Posts Tagged ‘fear’

Every writer has common themes around which their brains and hence stories fixate. If you read any author long enough, you will see the same turns of phrase, images, scenarios. You can even chronologically identify a work based on the author’s fixations at the time, like stratifications in an excavation.

I am no exception. I catch my own duplications, my own redundancies, my own favorites. If I take myself out of the writing and look at it objectively, I can identify my own tendencies. A reoccurring theme that has been emerging in my own writing is bad things happening to children. Even in the horror genre, this is an odd path to which to commit. Especially repeatedly.

My first book has a baby in the apocalypse. I wrote a Christmas horror short about a pedophilic Santa Claus. I recently drafted a piece about a monster after a newborn.

As a mother of young children, people ask why I would write about such a topic? Hell, I ask myself. Often.

For me, writing horror is an outlet, as in venting things OUT. I write about the darkness already in my brain to get it out and off of my mind. I document my fears, my worst imaginings. I draft the ultimate worst case scenarios out of anything I could worry about. And as a mother of young children, what keeps me up nights is the idea of anything bad happening to my children.

Some times, many times, my own work disturbs me. The Santa Claus story was especially unnerving at parts, just like writing The Waning (which fortunately had no children involved). Yet while the fact that these ideas are in my head and the act of extracting them is alarming at times, I almost always feel better to have them out on the page.

My most recent story experience, writing about the monster after the newborn, was extremely cathartic for me. I have had that idea floating around my head, haunting my subconscious since my daughter (now 6 years old) was a newborn. It continually resurfaced and nagged me, especially when my son was then a newborn. But now it is out of me. Though the story is not finalized, submitted, or accepted anywhere (yet), it is still a relief to have it on the page.

Another new theme has emerged in my style since submitting to so many horror anthologies. Historically, I always prefer to ground myself in “real” horror, in that it is not supernatural or creature horror. I like to use the real (currently understood) world as my stage and showcase the horrors that already exist there. People are the monsters.

Yet, with these recent shorts, I feel myself veering hard into creature horror. Supernatural monsters and all the things I usually try to avoid. And, even more surprising, I think it is working really well. My childhood of Goosebumps and Stephen King books is permeating my themes. My history is showing.

Maybe I was just limiting myself all along but confining myself to the real. I do not shy away from brutal, disturbing themes and premises. Why should I avoid supernatural or creatures? Especially when it is working.

This might be a change, an evolution in my writing. I will have to see what comes out of me next, where the next project takes me.

 

Christina Bergling

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So many times I have watched a horror movie or read a horror book and said to myself (or my viewing partners) what I would have done better in the terrifying situation. Of course I would not run up the stairs with my oversized breasts bobbing in my face from the methodically slow-walking serial killer pursuing me. Of course I would not trip and fall at the most inopportune moment as I ran in a blind panic through the woods in the dark.

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From the comfort of my safe couch, of course I would not be scared stupid.

However, in reality, can I really say these things? Can I really forecast how my brain would operate when awash with fear and instinctual responses? Would I be any smarter than those horror characters who are written in just to populate the body count?

I would like to assume I would be smarter, that I would be final girl level intelligent and crafty. However, in honest and reality, I do not know. There is no way to predict your own fear response, no way to truly gauge what a situation will do to your mind and behavior.

I thought about this idea a lot while I was writing The Waning.

In The Waning, I put my protagonist in a cage. I created a strong, smart, independent, powerful, if not unsympathetic woman and had her locked up in a metal box for a long and painful time. I wanted my narrator to be fearless in her normal life because the story, to me, in an examination of what prolonged fear does to her.

Artwork by Phil Beachler, the Graphics Smith

Artwork by Phil Beachler, the Graphics Smith

As I was writing, I thought about all the things I would do. If a person locked me in a cage in the dark, would I scream? Would I fight? Would I cry? I tell myself I would fight. I would never stop fighting. I would fight until it freed or killed me. That is what I want to believe, and maybe under the right circumstances, it would be true.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I wrote the graphic scenes of captivity and torture, the more I started to doubt it. Humans, as a species, are conditioned by painful and negative stimuli. There are few things more painful or negative than torture, isolation, and captivity. How many punches in the face would I actually take before I stopped getting up? If I’m honest with myself, it could be as few as two.

Artwork by Phil Beachler, the Graphics Smith

Artwork by Phil Beachler, the Graphics Smith

On the other hand, perhaps one would gain a tolerance for pain and violence? That phenomena is just as psychologically valid as operant conditioning. Maybe if I spent months in a cage, the cage would not seem like torture any more. Maybe at a certain point, it would become familiar, comforting even. But at that point, would I have any fight in me, or would I have been changed by the pain and the fear?

I think it is easy to sit from the comfort and safety of my couch and forecast how I would behave under the worst of circumstances. We all do it. It is natural to imagine ourselves in the situations we see or hear or read about, and it natural to think the best of ourselves as we view with a cool head. Yet my own life experiences have shown me that I do not always exhibit final girl behavior. More often than not, I, like the many stupid characters I chastise, behave like serial killer bait.

Years ago, my boyfriend’s house was routinely burglarized. He traveled for work, and while he was away, I checked his mail, fed his fish, and so on. On more than one occasion, I arrived at the house after it had been broken into. Did I wait outside and call the police? Did I even hesitate, thinking the perpetrator might still be inside? No. I walked right in like a stupid white girl in a horror movie.

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More than once.

Then, while I was working as a contractor in Iraq, I got the slightest taste of war, or the peripherals thereof. My exposure was extremely minimal, as I deployed after contractors were regulated to the military bases. What was common place, though, were rocket attacks. In my first couple weeks, I was sitting in a DFAC (dining facility) with my coworkers. The rocket sirens started blaring. The TCNs (third country nationals) flew out from the kitchen; people started climbing under the tables. I stood somewhat shocked, somewhat confused, and looked to my coworkers for direction. One of them said to me, “If a rocket hits this place, a table isn’t going to save you.”

And we sat there and ate until the sirens stopped.

In both cases, my reactions were either not smart or not what I expected. I would have thought I was smart enough to not walk into a house where someone could be lurking. I would have thought rocket sirens would be me under the table. Neither were the case.

If I had to generalize, I would have to say my default fear response is hesitant observation. I try to evaluate the situation to make sure it is happening; I might be in denial. I try to think my way through panic or talk myself out of it. Yet that is not always the case, and I cannot say that I could guess at what I would do at the mercy of my own fear in different situations.

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And that is what I find fascinating. The unpredictability of human behavior in the face of fear. That is why I wrote an entire book about what fear and pain could do to a woman.

What do you do when you are scared? What does fear do to your behavior?

 

Christina Bergling

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SavagesCoverChristinaSavages

Two survivors search the ruins of America for the last strain of humanity. Marcus believes they are still human; Parker knows her own darkness. Until one discovery changes everything.

Available now on Amazon!
savagesnovella.com

TheWaning_CoverThe Waning, coming July 2015

Beatrix woke up in a cage. Can she survive long enough to escape, or will he succeed at breaking her down into a possession?

Available now on Amazon!
thewaning.com

Horror Imagery

Posted: March 11, 2015 in horror
Tags: , , , , , , ,

(I have been woefully slacking on this blog, I know. Life surged up and kept me overly distracted. Now, back to the important business of horror…)

One scene. One image. One thing that truly affected you. Widened your eyes, caught your breath in your throat, brought your hand over your mouth. A picture that climbed under your skin and made a home in the back of your brain.

Something that haunted you long after the image faded from your retinas.

I watched Hellraiser for the first time last week. I know, I was gravely deficit in my horror history by not indulging it until now. Yet at my more mature age (I was 4 when it was originally released) and my expanded horror expertise, I feel like I could more fully appreciate the horror brilliance of it.

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And the brilliance of Hellraiser lies mostly in its imagery. Frank, from the point of his resurrection onward, is visually impressive. His initial resurrection scene enthralled me. His creature clawing after his victim was completely unnerving. I was dazzled, and the film lingered with me.

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That effect, that successful bit of horror got me thinking about horror as a genre. To me, the ultimate purpose of media in the horror genre is to evoke a fear-based reaction in the audience. By definition, what you see (whether with your eyes or with your mind) should be frightening or disturbing.

When I craft horror, I definitely (attempt to) lean heavily on these ideas. With my book, Savages, I aim to make my reader uncomfortable with the terrifying savagery hiding under our humanity, personifying it with a crucified sacrifice. With my book, Ode to Master (working title, soon to be retitled!), I climb into vivid detail of skin removal, hoping to make my audience’s skin cringe at the words.  With any luck, I am successful, but I rely heavily on creating horror through images.

When I think back through the library of horror exposure in my memory, there are a few stark images that stay with me.

From reading horror, it is Gerald’s Game. Unfortunately, my brain tends to offload the details of a book very quickly after I finish it. I can remember if I liked it or if I thought it was amazing, but the specific scenes fade away. I wish they did not, but gray matter real estate seems to be at a premium these days. Yet one image from Gerald’s Game lingers with me. Jessie is handcuffed to the bed after her husband dies. Eventually, she lubricates her hand with her own blood to attempt to free it from the cuff. Complete with skin peeling. My hands crawl just typing the glimpse. That picture lives in my nerves.

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I have seen numerous horror movies, good and bad. I have cringed; I have laughed. I could probably list plenty of disturbing scenes and gory flashes. Yet the first one that comes to mind is the baby removal scene in Inside. Thankfully, I had not had children by the time I viewed said scene because, after two babies, I cringe at the mere recall of that bloody mess. Again, I feel the memory of the image in my body.

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These are just two, the first two on the crest of my brain. Yet they are burned deep behind my eyes.

What horror image haunts you best?

Winter Horror

Posted: December 18, 2014 in horror, writing
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The silence of the snow was smothering. The large, slow flakes and the mounds of fluffy powder appeared soft, but I only felt the edge of the cold infiltrating my layers, bristling against my contracting skin.

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My heart was beating so hard I could hear my pulse knocking in my ears. My heaving breaths plumed out in front of me in the dark night air. I could not hide them; I could not contain my own escaping heat.

It would find me. It would be able to hear me, to see me.

My fingers were trembling against the bark. I had not noticed I was clinging to the trunk of a tree desperately. I caught myself and tried to pry myself from its embrace, but it was just too sturdy, too constant against me. Yet my fingertips shifting against the rough bark made a small sound against the heavy night.

A sound it could hear.

I was at a loss with my frozen feet shuttering and sunken in the deep tree well beside my wooden pillar of feigned safety. I could feel the weight of the snow pressing down on my boots; I could feel the compound cold of the heaped snow penetrating the fabrics deeper and deeper. The cold was making a home in me, teaching my cells a new and frigid language.

Then I heard it, over my own heartbeat, over my own panting breaths, over the thick silence of winter: the slow deliberate compaction, the crunch as the powdered snow was smashed down under weight. Footsteps, slow and in the distance, moving closer.

If my heart could have seized in my chest, it would have stopped beating. I felt my entire chest contract, wrapping tightly until concave around the anxiety swelling in my belly. I froze and held the fog of my breath in my lungs until my lips began to quiver.

I could not hide in the dark with the way the moon ignited the snow blanketed on the ground and fluttering down through the air. I could not find refuge with the tree trunks and branches barren like skeletal limbs. Any step on the virgin snow would betray me, announce me to its keen ears.

It was waiting for me to make such a mistake.

The footsteps were getting closer. The methodical puncture of the untouched snow was becoming deafening. I sneaked breaths out of the corner of my mouth and tried to send the curling heat against the trunk of the tree so as not to broadcast it in the contrast against the black air.

I could not take it. I could not just wait for it to find me. It was getting too close.

My instincts swelled up inside me, reached out into my limbs, pulsing adrenaline through every vein.I shoved my palms against the abrasive tree trunk and began to run without direction. My feet plunged into the soft snow; my legs were swallowed up. I tumbled forward and clawed at the cold snow, digging my way forward sloppily.

I left a cavernous path behind me, leading straight to my pathetic attempt to flee. Steam curled like smoke signals into the night above my position. I was a blur of heaving breaths, scraping hands, and sloppy steps.

I was an advertisement for my own demise.

And as I broke from the twisted skeletons of the trees into a blank clearing of only windblown snow, it saw me. Our eyes met across the pall radiating from the white world, mine wide and crazed and its red and demonically glowing.

The beast cast a haunting shadow across the glittering snow, broad heaving shoulders, lean and powerful legs, gnarled and pointed antlers. Large puffs of smoke curled around its drooling muzzle and through its sharp rack as it grunted at me rhythmically. Even in just the moonlight, I could see the blood dripping slow and thick from the tips of the antlers.

Jacob’s blood.

Jacob’s screams behind me as I heard his ribs shatter and collapse, as I hear the air wheeze out of him.

I did not stay to watch as I fled to my lonely tree trunk in the dark.

It did not need to move; I knew this was the end. I could never outrun the beast in its habitat, as it hunted me so naturally. I looked up into the cold and distant stars then closed my eyes to hear the hoof falls escalate to a gallop towards me.

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This was a glimpse of winter horror. My book, Savages, paints a picture of apocalyptic horror.

What would be the scariest winter horror for you?