got to me. Do you have any irrational fears?
AA: I used to be terrified of dolls after watching that movie. My mother would buy me these porcelain dolls each Christmas, and I absolutely loathed them. I’d stick them in a closet and hope to god I wouldn’t hear knocking or scratching from inside there in the dead of night. Beyond childhood fears, I’m afraid of sharks and tsunamis. Just the thought of snorkeling gives me an anxiety attack, and I’m not sure how well I’d fare in Bora Bora—I’d probably waste the entire holiday thinking about how I was going to die in a massive tidal wave. Check out the flick, The Impossible. My god, that movie… it’s not horror, but it may as well have been.
GG: What attracts you to the novella format? Do you know going in that you’re writing something mid-length?
AA: I’ve only written two novellas, both of which were requested by my publisher. It wasn’t really a choice I made. I tend to be pretty long-winded, which is why most of my stuff is novel length.
GG: There’s a lot involved with being a successful fiction author today: book signings/tours, interviews, a strong social media presence, not to mention the actual writing. Has it gotten any easier? What’s the hardest part?
AA: This is a bit of an urban legend. Unless you’re Stephen King, you aren’t going on a book signing tour. Interviews are mostly done like this one is being done, over the internet for a website. The most “official” interviews I’ve done were for podcasts, and I say “official” because it was actually me having to talk and make sense at the same time (which is a feat, believe me; I ramble like an idiot). Social media…honestly, social media is important in the beginning, not so much once you’ve established a reader base. My social media use has tapered off a lot. When I first published SEED, I was on Twitter eight hours a day, pushing the book. Now, I log into Twitter once every two weeks, respond to a few messages, post something here and there, and call it good. I’m sure some authors think that’s a ridiculous approach, but over the years I’ve come to realize that being all over social media isn’t all that intrinsic; sometimes, it’s downright annoying. So, has it gotten easier? Sure. I don’t spend as much time trying to come off as cool and mysterious and spend much more working.
GG: In discussing your work with other fans online, it seems that while all your novels generally scare everybody, certain novels seem to affect certain readers in a decidedly specific way. Have you found this to be the case?
AA: Isn’t that the case with every book ever written? If you expect your book to scare everyone, you’re going to be sadly disappointed.
GG: You mentioned to Cemetery Dance that you’re working on a new psychological thriller, presumably in the vein of Brother and The Neighbors. How is that coming along?
AA: It’s done. We’re just trying to figure out where to place it. I’d love to have it at Simon & Schuster, which is where the last five books I’ve published are housed, but not all books are cut out for all publishers. Either way, I’m not too worried. I put a lot of faith in my agent, David Hale Smith. He’s a wizard, and his faith in my work is a godsend that has saved me from my own self-criticism on more than a few occasions.