Some writers invent entire new worlds full of characters birthed entirely from their brains. I am not those writers. Instead, I like to take something real, most often from my own experience, and disfigure it with my imagination into fiction. Perhaps it means I lack the depth of other worlds inside of me, but I do usually prefer to pervert experience (even hearsay) into story.

Generally, reality is the inspiration, the launching point. Then the story blossoms or festers from there into its own unique manifestation.

And then there’s my book The Rest Will Come.

Of all my fiction works, The Rest Will Come is the most “inspired by” true events, the most infused with real people, places, and events. The core characters and opening events were ripped from the life around me, my recounting of myself, people I know, and things that happened around me (less than to me). Then as the narrative unfolded, I twisted these things into how I thought they could play out in a more fictitious, horror-comedy world.

If you endured all these horrible online dating experiences, how did you not snap and kill them all?

The challenge to using real life basis for both characters and plot events is making sure the audience is in on the full story. If they were not there for the precipitating events, they may not know all the contributing factors or influences. If they do not know the character inspirations in real life, if they do not pick up on the inside references, the characters may fail to be entirely developed. Since they were full and real in my life and then my head, it would have been easy to overlook the fact that I did not make them so on the page.

However, once the characters and the story were fleshed out enough beyond what resided in the echoes in my own head, it was fun to play with hidden references, inside nods, and Easter eggs.

Initially, I documented the “based on real” bits exactly as I remember/perceived. Then during edits, the inspirations and I decided to not really change them. Truth is stranger than fiction most times, and I just could not conjure better circumstances.

Then when I crossed over into horror and the blood began to fly, I changed from fully documenting things to little winks. Every person who contributed a dating horror story to the narrative got a namesake and a retributive murder somewhere within the pages. Places or turns of phrase would be recognizable to the right reader.

Ultimately, my goal was for people who never met me or knew my real life inspirations to fully experience the story, characters, and world within the book. For those who did know me or us, I wanted them to enjoy collecting all the little Easter eggs and laughing along their fictional journey.

Was I successful? Did I manufacture the right balance between my reality and your fiction? You’ll have to read The Rest Will Come and judge my efforts for yourself.

Now, since diving so fully into the “inspired by true” premise for The Rest Will Come, I have swung the other direction for my current work in progress. True to my nature, I only operate in alternating extremes. So, I am trying my hand (literally) at imaging an entire world and creating characters with no external reference. The change contorts my brain but hopefully in a good way. The end result and its reception will tell.

Christina Bergling

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Since this pandemic started (or more since people began reacting to it), I have heard multiple times, “Your book Savages makes so much sense now” or “I really see what you meant in Savages” or “It’s just like you wrote about in Savages.”

The goal of any writer is to produce a work that is relatable and enduring. However, when we are talking about the apocalypse and bringing out the worst in humanity, those are not the themes you want to persist. I got the idea for Savages when I was freshly home from my civilian tour of a war zone and had completely lost my faith in humanity. These are not exactly ways I want to feel forever.

If you ask me what Savages is really about (and I’m the writer, so I suppose my answer does hold some weight), I would say that more than the byproduct of a Walking Dead binge (though that is in there too), the story ultimately is about questioning how human we really are. Are we civilized, or do we just pretend when we are comfortable enough? Are we all truly savage underneath it all?

I took a lot of anthropology electives in college. In those classes, we spent a lot of time trying to differentiate the common human base from the variable layers of culture applied over it. I took even more psychology electives in an attempt to sort out what was happening in my own head at the time (when did I actually have time to take the classes for my writing major?). In those classes, we compared varying theories on nature versus nurture. What are we born as, and what do we learn?

Somehow, all of this academic experience combined with the hopelessness and disgust I felt at my tiny sampling taste warside (plus a dash of zombie pop culture) left me wondering: are we all just animals, pretending to be evolved and civilized? But animals wasn’t the right word. Savagery was what I was thinking about. Savagery was I saw underneath our surface and wondered if it might be our true nature under all our “humanity.”

So I used the story in Savages to sort the problem out in my mind. Not surprisingly, my protagonist sounded a bit like me, asking all the questions I had batting around my head. She’s even as resistant and depressed as I would no doubt be in that post-apocalyptic position. Sometimes, you write what you know, and I know myself.

Where did I… I mean, she end up? What did she decide about humanity? To find out, you will need to make the journey through the fallout with her and read (or listen to) Savages!

And what about now? A decade later, I had improved my world outlook or fallen back into a comfortable complacency, however you want to look at it. I came home and lived my comfortable life, focused on my family. Then the world swelled back in ways I could not ignore. Pandemic, quarantine, police brutality, a scrolling list of awful—of savage.

But I feel the same way I did those years ago again; my mindset has returned. Savages makes sense. Everything I meant resonates for me again. And I don’t like it.

Last time, I dealt with these feelings with complacency. I accepted our savagery. I was able to accept the world being shit and focus on finding my own happiness within that. Yet, I am different now. I am less complacent. Perhaps it is motherhood, but I do not want to leave things this awful. I do not know how to change them, but I want to, and that desire is unsettling.

Maybe that is what my next book will be about.

At the moment, I am not happy to be reanimating the feelings of Savages. I would rather be reliving The Rest Will Come instead, if we’re picking from my bookshelf.

Christina Bergling

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I Saw It Too

Posted: July 8, 2020 in military, real life

With the discovery of Vanessa Guillen’s body and the account of her murder on Fort Hood, the national conversation has turned to sexual assault and harassment in the military. I have watched many online friends and acquaintances come forward on my feed to contribute their stories. I debated whether I should add my voice to this topic.

To be very clear, I have never served in the military. Rather, I have worked as a contractor for Department of Defense contractors or military customers the majority of my career, which included a brief deployment to Iraq in 2009 (as a technical writer and software trainer). But I decided that is why I should write about my experiences–because my outside perspective, what I saw as a non-military person, only corroborates what all these female soldiers and sailors are saying now. I’m NOT saying #ImVanessaGuillen, far from it; I’m saying I saw it too.

When I went to get my required vaccines for my trip to Iraq, the doctor more or less guaranteed me that I would be raped in theater. He had served multiple tours in the Army as a doctor and had since retired to civilian practice. He asked me why they would be sending a girl like me (25 year old civilian) to that place and why I would agree to go. He did not tell me to be worried about rocket attacks or Iraqi insurgents. He looked into my wide, young, naive civilian eyes and told me I needed to fear the other Americans more than anything else. He said he had seen and treated numerous patients for being raped by their own in theater, going into detail I won’t repeat here. He asked if I was married and instructed me to say I was, to make sure I mentioned a husband clearly and often. He said they might respect that I belonged to someone more. Then he stuck me with the shots and wished me luck. When he looked at me before he left the room, I could tell from the heavy, dejected glance he gave me exactly what he expected to happen to me over there.

My female coworker who had gone to Iraq (and possibly also Afghanistan) as a software trainer before me told me how she had caught a man’s eye in the dining facility (DFAC) one day. That night, someone had tried to break into her trailer as she slept. He had not been able to get through the door, but she assumed it was the same man from the DFAC.

When I arrived in theater, there were unique signs in the female spaces. From my bathroom trailer on Dodge City South to the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) gym on Victory Base Complex (VBC) to the small forward operating bases (FOBs) like War Eagle or Tallil. All the signs communicated the same message: have a battle buddy, don’t shower or workout or go to the bathroom by yourself, you’re not safe alone. There were a couple other females with my company in theater when I was, but we did not work the same shifts and rarely went the same places at the same time. I was usually the only girl, so I found these signs unnerving. Maybe men had these signs too; maybe everyone was supposed to have a battle buddy, but that is not how the messaging was conveyed.

I worked swing shift for the majority of my time in theater, noon to midnight. I had a roommate only for part of my time, but she also worked the day shift, so we overlapped very little. When I got home, it was the middle of the night. I had to trek a quarter mile to the bathroom trailer alone in the dark. Between the doctor’s warning, the stories, and the signs, my paranoia was thick. The trailer pad was covered in rocks and gravel to combat the native mud, so you could hear every footstep. If I ever heard anyone else in the dark, I stopped walking and turned off my light, waiting and hiding in the dark, hoping they would not know I was there and could not see I was female.

One day, I went on a support call with a male coworker. We went to the desk of a sergeant who was having trouble with our software. The sergeant had pictures of his family and his waning countdown calendar to his trip home on his desk. He was nice, flirtatious, but I thought nothing of it. We resolved his issue and returned to our trailer. Later, the sergeant emailed me on the secure network (SIPR). He was very complimentary and expressed how he wanted to get to know me in normal life. I, again, did not react much but shared the email with my coworkers, who at this point had to endure hearing just about every thought in my head.

My coworkers were less dismissive of the sergeant’s advances. They seemed genuinely worried about it, which changed my reaction. As he continued to email, I saw in their response that this was something to be concerned about, to be scared of. They asked if he knew where I slept, which DFAC I ate at. When he started calling the trailer, they made sure I never had to talk to him and that he knew I would not be handling his inquiries. When he showed up at the trailer, they got rid of him. They took the situation very seriously and kept me safe. Then the sergeant’s countdown ran out, and he rotated home, and I never had to hear from him again.

As a civilian, pushy flirtation was annoying, but I didn’t interpret it as dangerous until I saw how my coworkers reacted. Much like I wouldn’t have been wary of everyone I interacted with without the doctor’s horrific stories. Much like I would not have stopped walking in the dark without the battle buddy sign in every bathroom.

I prepared for theater without these expectations, and I managed (through the guardianship of some amazing men I worked with) to make it through my entire deployment without being assaulted. However, my encounters with other people’s experiences and the culture itself (we haven’t even touched on the volume on non-combat event rape reports in the database I worked with) showed me how real that threat was even before I met my stalker.

I saw these things as an outsider, without coming up through the military or learning any complacency to it. They came through fresh, naive eyes. So many things blinked and screamed like red warning signs.

So, do I believe there is a problem with sexual assault and harassment and the handling of it in the military? I know there is. Yet just like when we talk about police brutality, it’s not everyone. The men who kept me safe (who traveled with me so I wasn’t on unfamiliar bases alone, we left me the car so I wasn’t walking in the dark across the base at midnight, who told me how to react to rocket attacks) were military once too, and I know they’re not the only ones who would do that for someone. But they shouldn’t have to. The system is broken, and it’s failing some people. Just like the police and justice systems. Goodness amidst the problems doesn’t mean we don’t fix the problems.

 

Christina Bergling

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Before you read my blog, read Khaya Ronkainen. Her poetry chapbook From the Depths of Darkness, took me on a heart wrenching and emotional journey.

Before you look at my horror photography pictures on Insta, check out @love_paperdoll who did the sickest Beetlejuice cosplay and @yoyosuicide who has fantastic horror tribute shots.

Before you check out my dwindling horror tweets, check out @AshleeTakesNote, @BlackGrlsHorror, and @blacula who know the genre better than I do.

***

Well, it seems like quarantine has come to an end, though it is up for debate as to whether the pandemic is behind us. It seems to be more of a political debate on social media than a public health question anymore, which is absolutely maddening as it muddiest the waters of decision making.

While I would love for the worst of it to be behind us, I don’t feel like it will be over that simply. I fear we will see at least another wave, perhaps more devastating than the first if history repeats. But only time will tell, and the wait and the uncertainty are torture.

But sometimes, history seems to converge. America did not take a break from its bullshit during the pandemic. Black people continued to get killed by the police, and videos continued to surface. When the video of George Floyd’s death got out, the entire country was largely still locked down, all watching with rapt attention, no longer distracted by their own lives, pent up and full of rage.

Minneapolis (where our families live) erupted, and so many other cities around the world responded with their own protests and riots. It is a response that is long overdue, that could have happened for so many deaths before his, but it happened now when these factors in history aligned.

There are MANY people with more to contribute on this topic than I can. I was insulated by my privilege my entire childhood. I was not really introduced to the extent of what that meant until I was in an interracial relationship, especially when we briefly lived in The South, and started raising a mixed family. So I go through this event as an ally on the outside, with part of my heart directly affected on the inside.

I don’t want to be silent because I am not compliant with how wrong things are. I don’t want to speak when it is not my conversation and not my turn to have my voice heard. I want to be an ally, but I don’t want to be told how to do it right because that is not someone else’s job to teach me. I want to try, even knowing I am going to do it wrong and fail over and over. But mostly, I want to get my children, particularly my child who cannot pass as white, through this and prepared the survive all the bullshit the world has waiting for them without destroying their childhood.

In short, I have no idea what I’m doing. Much like going through a pandemic, I am just at a loss. I feel like I am treading water as the waves keep crashing over my head.

I don’t have the scripts or life experiences to explain to my children how these things might affect them, how they might happen to them in their lives. My parents taught me about racism and hate when I was young, but it is such a different conversation to tell a child about something happens to other people versus something that could happen to them or their family. A “don’t do this” versus a “be scared of this” distinction.

I don’t know how to teach my daughter to be the only brown body in a classroom, the only curly head on a dance team. I only know the things white people tell themselves, which I have learned over and over are often only to make ourselves feel more comfortable. I can only speculate from the sidelines, defer to my partner who has lived that life.

I usually don’t know what I’m doing as a parent, usually am fumbling through at best; however, this level of ignorance makes me feel helpless, makes me feel worthless to them as their mother. I can only be as transparent as possible and seek the wisdom I lack from other sources. It will take a village to raise these children, even if that village is current convening via Zoom.

As the coronavirus and the protests slip from the news (yet both continue to happen), I cringe at the thought of the next surreal event to come surging on the horizon. I’ve heard murder hornets, asteroid, Yellowstone volcano. I can’t even tell the different between real and sensationally fake news anymore. At this point, I would not be entirely surprised (or upset) if alien overlords decided to land.

I only hope these major events channel us towards change. I hope a global pandemic directs us to better healthcare. I hope protests demand equality and justice. I am happy to suffer (especially at this low grade inconvenienced level of suffering) for things to get better.

 

Christina Bergling

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This pandemic is going to change everything. That goes without saying. Globally, that is a given, at least in the short term until history wears the ridges down smooth. But it is reshaping my life personally. Beyond the ways it will impact my children and the literal experiences of quarantine, more than the surface changes and logistics, I can feel it undermining deeper, rippling farther into me and into my life.

These events and situations are bringing out the worst traits in people, myself very much included. So much ugly and unsavory is rising out of people I know, people I love, exposing and highlighting things I didn’t see or chose to ignore. Confronting those realities upsets me, leaves me questioning which relationships I want to maintain and return to on the other side of this and which might be best left to wither in isolation.

I understand the psychology and the sociology of it. I can see what fear is doing to people just as I am aware of what fear is doing to me. Yet understanding the dynamic doesn’t make what it exposes less unappealing.

The pandemic definitely surprised me. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but the response definitely has not. How governments, people en masse, or my people close to me have reacted is not unexpected. I am not surprised at all… I am just disappointed. Disappointed to my core. We can do better. We can be better. And I must be clinging to some kind of hope because my resistance to the reality is infuriating at times.

I honestly do not know what the hell I am doing–with any of this. I feel lost and just wrong most of the time. I am just guessing wildly and winging it, hoping I am not fucking it all up. More, I’m just holding back and playing it safe, waiting because I don’t know, holding my breath because we have high risk in our house and I’m unwilling to gamble with it.

My mind runs rampant over the possibilities, swims and drowns in the “what ifs” and “maybes.” One minute, we need to stay in strictest quarantine to keep our high risk out of the hospital; the next, I’m just being a paranoid hermit, and we need to go out again. One minute, we are just going to be home watching TV and ordering carryout for a few months; the next, it’s something so much bigger. One minute, infection is inevitable and necessary for herd immunity; the next, we have to avoid everyone to not catch it. One minute, the state is coming out of lockdown too early; the next, lockdown isn’t the right approach.

Am I crazy and paranoid for being so cautious or are so many people crazy and careless for being so cavalier? We won’t know until it’s all over. But we play it safe because we don’t get to take it back, and it’s not just about us, and we don’t want to do hospitalizations again.

My mind whirls so wildly that I lose all orientation and forget my instincts. I am constantly having to sort through the wreckage in my head (generally caused by exposure to stupidity on the internet or unpleasant interactions with loved ones) to unearth myself again. I always find the same thing and wonder how the fuck I keep losing it.

Reeling. I think we’re all just reeling. Posting articles and memes about how we should be dealing with and coming out of lockdown when we don’t even know what it means or how it will go yet. Talking about reaching a peak we won’t be able to identify until it is far behind us. We are all just desperate to quantify what hasn’t even finished happening yet. The situation is big and unknown and terrifying, so we all want to scramble to the other side and look back on it, but we are not there yet.

We don’t know where we are yet. Beginning, middle… I just have to take it one day at a time slowly and remind myself that this too shall pass. Right now, I have that luxury and will take it. If I think much beyond that, I might go into that rabbit hole in my mind again.

 

If we are honest with ourselves, none of us know what we are doing. We have educated guesses and informed hypotheses. We can look to the past with the Spanish flu or other pandemics and we can build numerous varied data models, but we do not know how this will play out, what will happen. In that shared blindness, we are all truly together.

This pandemic/quarantine experience is definitely amplified for me by being a parent. It would be different if it was just me or just me and my partner. My children change everything for me.

Risk and hardship were different when we did not have children. If it was just us and we got sick or died, that would be one (awful) thing, even with high risk in the equation. However, with the kids, if any of us got sick or died, it would become a whole other thing with so many more repercussions. Just like we would have bought a house we loved in one neighborhood if it was just us but never with children, the considerations are just different. Everything is more complicated with them, for better and worse. He and I have done hospitalizations and situations that could have killed us before, but their young fear and confusion adds something else.

Beyond the constant, smothering extra layer of worry I harbor for them through all this, they look to me. For information. For example. For an indication of how to act and react. In situations like these, the degree of transparency I share with my children can easily turn ugly. Not that I will turn away to hide now, it just makes things challenging to bare some of the hard truth for them.

My children went from an extended family and a “commune” and teachers (in school and activities) and friends and acquaintances to being encapsulated in only the family unit. While the family is benefiting, recovering from some neglect that came from so much so fast, there are also such huge, gaping voids. There are roles and influences that we simply cannot fill within these walls or on the flat screen of a Zoom call. There are things lost in these formative times for them.

Right now, I am so glad I have more than one child. Just as our family has this time to be together as schedules did not previously allow, quarantine is creating even more sibling time for my children. I watch them bond, relating the way only siblings (biological or not) sharing a life can, solidifying a relationship through entangled, bizarre experience. I think about the way going through this, whatever it may turn out to be ultimately, together will mean to them and their relationship.

I would not want my children to have to survive my floundering and shortcomings through this pandemic stuck in this house alone. I did not want them to have to survive me (and their father) alone in life in general, which is one major reason we have more than one child. In this moment as a parent, I am so grateful it is not just me. I am glad to spread the burden and influence between myself and their father and sibling, to shoulder it all together. I am not enough. Sometimes, even with other contributions and help, I feel like I am not enough as a mother.

As I said, I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. And maybe it’s better that my kids know that. Maybe it’s better that they know that we never have any idea what we’re doing, that we’re all fumbling our way through life and making a spectacular mess of it along the way, hoping for the best. Or maybe that will only scare the shit out of them and compound their trauma. To no surprise, I have no idea. Like all things in this pandemic (and predating it), I am just winging it here. Doing my best, crossing my fingers, and toasting the hope with my wine (of which I am drinking more of locked in these walls).

Christina Bergling

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Pandemic and quarantine have done strange things to my creativity. While I have more time that I could devote to my pursuits, my focus and my motivation are periodically paralyzed. I am off balance in this situation, and in struggling to find my balance, I am also endeavoring to find ways to interpret and express the new ways I’m experiencing my artistic emotions.

Writing has been a particular struggle. Fiction seems largely pointless. I don’t want to write about viruses or pandemics or quarantines, but another other setting or premise seems mute at the moment. And the last thing I want to do is force myself. I am reserving that energy for caging my extroverted self within my own walls and homeschooling my energetic children.

I have always loved photography, being in front of and behind the lens. I can’t shoot with Pratique Photography (or any other photographers) right now, and even if I could, now does not seem like the time for fake blood. Yet I needed something to process my confined experience.  I decided to play with the concept of a selfie series, inspired by the bipolar concept shot with Randy Poe Photography.

I wanted to capture all my varied quarantine emotions, so my quarantine selfie series ended up being almost my stages of quarantine.

Imbalance

Denial

Teacher

Tethered

Depression

Paranoia

Worry

Isolation

Quiet

Lethargy

Altered

Suffocation

As a side note, it did deeply irk my writer brain that the titles of the photos are not congruent (Depressed, Suffocated, Isolated OR Depression, Suffocation, Isolation). However, I couldn’t bring myself to trade the word I wanted to fit a pattern.

 

Christina Bergling

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As a writer (specifically in the horror genre), I have imagined many diverse situations and places, written numerous scary and fantastical scenarios. I have dreamed up what I think the apocalypse could look like in more than one way. Yet I never imagined a global pandemic or living in quarantine, and even if I had, I don’t think I would have painted it like this.

When the quarantine started, I told myself that I would capitalize on the confined time, that I would force myself to finally finish editing my novel, catch up on this blog, do all the writing and authorly things. Those things have not happened. Lockdown has had a strange paralytic effect on my motivation. While I have cleaned all the things (more than once) and have creativity climbing the sides of my brain, I seem inept in expressing and channeling it lately.

While my creative writing has temporarily abandoned me, I do find myself falling back to journalling. It makes sense since I only turn to that page to unravel my mind when it is confused or contorted. And it only seems right to document what this looks like and feels like for later.

So, instead of stories, here are random streams of consciousness that I have been processing through…

One month in quarantine. It is strange to say and even more weird how it has become a new normal in that time. Life has stopped for this. It is surreal, unprecedented. The entire experience is so bizarre that it is difficult to wrap my head around at different moments.

Quarantine did not begin very smoothly for us. Our home revolted against having its residents inside so much. A pipe broke and flooded the basement. Then as we rotated towels through the dryer trying to deal with that, the dryer broke. Then cleaning a bathroom, a pipe under the sink started leaking. Repairing that, the adjacent pipe cracked and also started leaking. That pipe was not standard so took multiple attempts to fix (ultimately in another nonstandard way). The dryer belt had to be special ordered, and Amazon delivered a motor before delivering the correct belt. Our dog pounced on a window and cracked it, so it had to be taped together. For a while, I was scared to breathe too hard or touch anything, lest a wall just fall down or something else start spurting water.

The first two weeks were the hardest. They always are. It is amazing how much about myself I learned in my very brief time in Iraq. From how fucking miserable I was in Baghdad, I knew I would be OK after two weeks–and I was. That is my adaptation period. Then I slipped into some kind of acceptance, some kind of complacency.

I haven’t really left the house at all in these weeks. I have run an errand or two, taken my kid to a doctor checkup. That’s it. I stopped running. I haven’t seen anyone except my parents through the front window. Every day is the same, except some days I don’t work or fail at homeschooling. We have deep cleaned the entire house. This is the exact opposite of my pre-COVID life. While I did want to simplify and reign in everything, this is the exact opposite of the life I want. And yet global pandemic offers such an overshadowing perspective. It is bigger than me or my wants or my inconveniences.

True to humans, the stupidity in our reactions eclipses the danger in the actual situation. Despite the fact that the vast majority of the species will survive the virus, people have decided this is the end. They have panic bought all the toilet paper, meat, bread, and eggs. They ransack the stores and stand in endless lines to buy things that make no sense and will spoil before they consume them. Our comfort is showing when we fall apart at the mere suggestion of tragedy. We don’t even have to see it. We won’t know what to do when it’s real. I feel all the same disgust I felt after Iraq, the same disillusionment and disappointment.

Most Americans have enjoyed a very comfortable, sheltered, and entitled existence for generations. Most of us have never felt discomfort or fear like this before so insulated in our decadent comfort. Wars have raged for decades so distant that we have been able to live on as if they were never happening at all. At the slightest rattle, we are willing to fight for toilet paper that won’t save us. I can’t shake the perspective of how much worse it could be, how much more real and awful the world has always been for other people.

So I, the whiny depressive perpetually discontent, am strangely acceptant and complacent in all this. As others around me complain about the end of the world and mourn the nonessential things they are losing or delaying, I just haven’t. It’s uncharacteristic of me, this zen perspective. I hate staying in; I hate when plans change; the kids being home stresses me out. I should be freaking out. I distantly worry about what will ultimately happen with all of this, but otherwise I am satisfied with this being for the greater good.

What the fuck? That’s not me.

I think about my grandfather losing his mother and siblings to the influenza epidemic in Chicago in the 1920s. I think about all the reports I read in Iraq where that was people’s daily reality. I want to save the panic and despair for where it belongs, which is vividly ironic since I had been pinned under depression for months right before this. Unwarranted and beyond characteristic depression. Three months unrelenting, unheard of since I was a lost teenager drowning myself in depressants. I could not figure out what triggered it or how to get out from under it. Yet it dissolved in the face of this global pandemic. In the face of this global pandemic, I snapped into this calm perspective.

Yet, it is not as simple as awkward acceptance. My emotions are never so simple.

There is also such a feeling of derailment. Prior to quarantine, despite the lies my depression tried to whisper to me, life was going very well. My children, in particular, were honestly in such great places, moving smoothly along such fantastic trajectories–and now that’s all gone. It’s a touch heartbreaking, but that is how life goes sometimes. You can’t rage against a global pandemic.

My paranoia grows legs sometimes and begins to walk away with me. I swing between it being an inevitable virus we will all endure and become immune to and agoraphobia to keep my husband out of the hospital until after the theoretical peak.

I stumble across such pockets of rage in my complacency. I am fine until something tips me off balance. If I feel like shit or get overwhelmed or another pipe starts leaking, the entire house of cards implodes in my head. The flash fire rages over me, and I feel alive again before settling back into this flatline of complacency.

I miss life. I miss everyone and everything. If I really consider it, it rips my heart out. Doing everything over a computer screen or through a glass window or six feet away is terrible.

However, I know from previous unpleasant chapters, that life does not miss me. It continues on unaffected, as if I never existed, and will welcome me back when I return, as if I never left. Because just as my problems do not matter to the pandemic, my absence does not matter to the world. But I know (or so I tell myself), from my own past chapters and from my grandfather surviving the influenza epidemic, that this will pass. It may be a long and messy chapter, but it will close, and life will be on the other side, waiting.

That life from before March is GONE–for now. And for a long while. As much as I can (and probably will) grieve that, I just don’t right now.

Instead, I worry constantly about what this will do to my children. How this will scare and shape them; how they will interpret, process, and internalize this; how this will affect their social development and education; on and on. But this is their chapter to live. I know I can’t choose it for them or shield them from it any more than I could change my parents getting divorced or the Twin Towers coming down or the car coming into my mother-in-law’s lane. I never wanted to shelter my children from life. Instead, I need to keep my shit together and teach them how to deal. This all will be so formative, and I can make that better or worse as their mother.

I hope there is normalcy and recovery on the other side of this. I know normalcy is never promised; I know life is never promised. But I also know that humanity and society persist after so many varied catastrophies. Right now, it is the unknown, and that’s terrifying. In truth, every day is unknown, but they all look deceivingly safe and familiar. Once that veil is pulled aside though, we are so fundamentally shaken. I am fundamentally shaken right now. For many reasons. Which leaves everything around me feeling surreal. And I fear the longer we shelter (hide) alone in our houses, the more distorted things will become.

I am quite curious, assuming things return to normal, about the psychological/sociological/cultural effects of all this. What weird ticks will my kids develop from this experience? Compulsive hand washing? Paper goods hoarding? Will people interact the same after or will there be social distancing echoes? After going more virtual, will we come back to the physical? Seeing all the flaws in our systems, will we make changes or just be complacent again? I want to be on the other side asking these questions, not here in the shadow of the incoming wave.

Yet I cannot complain about our individual quarantine. I acknowledge that I write this from a place of privilege where I am still fully employed with access to all the things I need. I haven’t lost my job yet from the shutdowns or the economic response. I am not a healthcare worker or other essential employee that has to be out dealing with people. Our only exposure scare turned out to be false. We are, at worse, currently inconvenienced.

If you took our situation out of context, you could assume it was all deliberate. We are both still fully employed. We have food, shelter, internet. We could be seen to be homeschooling our children and living that simplified life we set intention toward this year. However, it is the causality that changes things, everything that is happening outside this house. It is the involuntary disconnect and isolation that makes this different. It is the big, scary unknown looming out in the world that makes this different.

“Live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” is what I have been quoting to myself for years, what I have tattooed into my wrist. I told myself I would not waste days or minutes because there was no guarantee on how many I had or how many of them would be good. While I have always manifested that mantra by going out and doing all the things and filling every second of my life, it doesn’t mean I can’t extract value from the quieter times I’m experiencing now. Just because quarantine is not what I want does not mean it has to be all bad.

All of this quiet family time is not a bad thing. All of this forced simplicity is not a bad thing. If we have to be here, we might as well find good things about the time. We might as well use it to our advantage rather than be miserable. It doesn’t work every day; some days, the cards fall, and I’m a fucking mess. But some days, I listen to the kids play made up games for hours in a way we never had time for before.

I will edit my novel, if it kills me. I will find my way out of the journal and back into my fictitious writing. I have a couple other projects in mind to outlet the writhing creative energy. If I can keep my mind busy, perhaps I can keep it calm as this situation unfolds.

 

Christina Bergling

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Another year has passed. I’m not quite sure how this one managed to fly by so quickly. It feels like I blinked last New Year’s and opened my eyes on the other side of Christmas. Some of this acceleration is my own fault for packing every moment of every day with activities and experiences. It is my Thoreau-based life philosophy to suck the marrow out of every second, yet I think I may have hit the threshold this year where I nearly sucked the marrow out of myself in the process. And the rest of it is just that I am getting old and the years cycle by more rapidly.

2018 was a heavy authoring and publications year. 2019 focused more on my non-writing life. Not really by my choice but rather the swing of the pendulum. My day job progressed into a lot more travel and a promotion. The travel often gave me more opportunities to write uninterrupted (completing a draft of my next novel, for example), yet more demands and more hours also got in the way of writing, posting, reviewing, speaking.

My personal life also required more of my time. From the inevitability of increased parenting obligations to death in the family and funerals.

2019, in short, was death and travel.

A lot of other things did happen, but those were the loudest themes.  Amidst drafting my latest novel (now deeply in the cycles of editing), I also did manage to get a few works published and to get out there and pretend to be an author.

Publications

March: “This Way,” “Prison,” “The Leftovers” in 100 Word Horrors 2

March: Screechers with Kevin J. Kennedy

March: “Awake” in America’s Emerging Horror Writers: West Region

“Malignant” (formerly released with Savages) in The Horror Collection: Purple Edition

While these few pieces (mostly in March) may seem insufficient to me, especially after the year of the short story in 2018, I have to remind myself that I wrote a novel too. It is not finished and it is not published, but it is written. The story exists outside of me, and that’s an accomplishment. If it does get published, it will be my second full length novel, after The Rest Will Come in 2017. Again, something worth including in the year review.

In 2020, I hope to be able to see the novel is under contract.

Events

In annual tradition, we attended the Telluride Horror Show. I won’t regurgitate my post on the fest, but it was a fantastic year. We saw great movies, participated in epic cosplay, and kicked ass at trivia.

The films were exceptionally solid this year, and I wrote up a couple reviews for Daily Dead again.

Against my better judgement, I also participated in another book signing event. After Behind the Mask in Nashville was such a bust, I swore I would never try it again. I made an exception for Deadly Reality at The Stanley Hotel. I won’t repeat that post either.

The event was not a great fit for me and my work, but I saw moderate success at the table. It was also a fun experience (mostly with the company I brought with me) and a great trip. How many times does one wander the halls of The Stanley Hotel dressed as one of the Grady sisters?

The weekend was worthwhile, but (once again) I have resolved to stay away from signing events. However, my collaborators and I do have eyes on new attempts and new events in the new year.

So, I made it through the year, partially skidding across the line on my face. I was distracted and tested but still managed to be a writer and accomplish a couple things as an author.

In my personal life, my goal is to make 2020 a rebuilding year. I need to simplify and regroup, reestablish the foundation so the whole damn house doesn’t come crashing down on me. I’m hoping this change will benefit my writing too, give me time and focus to prioritize writing. 2020 can be a rebuilding year for all things.

I’m not sad to put 2019 behind me, so happy new year!

 

Christina Bergling

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When I heard there was going to be a horror-themed book signing at The Stanley Hotel, I decided I needed to participate. My first signing experience at Behind the Mask in Nashville was staggeringly disappointing and left me resolved to never try such an event again. The main failure of that experience, as I saw it, was that I was mistakenly positioned with all romance writers with an all romance audience. I did not fit; my audience was not there. However, surely a signing staged at the infamous haunted hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining would be where I belong… right?

I would be willing to visit The Stanley Hotel any time. I first entered the famed walls when I attended The Stanley Film Festival, which was a fantastic experience. Estes Park is gorgeous (and only a short drive away). The location definitely helped convince me to go for it. Even if the signing turned out as unsuccessful as the previous, at least the trip would be easier and still amazing.

Another perk of a local(ish) venue was the availability of my entourage. When I chose to go to Nashville, the fact that I could visit the Corpsewax Dollies (my belly dance troupe) encouraged my decision. They were able to attend the signing and save me from the soul-crushing monotony and disappointment. Then I was able to go participate in a show before returning home.

In Colorado, so close to home, I was able to enlist a group of support to join me on the entire trip.

I brought Graphics Smith, the artist who drew several of my book covers and does cross promotional collaborations with me. I brought Pratique Photography, the photographer who makes all the bloody pictures with me. She also dressed up as the “twin” to my Grady sister costume. I even brought a Jack and Wendy to join in the cosplay. If ever there was a place to dress up as the cast of The Shining, this was it.

The night before the event, I hung out alone in the hotel (not The Stanley) while my entourage soaked in the hot tub. As I tried Kava for the first time (so pleasant but tastes like shit, by the way), I was overcome by a crippling wave of impostor syndrome. I do not experience impostor syndrome often, yet this flare seized me. As I slipped pictures of myself into sleeves for Pratique Photography, I kept thinking, why would anyone want to buy pictures of ME, hang me on their walls? That rapidly dissolved into, why would anyone want to buy the words I write? What am I even doing here?

Thankfully, the wave of insecurity and self-doubt was flattened by the sedative effects of the Kava, yet the thoughts lingered and teased at the edges of my brain nonetheless. It is always challenging to put myself out there with my art, something I truly care about, a tender and sensitive part of me. Any of my recent adventures ruffle the edges of that doubt. Submitting a book or a story, posting pictures from a photo shoot, belly dancing onstage, speaking about my writing in front of kids, displaying my wares on a table and asking people to invest their time and money in what came out of me.

The next morning, we gathered my massive amount of stuff and headed to the event. The Stanley was just as gorgeous and interesting as I remembered. Every step caused the film festival to echo in my memories. We set up my table early, my deadly assistant Pratique Photography working her magic on the setup. Then it was hours of milling around and waiting with the other authors, typical to these events.

I didn’t really take the time to assess the other tables or the other authors. I chatted with several but never evaluated their wares. I was focused on the upcoming customer traffic. I’m typically more engaging and social, yet after the madness of October, I kind of just wanted to be more introverted, especially in preparation for being “on” for the attendees all day.

VIP attendees entered the room first, people who had paid for the event, invested to attend early and have access before anyone else. This was truly the best opportunity to sell some books and art. Yet things, unfortunately, seemed familiar, reminiscent of the last signing. A few people recognized Pratique and I as the Grady sisters from The Shining; we took some pictures. People were friendly and approached my table.

But then they were horrified.

It seemed very strange to me. My horror and the associated art do not appear to be that hardcore of horror on the surface. The Waning, for instance, definitely goes there, but you would never guess that from just the cover. Yet no one got close enough to read the blurb on the back. Phil had drawn horror movie killers, and we made magnets with little poems I wrote. One was Jack Torrance. How was that upsetting at the fucking Stanley Hotel?

I have been in horror a long time. I never mind or judge if it’s not someone’s flavor, just as I expect people to do the same for my love (obsession) for it. Yet I expected this event and this venue to have my audience. I anticipated horror readers and horror movie lovers. And even if I did not find that group, I didn’t expect people who were unnerved or appalled by a bloody cleaver on a cover or a picture of a pig heart.

And yet.

The hours passed (slowly). I talked with people, took a lot more pictures with strangers, made some author friends. I passed out a lot of bookmarks; most people cringed when they looked at the images on them. In the end, it was much more successful than my previous signing. I have no complaints about how much art or how many books I was able to sell. One always wants to sell out, but any sale is awesome. And, like I said, more sales than last time.

Instead, I was nagged by the reaction to my offerings, by still not being able to locate my audience. Maybe they don’t attend book signing events, even at The Stanley Hotel. Or maybe people just do not want the art I collaboratively create and the books I write. But I honestly just feel like my audience was not there, and that was disappointing. My minions later reported that the majority of the other books were of the paranormal romance or fantasy persuasion. If that was the desired genre, I was equally misplaced here as I was with all romance readers.

All in all, the trip was awesome. I had a great time with my entourage and relished their support. The book signing event was fun and productive, even if I deeply felt the absence of my audience. The time in Estes and at The Stanley Hotel was well spent.

Before and after the signing, we took our costumes around to take pictures in the hedge maze, in front of the hotel, on the staircases, in the hallways. It will always be fun to terrify people, especially by simply walking quietly in a blue dress.

I have no regrets about attending the event. However, once again, I don’t think I’ll do a book signing event again. My people, the audience I am searching for, are not there. I just need to get more creative in finding them outside my personal life and beyond the internet.

 

Christina Bergling

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Oh, October. October has always been my favorite month. I look forward to it whisking me away from the misery of summer every year, heavily laden with its Halloween festivities. However, I’m skidding out of this October on my face barely a shell of a person. Is there too much of a good thing? I think I can now safely say, yes. October 2019 nearly killed me with all the awesome things.

Here is my October in review, otherwise known as my excuse list for being so dormant on here and behind on all things writer-ly.

I kicked off the month on October 1st by going to see The Shining in the theater. The theater screening was a surprise but perfectly timed for my Halloween costume cosplay and the upcoming sequel release. I then continued my Stephen King binge by going to see IT Chapter Two in the theater for the third time later that week.

I countered my sluggish inactivity in a theater recliner with 13 miles of activity when we descended Pikes Peak the first weekend. Two years ago, we began our initiative to hike Colorado 14ers by ascending Pikes Peak, the mountain in our backyard. The next year, we returned to the same trail but only went up to Barr Camp (about halfway) and back. The trail was gorgeous, as usual, the perfect euphoric fall hike. And descending was so much better than dragging myself up.

That same weekend, while my calves were still knotted up from the miles, I did a horror photo shoot with the Mistresses of Macabre. I struggled to hold poses with my depleted muscles, but hopefully some good shots come out of it. At least, for once, it was fake blood free.

Next, I went to Denver to see Goblin in concert, performing the live score as they showed the film Deep Red. I had seen Goblin live before, a few years ago. They played a collection of their songs while projecting scenes from the associated movies. I really enjoyed watching the full film and having the music live. It was a great show. Following the movie, they did also play some classic hits in front of movie clips.

Then it was the event of every October the past three years: the Telluride Horror Show. I love going up to the mountains in the fall to watch horror movies and hang out with horror lovers for three days. My husband abandoned me for a different obligation, but otherwise our party grew. We also augmented the experience with cosplay from The Shining. It was ridiculously fun to walk around the fest and make friends dressed as one of the Grady sisters. I even got to write reviews for Daily Dead again.

After traveling for the Horror Show, we immediately traveled again for a surprise wedding in Tennessee. I got to reunite and celebrate with my dark sisters in the Corpsewax Dollies. There was a lot of love, partying, and dancing.

We couldn’t leave our children out of the horror fest, so we had to take them to see The Addams Family. I ended up enjoying it more than I expected, and the kids loved it.

We went equally hardcore on group costumes for the annual Creepy Crawl 5K. Our entire, large group dressed up as characters from Mario Kart, complete with cardboard box karts. The kids joined in as turtle shells, stars, and banana peels. My youngest spent three miles shoving me off the icy trail. We won best family costume.

We hosted our annual Halloween party, thankfully at not at my house this year. I dressed up as a Grady sister again but with less conviction than at the Horror Show. Instead, there was a mountain of food, drinks, kids, and good friends.

Despite a Colorado snow storm, I attended a book club that had read my novel The Rest Will Come. The weather greatly reduced the turn out (and I actually did a second makeup session today), but it was still a good experience. It is always surreal to me that an entire group of people read my book and want to talk about it, but I love to hear their opinions and questions, the outside perspectives.

I returned to the theater for a fourth time (not counting the 10 movies in Telluride) to see a sneak screening of Doctor Sleep. Stephen King and The Shining were apparently my theme of the month.

In addition to all these activities, I did my typical 31 Days of Horror movie watching with accompanying bingo and Hallowear posts. Horror movies and festive clothing every day.

Then it was finally Halloween itself. I took the day off from my day job to fully participate. In the morning, I talked at one school. Three 5th/6th grade classes crammed into a classroom to ask me questions about horror and writing. Then, in the afternoon, I spoke at another school. At this middle school, I gave a speech in front of 600+ students (the entire school) in the gym.

I don’t have a problem with public speaking. However, I am much more comfortable when there is not a stage or microphone, somewhat ironic since I dance onstage. The scale of it was intimidating. Then the microphone didn’t work. I messed up my speech a couple times. But then it was awesome. The kids asked questions until we ran out of time. Several of them thanked me or told me about their writing as they left the gym. One girl approached me to tell me how much hearing I struggled as a child helped her. It was amazing. I can honestly say I love these moments of talking to children, baring my soul for them a bit in hopes that impacts at least one of them.

Having survived all that, I bundled up my kids to take them trick-or-treating. Then I watched my traditional movie (Trick r Treat), and my month came to an end. Everything was great. I did so many things, awesome and fun things with wonderful people. I fully appreciate how ludicrous it is to say there was too much fun in October. I cannot think of anything I would sacrifice, but engaging in all the awesomeness while still working the day job and being a mom and doing regular life might have finally crossed the line into too much.

That is a bridge I will cross next year. Of course, next year, I will be refreshed and excited and back to saying yes to everything. For now, I am taking November to recover. Back to work, back to routine, a little vacation in there. I am also using NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to edit my latest novel. I recently completed the first draft and read over it during our travels to Telluride (an apt time since I included Telluride in the story and it was the perfect opportunity to fact check).

Writing my last novel was a bit of a struggle. I was initially infatuated with the idea, but then it fizzled in drafting. Yet I remained committed to finishing it. Then I kept getting sidetracked by short stories. I would make minimal progress then shelf it to write a short. When I returned to it, it would take time to engage with the story again. All of this left me insecure about the book. I was convinced it was boring and terrible. I was relieved to find that I did not hate it upon first read.

November is the time to get back on the normal track and also get this book edited.

 

Christina Bergling

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