In her previous novel, Brother, writer Ania Ahlborn was inspired by her, “…weird fascination with serial killers [and] extreme rural life,” while her book before that, Within These Walls, came out of her being, “…intrigued by cults.” But for her newest novel, The Devil Crept In (paperback, digital), Ahlborn has not only again looked into her own dark heart but, as she admits in the following interview, she also watched some TV.
What is The Devil Crept In about?
The Devil Crept In is a story about Stevie, a ten-year-old boy whose cousin, Jude, goes missing. Jude is a bit of a problem child, and because of that fact, Stevie is convinced nobody is actually trying to find him. So Stevie sets out on his own to find Jude, and ends up finding something far darker in the woods behind his home. He becomes convinced that the darkness that’s living in the woods is behind Jude’s disappearance, but nobody listens.
So it’s a novel about the dichotomy of childhood and adulthood. It’s a story about what it means to be a kid, and what it feels like to not have anyone listen. And, of course, it’s a story about the terrible things that happen when people turn a blind eye to the truth. It’s a sort of reverse, extremely dark, boy-who-cried-wolf tale.
Was The Devil Crept In inspired by any real-life kids who disappeared?
It wasn’t inspired so much by specific missing child cases as it was by the concept of kids disappearing without a trace. There’s a reference in the book to the fact that many people are under the impression that, when a kid goes missing, the world stops spinning until that child is found. I’ve read about so many cases where that simply isn’t true, and most of these cases come out of poorer, rural areas. I wanted to explore that.
One interesting thing about Stevie is that he likes to watch crime shows. Why did you add this element to the story, and what do you think it adds to the story?
I watched Unsolved Mysteries as a kid, and I absolutely loved it. It was scary, because there was Robert Stack, narrating real-life horror stories that could absolutely happen to you.
But I don’t think Stevie’s affinity for crime shows adds anything to the story as much as it adds to who he is as a character. Without his curiosity and drive to become a detective when he grows up, he very likely wouldn’t set out on his search for Jude in the first place.
I never have, but I do have a wonderful literary rights agent, who takes care of all of my film and TV rights. So, if you’re reading this, CBS…have your people call my people.
Was there one of these crime shows that, you think, was a big influence on The Devil Crept In?
Just Unsolved Mysteries, really.
Now, in the two years since your previous book, Brother, came out, you moved from Portland, Oregon to South Carolina. But you’ve also said you’re not a writer who’s influenced by where you live. Does that mean that moving to South Carolina didn’t have any impact on The Devil Crept In?
That’s right. The Devil Crept In is based in rural Oregon simply because the story fit there, not because I lived in the same state. I wrote all of my other books while living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and none of them take place in the deserts of the Southwest. Though I’ve always been inspired by the deep south, so now that I live here, I’m sure the South will start creeping into my work far more frequently than before.
What about the fact that The Devil Crept In is your eighth book? Do you think your style or approach to storytelling has evolved since you started?
I like to think I’ve evolved into a better storyteller. If I haven’t, I’m doing something very wrong.
As far as in what ways, I can’t really be the judge of that. Whether I have or haven’t evolved, and in what ways that’s happened, that seems like a question that should be answered by my readers, not by me. But I can certainly say that writing hasn’t gotten any easier. I’m harder on myself now than I was eight books ago.
Even more than some of your other novels, The Devil Crept In seems like it could be a cool movie. Has there been any interest in that?
No interest as of yet, but you never know. My fingers are crossed.
If it was going to be made into a movie, who would you cast for the main roles?
Oh man, I mean… Stranger Things was incredible, right? Finn Wolfhard, who played Mike, or Noah Shnapp, who played Will, would both make an amazing Stevie. Gaten Matarazzo would be fantastic as Jude. And for some reason, I always picture Sarah Paulson [American Horror Story: Hotel] as Aunt Mandy and Vera Farmiga [The Conjuring 2] as Stevie’s mom, Nicole.
Finally, since I’ve asked you the “which of your other books should people read next” question before, I’ll ask something different: If someone really enjoys The Devil Crept In, what book by someone else would you recommend they check out and why?
Stephen King’s Stand By Me was a big influence here. But I’d also have to recommend Nick Cutter’s The Troop. It’s got the kid element, and the tension and spookiness. If you threw some boy scouts into a Lord Of The Flies horror scenario, you’d have The Troop.
Now that I’m thinking about it, William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies is actually one of my favorites as far as classics go. If your high school teacher didn’t force it into your hands, it’s a quick and incredible read.