It’s June, so Happy Pride!

I never really talk about my own identity much because I have been in a monogamous heterosexual relationship for years now. I never had to come out or work to identify myself because I have never left that relationship. My bisexuality was always ancillary to it. I figured myself out under the safety of that umbrella. Since I am a white cisgendered woman living in a heterosexual relationship, I am cushioned by a lot of privilege, which often makes me feel more like an ally than a member of the community. I don’t want to occupy space on the platform I did not have to fight for. Yet, I still am what I am.

Since it is Pride Month, I thought it an appropriate time to write about representation, particularly in my own writing.

I am old enough to have watched representation drastically evolve in media. I can look back on some of the things from my childhood that were deemed so “progressive” that are now utterly cringy. That, in itself, is a sign of progress. Humans are slow to change, but representation does matter, perhaps for the people in the community seeing a reflection of themselves most of all.

But I, and the tiny little slice of media I produce, am changing too. My approach to representation in my writing has evolved lately, deliberately, and I can acknowledge that I don’t think I handled it correctly my entire writing career. Hell, I still don’t know that I have it figured out.

In my earlier writing, I physically describe my characters very ambiguously. As in, I never really fully physically describe them, or I never describe how they look at all. I may give you a detailed landscape of their entire marred psyche, but I leave their bodily traits nebulous. I may say a man has a stubbled chin, but what color is that stubble? What color is that skin? Is that chin on a square jaw or thick, doubled chin? Nope, nothing.

It is not that I did not visualize these characters in my mind. I saw them fully, every minute detail in full color and clarity. I just did not want to force my vision of them onto my readers. If my protagonist was a green eyed brunette with freckles, I wanted to allow one of my readers to make her another color or height or weight. I wanted to leave them open. I wanted my characters to be a “choose your own avatar” sort of experience.

The intention was inclusive. However, as I reflect on it, I do not know how effective it is. I question if, instead, it was more avoidant, just lacking the courage to tackle authentic representation. Can a character be a fully developed person without the influence of their race, size, all the physical traits that affect how the world treats them? Have I been doing my characters and their readers a disservice by leaving these details open?

I also did not make deliberate representation decisions. My writing ideas come to me like dreams, and I just capture them in words. I didn’t make calculating decisions on who and what to portray, like hitting demographics. Many of my characters have been in interracial relationships or have interracial children because that is my life so that is what my mind repeats to me. It is not exclusion so much as simple narcissism.

I could not leave my characters’ relationships as open to interpretation as their appearances. Their orientations were apparent when I included their partners. Yet, if I did not include their relationships, I did not really identify them. In The Waning, my narrator Beatrix is a lesbian and spends the majority of the book thinking about her girlfriend. In Followers, the friend and photographer Brady is a gay man living with his partner. But characters who are not active in dating or a relationship could be straight or queer or asexual. But should I have defined them? For everyone or just the significant characters?

So in my writing prior to 2020, I kept things open and flexible to be filled by what my reader brought to the page. Then I changed my mind and my approach, and true to my extremist nature, I went in the opposite direction. Where I used to avoid describing race, I made race a thematic element. Where I included LGBTQ characters, I made their experience part of the plot. In my new work in progress (WIP) novel, I made the deliberate choice to take the story and attempt to look at it from perspectives besides my own. I took what could be considered by experience and attempted to shove it away from the center of the narrative.

I don’t know if I am doing representation correctly now. The WIP has not even seen publication yet. I’m not even sure how wrong I was doing it before. But I am trying to learn, evolve, and do better. I am trying to find a way to tell my stories in a way that resonates with people, not just myself and not just people like me.

I enjoy seeing representation evolve and diversify in media. I know it still is not perfect. I know it still has strides to make. I just hope I can contribute in a positive direction. And if I am not, I hope someone out there will gently call me in to suggest where I can do better.

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

This reading was fun. I think Mr. Bubbles might speak to me sometimes 🐍🐍🐍

“Adam, Eve, and Mr. Bubbles” and all the evil animals can be found in Demonic Wildlife on Amazon.

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

I started my reading practice videos with Savages. Fitting as it is my first book. Months later, we are back at Savages again. Have I gotten any better? You tell me…

You can find Savages here (including audiobook!): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07C2T88RZ/

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

New mic, who this? Darth Vader, apparently 😆

I wrote Savages amidst the post-apocalyptic zombie craze. How do I feel about it years later after a global pandemic and watching people freak out over toilet paper? And how do you feel about it?

Find Savages here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07C2T88RZ/

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

Per my marketing plan (that I am trying to hold myself to), I am supposed to be writing a blog about my book Savages.

However, if I’m honest, my mind is like quicksand lately. Thoughts turn into holes that swallow and crush me until I can no longer breathe. Motivation and focus are figments I cannot seem to get my hands around. Whenever I seem to catch my balance, a hole in the bottom of my brain opens, and I am dragged below the surface again.

I am in this place for many reasons. Things happening in my life, my brain itself. This place is not new. I am a frequent visitor.

And perhaps these broken fragments of my mind do piece back together and relate to Savages. Savages started in this place, after all. The idea came from the darkness, blossomed in my hopelessness.

Sometimes, there is inspiration in the darkness.

Other times, like now, there is mental catatonia there. Lethargy. Detachment. Resignation. Overwhelm.

Yet Savages came from that terrible and wonderful balance when the darkness pinched and sliced and bled some brilliance out of me. I took everything awful I felt and tried to say something beautiful with it. Did I succeed? You would have to read it to decide.

When I read Savages (and I have and I have listened to the audiobook), I always feel the same swell of emotions that inspired and drafted the book. Savages will probably always be my baby, my first book and my first love. They are all still tucked right behind the words. I feel all the darkness soaked into the pages. So I’ll never be able to see the work objectively (as if the author ever could). It will always exist in the dark place for me.

I don’t know why depression and writing walk hand in hand for me. Mania and writing surely do not, though I would love to fuel my craft with that energy. There is just a certain point in the descent, a certain shade in the darkness where my mind unfurls and all the words pour down on me. Any deeper and it swallows and crushes me, but before that pain is some terrible sweet spot.

I have been asked if it is worth it, to suffer the pain for my art. On some days, curled up at the bottom unable to think, I would say no. However, on most days, when I hold something like Savages in my hand that was born from that darkness, I do not even hesitate. It is always worth it, and I honestly do not know how I would function without it.

If you want to read my dark baby, you can find Savages here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07C2T88RZ/ I personally recommend the audiobook, but I might just love to hear my words in someone else’s voice.

(Apologies for the detached brevity. Hopefully, next month finds me more solidified in my efforts.)

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

Mini vlog talking (bullshitting) with Phil Beachler about our collaborations on my book covers and other endeavors. Should we start a podcast next? Hell no! Same people belong behind the page…

At least we produce good work like SCREECHERS. Cowritten with Kevin Kennedy and cover by Phil Beachler.

You can find Kevin here: https://www.kevinjkennedy.co.uk/
You can find Phil here: https://www.instagram.com/philbeachchair/
You can find SCREECHERS here: https://www.amazon.com/Screechers-Post-Apocalyptic-Kevin-J-Kennedy-ebook/dp/B07PHZW18Q/

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

Artistic collaborations are not new. All authors collaborate with at least a cover artist, unless they are such an artist, just to produce a book. Authors get together to produce anthologies and even cowrite stories, novellas, or novels. As an artist, I love to collaborate. When two (or more) different inspirations converge, the intersection can lead to a new and unexpected direction.

However, just because collaborations can yield something amazing does not mean they are always easy or successful. When I talk about co-writing a novella, the first question is always, “how did that work?” or “how did that go?” It is sometimes hard to see how people could align on a common vision. Yet it does happen all the time with many creative projects. Books are just not a medium people usually think of for collaboration.

Yet when Kevin J. Kennedy asked if I wanted to write together, I did not hesitate to try. Kevin and I had worked together numerous times before when I contributed to his anthologies, but this was definitely a deeper collaboration. Then, when Screechers needed a cover, we brought in Phil Beachler, who did the covers of my books The Waning and Savages.

Rather than recount my experience of the collaboration, I thought it best to include all our experiences.

Where did the idea for Screechers come from?

Kevin: I can’t remember how the idea fully formed, but the initial idea was sparked when I was reading the Hell Divers series by Nicholas Sansbury Smith. He has creatures called Sirens in his books. They are pretty different from the Screechers to be fair, but the screams the sirens make was a bit of a spark and through time I had an idea for the Screechers.

Christina: The idea for the novella came from Kevin ultimately. He approached me to cowrite a story then suggested a post-apocalyptic story with mutant creatures. I instantly wanted to put some human survivors into that nightmare.

Phil: I naturally love drawing monsters and bizarre creatures, so the ideas came from a mish mash of werewolves, space bugs, and various other mutated horrors.

When was it clear that it was going to be a collaboration effort? How did you get involved?

Kevin: I had read all of Christina’s books and loved them. We spoke from time to time because she often featured in my anthologies. Again, I can’t exactly remember how we decided to write Screechers together. It might have been an idea to write something together and then grew into doing the Screechers novella.

Christina: Kevin and I started talking about a collaboration. I had never tried co-writing before, but after contributing to multiple anthologies for Kevin, it seemed like a good fit. Post-apocalyptic was an easy choice for both of us. I had already gone there with my novella Savages. Once mutants and monsters came up, the idea grew legs.

Phil: It became clear after I sent the initial sketches to the authors and got really great reception right away. From there on out, we sent lots of material back and forth to get the ball rolling.

Who was “the leader” on the project?

Kevin: We wrote separate sections and just sent it back and forward. We didn’t even start with too much of a structure from memory. I tend to write as I go most of the time. I can’t recall anyone being in charge. We tweaked each other’s sections, so it flowed better but that was it really.

Christina: I would say Kevin was the leader. He definitely saw more of the Screechers world in his mind, and I fed off of it. But the collaboration was very balanced. We divided the story so we each had our own little sand box. He had monsters, and I had humans. With two pansters writing, we had to force ourselves to outline eventually for when our two storylines would finally intersect then overlap.

Phil: Kevin took the lead, but I got a lot of feedback from Christina regarding various plot points and from her perspective being a fan of nasty monsters.

How did the initial idea change as more people got involved?

Kevin: The idea grew as we wrote as happens with most stories. Christina is friends with Phil, and we asked him to do the cover. The internal art was just a nice bonus that Phil decided to provide.

Christina: We definitely leveled up when we brought Phil in. Not only did we go from an artistic duo to a trio, which increased the influence and opinions flying around, but we brought in an entirely different medium. Phil did the cover, but he drew so many things as he did so. There were sketched of all kind of monsters!

Phil: The idea seemed to stay pretty cohesive. From start to finish, we all had a consistent vision that made it easy to keep on track.

Creatively, how did the collaboration work? How were ideas governed and developed between multiple people?

Kevin: We bounced some ideas back and forth and wrote a chapter each. We would stop every so often and reflect at where we were at and see if anything wasn’t working and review it. It all went pretty smoothly.

Christina: There was a lot of passing back and forth, feedback, and gut-checking. Kevin and I exchanged the outline and the manuscript. Taking turns kept us from wandering too far down a path without input from the other author. Phil came into the process when the story was pretty much done, and he could draw all he wanted based on those words.

Phil: From my perspective, I tried to keep as true to the author’s intentions and vision for the life of the creatures and world they inhabited. I threw some of my own aesthetics into the mix where appropriate, but nothing to distract from the origins of the story. Ideas flowed quite freely between all of us.

Logistically, how did collaboration work? Did you meet up? Get on the phone? Zoom?

Kevin: Everything was done via email and Facebook messenger. I’m in the UK and the others are in the US so no meeting was possible. I’m not a massive fan of video chatting, so I try to avoid it where possible.

Christina: The idea was cultivated over messenger, but the project work was done over email. Phil and I were able to get together and hang out since we both live in the same city, but Kevin lives in another part of the world.

Phil: Mostly chats, emails, and the occasional call.

How was collaborating? Did you enjoy it? Was it maddening?

Kevin: I really enjoyed it. I’ve done it with 3 different authors now, and each time it has been different, but it’s always been fun. In some ways, it’s more fun than writing on your own as you have someone to talk to about your project and it keeps you motivated.

Christina: I have always enjoyed collaborating with other artists. I have worked with visual artists before and enjoyed the balance of mediums. This was my first time working with another author on the same work, not an anthology. I really enjoyed it. I have done tag writing exercises before, where you write a sentence or paragraph and pass it off and the story goes it very unexpected directions. This felt like a much more controlled development of that. The story went in ways I would have never imagined on my own, and I loved that.

Phil: Loved it, and want to do more, much much more!

What really worked about the collaboration?

Kevin: I think it helped that we had read each other’s previous work and liked it, so we knew what we were getting into. Neither of us was too controlling, but we both had out own opinions. It was a good blend.

Christina: We started from a common baseline. We all loved the idea and the themes. Then I think everyone was the right amount of flexible. Everyone contributed, but everyone was also willing to bend and adapt to accommodate the other contributors. It was a good balance.

Phil: Our collective love of survival and apocalyptic themes, in concert with the great introspection displayed by characters, sprinkled with a bit of monster mayhem. In short, it just worked.

What would you do differently in future collaborations? Will you work with other artists again?

Kevin: We mapped out more of book 2 in advance. It came to a stand still when my father became unwell, but we are returning to it now and hopefully it’ll move quickly again now that I have more time. I will definitely do more co-writes.

Christina: In future collaborations, I would probably push an outline earlier. We already learned our lesson and did that first for Screechers 2. I definitely look forward to future co-writing and collaboration projects, with Kevin and Phil and other artists/authors.

Phil: Personally, I just need to get better about being more organized and time-oriented when I’m doing this kind of work in my free time. It’s all too easy to take the “work hat” off and slip into my habits of distraction when I just illustrate for myself.

What about the collaboration shows up in the finished product? What makes it unique?

Kevin: I think the whole point it to make it seem like a solo work. The idea was to have the voices blend although we were writing separate parts.

Christina: I think this collaboration is unique because we had our own sandboxes. It is the weaving of two separate perspectives, humans and monsters, that then collide. Instead of trying to make the dual authors completely transparent, we leaned on that strength to create a layered story. Then we brought the cover artist more into the process than always happens. Phil got to pick our brains before drawing the art.

Phil: Again, I tried my best to be the visual conduit through which the story just flowed. Everything within the book was so strong on its own merit I didn’t want to overdo anything and stray from the vision of the authors.

What is your favorite part of the work that the other persons contributed?

Kevin: I enjoyed the relationship Christina created with the humans in the book. It filled the story out and kept those parts exciting too. I loved Phil’s art and how he brought some of our monsters to life.

Christina: Kevin’s monster fight scene was my favorite part. I focused on the human relationships and humanizing the survivors, but ultimately, Kevin’s monsters were more sympathetic than my characters. That dynamic turned out great. Then I always love how Phil brings what is on the page to life.

Phil: Just getting into their headspace through the writing process as the book took shape and how we would continue to motivate and excite each other as we all came out with more parts of the story through our mediums.

You can find Kevin here: https://www.kevinjkennedy.co.uk/

You can find Phil’s art on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/philbeachchair/

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

Editing, otherwise known as writer hell. Yes, I have to hide in a hotel mere miles from my house. But with how much I miss work travel right now, this might be like a vacation. Plus, I would do literally anything that does not involve homeschooling right now!

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

So this month has been all author memes, which has been super fun for me (and hopefully you). But why all memes brilliantly created by others and no words from me? Here’s a mini vlog to explain!

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

Every year, I do a review blog where I catalog all the writing and festivals and horror-related activities I have accomplished in the year. This year, frankly, I just don’t want to.

2020 was a shit in show. In 2020, I survived.

There will be a wave of blog posts this week, next week that say these same things. So again, I didn’t want to waste the keystrokes. But I am not working this week, so for the sake of consistency… here is my 2020 in review.

2020 began normally enough, but then as the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, it became something else entirely. Largely, everything I would do in person (horror movie festivals, book signings, horror movies, travel) was cancelled. I told myself that I would redirect my energies, that I would use my time at home to actually do the writing part of being an author.

Instead, I just sort of scraped through quarantine; I muddled through remote learning; I floundered through the “new normal.” Rather than redirected, I just kind of existed. At times, I fell apart.

Rather than rehash all the things that didn’t happen because of the Rona or lament how virtual experiences aren’t the same or summarize the rants I have spouted in therapy these past few months, I am going to focus on two simple things from my 2020. Two author things. I am going to step way out of character and silver lining 2020 a bit by looking back through a very restrictive lens.

Book #5

If nothing else during this abysmal year, I got a novel under a publication contract with Crystal Lake Publishing. Crystal Lake Publishing finally had a submissions window and accepted my novel Followers.

I am thrilled to be working with a new publisher and see this novel come into the world, especially during such a strange time.

In Followers, Sidney escapes from the disappointments of her life into the horror genre and conversations with online followers—until those virtual followers bring horror into her real life.

NaNoWriMo

I have never participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) before. I have always been too busy to commit to writing 50,000 words in one month. Yet a pandemic and successive quarantines seemed like the perfect opportunity. By November, I seemed to have adapted enough to actually begin to utilize my time.

50,000 words was much more challenging than I anticipated. It sounded so easy until I was grinding. It took undivided commitment on multiple occasions from me. Yet it was also nice to imagine what it would be like to write more. I proved to myself I could do it… and finished my novel in progress in the meantime.

During NaNoWriMo, I completed my novel Green Eyes. Green Eyes is my first meandering out of the horror genre since I have been published. Instead, I felt compelled to approach more real horrific topics.

As I cross into 2021, I will need to start editing the manuscript and finding a home for it. 2020 has taken the strive out of me. I am giving this book time, working it at a more natural pace. Maybe it was a lesson I needed to learn.

Happy New Year!

I don’t think the rolling of the calendar will magically change things. I don’t think the numbers humans assign days will influence global events. Yet I am still ready for the arbitrary close of the year. Even if it means nothing, I am going to attempt at the fresh start nonetheless.

2020 was not a completely loss. Every experience is worth something, but I am still looking forward to putting many experiences from those months behind me.

If nothing else, I will keep writing…

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling