Back in September, I had the pleasure of getting an advance look at an apparently rare phenomenon: a horror novel written by a woman.
Perhaps “rare” is not the best word to describe this relatively small pool of talent. But take a moment to enter the words “women horror writers” into Google and the first article that appears is entitled “Top 25 Women Horror Writers You Probably Haven’t Heard Of (But Should Probably Know.)” After that entry, the following articles contain even smaller and more limited lists, most replicating some if not all the names that appear in that Top 25 you probably haven’t heard of.
Maybe (hopefully) the pool of ladies of dark literature is larger than we perceive and it’s the collective psyche which falsely attributes all the good, page-turning frights to the boys.
After all, it’s not like we girls don’t have the ability to scare the snot out of you.
Because you know we do.
Just to prove that point, let me introduce you to Ania Ahlborn, on track to break the conventions around women in horror beginning with her first novel, Seed, and shattering them completely with her upcoming release, The Neighbors.
An Interview with Ania Ahlborn
Conducted and Transcribed by Sue Granquist, November 2012
Ania, meet everyone. Everyone, meet Ania…
GC: You were born in Poland, which is rich with supernatural folklore, even though you’ve lived in the US since you were very young. Could this be the reason you say that horror is “in your blood”; did your parents perhaps tell you tales of the crossroads or fire flowers?
AA: The only tale I truly grew up with was the story of Baba Yaga. There are a lot of variations of that story, but the one I was told was of a witch who lives in a forest, kidnaps unruly children, and puts their parents out of their misery by eating them.
So, yeah, that probably made me a little weird. I don’t remember ever really being afraid of Baba Yaga at all. I was more fascinated than anything. A witch who eats children? How awesome is that? Then again, I was extremely well-behaved as a kid. Maybe I was subconsciously terrified.
As a youngster playing with a Ouija board, you made a supernatural long-distance call and may have had the original Grand Master of the Klan on the line. Have you taken up a Ouija as an adult?
God, no. I haven’t touched a board since junior high school. It may be crazy, but I’m absolutely convinced that there was something genuinely spooky going on during the years I tinkered with the Ouija board. I’m sure most people chalk it up to an overactive imagination, but I really believe that it was more than that.
At one point, I was sure that the souls I had summoned had taken up residence in a couple of porcelain dolls my mother had given me for Christmas. She kept giving them to me;I didn’t have the heart to tell her that they scared me shitless. These things, I swear… they’d change position in the night.
Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore and moved them into my closet. That only worked half-way, because after that, I was terrified of opening my closet door. I’d hear things moving around in there, just like I’d hear something skittering around inside the trunk I locked the Ouija board in. If that was just my imagination, my imagination must be incredible.
Years ago, I told this story to an old friend and he immediately suggested we break out his board and give it a go. The mere suggestion turned my stomach. I doubt I’ll ever touch that thing again.
I read that, as a young adult, you always felt as though the horror movies you watched didn’t go far enough or push the scare to its extreme limits. Now with movies like Saw and Hostel, do you still feel that way? What are your thoughts on stories like these?
Saw and Hostel are extreme in a different way, a way I don’t find all that scary at all. When it comes to horror movies these days, I feel like most of them fall into two categories: the ones that push it too far, and the ones that crap out in the end. I’m a fan of the older movies, Kubrick’s The Shining being one of my favorites. I think The Shining is a perfect balance of visual and psychological terror.
As far as the torture flicks go — and these exist in literature as well — I don’t particularly enjoy them. I can only watch a guy have so many fingers removed before I lose interest.
What made you first decide to be a writer? Was it to meet boys?
I was a ‘tween when I first got addicted. My cousin and I spent summers up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with my grandmother. She was a caretaker for the widow of some long-dead Texas oil tycoon. Widow Texas had an enormous house, one that she visited about twice a year for maybe a week and that was it. For the most part, my grandmother was there to make sure the place didn’t burn to the ground, and she gave us free rein of the main house while we were up there.
Of course, I loved it. First off, it was huge. Second, we were like eleven or twelve years old. Don’t tell my grandma, but we’d sneak into Widow Texas’s bathroom and snoop through her drawers. That was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on a bidet. (We couldn’t figure out what the hell it was — a drinking fountain? No, it couldn’t be.)
But you can only snoop around for so long, so I eventually got the bright idea for us to write an in-tandem story. I’d write one page, then hand it off to my cousin. She’d write another and give it back to me. We tortured one another because we both wanted the characters to do different things — will our ‘tween hero end up with heartthrob number one or heartthrob number two? Well, the story ended up being a train wreck, but we went back and forth that way for three months straight. I was never the same again.
And yes, I did it for the boys. There’s nothing sexier than a girl who writes horror. I mean, right? (GC: Right!!)
Your first major work Seed paid homage to your love of Louisiana, which you painted in extreme detail for someone who has only been there once. For those who have never experienced this part of the world, can you describe why it made such a perfect setting for Seed (and for many other terrible tales as well)?
Louisiana. I pause. I exhale a wistful sigh. Honestly, as much as I can try to describe it, it just makes me sound crazy. The moment I set foot in Louisiana, I felt something, like… literally. Like, a ghost had crawled in between my ribs and refused to stop wriggling around. There’s magic there and it’s electric, and the people who feel that get infected by it, like zombies. I mean, from the old buildings with their colorful shutters in the French Quarter, to the River Road and its incredible plantations, to the sweltering stench of the swamps, Louisiana is amazing. And maybe it got to me as much as it did because that magical buzz feels dark. The ghosts that lurk there have stories to tell, and you better believe those tales aren’t all nice.
I’ve just started listening to the audio version of Seed and love it already. Will The Neighbors get an audio book as well?
Yep. The audio book should be available on the release date. What’s funny is that I haven’t listened to Seed on audio. I think I’d probably laugh the whole way through. Someone reading my book out loud and recording it? What nonsense is this?
As someone who has such an affinity with “things that go bump in the night,” do you also love to be scared? If so, what’s your favorite adrenaline rush activity to indulge in?
You know, yes and no. It depends on what we’re talking about. I love horror movies because they’re just fun. I love reading scary books because, well, duh.
But haunted houses? (Speaking of Louisiana) The best haunted house I’ve ever visited was called The Mortuary in New Orleans, but what I loved about it most was the subtle creepiness of the haunted house being in an actual mortuary with a friggin’ cemetery on the same grounds. I could have done without the screaming banshees and tortured ghouls inside.
For me, subtlety is key; wandering the grounds of a supposedly haunted plantation after dark, standing on a battlefield in Gettysburg and trying to hear the battle. Dark history, it gets me.
Well, my fingers are crossed that I get at least a few dozen marriage proposals. (GC: Okay gents, you heard it here first.)
The press release that came with the advanced copy of The Neighbors called it an intersection of Blue Velvet and Basic Instinct. Are you fans of these films or are they coincidental distant cousins of The Neighbors?
Full disclosure here: I’ve never seen Blue Velvet and I only watched Basic Instinct after the press release came out. Basic Instinct was okay. I guess I can see where it crosses paths with The Neighbors since the leading lady is a bold-faced psychopath, but that’s about where the similarities ended for me.
Someone compared it to The Graduate, which I also hadn’t seen (can you see a pattern forming here?). I actually saw more similarities in that than I did to Basic Instinct, since The Graduate has a young, somewhat awkward protagonist. But yeah… any similarities are purely coincidental.
If you had to cast The Neighbors’ main characters, who would be your dream lineup?
Oh man, probably Michael Pitt for Andrew. He’s so weirdly intriguing. And that face! Jessica Lange would be perfect for Harlow. She actually gave me some inspiration via the character she played in season one of American Horror Story. I absolutely adored her in that.
Any chance that could become a reality?
Well, the movie rights for Seed have been optioned, so why not, right? Never say never.
Monsters, plural. There are a lot of them, and they’re pretty nasty. They’re these tall, lanky, angler fish-toothed bastards who love to eat people. It’s a bit of a departure for me, but being a fan of old school horror, I’ve always wanted to put my own spin on that whole cabin-in-the-woods tale. It’s very character-driven, though. That’s my stamp on it. Monsters aren’t very interesting if you don’t care about the person who’s being chomped.
You have an unlimited budget to remake any horror movie you wish. Which one would get the do-over and why?
Hmm. Maybe The Omen. I love the story, but the movie, while a classic, is kind of ‘eh’ in parts. But it’s got such potential. The nanny jumping off the house during Damien’s birthday party? That’s one of those scenes where I hate the fact that I didn’t write it first.
Rosemary’s Baby could use a facelift. Again, love the story, but that’s one of those movies where it feels like a bit of a letdown in the end.
Wait, no, I got it… Children of the Corn. I recently re-watched that movie and man. Man. But I’m no filmmaker. Let’s just hope Seed doesn’t need a remake and call it even.
Thanks Ania, we’re looking forward to hearing a lot more from you in the future.
The Neighbors is available in print, ebook and audio on Tuesday, November 27th.
Have a question or comment? Post it here or drop a line to email@example.com.