Ania Ahlborn has just released her fifth novel, ‘Within These Walls‘ which we had a chance to review. A story built on a few familiar tropes but told with a unique style that you just can’t put down. Recently she had some free time to share with us for an interview on both her work and herself.
Science Fiction (SF): Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. First off if you can share a little about ‘Within These Walls’ for our readers who aren’t familiar with your latest work?
Ania Ahlborn (AA): Sure thing. As you mentioned, ‘Within These Walls’ plays on some familiar horror concepts—mainly, the haunted house—but it puts a metaphysical spin on the whole thing. It’s a story about a true crime writer that moves into a house that was the scene of a murder/mass suicide thirty years prior. But rather than just sticking with that angle, I let the reader in on the secret of what really happened in the house versus what the media perceived to have occurred. And then, of course, you throw in a healthy dose of horror and suspense and you’ve got yourself a novel.
SF: What inspired you to write ‘Within These Walls’? Were any real life experiences used in crafting the story?
AA: I’ve never been involved in a cult, if that’s what you’re asking… so, thankfully no! I have, however, always been fascinated with cult culture. I find people like Charles Manson endlessly intriguing, and I wanted to write a character that embodied that kind of dangerous persuasion. But I’m not a true crime novelist, and I don’t really do mystery or police procedurals, so it took some thinking when it came to how to tell the story effectively. Hopefully, I pulled it off.
SF: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing process?
AA: Well, I guess the most accurate way to describe myself is someone who was born with a dark heart. I’ve been into weird and creepy stuff since I was a kid, and sometimes people ask me, “what happened to you to cause that?” Honestly, the answer is “nothing.” I’ve just always been drawn to the strange and unusual. I grew up watching cheesy horror movies on network television. I tricked my mom into letting me rent The Exorcist from Blockbuster when I was, like, nine. I’d wander cemeteries and play the Ouija board by myself, so writing horror was a natural progression. It’s always nice when you can turn your love for the weird into a career.
As far as my writing process goes, it starts out as pretty clinical. Once I have a solid story idea—which, mind you, can take months to form into something that’s actually workable—I map out the details as much as possible. I write a synopsis, then expand on it as much as I can. Alongside that, I do character write-ups—everything from a character’s physical description to their best childhood memory to their motivation within the story. By the time I actually sit down and start banging out a rough draft, I’m already two to three weeks into the process.
SF: I’ve read that you are a coffee addict. What is your favorite brand and how much coffee do you consume on a regular basis?
AA: Oh man, well, listen, I live in Portland Oregon. It’s kind of ridiculous how much good coffee is around here. My absolute favorite—if we’re talking about going to a café—is a place called Coava. But there are so many incredible places here, it’s genuinely hard to choose. At home, I’ve graduated to an espresso machine, so as far as brand goes, I just get those big bags of espresso roast they sell at Costco. I go through way too much to afford bags of fancy stuff. If you want to talk about quantity, I don’t even know. It’s a rare day when I ever turn down a cup. I cold brew my own stuff in the summer. This coffee thing is a year-round event.
SF: How much does coffee factor into your writing process, and what is your unique process made up of?
AA: For me, coffee is a ritual. If I don’t have a latte or a tall glass of iced coffee, it’s actually harder for me to get into the groove. And honestly, I don’t think it has anything to do with the caffeine. It’s just a comfort thing, a security blanket. Maurice Sendak needed music to be able to draw his illustrations. Truman Capote claimed to not be able to think creatively unless he was lying down. Poet Friedrich Schiller kept rotten apples in his desk because he found the smell inspiring. My thing is coffee. Maybe it’s the smell, the taste, I don’t know.
SF: Amazon Studios is currently working on adapting your first novel ‘Seed’ into a feature length film. Can you share a little on what the novel is about?
AA: ‘Seed’ is my first novel. It’s a modern take on demonic possession minus all the stuff I think make books (and movies) about the subject kind of typical and boring—mainly, priests and the overt reliance on religion to fix what’s happening. As I mentioned, I rented The Exorcist when I was pretty young, and it had a pretty profound effect on me. That was my main inspiration, but I wanted to explore such an ancient topic from a fresh perspective.
SF: What can you tell us about the adaptation?
AA: Unfortunately, absolutely nothing. That’s the thing about movie adaptations. Once the excitement of selling the rights dies down, you settle into radio silence. I’m told that’s the way of Hollywood, so…
SF: What can you tell us about your next project?
AA: I actually keep any active project I have going pretty close to my chest, so I won’t reveal any details about the current book I’m writing. But I can tell you that the book after ‘Within These Walls’ is called ‘The Pretty Ones’, and it’s set in late 70’s New York City at the height of the Summer of Sam. It’s a fun one. Very retro.
SF: What is your ideal writing environment?
AA: Anywhere quiet and relatively free of distractions. Unlike some writers who have to be in the very same spot to compose, I can pretty much do it anywhere as long as there isn’t someone looking over my shoulder or there isn’t, like, a television blasting in the background. I have a new puppy at home, so I’ve had to adjust my schedule to work around his crazy puppy energy. I’m pretty much the antithesis of a morning person, but right now, having to do all of my work around puppy nap time, I’ve taken to writing in the early mornings. But I think that sort of ability to adapt is important. There are a lot of people out there who think that writing can only be done in the most perfect conditions: you have to be inspired, and you have to be inspired at just the right moment in order to put that inspiration to good use. I don’t believe any of that. Professional writers write wherever they can, and they write when they have to, inspiration be damned. So, ideal writing environment? Probably a beautiful moss-dappled cabin in the woods on a rainy day with a fresh latte in my hand. Typical writing environment? Anywhere, anytime, no distractions.
SF: Do you have any advice to upcoming authors out there?
AA: Other than the stuff I just said up above, I’d tell all of those aspiring authors to write what you really want to write. Write what you’re excited about. I spent years writing “for the market”, meaning, I was writing stuff I thought agents and publishers would want to pick up and publish. That almost worked. Twice. But thank goodness that in the end it didn’t. I ended up in a place in my life, writing-wise, where I threw up my hands and said “okay, that’s it, you win” to the industry. I gave up the idea of agents and big publishing houses. This was when self-publishing was just coming en vogue. And so I said, “fine, I’ll write what I want to write the way I want to write it, and I’ll self-publish instead.” I’m not telling you this to say, hey, self-publish, though if you want to do that, all the power to you. All I’m saying is that sometimes, as writers, we get caught up in the dream. We can’t see past the bestsellers list. We want that success, that little taste of fame, and that’s perfectly okay. What’s not okay is when you start formulating your ideas around that desire. When it comes to writing something that other people will care about, you, the author, have to care about it first. If you can do that and do it well, all future success will follow. Sometimes, you have to give up the idea of the bestsellers list to find yourself on it.
SF: Thank you for your time. In closing would you like to say anything to your fans or those interested in learning more about your work?
AA: Sure! So, I’m really big on social media. I love interacting with my readers. That being said, I’m on Twitter and Facebook and all of that good stuff. If you want to know more about me or my books, you can find all of my information on my site, www.aniaahlborn.com. Feel free to say hi, and thanks for having me.