By George Ebey
Ania Ahlborn’s first novel, SEED, was a wildly-successful debut. Now she is back with her stunning sophomore effort, THE NEIGHBORS.
Andrew Morrison sacrificed everything—his childhood, his education, and the girl of his dreams—to look after his alcoholic mother. But enough is enough, and now he’s determined to get out and live his life. That means trading the home he grew up in for a rented room in the house of an old childhood friend— both of which are in sorry shape. The only thing worse than Drew’s squalid new digs and sullen new roommate is the envy he feels for the house next door: a picture-perfect suburban domicile straight out of Norman Rockwell, with a couple of happy householders to match. But the better acquainted he gets with his new neighbors—especially the sweet and sexy Harlow Ward—the more he suspects unspeakable darkness beyond the white picket fence.
I recently checked in with Ania and asked her to provide us with some insight on the things that both frighten and inspire her.
Does THE NEIGHBORS take place in our world or does it have an element of the supernatural to it?
THE NEIGHBORS is firmly grounded in our present day world, but it’s a bit surreal as well. While on one hand there are cell phones and video games and crappy cars that leak oil all over driveways, THE NEIGHBORS is a both-sides-of-the-fence narrative that also delves into picture perfect atomic age Americana that’s so idyllic it’s creepy. Where it lacks supernatural elements, it makes up for with jarring reality. A lot of books try to pull the reader into a whole new world, but I actually tried to keep them firmly grounded in life-as-is. For me, suspense is far scarier that way.
What sources did you pull from in order to find the inspiration for this story?
I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers, and when I say that I don’t mean by serial killers as they do their bidding, but by serial killers going about their daily lives. Something about the idea of a person who appears totally normal actually being a monster gets me going, because the scariest monsters are the ones you can’t see. When I was writing THE NEIGHBORS, I wanted Harlow Ward, the antagonist, to be cunning, ruthless, a cold-blooded killer; but I also wanted the reader to be charmed and drawn into her twisted web of deceit despite knowing that she’s all those things. My sources weren’t much more than reading up on real life serial killers (which I had done extensively years before, so it was more of a refresher than anything else) and watching a lot of thrillers. And of course, observing my own neighbors who seem very normal, but that’s the funny thing about living next door to a murderer. They’re always the person who was “so sweet and quiet and always had an annual Christmas party.” And then they show up on your doorstep with a six inch kitchen knife and stab you to death before you have a chance to say ‘hello’.
What scares you, and how do you use that to your advantage when crafting a suspense tale such as this?
I’m the biggest ‘fraidy cat there is, and serial killers—while I find them totally fascinating—are one of the things that scare me the most. I tried to tap into that as best I could while writing THE NEIGHBORS, because while it’s true that these people are monsters, they’re still human beings. And that’s what makes these types of killers so terrifying. For all intents and purposes, they’re just like you and me. They go to the grocery store, they pump their own gas, they have friends and acquaintances and have to go to awkward parties. Most of these people don’t fall in line with the likes of Ted Kaczynski, growing out bushy beards and living in shacks in the wilderness. They’re like Ted Bundy, possessing magnetism and a disarming smile. They’re like John Wayne Gacy, showing up to kids’birthday parties dressed as a clown. They’re people who have been so damaged by life and the people around them that they’ve learned how to disguise their true nature. The idea of knowing someone who buries children in their back yard or murders women in the desert and not having any idea, I really can’t think of a scarier scenario. I tapped into that fear of not knowing, of actually liking the person who does all these horrible things.
Your previous novel, SEED, was released last year and is the first novel that Amazon Studios has optioned as a major budget movie. Would you like to tell us a little about it?
SEED is a novel about an ordinary family that finds themselves in some pretty extraordinary circumstances. The best way I can describe it is THE OMEN meets THE EXORCIST with a Southern Gothic twist and an ending readers have said they won’t soon forget. It was released last year as a self-published novel via Amazon’s KDP program, but was quickly picked up by Amazon’s horror imprint, 47North, and re-released with an additional six thousand words this past summer. As my debut, I was pretty nervous in general, but SEED is pretty unflinching, so there was this added pressure of “oh no, what if everyone reads this and thinks I’m some terrible, deranged individual?” (I actually got one review that accused me of being deranged, so I guess that did happen to an extent!) But SEED has done incredibly well for itself. I think people were ready for something a bit more hardcore. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
What are you working on now?
That’s always a tricky question to answer because I’m working on my fourth novel, and everyone always says “wait, fourth? Where’s the third?” The third novel is finished and I believe is slated to be released sometime in the summer of 2013. It’s a throwback to classic monster horror with a contemporary twist and focuses more on the characters and those characters’ relationships rather than the monsters themselves. We’re tentatively calling it INTO THE WOODS, but that title isn’t going to stick. My editor has told me that INTO THE WOODS is a musical, and woe would be the day that fans of musicals get their hands on that book (it’s sexy, it’s gory, it has man-eating creatures leaping from trees). Personally, I think it would be hilarious to keep the title and see what happens, but I’m trying to be a responsible author. I’m trying to spare the innocent. For now.
Born in Ciechanów, Poland, Ania Ahlborn is also the author of the supernatural thriller SEED, and is currently working on her third novel. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Mexico, enjoys gourmet cooking, baking, drawing, traveling, movies, and exploring the darkest depths of the human (and sometimes inhuman) condition. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband and two dogs.
To learn more about Ania, please visit her website.