Ania Ahlborn is a horror icon. Born in Poland, she’s enjoyed the darker things in life since a young age. Her first novel, Seed, was self published and topped the Amazon horror charts, which led her to a multi-book deal in traditional publishing. She spends time as an instructor at LitReactor and enjoys mentoring aspiring writers. Unlike me, Ania has published more than ten books, but like me, she hopes one day Stephen King invites her over for dinner.
A genius storyteller with unparalleled talent, Ania has paved the way for so many female horror writers to raise their voices. I fell in love with her writing instantly and have gleefully devoured every book In her canon. They’re all solid gold, but if you’re new to her work, I highly recommend Brother and The Devil Crept In. I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to interview her at the end of 2020.
Janelle Janson: Hi Ania! Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to answer a few questions. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? Did you know instantly that horror was your genre?
Ania Ahlborn: I discovered my love for writing during a summer when I was around nine or ten years old. My cousin and I were spending the entirety of our school break in the care of my grandparents. Having a whole lot of nothing to do, we started writing a story in tandem. We filled a good three hundred pages with some awful pre-teen romance stuff. While I’ve always been a bit of a weirdo when it came to my love of creepy stuff, and I’d love to say that horror was my immediate go-to, I started out writing a lot of coming-of-age stories, and there may have been a vampire book in there somewhere… but that’s just between you and me.
JJ: How long did it take you to get your first book published?
AA: I tried for years to find an agent but was never successful. I became both dejected and fed up with the rejection. I wrote Seed and self-published it through Amazon, almost as a big middle finger to the publishing industry. Kind of a “if you don’t want me, I don’t need you, either.” Six months later I was signed with the Amazon publishing imprint 47North. Irony! So, to answer your question, I guess the answer could be “six months,” or it could be “one hundred years.” Both would be accurate.
JJ: The second book I read of yours was Brother, which happens to be one of my favorites. What was the inspiration behind it?
AA: A movie called Chained (2012). It’s one of those movies that really gets under your skin. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and before I knew it, I was weaving my own version of that story. I highly recommend giving it a watch if you haven’t seen it. It’s incredible.
JJ: I’ve never seen it. I’m adding it to my to-watch list now! Which book was the most difficult to write?
AA: Every book is different, and every one comes with its unique challenges, but if I had to pick one I’d say Within These Walls. Figuring out how to write a story where the past and present eventually intersect and ghosts are no longer ghosts was, like, next-level head-exploding metaphysics for me.
JJ: Did any of your books give you nightmares?
AA: No, though Seed was born of a nightmare I couldn’t get rid of for the longest time. Writing it was like my own personal exorcism. A bit of a reverse nightmare, if you will…
JJ: Gosh, I love that. What is your writing process? Do you have a favorite writing drink or snack?
AA: My process is nothing special. I wait for an idea and I know it’s the right one if I can’t shake it. Once I have that, it’s on to plotting the first draft. You may have heard the saying, “I hate writing, I love having written.” That may as well have been said about me, first draft-wise. I do a lot of plotting and character development before I ever write the first sentence. It’s the way I’ve learned to cope with my own anxiety when faced with the blank page.
I’d kill for a latte and some chocolate, but black tea and a bowl of sugar will do in a pinch.
JJ: Is there a character you’ve written that you’ve become the most attached to?
AA: Probably Jack Winter from Seed or Michael Morrow from Brother. Both are tragic. Both are haunted, literally and figuratively. But which of my characters aren’t?
JJ: Very true. Are there any interesting stories or inspiration behind the books you’ve written? Any inspiration that is strange or unusual?
AA: Seed was inspired by The Exorcist, which I watched when I was way too young. I practically developed a phobia of demonic possession and ended up writing the book to purge myself of that fear in adulthood. I Call Upon Thee came from my weird affinity for playing with the Ouija board as a kid… often alone. Way too often alone. Stuff happened. I won’t ever touch a Ouija board again.
JJ: Ooo, I’m intrigued! I secretly watched The Exorcist when I was seven and played with an Ouija board around the same age. It explains so much about me, haha. I saw that you are a fan of typewriters–I am too! What is the one typewriter you want to own?
AA: I have a 1920’s Underwood No. 5, but it doesn’t work. Not that I’d use it if it did. Are you kidding? I’d die a thousand deaths without spellcheck. I just love old typewriters in general. They give off a vibe, like, what magical things have they clacked out during their lifetime, and by whom? But I don’t have any specific one I want to own beyond the one I already have.
JJ: What authors have influenced you the most?
AA: Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, Brett Easton Ellis, Poppy Z. Brite, Ira Levin. No doubt I’m forgetting countless others, but these are the top five that come to mind.
JJ: What was your favorite childhood book? Have you read the book to your little one?
AA: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I can’t say it’s influenced my own work, but I can’t think of a more imaginative childhood fairytale. Alice is still far beyond my kiddo’s reach, but we’ll definitely read it one day. I’m also partial to kid horror, of course. Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
JJ: You’re currently an instructor on LitReactor – do you enjoy teaching? Is this your first teaching gig?
AA: I have two classes I teach via LitReactor. One focuses on villains and the other teaches novice writers how to get their ideas into first draft form. I love teaching, but I mostly get a kick out of watching nervous first-time authors gain confidence through the work we do in those classes. I’ve done a few one-on-one seminars as well.
JJ: That’s so great! If you could no longer be a writer, what profession would you choose?
AA: If this was another life I’d probably be a pastry chef, or an interior decorator, or maybe a photographer. I’ve got interests.
JJ: I own the Suntup edition of Brother and purchased a copy of Seed, and they are beautiful! How did you collaborate with Suntup? Were you involved in the design process? Can we expect anything else on the horizon?
AA: The Suntup editions were as much as a surprise to me as they were to everyone else. When Suntup approached me about Brother, I was shocked. When they came back to me for Seed, I thought they were joking. Paul Suntup is a master at what he does. There’s no collaboration. The beauty of those editions are all him, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Having two of my books done by Suntup is an incredible honor. If I’m lucky enough to have Suntup ask to work together again, I’ll probably fall over dead.
JJ: What type of music do you listen to? Favorite singer or band?
AA: I’m pretty old school when it comes to music. New wave. Darkwave. Post punk. Stuff like New Order, The Cure, The Smiths, Morrisey, Depeche Mode. I’ve recently discovered The Actors, and they blow me away with their vintage sound. A new favorite.
JJ: Top five horror movies?
AA: I’ll never pass of up a viewing of The Ring, the first Conjuring, Drag Me to Hell, or Misery. But my all-time favorite is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
JJ: And what are you currently reading?
AA: Shamefully, Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump. My reading list has been pretty bizarre these days.
JJ: Hey, it’s 2020. What is a book you will always recommend?
AA: Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King and Let the Right One In by John A. Lindqvist. A word on the latter: read the book. Neither movie adaptation manages to capture its magic.
JJ: I just read Let the Right One In after watching the movie – you are so right! What project are you working on now? Any news you want to share with us?
AA: I just recently wrapped a project in the vein of John MacDonald’s Cape Fear (aka The Executioners). That’ll be published as a limited release hardcover in either the spring or summer of 2021. Meanwhile, I’ll be running through some edits and self-publishing another title, Good and Joyful Things, which I hope to release by autumn. I’m excited about that one because it’s been sitting with my agent for nearly three years. I just haven’t had the time to give it the attention it deserves. I’ve also been thinking about aliens, and maybe even a book of short stories… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I have a toddler. I might spend the entirety of 2021 rolling out Play-Doh and reading Little Blue Truck, instead. Life is unpredictable. You never know.
JJ: Hey, who doesn’t love Play-Doh? Also, your little one is adorable! I just love all of the photos on your Instagram page! I’ve enjoyed our time together. Oh, and I am bouncing off the walls excited for your 2021 releases! I must get my hands on that hardcover!
Learn more about Ania’s work on her website.