Posts Tagged ‘writing’

As some of you may recall, I recently talked at a couple schools about writing. It started out innocently enough, just volunteering at my daughter’s school as part of their readathon and helping out a friend teaching Technical Writing for the first year. Then a teacher with whom I often share the zumba dance floor heard about it and asked if I would speak to her class too.

I agreed, of course, thinking talking to another high school class would be easy. Especially talking about horror writing versus technical writing. The middle school aged group had gone so well, been so engaged and fun, that I was willing to try again. Plus my editor always insists that any promotion or publicity is good. After all, I thought it was just one more class.

Oh, no. No no no.

At some point between the request and fulfilment, it became like a real thing. By the time we were finalizing details, I was slated to speak in an auditorium all seven periods of the day, talking to 29 classes totalling about 900 students.

Insert my utter panic.

I am not entirely sure why I was so intimidated. I definitely do not enjoy public speaking; I do not have any particular talent for it. It makes me nervous to stand up in front of a group but nothing close to anxiety. I got over it every time I had to stand up in front of soldiers to train them, even when I had no idea what I was talking about.

The auditorium, the size of the audience, and the multiple speeches surely upped the ante, but as scary as they could be, these were all good things.

So, like a true writer, I gooogled the word count I needed for a thirty minute speech, and I wrote the entire thing out. I showed up at the high school, my nerves vibrating under my skin, with my entire speech printed. I even wrote it in my speaking voice rather than my writing voice (because they are very different).

The teachers were overwhelmingly welcoming. They were genuinely excited to have me there and have me speaking, and that felt amazing. I began to tell myself I could do this; I was going to do this. Under my nerves, I knew the itching anxious feeling was normal, part of it that would pass.

It was intimidating up on that stage, under those lights. My husband mocked me beforehand, saying I could not possibly be jittered over talking to some high schoolers when I have belly danced in front of hundreds of people over the years. Speaking has always just been so different from dance, a different part of the brain and my emotions. Plus, I think I am better at dancing than public speaking (it would not be hard).

That first period was rough. I clung to my printed speech like my life depended on it. I awkwardly paced the stage like a sedated jungle cat. I lived for the cough drop keeping my ill throat lubricated.

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But I made it.

I kept my speech rather basic. I introduced myself, explained I was a horror writer there to talk about writing. I started with how I was inspired to write in elementary school and sort of chronologically walked through my writing career. At this point, I could see the gaping yawns and bobbling heads.

Then my speech took a hard turn. I pulled out my battle with depression, my failed suicide attempt, my bipolar diagnosis, How to Kill Yourself Slowly. Then I suddenly had their attention. I could almost gauge the shock when my narrative changed–sort of, did she really just say that? Is she really talking about that?

I cannot tell my writing journey without including those aspects. My writing, my work does not exist without my broken brain that produces it or my unsavory life experiences that have shaped it. It would feel inauthentic for me to leave it out and speak about my books sterilely.

So I poured out my black, little heart all over the auditorium stage, and I talked to these high schoolers the same as I would to anyone else (minus the normal slathering of curse words and a few punches pulled to stay in bounds on hot topics like suicide). To my mind, if I could decide to try to kill myself at 12, how could I talk to them like children who had never experienced anything? Age 17 was the most formative in my life, and that is right where they are right now. It had to be the raw honesty.

After that chunk, I continued on my little story of being published and being an author as a side job, all the basics of my books and what they involve. Then I opened it up for questions.

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Q&A is my favorite part. I enjoy the questions; I do far better with them than giving a speech. The interaction keeps me out of my own head. The kids were really fun to chat with. They asked me a range of questions, from the canned questions their teachers expected reports on to just random things like my favorite color or favorite Walking Dead character (Negan, currently). They asked about my family, my kids reading my horror writing, why I would write if it didn’t make money, all the things I might write in the future.

After many sessions, I had kids come up and talk to me one-on-one. Some wanted to talk about their writing or being sent to the counseling center for it (been there!). Some wanted to talk about their favorite book franchise. Some just wanted to talk.

I think I got better and better with each delivery of the speech. I at least became less dependant on my notes. Though it was just utterly exhausting. By the last two periods, I was giving my speech while sitting on the steps to the stage. Maybe not very professional but it is what I needed. I do not know how teachers do it.

Overall, I think it went really well. I ended up enjoying the experience completely. The teachers were awesome to work with. The kids were fun to interact with. It was surreal to walk the halls and have them whisper about who I was as I passed. The pseudo celebrity experience is still just strange for me. Mostly fun though.

I think I started to forget that getting published really means something. It has been two years, nearly exactly, since Savages was released. It took me months to come to happy terms with the fact that it actually happened, that the dream had come true. Yet in those two years, I have become complacent with my new reality, writing and promoting every day, comparing myself to every blindingly successful author. This experience reminded me that it is something, that it does matter. Even if just to me, it matters.

It is also awkward for me to consider myself now a public speaker, talking to kids about anything. Part of me wonders if I have anything worthy to say to an audience, the same part of me that wonders if I have any writing worth publishing. Yet I keep writing, so I will keep doing this as well, as long as I am invited.

I have already been invited back to this school, and ultimately, if my silly little talk inspires one kid to write or deal better with being depressed or anything, I will happily continue to do it for free. And if it helps me sell books, all the better.

 

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

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

Earlier this week, I stood up in front of classes of 6-8th graders and talked about being a published horror author. The experience was pretty amazing, far more fun and impactful than I really expected.

The children were very excited to have me there and to broach the subject of horror in their classroom. I gave maybe a two minute introduction; then they asked me questions for an hour and a half. Hands still lingered in the air when the class ended.
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I would have stayed and talked to them as long as they wanted.
They were hungry to talk about the darkness. We discussed the best zombie origin lore (they were thrilled I brought up The Walking Dead as inspiration). We talked about how often I kill my characters and why. We touched on depression in writing. They wanted to know about my process and inspirations and methods and future plans. I got a lot of “would you ever write about…” questions. They asked me pretty much everything.
When we were discussing my favoring of psychological horror, I told them I like to focus on the internal experience of my characters, their emotional journey. I told them I liked to torture my characters from the inside out. They asked me why and what scared me the most. I told them, my own mind.
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I stood in front of a class of 50 young strangers and told them I was bipolar. I never intended to go there, to bring up that part of my life, yet I said it just as naturally as I discussed my first writing unit in 4th grade.
And when they asked what I wanted to write about but was hesitant, I told them bipolar again.
I don’t love public speaking. Often when I stand up in front of a group to train them, my mind blanks out. I am always less eloquent standing in the front than I am on the page or even sitting within the group. Yet, this was easy. Everything about this interaction was simple and honest and comfortable.
As a bipolar person, you usually learn or are encouraged to keep your condition under wraps. Since mental issues are largely an invisible disability, you are supposed to play sane, medicate or hide your symptoms, and pretend you are just as well and normal as everyone around you. Especially when it comes to employers, as to avoid the possibility of discrimination.
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No one wants to be branded as crazy. Then treated that way.
I have failed at that approach the majority of my career. And I don’t regret it.
When I was in college, I did work study at the campus art gallery. Since art is a field where deviant minds are embraced if not celebrated, I was able to be honest with my boss, the gallery manager, about my condition. I was freshly diagnosed and in some of the most turbulent times of learning my disorder. It was formatively comforting to be able to struggle honestly and get support and understanding at work. When the gallery manager killed himself years later, a part of me died with him for all he had done for me at a time I really needed it.
However, when I joined the professional world, I tucked that away. I never really muted my behavior, just never volunteered the explanation. I let people think I was eccentric or volatile or emotional and just made sure it never interfered with the work.
There was no hiding in Iraq though. When I went to Iraq for three months for work, it was rough on me. As an unmedicated bipolar, I use routine to stabilize my cycles. Yet I had just moved across the country to a place I did not want to live; I was half the world away from my partner, who served greatly as a balancing influence for me; I was in a place that intimidated me in nearly every way possible. I was too busy trying to keep myself mentally afloat to even give half a care to what others could perceive.
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And more than just me, everyone seemed pretty raw over there. Aside from it being a warzone, many people elected to work there to avoid some sort of damage at home. And even for the most balanced individual, when you have no personal life and spend every hour with your coworkers, you can’t really hide much.
At least I couldn’t. Stateside management found my blog at the time and became concerned I was going to crack. My boss had to sit me down and assess my mental status. After nearly every single post went live. I chose to be honest with him and in him found another ally. He trusted me to be who I was and handle what I needed, and that faith was empowering.
After that, I did not care who knew or when.
I have been fortunate in my professional experience of my illness. I have been lucky enough to work for empathetic, equitable employers. I am also good enough at what I do that my work speaks louder than my other labels.
I blog under my real name now, linked very clearly to all my author activities. I talk about bipolar on the open internet and public profiles. In the end, being who I am and talking about it for other people in the same situation means more to me than the safety in secrecy. I have never done secrecy well in my life.
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I have been thinking about this a lot because of how it felt to have a conversation with these children and because of where my head has been the past week. I have been in a strange state the past few days, a mixed state. Mixed episodes, which for me is experiencing a blend of mania and depression simultaneously, are extremely rare. I think I may have had two other experiences in my life, both dating back to before my children.
It is hard for me to describe how the mixed state feels, which is saying something as I am a person who describes things for a living and a hobby. It just feels like EVERYTHING. I’m hyper sensitive, hyper aroused. Every sense is on full blast, cutting on edge. Colors are brighter; sounds are louder; my skin feels like it is going to vibrate off my bones. At first, it feels like amplified mania, but then there is the depression. I am perpetually on the edge. The pain is blended into all the highs. I feel amazing and horrible at the same time. I slam between elation and torture in milliseconds. Sensations and feelings fly around so fast I can’t even gauge them.
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The peak of this particular episode was pretty intense for me. I got to the point where I could not physically hold still. My thoughts were racing. I had a song stuck in my head, but it was playing at triple tempo.  My nerves were so sensitive I could barely be touched. And, if I am being completely honest with myself, I loved it as much as I feared and hated it. I knew it was temporary; I knew it was a cycle. I let myself truly experience the intensity. Yet that was the crescendo. Even in my flurried state, I managed to put myself to bed and wake up more balanced.
It was a beautiful kind of pain, a sublime kind of suffering. When it passed, it was a relief, yet it also left a void. Everything felt dulled and quiet and disappointing even.
So as the vivid extremes recede, I find myself just introspective, locked in the internal cycle of evaluating my own mind. And how, on most days, I love the horror of it.

Christina Bergling

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facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
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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

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

Where have I been lately? What have I been doing these past months? Why have I sucked horrendously at this whole blogging, social networking business? Aside from my day job, my family, and my workout obsession, BOOK #3!

Technically, this is the third book I have completed in three years. Additionally, this third book is my first full-length novel, doubling the length of either Savages or The Waning. I wrote Savages when I only had my daughter and The Waning mostly while I was still pregnant with my son. The authoring process became much more complicated with two children, who are now old enough to have their own schedules, plus the addition of my own new fixations.

This book was also a unique writing experience because it was assembled from a collection of real life influences. I made people in my life into characters in the book (myself included, even more so than in Savages), and I used these people’s actual life experiences as suggestions for portions of the plot. These people were also involved in the process, both by providing me with inspirations and reading over the book itself to provide feedback. This difference made the process much more interactive. On more than one occasion, I sat and had heated debates about realistic ways to dispose of a body. It more fun than I expected, to share the experience and my craft.

So the process took longer than normal, both because distractions were more prevalent and because the process itself was different, but last week, I completed my submission draft. Now, the book is off of my laptop, out in the world in the hands of my editor, being evaluated for publication. My fingers, toes, and anything else I have are tightly crossed.

I have a couple new ideas batting around the edges of my mind, yet I also think I might need a bit of a BREAK to recoup my creative abilities. Maybe I’ll even come up with an entertaining blog post or two…

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
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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

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

Thankful

Posted: November 25, 2015 in real life, writing
Tags: , , , ,

I am going to get a little cliche for the season here. I generally abstain from the contrived November posting about everything I am thankful for. Yet, this year, on this blog, I am going to make an exception. A lot has happened in the past year.

Last December, Assent Publishing released my first book, Savages. On Christmas, I learned it had reached best seller numbers in Amazon categories. I hosted a very successful launch party for it in January.

Then, in July, my second book, The Waning, also came out and also hit best seller numbers in Amazon categories.

My oldest dream came true when I became published. I am thankful for the publisher who saw something in my work and made these books a released reality.

I am thankful for my readers, my fans, my friends, my followers, my critics. I have met so many people who share my various loves, who, for whatever reason, find something in my work. I am thankful to be in a position to have any of these things.

The support I have received from the people in my life and the people who have encountered my writing has been so encouraging. I am thankful to warrant such investment.

If your eyes are on this, I am thankful for you and the two minutes you took to read this.

And so ends the mush. Now back to darker things!

cannibal-thanksgiving-fb

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
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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

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

I have written about it before. I wrote a confession of my past, present, and future readings for Confessions of a Reviewer. I reviewed the Goosebumps movie on MoviePilot. Yet doing both those things has but the examination of my horror influences in my brain. My thoughts swirl and fixate on the horror writings that have made an impression on me.

The Goosebumps movie really unearthed these strings in my mind, resurrecting a menagerie of my childhood monsters onto the silver screen in front of me. I had been so anxious and so curious to see how Goosebumps would take the screen. I read at least 50 of the books in my youth and watched any of the TV adaptations I came across. I did not know how they could capture the series instead of just capturing one plotline.

I was pleasantly surprised by the cleverness of the plot. I will not regurgitate my review here again, but the amalgamation pleased me and permitted me to wallow in my own nostalgia. The same way I basked in flashbacks when I dug out all my paperback copies to show my daughter.

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(I love her little ermahgerd face, btw.)

Goosebumps were definitely my first definitive horror influence. Something about them spoke to me. I devoured the books whole as soon as they showed up in the store. I found myself transfixed by the fear, attracted to the light shade of darkness. Reading the books felt like home.

My horror ingestion just grew and evolved from there, but Goosebumps and Halloween were the start, the seed in the perverse dirt of my mind.

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Goosebumps taught me to put fear and horror in the every day, even my childhood life.

The next logical progression was Stephen King. I followed the well-trodden mainstream path of horror development. King, like R. L. Stine, provided an exhaustive library to choose from.  I dove in as deep as my adolescent eyes could take me.

Different Seasons taught me to infuse stories with deep, relateable emotion. Gerald’s Game taught me to fill subtly with fear and tension.

From there, I sampled far and wide. I read the classics. I began indulging horror movies and their various adaptations. I dabbled in other genres. I majored in English and took endless literary classes. Back before I had children, I read ravenously and rapidly. A couple other non-horror influences stick in my mind.

Chuck Palahniuk taught me how fascinating the ugliness of reality is. In 7 Types of Ambiguity, Eliot Perlman taught me about the power of perspective.

A little piece of everything I have read or watched is with me when I create, whether I loved it or hated it. I may emulate aspects of what I love, violently avoid reminders of what I hate. Regardless, I am affected; I am influenced.

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I enjoy rekindling these influences. It feels like taking a stroll through my old mind. For brief seconds, I feel like I am that version of myself again, that child, that teenager. And I look forward to evolving through ingesting new, varied influences in the future who can teach me something about myself that I have not yet seen.

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling

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

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

My favorite holiday has always been Halloween. I have said it before; I have written about it before. Since I can remember, I always enjoyed and waited for Halloween above all others.

halloween

I love the fall weather and colors.

I love the crisp (or snowy) night.

I love the costumes.

I love the candy.

I love the fear and the horror.

I loved it in my earliest memories as I love it now, as I share the holiday with my children.

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I also started writing when I was a child. I remember my passion truly being ignited during a writing unit in fourth grade, but I believe I was crafting miniature tales even younger than that. Even in my naive, sheltered, and happy youth, I found myself drawn to the darkness, attracted to the infancy of horror I was exposed to within my coveted holiday.

My young brain was stimulated by all the conventional Halloween imagery. Haunted houses. Jack-o-lanterns. Witches. Ghosts. Monsters like Frankenstein, vampires, and werewolves. Bats and spiders. Each year, as these images began to populate the stores, TV shows and movies, and my classrooms, my mind began to whir with spooky stories.

ghostbook

Each October, I remember I would start to write Halloween tales, complete with illustrations in black, green, orange, and purple. From construction and computer paper, I would self-publish my own childish horror books. I remember being filled with such joy and pride as I folder the paper into the book shape and showed my mother what I had created. A pride I would later revitalize in a mature evolution when I held my first published book in my hands.

This year, I remember that youthful tradition by teaching my daughter how to write and illustrate her own Halloween story and by taking the time to craft a short piece of festive fiction here. I could have crawled inside this one and made a home, which makes me wonder if I should not write something in the young horror fiction (a la Goosebumps) someday, but I forced myself to keep it short. Just a scary little glimpse.

Enjoy.

halloween night with pumpkin in grass tree bat and hunting house in background

 

The Green Light

That house loomed over me as long as I remember, dark and slumped on a dismal plot of land along our walk to school, staring down at us with wide and lopsided windows like a drooping face. Everyone knew the house was haunted. The McAllister house. The murder house. That damn house. It had many names. If we walked alone, we quickened our step to a near jog until we had passed the edge of the property; if we passed it in a group, laughing conversations lulled, and all eyes cast sideways up towards the black house perched between gnarled and twisted trees.

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The house haunted all of us. It was the torrid subject of village lore, its tales a crucial part of our own cultural indoctrination. We all knew how the rich father murdered his wife then stalked and killed his own children one by one inside the house. Dares to set soles of shoes on the wilted grass were defined rites of passage.

Yet it haunted Derrick most of all.

I grew up in his shadow, watching him both enamored and unnerved by the place. As if a splinter of the very structure was lodged in his brain tissue, swollen and infected under the skin where he could not reach to scratch it.

And when he disappeared, I knew where he had went. The police told our parents that he must have just run away. My mother wept, and my father turned his lips into his mouth and hung his head, and they both questioned what they had done to drive him away. But I knew he had not left us, not left me behind over any fight with our parents. I knew he had finally done it. He had finally walked through that door to see what was in the house.

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With my older brother’s disappearance, his obsession became my own.

“Dude, come on!” Jacob hollered from the safety on the sidewalk beyond the dead yard. “You do this every goddamn day.”

I ignored Jacob’s irritated plea as I did every day as we walked home from school. Instead, I let my gaze stretch and lose focus, crawling up the dead leaves and grass matted down under the black trees that bent in a twisted dance, reaching until I could hear the creak of the wood on the porch and feel the cold metal of the knob on my palm.

“Dude, fuck you, Mikey,” Jacob said, his voice edging on quiver. “I’m going home.”

“He’s in there.”

“Not this shit again. No, he’s not.”

I ignored Jacob, as I always did in the shadow of this house. The mere sight of it had a captivating power over me. As if I could hear Derrick’s voice whisper wafting on the breeze from the dilapidated siding.

He was in that house. I could feel it the same way I knew he was sleeping in his room on the other side of my wall every night.

“Mikey, what are you doing?”

Jacob’s voice was farther behind me now. Growing more distant by the syllable. Startled from my trance, I turned to find him still on the sidewalk. I had wandered halfway up the dead lawn. The fear twisting his face matched the fear quivering his voice, but his features were growing more distant. I continued to walk, to mount the hill even as I looked back at his pleading. By the time I broke eye contact with him, the jagged trees had already passed over my head, and the porch boards creaked beneath my meager weight.

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This close to the house, wrapped under its damp shade, I could almost feel it breathing. As if oxygen was being sucked in through the shingles and the siding, as if the house expanded and slumped, as if a gruesome thumping emanated from its dark center. I could feel its life vibrating up from my sneakers, creeping up along the tingling flesh of my legs, reaching into my very chest.

I felt home, the way I felt sitting in front of the fire with Derrick when the snow fell outside the windows of our house.
The door swung open wide suddenly, yet I was not even startled. I walked into the darkness without hesitation, the way I would walk into my own room.

The darkness swallowed me whole with a wide mouth, and I heard the door creak waning behind me. When the door slammed and extinguished all light, my comfort unnerved. I felt my fear begin to bristle along the edges of the fine hair on the back of my neck. The house grew deeper in the dark, an undulating shape formed by the rhythm of the strange breathing of the wind outside and the steady thumping below my feet.

Something heavy walked above me, footsteps shaking the air over my head. I did not dare move; I only clutched my arms tightly around myself and waited, eyes wide and reeling in the dark. Something scratched along the floorboards beside me, so close I could feel the vibrations in my feet. My heartbeat started to throb, and I think I stopped breathing as I waited on edge.

What was I doing here? I should have stayed on the cracked sidewalk with Jacob like I had every other day. I should have walked home to our empty house and watched my mother stare absently into a pot as she stirred dinner and sat with my father as he silently lost himself in the TV. Where the whole house was where Derrick was not.

No. I needed to be right here.

As I steeled myself, the loud whine of neglected hinges echoed through the darkness, silencing the other noises. The green light emanated from a door up the unforgiving staircase and sliced through the black, splitting my sight and casting hard shadows. The wider the door swung, the more light spilled down to me. It washed down the steps and got tangled in the black shape of the banister.

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I followed the light. There was really no other choice. I stepped slowly and deliberately, outstretching my hand toward the banister. The wood was rough and scratched at my fingertips as I carefully began to ascend the stairs. Each board cried out under me. I just kept moving towards that light.

At the summit, I kept my eyes trained on the glowing shape of the open door as I side stepped in its direction. I allowed my hand to trail the banister, feeling the splinters steadily piercing my fingertips. As I grew closer to the opening, I became aware of something near me. The dark air changed, felt full and disrupted. I stopped moving, silencing the creaks under my feet, to hear the steady, wet sound of breathing.

The sound was right in front of me. I shielded the light to allow my pupils to dilate. As the darkness took on shape, a figure materialized against the wall, shadowed and obscure. I could only make out the reflection of the green light against the two large orbs of eyes staring at me intently.

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The thing saw me see it, yet neither of us moved. Its breathing did not change though mine seemed to strangle in my throat. I waited. Waited for it to jump forward and attack me, waited for it to do anything. The two glowing spheres in front of me remained unmoved and unblinking, and the wet breathing panted in my face.

Keeping a peripheral awareness trained on the dark figure, I began to inch away. I dropped my hand to bathe in the green light and felt somewhat safer blinded by its glow. I walked until it overtook my sight. I walked until the doorframe disappeared behind me. I walked until I was temporarily lost in the green haze.

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My eyes finally gauged the light and allowed the room to take shape before me. A bed slumped against one wall; a ravaged dresser leaned against another. A dead rug draped over the floorboards sprinkled in a menagerie of broken toys. A long and lanky figure folded on top of itself on the edge of that rug, pointing absently at a shattered doll with a spindly digit.

I took another step forward, permitting my hand to extend into the cold air toward the bony shoulder that seemed so familiar. Before my fingertip could make contact, it shifted, and I drew my arm back protectively.

“Michael,” it said. I knew the voice. From the very marrow vibrating in my bones, I knew the sound of it. “Michael, you finally came.”

The figure stood in front of me, growing to be a head taller than me, casting the shadow I had grown up underneath. The boy unfolded his limbs before turning to face me, the green light carving sharp shadows across the face that looked so similar to my own.

“Michael,” Derrick said, stepping towards me. “You’re here. You’re finally home with me.”

The skin on Derrick’s face stretched strangely as he smiled at me with wide eyes, reaching out his arms. I smiled back and dove into his cold chest, allowing him to wrap around me the way he would when I had hurt myself and no one was looking.

We froze in brotherly embrace. In the pit of my stomach, I felt truly home.

And the green light went out.

Halloween-Background

 

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

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

fear1

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

When you publish a book, the first thing people ask you is where the idea came from.

The honest answer (that it just one day materialized out of the gray matter between my ears and started knocking on my skull until I wrote it out) always sounds like a vague copout, so I guess the real question is what inspired that idea in the first place. What planted the seed that bloomed into (in my case, a dark and twisted) alternate reality in my head.

For me, with Savages, the answer is a combination between a short civilian deployment to Iraq and a season long marathon of The Walking Dead.

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The two might be seemingly unrelated, yet they have one common vein for me: savagery.

When I traveled to Iraq, I was a young, naive civilian girl. I had experienced messy and rough patches of life but all under the pillowed safety of American culture. I never wanted for food or shelter; my life was never in daily peril. I lived the good and easy life without realizing or appreciating it.

In Iraq, I did not see any action. I spent my time on a few different bases (Victory, Liberty, Slayer, Tallil, Taji, War Eagle) but never outside of the wire. I only traveled by plane of helicopter. My interaction with the soldiers was in a living capacity, as we shared living areas, laundry, and dining facilities, and professionally, as I trained them on software. My interaction with actual Iraqis was slimmed down to only an Iraqi troop store on War Eagle.

The impression made on me was an issue of exposure. Feeling the blast of an IED in my boots and the walls of a trailer around me was different than a passing news story on TV. Hearing the sirens for a mortar was different than the idea of the threat. Talking to soldiers who lost brothers or had missions go awry was different than some cold article in a magazine or link on Facebook. Seeing wounded warriors still walking and still serving was different than donating to a charity in their names.

My little taste of war, my front row sideline seat, made me appreciate my cushy life back home, but it also highlighted the worst in human nature. The stories I heard, the reports I saw, the realities all around me painted humanity in a very depressing and unfavorable light. To me, it seemed if you removed a flush and comfortable society to take care of our needs, people reverted to animals.

So into my brain went the seed that people are savage in nature. Enter twelve straight hours of The Walking Dead.

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My favorite part of The Walking Dead, aside from the gruesome zombies, is the examination of what the apocalypse does to the survivors. I appreciate how the show tracks their slow exchange of humanity for survival. No matter how the characters try to cling to the humans they once were, with each threat, they ransom off a little piece of that person they remember. Not to mention the entirely savage other survivors they encounter.

Psychology is my favorite part of apocalyptic media.

So with my brain saturated half a day’s worth of post-apocalyptic dead fighting and living fearing, the mood and the imagery permeated my mind, reached down to mingle with my own memories, my own life imprints.

I started to think about how savage we are underneath all our socialization and civilization. I started to brood on how those animals within would come screaming out at the smallest threat, much less the end of the world. Gradually, these ideas grew legs, formed into bodies, started speaking in dialog inside my head. I could see their world, and I only followed.

SavagesCoverChristina

Savages tells the story of two apocalypse survivors navigating through the ruins of America and battling through lingering savages with no answers, searching for the last strain of humanity. Until one discovery changes everything. The infant’s cry shatters their already destroyed world. For Parker, the babe invokes the ghosts of her dead husband and sons. For Iraq war veteran Marcus, the child embodies his hope and gives him innocence to protect.

As far as inspiration, Parker is the most pessimistic and damaged parts of me, the rational parts of my mind the believe the worst of us as a species. Marcus is the embodiment of the best I saw out of the soldiers I was deployed with. The savages are representations of what might be at the core of every one of us.

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What do you think? Are we savage at our core? Would we all devolve in the face of the apocalypse?

Savages is available in paperback and for Kindle on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (with more formats and sites to come). Feel free to step inside my brain and see how I imagine the world falling apart.