Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
My literary past, the origin of my love of horror belonged, without a doubt, to R. L. Stine. I was infatuated with and collected the Goosebumps series.
Somewhere in my basement, this collection lurked in the dark for my children to grow old enough (until I began working on this feature and went and dug them out to wallow in memories).
From The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb to Be Careful What You Wish For to The Cuckoo Clock of Doom, I devoured these books as soon as I lay hands on them. Usually, I would sprint through the length of the story in a single sitting. Then I read them over and over until I owned the next one. I occupied the protagonist’s skin; I lived in the world inside those pages. Simply, the books consumed me.
The Goosebumps series established a special place in my heart and in my mind. Even as I grew older, it lingered. R. L. Stine had a series for “older” children, Fear Street, and while I did enjoy the books, the connection was not the same. There was something special about the Goosebumps books, either in how they resonated with me or in the place I was in when I met them.
My infatuation with the Goosebumps books did coincide with the discovery of my love for writing, both around fourth grade in elementary school. I blazed through every book I could get my hands on, and if I enjoyed it, I would read it over and over until the pages wore thin. Goosebumps offered a safe mixture of the Halloween, mild horror, and macabre I was learning that I loved. I found myself writing stories reminiscent of the style and singing the pen name C. M. Bergling.
The inspiration I drew out of the Goosebumps book was horror in the everyday. In each book, R. L. Stine crafted fright and unnerve out of the mundane everyday situations of my age group. A Halloween costume, piano lessons, the school auditorium. These things were familiar, things I could relate to and that were also in no way innately terrifying. The talent and the draw was transforming these innocuous elements into something heinous, haunted, or villain.
Reading these books made me look at my daily life differently, caused me to imagine the horror living below the veneer of the normal sunny world. Anything could be made scary, and that opened my writing world to limitless possibilities.
Just writing this minute glimpse into my past had me digging through the basement to unearth my box of Goosebumps books to give to my daughter, who is still only four and may not even end up liking horror. The nostalgia at glancing over the cover art and smelling those pages was palpable. When I touched the books again, I was eleven years old, curled up on the hideous floral couch in our living room, listening to my mother clean the kitchen. The memories remain vivid, clearly reiterating what an effect this series had on me.
Unfortunately, my present has not allotted any time for reading. At all. Ever since I had two babies and added the career of published author to my existing day job, my reading ingest includes board books, Disney princesses, and Dr. Seuss. I could write (at length) about my children’s books preferences as to which do not feature an airhead princess or a moron farm animal and which teach my children something I might actually want them to emulate and which do not make me want to kill myself. Yet the children’s genre is not one I would consider influential on my brain as a reader or my own writing.
I truly miss reading. The void has left part of my mind dormant and a part of my soul vacant. Reading has been an integral part of my life since I learned how to decode the symbols on the page. There simply are not enough hours in the day. Yet, for now, my own writing and my young family take priority. Instead, I will identify the paradigm-shifting books I read in my adulthood.
I have always enjoyed Stephen King, from my youth spent picking through the local library to the present on the glowing screen of my Kindle. I do not care that he has ascended to household name and pop fiction. I do not care that he so often takes his plot one step too far at the end. He lures me into unnumbered other worlds, and I consider that a consistent success.
His definitive work for me, the novel that impacted me and my own writing, was Gerald’s Game. This book had me wrapped around the cover with a white knuckle grip; I could gnaw on the suspense between my clenched teeth.
Gerald’s Game taught me that nothing has to happen to create fear; sometimes terror exists in the void and in the quiet. The prose also conveyed that just being trapped could be the most debilitating scenario.
King lived inside his narrator’s terrified mind, and the psychological flow of that approach mesmerized me. I found myself there with her, handcuffed to the bed inside her skin, just as terrified as her thoughts I was reading. This reading experience greatly influenced my much later work The Waning.
Richard Matheson was a horror master long before I was even born. However, I did not finally read I Am Legend until I was an adult. While the story arguably defined both the post-apocalyptic and zombie genres when it was published, by the time I read it, it redefined these saturated and played out genres for me.
I Am Legend, simply put, is brilliant. The entire story, particularly the ending, left me stunned, mystified, and completely sated. For me, reading it after a volume of horror, zombies, vampires, and the like before, it turned my beloved genres on their side, showed me an alternative approach to the mainstream. This perversion of the expected inspired me greatly on Savages. I Am Legend influenced both the premise and the approach to that work.
(artist credit: Phil Beachler http://graphicssmith.wordpress.com)
Honestly, I do not know what my reading future holds. I do not know that I want to know; that might taint the surprise. The surprise is what I ultimately pursue, the new and unexpected, the genre and mind bending. I do know that I hope to plunge myself back into that rich and expansive world as soon as possible. Perhaps I can travel for work and secure hours alone on a plane with my Kindle. A mother can dream!
I imagine that I will continue to linger in the genre that I love. I believe horror will always own real estate on a special part of my heart; I will always be drawn to the darkness and fascinated by the fear. Horror keeps my life in perspective by reminding me how ugly things could be, and horror also comforts me as it speaks fluently to the dark part of my mind always crouched in the corner out of sight. I will always want to balance along the sharp edge of my threshold.
What I need, however, is something new in this realm. Evolution of the genre is what I will be questing after in those pages. I want my mind cracked open and my perspectives realigned again and again.
More than ingesting new and brilliant horror, I hope to further contribute to the genre. With Savages, I attempted to spin the mainstream premises of the apocalypse and zombies. With The Waning, I delved into the psychology of someone both held hostage and tortured. I plan to continue to venture in different directions, digging alternative worlds out of my brain. Horror and psychology are usually the common elements in my work, yet I always intend to approach them from new and divergent angles.
For the currently untitled book I am presently working on, I plan to examine the horrors of online dating and how such an unnatural pair bonding approach might drive someone to murder. I want to develop my style, expand my horror to encapsulate relatable and emotional circumstances (of a non-horror nature).
My own psychology will probably continue to be what terrifies me most, so I will most likely continue to be drawn to psychological horror. There is no hell like the hell of the mind, no horror like the horrors of ourselves. The most terrifying thing will always be ourselves, whether individually or as a species. Our entire world is filtered through our minds; our reality is constructed within our heads.
There is no escape if that filter is infected or broken; there is no rescue from ourselves. That dependency is what makes psychology so terrifying for me. One day, I will write about my own mental horrors, attempt to paint with the colors of my own lens.
(artist credit: Sari NeoChaos https://www.facebook.com/chaostudios)
You can buy any of Christina’s books here.
You can read my review of Savages here.
You can read my review of The Waning here.
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Colorado-bred writer, Christina Bergling, sold her soul early into the writing game. By fourth grade, she knew she wanted to be an author, and in college, she actively pursued it and started publishing small scale. However, with the realities of eating and paying bills, she hocked her passion to profession and worked as a technical writer and document manager, even traveling to Iraq as a contractor.
Assent Publishing brought her back to her art publishing her debut novella, Savages, to be followed by a second, The Waning. Bergling is a mother of two young children and lives with her family in Colorado Springs.
And for more about Christina, visit her site or find her on social media: