|Interview with Ash Crowlin, author of
extreme horror novella, Birthday Girl
By D.W. Jones
When we reviewed the book Birthday Girl, we knew that
we had to know the man who wrote the extreme horror
novella. We wanted to know what were the influences
and the ideas that were behind this book. So we spoke
to Ash Crowlin who put together a graphic novella with
an interesting story that keeps you going to the end.
D.W. Jones: How did you get into your love of horror? Were you always into the horror genre?
Ash Crowlin: My earliest horror-related memory is from when I was five years old or so. My family lived in
Southern Ohio, and there was an old train yard that ran alongside the creek behind our block. My dad
liked to scare me and my older sister, the way parents do, so whenever we’d go for walks late at night, he’
d pretend to hear a noise coming from inside one of the many rusty old trains. He’d go to investigate,
making a good show of cupping his hands around his eyes and staring inside all the dirty windows…and
then suddenly he’d shout for us to run! Run as fast as we could, because there was a decaying corpse or
some other horrible monster staring back at him from inside the train and it was coming to get us! It
captured my imagination, and I’d stay up late drawing these monsters from the descriptions Dad gave us,
and I’d write one-page stories (my equivalent of a novel, at the time), all about monsters and killers that
captured lost children, tore them apart, and displayed their remains for the town to see. I was definitely the
weird kid at my school, and in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have shared these stories with my grade
school teachers. Horror is something that’s always been there for me throughout my life, whether it be
books, movies, rock bands, or themed dance clubs, and the horror community is where I feel most at
DWJ: When did you first start writing in the horror genre?
AC: I started writing horror in the third grade, mostly to impress a girl I had a bit of a crush on. She was a
weirdo like me, and we’d hang out by the climbing tires on my playground and exchange creepy stories
while everyone else played kickball or performed fake marriage ceremonies and fake divorce hearings.
She knew who Freddy Kruger and all the other cool villains were before I did, and she’d summarize these
movies for me in great detail while I sat captivated. One of the movies she retold for me was When a
Stranger Calls, and it got under my skin so bad that as soon as I got home, I wrote down everything I
remembered about it, combining the twist from this movie with the ending of an Edgar Allan Poe story she’
d also told. Unfortunately, my mom found these hybrid stories, and she was less than thrilled that her
young son was writing stories where a babysitter gets hacked up by a stalker and buried inside the walls.
DWJ: Do you have any inspirations that go you into loving horror or writing?
AC: One of my biggest influences in high school, when I really started to take writing seriously, was Darren
Shan (author of Cirque du Freak and The Demonata). He kept a daily blog all about his life as a writer
and the hard lessons he’d learned throughout his career, both the rewards of success and the inevitable
stresses. More importantly, he always wrote back to me when I mailed letters to the UK asking for writing
advice, and his encouragement kept me going with the nightly writing schedule I created for myself. A big
lesson he taught me, both from his blog and his letters, was that the first draft of anything is absolute shit.
You simply can’t get a story right in the first draft. This is where I learned about patience, and how it’s
more important to just get the first draft down on paper and fix it later than spend months (or years) trying to
get it perfect the first time around. Fortunately, social media was starting to take off in a big way around
this time, so I’ve been lucky enough to speak directly to several authors I admire and get as much advice
as possible. In addition to horror novelists, I’m also extremely inspired by filmmakers like David
Cronenberg, David Lynch, and The Soska Sisters, people who are unapologetically themselves and have
little interest in whether or not their work is well-received by the general public.
DWJ: What made you decide to write a novella?
AC: I feel like it’s very hard to get people to read a new author, especially since most avid readers always
have a stack of books they’re already planning to read and therefore have little room to spare. By keeping
the story short, I’m more likely to get my work into a reader’s hands and have an honest shot of hooking
them on future books. I feel like a readers knows by the end of Chapter One whether or not Birthday Girl is
DWJ: How did you come up with the idea of Birthday Girl? Tell our fans
a little about Birthday Girl.
AC: Birthday Girl is about four girls at an orphanage who are targeted by a
demon named Magriol, an entity who can turn a person’s own body against
them and manipulate victims through their most personal insecurities. He’s a
real sadistic bastard, like Freddy-Kruger-meets-Willy-Wonka, and not even the
devil wants to be associated with him because he gives Hell a bad name. This
character was influenced by a few terrible people I’ve known throughout my life,
the sociopathic kind of people who see others as playthings and have no regard
for anything outside how much enjoyment they receive from any situation. The
story’s definitely set in a semi-realistic version of our world, which was intentional.
The main character and her own insecurities, such as whether a lack of interest
in sex makes her less of a woman, is based on a conversation I had during
college which stayed in my head.
DWJ: How hard was it to write in voice of the opposite sex?
AC: I had a lot of help with this part of the process. Most of my early readers were women (shout out to my
friend Melissa R.!), and they would tell me what worked and what didn’t. If something was bullshit, they
would call me on it, which I appreciated. I hate that men seem to think women are these pure and dainty
creatures who are soft-spoken and easily startled. That’s crap. Most of the women I hang out with curse
more than I do, and they’re usually quicker with the perverted joke, too. Where did we get this idea that
women think differently than men about absolutely everything, or, worse yet, that they all think and sound
alike? If anyone out there thinks a woman can’t sound masculine at times as well as feminine, or that a
woman can’t kick wholesale ass, I know a few gorgeous ladies who’d like a word with you.
DWJ: You call Birthday Girl an extreme horror novella and it lives up to that title. How did you
get into that mindset of delving into the horror and gore?
AC: I didn’t decide to label Birthday Girl “extreme horror” until I was most of the way through the editing
process. Magriol is a very violent and disgusting character, so it just made sense that much of the story
would contain over-the-top violence and cartoonish amounts of gore. Someone suggested I go with the
“extreme horror” label because readers of the subgenre know what to expect when they see these words.
It’s a bit of a misnomer, at least in my opinion, because when the uninitiated see these words, they tend to
think “extremely scary,” which is rarely the case. Most readers of extreme horror buy these books because
they want to be disgusted more than scared, and they revel in the scenes that would make other readers
vomit. As far as writing scenes on the far end of the gore spectrum goes, I like to re-read these scenes a
month or so after they’re initially written. If they’re not still just as disturbing, then I know I went wrong
somewhere and I need to fix something.
DWJ: Since this is your debut book, how hard was it to get published and what did it take to get
AC: Well, since Birthday Girl is self-published through Amazon, the process came with a unique set of
challenges. I decided to go this route because there are only a handful of publishers who are interested in
gore-heavy splatter books, and they typically don’t have more than a few spaces available for new authors
every couple years. I’d rather take control of the process and be 100% responsible for the successes and
failures along the way. It takes a long view of the entire process, and there are questions you need to ask
if you’re going to self-publish: What’s your budget? Do you have a marketing plan? How many people do
you know who can help you along the way? Have you done your research on the genre? If you bought a
copy of this book from another author, would you feel like the author put an honest amount of work into the
product? The writing process is all about the art, but if you’re going to self-publish your book, you need to
start looking at it like a business. I’m aware this makes me sound like a capitalist pig, but if you’re doing
nothing but pumping money into something with no idea whether or not it’s making the budget back, then it’
s just another vanity project.
DWJ: What advice do you have for up and coming writers who want to publish their first book?
AC: Be patient, be consistent with your writing schedule, and be prepared for a lot of frustration as you
spend hours agonizing over a paragraph that readers will see for about thirty seconds. Most importantly,
though, be true to yourself. If you want to tell stories that only a small amount of people will have any
interest in, commit to it completely and own it. Don’t compare your work to material written by geniuses
like Stephen King or Clive Barker, and don’t put the writing process on a pedestal. You probably started
writing in the first place because you enjoy it, so release the mental brakes and allow yourself to really go
crazy with it.
DWJ: Do you have anything in the works now that fans can expect?
AC: Birthday Girl: Coronation, the second book in a planned trilogy, will be released in early 2020. It’s
strange in its own way, but not quite as sexually explicit or gory as the first book. It’s a different kind of
messed up, and I anticipate it will have just as strong of an effect on readers. I also have a YA novel,
Moving Through, coming out later this year under the pseudonym Chase Will. I’m using a different name
for this book because it’s not horror-related, but it does deal with the loss of a loved one and the difficult
recovery process, so I guess it has some horrifying aspects. Fans of Birthday Girl who want to stay up-to-
date on my latest books (and read the occasional FREE short story), are encouraged to visit www.