Hunting for fresh flesh in horror fiction can be a bit discouraging. When you don’t get tipped off through word of mouth, you just have to take a chance on titles every now and then. With an abundance of self-published eBooks available for just a buck or two, this is exceedingly more convenient and easy on the budget. There are risks to grabbing self-published titles, though – many of these novels are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, and lately, blatant plagiarism. Finding a new voice in the genre with strong writing, effective storytelling, and tight editing in this environment is doubly exciting. Especially for someone like me who typically won’t discover an author until they’ve been writing for a decade or more! I tell ya, I’m always running to catch up with the cool kids.
It wasn’t too long ago that I featured Ania Ahlborn’s Seed in one of our Bloody Bytes features. While searching the internet high and low for cheap digital scares, I came across her dark tale of devilish terror. Seed has a wicked cover. The silhouette of a graveyard is featured prominently with an ancient-looking tree, reaching toward heaven and hell simultaneously, against a fiery red / orange background. And at the time, it was only $0.99, so there was no question – I had to have it. Brooding with quiet horror that reveals frequent bursts of cruel evil and one seriously creepy kid, Seed will undoubtedly get grim readers excited about this new talent. Ahlborn exhibits an obvious affection for horror, in particular tales of possession, and uses that as inspiration to create a story showcasing her unique voice.
Later this year, a completely revamped version of Seed will be released with additions, subtractions, expansions, and edits that are only going make the story tighter and most likely more horrifying! You can check out the crazy screen shot of all the revisions to the original on Ahlborn’s personal blog here.
After the re-release of Seed, fans will have The Neighbors to look forward to. This is technically Ahlborn’s first novel, but will officially be released this fall. She’s already working on her third and forth novel, even if the ideas are still being held hostage in her morbid little head, so expect to see her around the water cooler ‘o blood often. Dreadful Tales & Co. will make sure we keep you up to speed on everything Ahlborn as well.
This interview finally brings everything full circle for me. After picking up Seed for the haunting cover, creepy premise, and criminally low price, I finally let the devil inside to find out how far he (Ahlborn) would take me.
I convinced Ahlborn to take a break from all her hard work to help me exorcise some demons to talk about developing the novel Seed, her influences, and being a woman in horror. Read all about it below!
DT: You were born in Poland, but your family ended up in Albuquerque,
New Mexico when you were very young. What brought you to the USA?
AHLBORN: My parents and I moved to the United States from Poland in the early 80’s. Back then, there was a lot of political turmoil and opportunities were severely limited. My parents didn’t speak a word of English when they decided to uproot themselves and move to a country they’d never even visited, a difficult and scary decision for anyone; so you can imagine the political climate. My parents saw the United States as ‘the land of opportunity’, and back in the early 80’s it was exactly that. They both worked multiple jobs, struggling with broken English, and eventually made a life for us far better than anything we could have had back in what I like to call ‘the motherland.’
DT: Did that brief time in your homeland Poland influence your writing? In what way? Similarly, how have your experiences in Albuquerque influenced your writing?
AHLBORN: I was pretty young when we left–about three or four–so I didn’t stay long enough to have the environment influence my writing. And while some writers are inspired by where they live, I’m more influenced where I don’t live; maybe it’s because I’ve never felt particularly connected with the Southwest. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a haunting beauty here that’s unforgettable, but for some reason it doesn’t creep into my writing as often as one would think.
DT: SEED is your first published novel. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for SEED and the trials and tribulations of self-publishing the novel?
AHLBORN: As a horror author, I believe in looking inward and drawing on personal fear. I’ve always been afraid of the unknown, especially when it’s unseen. The paranormal has always fascinated me, and after watching The Exorcist as a kid I was absolutely terrified of my new discovery: demons. I walked around worried about becoming possessed not for weeks, not for months, but for years. I’ve only ever watched The Exorcist once all the way through. I can’t do it again. There’s something about it that turns me back into the ten-year-old me. But I’m weird, and I’m inspired by the stuff that scares me the most. I’ve known for over a decade that I wanted to write a possession story, but I was always too scared to commit. Finally I did, and Seed was born.
As far as trials and tribulations go, there weren’t many. Self-publishing a novel is intimidating at first, but there are so many great sources online that walk you through the process. It’s really a matter of following directions. Anyone can self-publish.
DT: I connected very easily with the Winter family. There were some intimate and playful moments with the family that felt very real. There is a scene in particular when family friend Reagan comes over for a visit and the girls, Charlotte and Abby, get a bit rambunctious. There is horseplay and talk about what it means to be “hardcore.” Something about that scene especially made them “real” for me. Were
these characters based on actual people you know? Was the realism of this family’s interactions a conscious effort? What steps did you take to accomplish that?
AHLBORN: I didn’t know the Winters until I wrote them. I knew I wanted Jack to be kind of gritty and mysterious, and I knew I wanted Charlie to be a firecracker, but other than that I let them develop organically. Reagan wasn’t even a planned character. He simply appeared and decided to stick around. Realism always has to be a conscious effort to a point, but I’m lucky in that I’m a good observer. I’ve spent my entire life watching people interact, listening to people talk; I write how I speak, which is why I think a lot of my dialogue makes an impression on people. I feel that authors have a tendency to overwrite conversation–they try to make it way more impressive than we, as real people, really are. Conversation has a specific cadence, a rhythm, and if you can nail it down it brings a whole new dimension of realism to the story.
DT: Why Louisiana?
AHLBORN: Ah, see, this is where we get back to where I DON’T live influencing my writing. My husband and I travel quite a bit–it’s something I insist upon. I want to see as much as the world as possible in the limited time I have on this rock, so we take a trip to somewhere we haven’t been to before every year. In 2008, that place was Louisiana. Our initial destination was New Orleans, but I’m crazy about antiquity so, of course, I wouldn’t have been satisfied without taking a tour of the River Road and visiting all of the plantations. We were in Louisiana for about a week and made a loop from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to Lafayette and then back again. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never had an experience like this yourself, but I felt connected to the land there. My nerves tingled for an entire week, like ghosts were running fingers of the past against my skin. Everywhere I went I felt like I belonged there, from the gas lamps of Royal Street to the shabby shotgun shacks sitting low along the swamp. I tell people I left a piece of my soul in the bayou. I guess setting Seed in Louisiana was my attempt at filling that hole in my heart, at least until I have a chance to visit… and maybe one day stay for good.
DT: You recently announced on your blog that you hired a professional editor for the summer re-release of SEED. What led to that decision?
AHLBORN: That actually wasn’t my decision, but I was happy when I heard it was made. Amazon has picked up Seed as well as my upcoming novel, The Neighbors, and we all agreed that we wanted to make these books the best they can possibly be. Starting out as an indie, it’s hard to let go and allow people to come in and help where you’ve already done all the work yourself. I’d take a guess and say that a good amount of indies would simply say ‘no thanks’ and let that be that. But that isn’t me. I never became an indie because I wanted to be an indie. I became an indie because I was tired of looking for a yes in a world full of no. I got lucky and that yes found me instead. Amazon and I decided that a professional editor was a great way to amp up an already great story. At first I was somewhat skeptical–it was an entirely new experience for me to work with someone like that. I mean, of course I have my beta readers, but that’s entirely different. But I really enjoyed the entire experience. I’m actually looking forward to doing it again.
DT: When it comes to horror literature, you’re a fan of Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Brett Easton Ellis to name a few. What are some of your non-literary influences?
AHLBORN: I’ll be a blasphemer and say that I have more non-literary influences than literary ones. Film and music are a big part of my life. When I see something amazing in a movie–a simple shot of a foggy road surrounded by ancient, leafless trees–I get excited. I cling to that image and pull story from it. The same goes with music. One song can create a story, and that story can easily become a novel. I’m a big fan of David Fincher. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Fight Club, Se7en–all of these movies have an amazingly dark vibe and fantastic visuals. Trent Reznor and the Finnish band HIM are among my top musical influences, though I certainly don’t limit myself.
AHLBORN: Everything. As of this writing, I’m days away from starting my third novel, which I’m tentatively calling The Pines. After the first draft of that is done, I’ll be launching into an edit of The Neighbors, which is set for a fall release. Once that’s finished, novel number four will be on the table. I have no idea what novel number four will be, and that’s always scary, but I never know these things until they’re kicking and screaming inside my head, desperate to get out.
DT: Recenlty, Mania.com posted the Top 20 Greatest Horror Writer of All-Time list. 20 horror writers, not one woman!
As a writer, reader, and woman in horror, what do you think about this list and lists like it that so casually omit great female writers?
AHLBORN: I think it’s typical. I’m really not surprised. Women have always had an uphill battle when it comes to areas where men are the majority. Writing, especially the genre of horror, is overrun by men, so it’s natural that the men are the ones who end up on these sorts of lists. Finding a woman who writes great horror is like finding a man who writes great romance–it happens, but it’s rare. I don’t take it personally. It just leaves another door to kick open in the future.
DT: And last one…
You’ve just been invited to the House on Haunted Hill by Vincent Price and he wants you to pick the other 4 guests. Who do you pick and why?
AHLBORN: Wow, good question! I’d take Ghost Adventures host Zak Bagans, because we’d certainly need someone running around with an EMF detector; that and he cracks me up. I’d take HIM’s front man Ville Valo out of purely selfish reasons–because I’ve always wanted to meet him and what better opportunity than this? I’d take my husband, because it’s a new place and can be checked off of our ‘see the world’ list. And I’d take a priest, just in case.