Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

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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Releasing my novella Savages as an audiobook was a new and bizarre experience as an author. As many nights as I spent writing the book and as many times as I’ve read it over, it was something completely different to hear my entire story aloud in another voice. I loved it, so I decided I wanted to create some YouTube videos reading my own works.

I had to start with “How to Kill Yourself Slowly.” This is the first piece that I ever had legitimately published. I think this piece is where I discovered myself as a writer–my style, my themes, what I had to say. It also got so much response. The people in my creative writing class reacted very strongly. When I posted it on my blog at the time, I received hundreds of comments and emails. I have talked about it at high schools. People have found me on social media from it.

“How to Kill Yourself Slowly” has been out there in the world for maybe 15 years. Yet somehow when I started reading it aloud, it felt more vulnerable, more exposing. The feelings were strange and unexpected, and it actually made me nervous and hesitant to go through with releasing the reading. I felt freshly embarrassed about my past; I worried about how it would sound and how the people referenced in the piece would feel. It feels like being naked in a crowd of people. More than that, it feels like then peeling off my skin, cracking my rib cage open so you can get the full show.

I turned 36 yesterday. I felt compelled to post this because I almost didn’t turn 13 or 18 or 20… That is important. That matters. Aside from the fact that it has been out there for so long already, I kept thinking about all the comments and emails, the people saying that reading the piece helped them or saved them. And I had to post this.

 

 

 

Christina Bergling

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Go with It

Posted: January 10, 2019 in military, nonfiction, psychology, real life, survival

As our plane began to land in Baghdad, it went dark. The crew extinguished the cabin lights, floor lighting, exit lights, indicators. The resulting black consumed us, startling and unnerving. It felt so unnatural to be floating in a darkened aircraft. If it weren’t for the engines still vibrating under the wings, the plane could have been mistaken for coasting dead. A few passengers tugged their window shades down to solidify the darkness.

The more experienced contractor beside me leaned over.

“They go dark so hostiles can’t target the plane from the ground as we land. They’ll use any small bit of light,” he whispered. “Oh, and be prepared for the evasive landing.”

He eased back into his own seat, gathered up his phone, and brought the bright screen to his face, a tiny beacon of light broadcasting to the open window. Confusion contorted my brow as I stared at him, dumbfounded. If a seatbelt light could get a rocket launched at us, why did he have his phone blazing in his face? It near-blinded me against the dark. I just kept looking from him to the open window beside us.

The plane descended toward the small lights below as my heart ascended into my throat. The shapes on the ground dilated in size. Pinpoints of light grew into buildings and roads; the dots articulated into the darkened city. My body automatically braced itself out of practice, habit from so many plane landings. I knew what the final descent should feel like, the way a gentle suspense gripped the air until the ground hopped up into the tires. Instead, the plane glided down then banked sharply. I groped startled at my armrest.

Anxiously, I glanced around me. No other passengers reacted. No one spoke. They sat as if nothing happened. The man beside me remained glued to his glowing phone, inviting the enemy to shoot us down.

The evasive landing.

No one else reacted, so I took a deep breath and went with it.

As I stepped out of the plane and onto the gravel in the surprisingly cold Iraqi night, I smelled only shit and burnt fireworks. I stood alone, unsure where I needed to go next—a 25-year-old female civilian contractor in an active warzone.

A week later, after I had been placed in my freezing trailer, been orientated to camps Victory, Liberty, and Slayer, and began riding the first unfathomable wave of homesickness, I headed to lunch with two fellow software trainers. Bored with the low level of service requests in the training trailer, Charlie and Ed decided we should venture away from the main dining facility (DFAC) and burn time traveling in the dented, dusty Mitsubishi Pajero to one farther from our trailer.

In the DFAC, we sat on metal folding chairs at plastic tables. Charlie hunched across from me, a tapestry of tattoos crawling from his jaw to his hands. Ed rest beside me in a bright blue polo shirt and fauxhawk. I nibbled on my grilled cheese and cantaloupe as they attempted to dazzle or unnerve me with their military stories, as always.

A siren shrieked through the air. The sound snatched my breath, tangled it in my throat. The piercing tone was followed by a flat voice repeating, “Incoming imminent. Incoming imminent.”

I threw wide eyes at Ed then Charlie. They continued to eat uninterrupted as if they had heard nothing at all. The third country national (TCN) workers came flooding out from the kitchen and huddled under the flimsy tables. Soldiers sat on the floor and crouched beside the buffet lines. I looked around at all the people on the floor, waiting.

“They do that because the kitchen doesn’t have any T-walls,” Charlie said, still chewing. “A while ago, a rocket landed on a kitchen. Killed all the TCNs.”

Ed sat casually, gathering a bite on his fork as he watched the TCNs unaffected. My heart battered my ribs. I tried to force out calm breaths and keep my face slack as my eyes roamed. My back tightened, and my posture stiffened.

Charlie looked at me.

“Look, there’s not a damn thing sitting under this table is going to do if a rocket hits this DFAC. If it’s our time, it’s our time,” he said, shrugging and looking down to his food.

They both resumed eating. I sliced my melon with shaking hands and shoved a bite into my mouth, unable to taste it. I took a breath and went with it.

The all clear sounded, followed by an annoying series of tones. Whining smoke detectors replaced the noise to complain about the unattended food left burning. Gradually, everyone got up and returned to their stations. Back to normal, like nothing ever happened.

Later that shift, I sat at my desk in the trailer, letting my fingers dance on the dusty keys of my laptop. I typed away, jamming software procedures into a user guide when a whooshing sound rippled past the trailer, nearly indistinguishable from the sound of an incoming helicopter as it crossed the wire and passed over us.

A boom echoed off in the distance; then a small vibration rumbled against the soles of my boots. Another deeper sound erupted in response, closer and louder. A ripping burst then a pause followed by crackling explosions in the air. I tensed and looked toward the ceiling as if I could see something of what was happening.

“C-RAM,” one of the guys mumbled.

A second rocket hit, far away. A second C-RAM answered.

The trailer fell silent, thick with anticipation, waiting for more. Another rocket, another C-RAM to rebut it. That burnt smell swelled in the air, so thick it spread onto my tongue, that same smell that assaulted me at my first step off the plane.

A voice in the distance declared the all clear, transient as if broadcast from a helicopter. Soldiers arrived in the trailer for accountability, to ensure we were all present and still alive. As we stood in the dark beside our T-wall lined with a single strand of Christmas lights, our jingle T-wall, we heard the sirens traveling in the distance. The rockets had hit something.

In the dark, I took a breath and went with it.

 

Christina Bergling

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2018 was a wild and busy year for me. Most of all, it was the year of the horror anthology. Take a look at what 2018 looked like for my publications.

Publications

January: “Jack Frost,” “You Don’t See Me,” and “Grand Slam” in 100 Word Horrors
June: “After the Screaming Stopped” in Graveyard Girls
August: “Upgraded” in Demonic Household
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August: “Personas” in Colorado’s Emerging Writers (nonfiction)
August: “Look What You Made Me Do” in Colorado’s Emerging Writers (fiction)
August: “Whole” and “Under the Rapids” in Ink and Sword Magazine
September: “Duende” in Collected Christmas Horror Shorts 2
October: “Zoltara” in Carnival of Horror
October: “Freaks” in Carnival of Nightmares
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Festivals

I attended my first author book signing event, Behind the Mask in Nashville, TN.
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As has become an annual tradition, I attended the Telluride Horror Show.
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My reviews for The Dark, Terrified, and Mega Time Squad are published on Daily Dead.
My other festival reviews are on my blog:
The year also saw me launch into some collaborations with other authors, a horror photographer, and an artist and return to performing as a belly dancer. It was a full, busy, and successful year.
Looking to 2019, I hope to add more books to my publication list, including a new novel. I also hope to be able to release more from my new collaborations.
I cannot thank you all enough for the support you give me. I wish you the warmest holidays and the best new year. And if you’re in the mood for some festive horror, check out my 12 Days of Christmas Horror

Malignant

Posted: July 18, 2018 in horror, writing

(Short fiction originally published with the Kindle version of The Waning.)

Cancer made me beautiful.

During one of my numerous appointments following my diagnosis, my doctor informed me, along with a blur of medical terms and statistical percentages, that sugar grows tumors. Strangely, staring stage four death in the face, I was suddenly able to forsake my heroin-level addiction to Snickers and the like. I was able to unearth every stashed candy bar and introduce it to the nearest trash can. Previously, I could only gluttonously shame eat the diet infractions alone in the car before picking the children up from school. It was the only way to avoid having to share the treats.

Somewhere between clean, organic, grass-fed eating and radiation, I wasted away to the slender, lean, emaciated body I always wanted. Everyone raved about how amazing and great I looked. Friends and acquaintances spouted those superficial compliments I had been craving since my first pregnancy. Yet none of them had any idea of the hideous decay blooming under the surface, of how ugly I was under the beauty I had always coveted.

I did not look like I had cancer, even as it was literally eating me alive. I made the mistake of confessing my diagnosis to someone. Once. A stranger, of course. I was not telling my family or friends, women in my yoga class, parents in the PTA, my children’s teachers. I got on the bike in spin class and peddled away with the other early morning gym rats, none of them able to see Death sitting on my handlebars, staring at me as he waited. It was my dirty little secret. Except I had told a hair stylist as if her chair was a therapist’s couch.

She could only respond with, “But you’re not losing your hair.”

My hair. Because that was the concern with terminal cancer. As if you had to be a bald zombie to be suffering. As if every cancer patient underwent chemo. As if my still full head of hair negated the perversion of my own cells against me.

It was easier to keep my fate to myself. I was not going to spend my last days as a charity case; I was not going to listen to a flood of false sympathy until it all went black. I was not going to watch my babies cry for me.

There was no saving me anyway. After radiation only seemed to accelerate my tumor growth, after the cancer had infiltrated the very marrow of my bones and every lymph node I had, the doctor even advised just enjoying the time I had left. I abandoned the small shred of hope I had been absentmindedly clinging to in his office at that last appointment.

There was no point in returning for a follow up.

Where did the cancer start? What did it matter? The first time the doctor told me, I did not hear him. Once the word “cancer” leapt off his lips, I could only hear a high-pitched ringing. The entire world was enveloped by that hideous sound, so loud it made my head swoon and the edges of the world seem fuzzy.

When the ringing receded somewhere as I stumbled to my car, it was replaced by the one resounding question: why me? What had I done to warrant this painful death sentence? What karma had earned me this level of punishment?

Shock struck me first, seizing me as I sat blank-faced in my car in that doctor’s parking lot after he so nonchalantly informed me I was dying. The words washed over my brain in waves that caused them to lose meaning. The sun blazed into my pupils, but my eyes were so out of focus and so swelled with tears I could scarcely notice. My keys were tangled in my fingers, but I could not find the strength to lift them to the ignition.

This shock was painfully temporary though. Then the heat started, the anger. There is no other word for it. First, it was a smoldering in my belly. My sickly, tumor-ridden belly. The warm radiated up beneath my skin; each of my nerves coiled and pulled taunt. My mind hardened as I felt the rage blossom across my very core.

Fucking cancer.

I felt betrayed by God, Fate, and every power in between. I felt ransomed by my own flesh that sold itself over all too easily to the will of the disease. Not a symptom, not a sign. Just a death sentence mere months before my fortieth birthday.

Happy birthday to me.

There was anger in every stage of my grief.

The anger changed me. The rage sustained me, fueled me. At some points, I was able to function on fury alone. Yet it perverted my mind; it was the cancer in my brain to match the cancer in my body, eating away at me one day at a time. I had more animosity than I had outlets to deal with it. It was violent, welling, and without direction.

I even started to feel a poignant resentment when I looked at my angel-faced children with their entire long lives sprawled out in front of them. When I screamed at my daughter for wanting to stay out past curfew for a movie with her friends, I knew I had to regain control over myself; I knew my defect was starting to show.

I could not waste my remaining time flailing around in my anguish. I just needed a focus, some way to consummate all the anger relentlessly pounding through me.

It was not fair. I did not deserve cancer. I could think of so many people just in my little life who had earned this demise much more exquisitely than I had. Like my coworker who slipped twenties out of her register and into her pockets every shift. Like my son’s math teacher who clearly spiked his coffee all day long and shepherded children while drunk.

Like my asshole husband who was pumping his dick into his personal trainer twice a week and strutting around our house so proud of getting away with it, as if I was stupid enough not to notice. As if he had ever invested a single second on self-improvement for me.

He deserved cancer. He was cancer, a tumor on our life, the malady infecting our marriage.

I decided I would feel much better about meeting my untimely end if he met his first.

I wanted to give him my cancer. I wanted those malignant growths eating away at his body like they were mine. Unfortunately, cancer requires such an orchestration of physical and environmental variables that I would be dead and rotting long before I could figure it out. I could load him full of my cancerous little cells, but his body might not react; they might not take root as swiftly and fully as they had insisted on doing inside me. If I reached the point I could give him my cancer, actually make him suffer as I was suffering, I could probably cure myself of it.

And then what would it matter?

But he had to suffer. His death had to be slow, painful. Like mine was going to be. It also had to be indirect. Getting caught didn’t ultimately matter in the scheme of my timeline, but I wanted to exit my children’s life with angelic light, not as their father’s murderer. They were going to be mad enough that I never told them I had cancer.

Poison. It was all too perfect of an answer. I would poison him the way he poisoned my life, the way he poisoned our marriage.

Focusing on his death made it easier not to think about my own impending doom. I could ignore the pain blooming from the depths of my nerves by concentrating on the misery I would finally be administering to him. It was the answer, and I felt in my tainted guts that it was right. He would get what he deserved, and I would get to vent all the wretched hate, resentment, and pain trapped in my cancerous little shell.

I had no idea how to go about poisoning someone; however, I did have the common sense to not jump on the internet and Google it. Search history and whatever my son would babble about before shutting the door to his bedroom, only the glow of the computer screen spilling out from under the door. It didn’t necessarily have to be untraceable; I would not be alive to question and detain. With the speed of government, even if someone suspected, I would probably be cold before they got around to really investigating.

It just needed to work and be easily acquired. I kept it simple and cliché. I found old rat poison that still had arsenic in it. I didn’t even have to buy any; we had some stuffed in the back corner of the garage from that one spring early in our marriage that rats decided to take up residence in our ceiling. He had bought his own poison those years ago, and now it had come full circle. And I knew exactly where to put it.

I sprinkled this ancient rat poison in his protein powder, the bullshit supplement he drank religiously after “working out” with his personal trainer sex toy each session. I did not add a lot. Not enough to taste through the fake chocolate peanut butter flavoring. I was sure once he mixed it with almond milk or whatever the hell she told him to suck down, he would have no idea.

With any luck, he would share his delicious protein shake with the taunt little bitch.

And he didn’t notice. Day by day, he just got a little weaker, a little paler. His cocky strut deflated the more he began to double over with the nausea and vomiting or around the cramps from the diarrhea. I watched him brush his hair in the morning, squinting as he lifted the brush to the light in front of his face. A tuft of his hair had fallen out. I smiled out of the corner of my mouth as his eyes began to grow more and more sunken into his sagging face.

He looked like he had cancer more than I did.

I could not stop smiling. To myself, of course. After he had gone to another doctor’s appointment to find out why he couldn’t kick whatever flu or virus must have been going around. When the kids were at school and I had the house to myself, mixing up more special protein powder for my loving husband.

My anger seemed sated, my soul calmed. My life felt, at its core, righted. The sicker he became, the more alive I felt, and, ironically, the more acceptant of my incoming departure. I could go happily into that good night knowing he would not be having sex with a twenty year-old personal trainer on top of my grave, knowing my sister would be raising our children rather than him and my infantile replacement.

I cried at his funeral, of course. Such an unexpected cardiac arrest in such a healthy middle-aged man, especially one who used the gym so frequently. I called the tears out of my past. I thought of our wedding day long ago, when I actually loved him and he, perhaps, actually loved me too. I thought of him looking down with such full eyes when he held our first child swaddled in his arms. I thought of the life we were supposed to have back then when we started, before we all became cancerous.

And I cried for my own approaching death. I imagined my children here again so soon, my rotten body in the coffin instead of their unfaithful, poisoned father. I let the tears rain down my cheeks for the life of which I was being robbed, the high school graduations I wouldn’t see, the grandchildren I wouldn’t meet, the places I would never travel.

Only one destination remained for me, and that exit grew closer by the day. I felt my body growing weaker, more infected. I could feel the cancer itself as it spread deeper and deeper toward my center.

I just had to wait. I just had to let it come for me.

The tranquility did not last though. With my husband’s cheating body cold in the dirt, the anger returned. As I marched down the last aisle of my life, that same rejection, that same contempt at the injustice of it all flared up to consume me again, to eat at me more effectively than the cancer itself.

It took my husband one month to die. According to the doctor’s math, I had about three more months left. That gave me enough time to dispatch three more people who deserved an untimely death more than myself, three more times to find that justified peace before it all just went black.

Christina Bergling

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As an author, you do have to crawl into the skin of your character. Often, I simply use myself as the boilerplate. However, when I crafted Emma for The Rest Will Come, I definitely took character study to the next level.

Not only did I base this character on a person in my real life (and her life experiences on several people in my real life), when I was belly dancing in Tennessee in February, I performed as her.

It is always fun to assume a persona on stage, liberating and exciting; however, it was even more entertaining to become a character I had created in my own story. I spent so many months inside her head, crafting and developing her. It was somehow cathartic to put a shovel in her hand and let her undulate and hair toss around the stage.

Not to mention I miss undulating and hair tossing on the stage in general.

I debated whether I ever wanted to publicly share the video of the performance. The internet can be…unforgiving. Ultimately, I decided f— it. It was my first time choreographing anything by myself, and I do like how it turned out, amateurish as it may be.

Ultimately, the performance is probably if Emma met Ronnie but close enough.

I recently had an otherwise innocuous experience dig up some very old and relatively unrelated trauma. Considering the disconnect and the disproportionate emotional surge, I considered this a warning sign and an indication that I should probably finally go and address the issue. I have effectively avoided actually discussing it in 15 years of sporadic therapy.

So I brought it to my current therapist. We exhumed the 17-year-old skeleton and its nearby relatives in the strata of my emotional past. Now, I have been tasked with “forgiving” 17-year-old Christina.

What does this have to do with horror? you may ask. Or writing? Or horror writing? In short, NOTHING. A sane person would probably do all this processing privately on hidden paper. I, however, am an extrovert and an exhibitionist. Besides, if I write something and no one reads it, did I even write it at all?

The idea of forgiving 17-year-old me is oddly unnerving. I think largely because my entire identity and concept of self at that age was defined by self-loathing. My pain bred self-destructive behaviors that caused consequences that inflicted more pain, a little self-fulfilling cycle. And I blamed myself for all of it. I turned all that hate and pain in on her.

But what are her crimes? What do I need to forgive her for?

Sexual assault. This is the beast that was awoken by a doctor bending me over a table to administer my plasma injection. Even now, I hesitate to classify that long-ago incident as a sexual assault. In all honesty, I do not remember what happened. My memory was fractured and hazy then, and it has not improved in 17 years. I know I got very drunk with an older guy I did not know. I know we ended up having some kind of sex. But I do not know what I consented to or did not, and I do not know the extent of what happened. I would not feel comfortable using words like “rape” or “sexual assault” if I wasn’t sure, and I’m just not. But I also don’t know what else to call it.

I knew something was wrong in my reactions though. The guy pursued me heavily afterwards, and whenever he called, I experienced uncharacteristic anxiety. Not nerves, not shame or regret, something near physical panic. Then, when I did actually see him once after, I trembled so uncontrollably that I spilled a shot all over the kitchen trying to take it. This was not embarrassment. This was something else.

Why is this my crime though? I obviously blamed myself. I should not have been there. I should not have drank whatever it was he gave me. I should not have put myself in that situation. But beyond that typical reaction, I think the ambiguity of the circumstances always turned on me. Since I never really knew what happened, I could never resolve if I was a victim or just a stupid girl who consented to something she regretted.

Ultimately, it does not matter. Whether I put myself in a position that got me assaulted or I got blackout drunk and consented to something I did not want to do, it’s not a crime. 17-year-old me made stupid, naïve decisions. She made mistakes, which she learned from. Neither scenario is unforgivable.

Miscarriage. Let’s just note upfront that this offense is unrelated to crime #1. Same year, different circumstances. But I did miscarry a child that same year. I did not know I was pregnant, and it had to be relatively early in the pregnancy.

I blamed myself entirely for this unplanned and unknown accident. I told myself I must have drank the baby to death, that it must have rejected me for some reason. Nevermind that I could barely keep myself alive at the time and would have made the absolute worst mother. It was just another, much larger transgression to beat myself up over.

I did make peace with this one long ago. Maybe even before having my children. I matured into more perspective about pregnancy and circumstances. Occasionally, I will do the mental math on how old my child would be, but largely, I have buried the loss.

Self-mutilation. I would love to say this was a coping device for the previously described traumas. It was not. This behavior predates the majority of this list. That first lighter to my stomach in the parking lot honestly feels like the catalyst to all that followed. The pain was first. The overwhelming, soul crushing, swallowing pain I could not explain or identify. The burning then the cutting was how I coped. And that always felt like a weakness.

And that is always what my father and my friends told me it was.

The practice fractured my personality, creating personas for the victim, abuser, and bystander. Injuring myself turned me on myself, made that self-hate part of who I was. I have not deliberately charred and sliced my own flesh in 15 years, but I would be lying to say that it was not still with me. Right before my recent hamstring injury, I felt a dangerous flirtation with the idea of being hurt.

I got what I deserved for thinking that.

Substances. In the spectrum of drug use, even at my worst, I probably still rank relatively low and mundane. However, it is relatively undeniable that I tried to drink myself to death when I was 17. And even more undeniable that my pursuit of alcohol resulted in a lot of the problems and crimes I’m discussing here.

I was drunk for an entire year. Every single day, no embellishment or hyperbole. I managed to find some way to indulge every day, and sometimes the cost of that resulted in more of the consequences previously discussed. I made extremely stupid and dangerous decisions in pursuit of these substances, and I am fortunate that more awful things did not befall me.

Alcohol and pills were another crutch, another weakness. And so they were another thing for me to judge and condemn myself for. I couldn’t handle my perfectly acceptable life, so I was just a weak addict.

Being crazy. The crux. I think this is what underlies it all. I think this is the ultimate root of this entire list of crimes and infractions, mistakes and regrets. At the time, at that confusing age of 17, I had no idea what was going on in my mind. I did not understand why my emotions raged so extreme and in directions opposite of my stimuli. I could not see when my perceptions were fractured or distorted. I had no perspective on myself, my life, or really anything.

All I knew was that I was broken over nothing. And that seemed like a perfectly reasonable cause to hate myself.

I fought my diagnosis with all I had. The idea of “just being crazy” like my mother, like my family upset me to my core. Everything I was feeling, everything I was had to be more than that. I could not wrap my brain around the idea of being reduced to chemical reactions and learned behaviors.

Now, that I have accepted and integrated the realities of my mind, it seems silly to harbor such resentment at myself over something I have no actual control over. Yet I feel that somewhere deep it still lingers. Maybe under it all, always under it all, I am mad at myself for being crazy. How can I make my insanity such a part of my identity now while resenting myself for it? Perhaps this duality, this contradiction is what binds me to my 17 year-old traumas.

I blame crazy for all the bad things that happened to me, and I blame myself for being crazy. It feels stupid to say yet somehow rings true.

So I guess, in the end, I need to forgive myself simply for being me.

Christina Bergling

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Last weekend, I took myself on a little miniature tour through Tennessee. As with all things in my life, it was a whirlwind.

Initially, this entire trip was planned around attending the Behind the Mask Author Event. I had never previously done a mass book signing event, so when the organizer invited me, I figured, why not? I might as well try it out, investigate and experiment for myself. I selected this particular event because it was located in Nashville, so I could pair it with a visit to Chattanooga.

I lived in Chattanooga for about five years. It has now been five years since I returned home to Colorado. We moved for my husband’s job. I briefly deployed to Iraq with my job then returned to working from our new home, knowing no one. Eventually, by several clever turns of fate, I found the morbid cabaret belly dance troupe (yes, such a thing does miraculously exist) the Corpsewax Dollies. These girls became my community, and dancing with them became my passion.

I leaped at the chance to pair an author event with a more nostalgic visit. Plus, having that time with the Dollies served as a safety net. Even if the signing was a complete, depressing bust, the trip would not have been for nothing. The Dollies then sweetened the deal by planning a show for me to perform in with them and allowed me to dance as my own serial killer Emma (from The Rest Will Come).

Undoubtedly, I have missed the Dollies themselves the most. The sisterhood, the community, their devilishly individual personalities. Yet the lack of the stage and performing in my life has also left a vacancy. A vacancy I never really confronted since I have not performed with them in five years (since my farewell show) and have only done haflas with the teachers I have taken up with back in Colorado. My performance life was never grand or exceptionally successful, but there is simply something different about dancing on a stage versus dancing in a classroom.

Between the book signing in Nashville and performing in Chattanooga, the trip became something of a mini author/dancer tour.

I flew into Nashville on Thursday night. The travel in itself was quite the adventure. I ended up stuck in traffic mere miles from the Denver airport when a truck ahead of us overturned. Then I spent almost two hours on the tarmac waiting for the plane to be deiced. Once we actually flew and landed, the Nashville baggage throwers jammed the carousel with our bags. A semi trailer blazed in full flames on my drive down to Chattanooga in the fog. A surreal comedy of minor errors.

But I did make it.

Even from the first steps off the plane, things felt very strange on this trip. When we lived in Tennessee and traveled, my husband used to say that the minute we hit Tennessee airspace, my disposition changed (read: I became a bitch). In this same way, when I exited the airport, it felt almost as if I had never left, as if I hadn’t left a life in Colorado to return. I have returned to Tennessee before this, and it has felt like picking up where I left off, but nothing like this amnesic feel. However, I dismissed it and carried on.

On my first day back in the Dirty South, I met my first and former running mate (the Dolly I was staying with) on the Riverwalk for a run. After I had my daughter, she had been the unfortunate victim who took up running with me. We spent countless mornings and an untold sum of hours jogging up and down that riverwalk. In the dark. In the rain. In the heat. Like dance with the Dollies, the activity became foundational. Running remains so for me now.

After the run, I met with Ricky Davis of TRD Photography to get new author headshots. After all, I have not been orange for some time now, so my current ones seem a bit like a lie. I figured might as well get them refreshed with a photographer I knew from back when I utterly sucked at “modeling.”

That night, dress rehearsal. Back in the studio with the Dollies preparing for the show, just like old times. The experience was strangely gut-wrenching. Simultaneously, I felt the vivid joy at being back and the searing pain at knowing it was fleeting. I felt welcomed and included yet inevitably on the outside. The contrast, the duality was visceral. I couldn’t stop smiling, and I also wanted to cry. I simply savored every moment of it.

Saturday was the epicenter of the trip, the author event itself. One Dolly and I got up painfully early and drove back to Nashville. Navigating the venue and parking and unpacking and locating the event was laughable clusterfuck, but, again, we made it. She was instrumental in getting me where I needed to be, especially when I kept sending her back to the car for everything I forgot.

When we walked in to the ballroom and looked over the other tables, I knew I did not belong at this event. Most tables boasted huge standing signs advertising the author’s name. From the macro pictures of chiseled male abdomens and pink calligraphy of the font on these signs, from the chapstick lined up and chocolate strewn over the tables, I knew I had stepped out of my genre. Somehow, I had ended up at a romance author book signing.

One might argue that The Rest Will Come is a dark romantic comedy. One could say that sexual tension is at the root of Savages. One might even try to argue that The Waning offers an extremely twisted love story. I would say that a romance reader would not agree on any of these points. I knew I was incongruent; I just did not know if it would be a good thing to stand out or not. I did not know what to expect from any of it.

In the morning, the readers steadily trickled through. I sold a book here or there. Many potential customers wrinkled their noses and walked faster once they realized that horror graced my table. I did have some delightful conversations regardless.

The crowd dwindled around lunch time, and instead, restless authors began roaming the booths. These romance authors seemed quite excited about what I offered in The Rest Will Come. I ended up selling more books to other attending authors or their support crews than any person who bought a ticket.

The afternoon monotony was salvaged by the arrival of more Dollies. They arrived to buy a good chunk of my books and keep me company. By this point, authors had abandoned all professionalism, walking between booths to talk other events, drinking bottles of wine or eating at their tables. I elected not to wander but still connected to a few kindred spirits and was annoyed by others.

The book signing event finally rounded to a anticlimactic close; however, it went better than I anticipated. Not as well as I could have hoped or dreamed, but I ended up selling about half of my books, enough to not have to ship them home. I had feared I would not sell a single book, so I considered this result a win.

The Dollies and I retired to our hotel room to drink and prepare for the masquerade ball that was a part of the author event.

The masquerade ball was terrible. We arrived an hour late to find less than ten people sitting idle at tables in the dark, barely even speaking. The provided food was minuscule, and the drinks were grievously overpriced. We ate the miniature food and had a weak drink. We watched the DJ fail at enlivening the crowd. By the time we bailed, there were maybe 20-30 people there, but the entire thing felt like a flat wedding reception. Free booze and sleep at the hotel was much more appealing.

Sunday, back to Chattanooga! Admittedly, my brain was a bit raw from the event. After so much unknown and anticipation to see if it would break my author heart, I felt overstimulated, maybe emotionally hungover. Then, I also spent some time driving around the city by myself, which allowed strange feelings to swell over me. The nostalgia became paralytic at times. In the quiet, I was confronted by shapeless emotions I had not anticipated. I did not know how I felt, only that I felt. A lot.

Yet there was no time for all that. Sunday night was the show.

This serial killer show was held at the same venue where I participated in the majority of performances during my time. Despite the name change and some fresh paint, it remained largely unchanged. Once again, this was somehow both comforting and upsetting, forcing my mind to awkwardly straddle the past and the present.

After crawling into someone’s head to craft the character of Emma, it was ridiculously fun to pick a dark anthem for her then fetish her up into a costume. I ended up looking like some gothic lumberjack with a bloody shovel, but I don’t think I would have cast her any other way as a Dolly. With my bloody shovel, I danced to a solo I choreographed myself. More nerve-wracking than dancing to someone else’s!

It was a blast. All of it. I managed to not completely mangle the dances I was in, even those learned over a tiny screen and Google Hangouts. Even if I did mess up, I didn’t care. I just laughed and kept dancing, kept watching, kept cheering.

Afterwards, the Dollies put on a fire show in the parking lot. I definitely wish I had been around when they started playing with fire. It was amazing to watch.

Then it was tearful goodbyes in the parking lot and a midnight run to Waffle House.

On Monday, it was over. All the Dollies were at work and back at their lives as I packed myself up and headed back to the Nashville airport. From the moment I woke up (after not much sleep), my head was an absolute disaster. Though I had imbibed the night before, I do not think I was hungover. I managed to rouse with zero physical symptoms, and I did not feel drunk at the time. However, my memories for the previous night were scattered and fractured. I would say definitely drunk except this effected lasted until I napped on the plane.

This oddity was unnerving in itself, but it was also coupled with the most crippling depression I have felt in months. The emotional surge went so far as to affect me physically. I felt like I could not breathe, like I should not move. This is not entirely unfamiliar, but it has been so long since the depression reached so deep. Again, this could be attributed to alcohol, but it hinted once I hit Nashville and had no accompanying hangover.

I drove past my old house and managed to make it worse. I am not sure why. I miss the Dollies, but I do not think I miss living in the South or that house in particular. Though my husband and I had my daughter and became a family there. Perhaps it was the swell of memories on a vulnerable mind. Perhaps it was that many of those memories are edged in pain and depression akin to what I was feeling. I cannot accurately say because my mind’s narrative was so splintered as I was experiencing it.

Whatever was happening made my travel home excruciating. The logistics themselves were fine. I arrived to the airport early. My flight was on time. I had a lovely friend willing to pick me up. All of that was easy, but my experience of it was terrible. I felt like I was barely holding it together the entire time.

Again, I am honestly not sure why. I used to feel somewhat similar (turned WAY down) when I would visit Colorado while living in Tennessee. I have returned to the Dollies before and do always feel these feelings (turned WAY down). I don’t have an explanation as to why emotions ran so high this time. Did I dissociate? Did I depersonalize? What happened? I only know it has taken me almost four days to resurface.

All told, the trip was a rollercoaster. Emotionally more than anything. Yet I would not trade a single moment. Even the darkest moments made the pleasant ones burns all the more bright. I am still glowing. And maybe crying too.

As far as authoring, I think I learned some valuable lessons. My first publishing contract included a marketing class, to teach us to sell our own books. One basic premise was to not do BOOK things. Don’t do book events or book venues or anything centered around books. The idea being that you place yourself in direct competition with other books. Instead, it would be more advantageous to be the only book where your target audience might be.

After this experience, I can see it. I think I agree completely. But I needed to try it. I needed to experience it and learn for myself. Now, I know. Now, I have other ideas of what to do and try.

Tennessee the mini tour, totally worth it.

Christina Bergling

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