Saturday, October 17, 2015

Author Interview: CHRISTINA BERGLING

Interview with CHRISTINA BERGLING, AUTHOR OF SAVAGES

Your first novel Savages has recently been published. What is the basic storyline? Describe the research and preparation that went into writing this novel, and any additional influences you drew upon while putting it together?
Savages tells the story of two survivors searching 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. For me, the book is ultimately about humanity, how human we all are (or rather, are not) under all of our civilization. It is about what would happen to us when the apocalypse happens and also how, realistically, we probably would not know how the world fell apart. The idea and premise for this novel was spawned from a brief civilian deployment to Iraq and a full season marathon of The Walking Dead. My time in Iraq, in a war zone, exposed me to some of the more unsavory parts of human nature. Then watching the way The Walking Dead examines the way the apocalypse psychologically changes its characters had my brain creating my own apocalyptic scenarios. I was able to farm my own experience for the majority of glimpses into Iraq wartime in the book. However, I did definitely look into survival tactics, things survivors would need to have, and items preppers might have in case of apocalypse. The idea and the images of what people would become came easily; it was the logistical details into which I had to put time.

What apocalyptic event happened as the backstory of your novel? Describe the main characters in detail and indicate their own backgrounds in relation to the main storyline?

What makes Savages different than many other apocalyptic stories is that it is not about what happened to cause the apocalypse. There is no media coverage explaining what happened. True to how I think the apocalypse would actually happen, the survivors are lost and left searching for information and answers. Parker, the narrator, is rescued by Marcus after losing her husband and two small children after the savages began to emerge. She defines her life by what she lost and is haunted by the ghosts of her past before the event. Marcus is an Iraq war veteran who is on a quest to find other survivors like them. He refuses to entertain the idea that they are all ultimately savages and champions human ideals even in a now inhumane world. He also lost his pregnant wife during the event.

So is Savages intended to be more character driven, as the survivors search for the reasons of the apocalypse? How is the reader introduced to each of the central characters?
Savages is definitely character-driven. For me, the story is about just the two main characters and the apocalypse is just the setting. The reader meets both main characters in the very first scene. Parker is the narrator, so the reader is inside her head, listening to her voice. Marcus is right beside her from the first sentence.

When were you in Iraq on a civilian deployment, and what did you witness there? How did this influence your writing?
I witnessed very little directly. I deployed after a new SOFA agreement that kept all contractors inside the wire, meaning on American military bases. I saw several bases in my time there: Baghdad, Tallil, Taji, War Eagle. The majority of my experience was drawn from interacting with the soldiers and really being exposed to how they lived during deployment and the things they had to deal with at war. The experience changed all my perceptions about life in general, so that definitely infiltrated my writing. For Savages specifically, it was the driving force behind examining what is human about us.

How much interaction did you have with soldiers stationed in Iraq? How many different storied were shared with you at the time? In what ways did you incorporate your new perceptions into Savages?
I had interacted with soldiers in Iraq daily. My job was to go to different units and train them on my company’s software. In addition, I ate at their dining facilities, lived in the same housing, used the same laundry facilities. Many of the stories I heard came from working for a reporting software, so all event reports came through our tool. But naturally, a lot of story swapping happened with my coworkers, who were nearly all deployed as soldiers before becoming contractors, and with the soldiers I trained. I put all those perceptions into Savages. All the Iraq stories in Savages are either things I heard about or stories I was told while I was there.

Can you recount some of the stories you heard while interacting with some of the soldiers?
Some stories were obviously classified. The most common in the trailer was the shit burning story. Whenever I would complain about the port-a-potties, the boys in the trailer would tell me in great detail what it was like to burn their own shit while they were deployed in the field. With diesel stirring in an oil drum, if you were ever curious. I also trained a woman in an engineering unit. She did route analysis to help predict IED activity. Her husband was also in her unit. So he would be driving the routes she analyzed the day before. She had me teach her everything twice.

Are the creatures in Savages intended to be undead zombies, or are they creatures of an altogether different kind?
That is one of the questions posed to the reader as they read Savages. Some of these questions, like what the creatures are for example, are posed directly in the interactions between the characters. The characters question it, so in turn, the reader questions it with them. Others are more subtle and are raised just by the story itself.

What are the survival techniques you drew upon while you were writing Savages?
Since Parker and Marcus are surviving in a nomadic style, I drew upon my camping experience, which I have a good deal of from growing up in Colorado. I also looked into a prioritization of what people would need to survive. Water then food then shelter and so on.

How often would you go camping while living in Colorado? How long were you there before relocating elsewhere in the States?

In childhood, we went occasionally. Girl Scouts camp, tents, campgrounds. In my late teens and twenties, it was more frequent and always tent camping. Four-wheeling was usually involved. Now, at the very least, we go every Memorial Day weekend; it’s tradition in our social circle. I was born in raised in Colorado. At age 25, I moved to Tennessee with my partner for his job (this move is actually also how I ended up in Iraq). We lasted about five years before fleeing back to Colorado. It is simply home, simply where we belong.

While living in Tennessee you were a member of the dance troupe Corpsewax Dollies and appeared at several events with them. Recall your involvement in this group?

I started belly dancing in Tennessee shortly after returning from Iraq. I needed a social and expressive outlet; I needed to meet local people. After a short time at the studio, I was recruited to the Corpsewax Dollies, I think mostly due to my enjoyment of the macabre and horror. I enjoyed dancing and performing. The gothic and morbid nature of the group, as well as the musical selection greatly suited me. However, the troupe itself became a second family to me. Savages is actually published because my teacher, Jillanna Babb, pointed me to the contest from Assent Publishing in which I was a finalist (and won a publishing contract).

Explain your recruitment into Corpsewax Dollies and what you contributed to them. What were your most memorable performances with them? Was it difficult to part company with them when you moved back to Colorado?
My recruitment was relatively uneventful. They reached out to me, asked if I was interested; I auditioned and was accepted. It was like slipping on a glove; I just belonged with them. I was very active in the Dollies my entire membership. I took every class, performed at every opportunity, and hosted as many Dollies events as I could. Aside from dancing, I did everything with these ladies. We had cookouts, shared hobbies, went on road trips. My favorite performance memory is when we performed with the band Stoneline for their reunion. It was a packed house and a very enthusiastic crowd. Another great experience was traveling to New Orleans to perform. We did two venues, a photo shoot in the House of Shock, and Bourbon Street in one weekend. It was very difficult for me to leave the Dollies. It is still hard for me to be away from them. They were, without a doubt, the best part of my time in the South.

Describe the creative input you had with the Dollies while you were a member. Would you work with them again, if circumstances allowed?

While the Dollies definitely had a leader and teacher, it was often a very collaborative group. I suggested many songs to which we ended up learning choreography; I always selected the songs for my own solos; I even choreographed a duet with another Dolly. The Dollies were always a representation of the current members. Without a doubt, I would work with them at any opportunity.

How much of a thrill was it to win a publishing contract from Assent Publishing? How many writers were involved in the contest?
Publication was my dream come true. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was in fourth grade. My teacher did a very in-depth lesson on writing, complete with publishing our own self-illustrated books, and I just knew. It has always been my one career goal to publish a book. Not self-publish like you can now but be accepted and published by an actual publisher. All of this happened when Assent Publishing signed Savages. I do not have visibility into how many writers participated in the contest. However, there was one grand prize winner and five finalists, of which I was one.

What psychological changes in the characters on The Walking Dead spoke to you, serving as an inspiration for Savages?
I am most interested in the characters that “fall from grace.” In particular, Rick’s steady decline into savage survival. I am fascinated to watch the culturally constructed ideas of right and wrong give way to the realities of survival. Without our creature comforts and our civilization, we revert back to our more primitive roots.

That issue of how people revert to more of a primitive level has been touched upon in science fiction and horror. Are there any examples from literature you remembered while writing Savages?

I would say I channeled Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend the most. Also Stephen King for the various characters of his that devolve into savagery.

What is Matheson’s I Am Legend about in terms of the storyline? Do the characters gradually decline from their moral sense to a sense more strongly rooted in the base needs of survival?
I think I Am Legend influenced me based on the sole survivor being surrounded by creatures that used to be human. How does one survive all alone? How dependent are we on society and community to keep us alive? How hard is it to be alone?

Which of Stephen King’s fictional tales resonate with similar regressions to Matheson’s novel? King’s novel Carrie and novella The Mist come to mind personally.
Under the Dome comes to mind. In that story, the people become quite ruthless and savage once they are isolated from greater society, once things become dire.

Is the theme of isolation written into Savages meant to connect with the reader on a personal level?

The isolation the characters feel is intended to be relatable, part of the human condition and evoke empathy with the characters. I believe we all feel isolated at times, even without the apocalypse, so we can feel for and connect with those characters.

Is the reader’s ability to relate to the characters in Savages what sets your novel apart from others in the genre?

I think what sets Savages apart in its genre is the focus. Most post-apocalyptic stories are about the circumstances of the apocalypse, how the world ended. Savages focuses entirely on the experience of the characters and specifically how they do not know what happened. No news coverage, no stories, no explanations. It is less about the apocalypse and more about what the apocalypse does to them. This quest for answers, this insatiable curiosity of the characters makes them relatable, as the reader wants to know the same things.

Through what channels is Savages available for purchase? How much of a response has its publication received so far?
Currently, Savages is available exclusively on Amazon (amazon.com/Savages-Christina-Bergling-ebook/dp/B00R8YRBYY). The eBook format was released in December, and the paperback was released in January. In coming months, Savages will be available from other sites, such as Barnes and Noble. The response has been very favorable so far. In its debut week on Amazon, Savages broke into the best sellers (top 100) of United States Horror in the Kindle paid store.

How much reader feedback for Savages has been posted on Amazon since it was made available there? Quote some of the reviews Savages has received on Amazon?
As of January 4, 2015, Savages has fifteen reviews on Amazon.com.
“While the story follows two survivors of an apparent apocalypse, it isn't your typical 'zombie' book. What makes it unique is how close to real life I feel an actual apocalypse would be. The characters in this story don't know what's happened. There's no news story at the beginning informing the reader of what's happened. You are transported into the story with as much information as the characters. You follow them along their journey seeking the same answers.” -CMoan
“Savages is fortunately a refreshingly smart and bold take on this played out scenario. It had characters I felt invested in and left me with a few unanswered questions, which for me is a sign of quality writing. The zombie parts are well done but what really stood out for me was the attention paid to the everyday struggle for meeting basic needs and survival.” -Taylor Travis
“If you fancy yourself a fan of post-apocalyptic writings, this is a must read. It's an involving, but effortless page turner with an ending that sates your curiosity, but certainly leaves you begging for more. Two thumbs, way up.” -Deidra
“Savages is a story about what makes us human in an inhuman world, and is ultimately a redeeming story about love and survival. Well done.” -Brain Malbon
“Savages is a work of post-apocalyptic genius, bringing a new flavor to the horror genre with Christina Bergling's unique take on zombies. Bergling's attention to detail paints a visceral landscape of suspense and survival yet does not obscure the realistic and relatable protagonists.” -Sarah Morgan
“This novella is driven by Bergling's ability to pull apart the nuances of the human psyche in a way that forces us to confront who we really are capable of becoming. The post-apocalyptic landscape is juxtaposed beautifully with the characters' desires to find something more despite the evidence all around them that there's not much left to hope for.” -Trisha Anthony

Have the critiques you received for Savages been an inspiration for you to continue writing fiction?
It is always encouraging to have positive feedback. Each good review definitely validates me investing my time in my art. It is a great time investment to produce and promote a book; happy readers make it feel even more worth it.

How long have you been a fan of zombie horror, and what movies first interested you? For me it was Night Of The Living Dead which I watched on TV one night when I couldn’t get to sleep, as a young kid.
I grew up with a friend who had a fixation on zombies and horror, which was not in vogue as it is now at the time. He introduced me to Night Of The Living Dead first. When I saw Dawn of the Dead and realized the brilliance of using zombies to satirize America’s consumer obsession, I was hooked.

When seeing Night Of The Living Dead for the first time, what captured your imagination and sparked your interest?
It was the feasting scenes. When the zombies attacked their victims, the gore seemed so raw and advanced. Also containing the drama in that one house for so long allowed both the characters and the plot to develop. It was just well done, and that kind of quality horror made me want to seek out more.

I appreciated the intended message in Dawn Of The Dead, and thought the movie was years ahead of its time. From the late 60s to the mid-80s the genre was strictly underground and there was more room for innovation. From 2000 to the present, what are the movies, printed books or TV series best continues said innovation?
The Walking Dead obviously has been the driving force behind this zombie mainstreaming. I appreciate the show for its psychological element with the characters. My favorite newer zombie movie is currently Dead Snow. I think the genre has become saturated, which has led to a lot of low quality contributions, but there still are definitely some gems in there.

What aspects of the zombie genre have become oversaturated in your viewpoint? To this day do you still prefer a movie with physical special effects rather than computer enhanced effects?
I think the zombie genre is just oversaturated by sheer volume. So many zombie shows and movies and books and merchandise. It is just zombie everything now. The volume waters down the genre, turning hallmarks of zombies into tired clichés. I prefer physical special effects. World War Z, for example, had a lot of CGI effects, and while they were cool and the movie was ok (vastly inferior to its book), it lacks that more primal fear. I think physical special effects just end up looking more organic and natural.

When was the movie Dead Snow released and what plotline and character development is involved in it?
Dead Snow was released in 2009. It is a Norwegian horror movie about Nazi zombies. A group of friends venture to a cabin in the mountains and inadvertently summon the Nazi zombie army. The most interesting element of the movie is that the zombies have character development. They are not the traditional undead; they are zombies more by curse.

Day Of The Dead first had character development for zombies when Bub remembered how to read and talk. How does Dead Snow expand on this from your perspective?

What set Dead Snow apart for me was that the character development was in the zombies’ origin story. Unlike most zombies created by an overpopulated Hell or a virus, these zombies are created individually, spawned from their own actions in life. This curse-like approach is unique, and the zombies maintain their human flaws even as what are usually considered mindless zombies. A sinful human pursuit becomes a mindless zombie pursuit. The zombies are not developed as individual characters—only one is really distinguishable from the others—they are crafted uniquely as a horde.

Do you think Dead Snow will pave the way for other scriptwriters to write character development for zombies?
I hope so. However, the sequel wandered off into horror comedy. I was extremely disappointed in Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead. I wish they had continued on the vein established in the original. It is good enough for a horror comedy but not a brilliant horror movie like its predecessor.

In what ways was the novel World War Z preferable to the movie? I’ve heard some video reviews of the book and it sounds like an engrossing work.
World War Z, the book, is done as a series of reports gathered after the zombie apocalypse has passed. Each report or case study has a different author and encapsulates a different experience. Read as a whole, the reader can assemble the whole zombie apocalypse experience. It is really brilliantly done and engrossing. I can understand why a movie could not be structured the same way (perhaps a television series or mini-series would have been more appropriate), and they did do well for what it was; it just cannot compare to the book.

Did you think the remakes of Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead, in which the zombies run and climb walls, took the impact from their original versions? Which versions do you prefer overall?
I think the originals hold the monopoly on effect. While the special FX and zombie evolutions are definitely awesome and entertaining, it shifts the focus to those things. I think the remakes are less about subtlety and underlying themes. Plus a shambling zombie is always more impactful. For example, the second Dawn of the Dead is both a good remake and a good horror movie; however, it lacks that special brilliance in making the zombies into consumer drones from its original.

How soon after you became a fan of zombie horror were you inspired to start writing fiction?
I was writing fiction years before I ever saw a zombie movie. I started actively writing in the fourth grade. However, an introduction to horror movies and particularly zombie horror definitely guided me more into the genre. Savages is my first dabbling in the zombie subgenre, and I still would not call it a zombie story. Zombie-esque, perhaps, is more accurate.

How often were you writing after the fourth grade? How quickly did your approach develop?
I wrote compulsively in youth. I kept a daily journal; I wrote numerous short stories. However, I was impatient. I never developed anything of any length, and I never invested time in revision. As I matured, so did my writing style. By college creative writing courses, I was able to greatly develop my works through revision and extend the length. It was having children that taught me to challenge myself in life, and that pushed me the rest of the way to produce novella-length works and get things published. My second book is being released in mid-2015.

In what ways did your courses help improve your fiction writing?
When we worked on a story in these classes, we provided a draft to the entire class. The class then read the story and gave feedback live and in person as a class, almost like a forum. This gave about twenty perspectives on my work at a time right in my face. I also became comfortable with the attention and criticism. I learned how to communicate about my work, how to see what the reader might miss between my brain and the page.

Which of your fiction pieces got the most positive feedback in college?
My nonfiction pieces actually got the most attention in college. I published a short story entitled Tell Me About Your First Time, about my college roommate and I getting into a minor car accident on a road trip, in my college’s literary magazine riverrun. I also produced a controversial piece called How to Kill Yourself Slowly. I published this piece on my own blog at the time and received hundreds of emails from suicidal people. It was also later published on denversyntax.com (http://www.denversyntax.com/issue16/essays/bergling/kill.html).

What was the inspiration for your piece How to Kill Yourself Slowly? What sort of controversy did you set out to create?
My inspiration was my own life. It was a non-fiction piece, after all. The assignment for the class was to write a “how to” essay, and from the second I heard the assignment, it all just started gushing out. It was as if I needed to write about that subject in that style all along.
The controversy was from classmates and readers believing I was taking suicide too lightly and mocking something serious and tragic. That, however, was the opposite of my intent. I wanted to normalize that kind of unhappiness, take the taboo out of it and discuss it openly in a satirical style. From the response it received on my blog, many readers seem to interpret it and relate to it as intended ultimately.

You are also actively writing film reviews on the internet. What website are you reviewing for and how did you land a position with them?
I review movies on MoviePilot.com. They actually approached me on Twitter due to all my tweeting and posting about horror movies. Their site is open to contributors, but they have been very appreciative and encouraging of my reviews.

What do you search for when it comes to reviewing horror movies? How thoroughly do you cover them?
I do a new (to me) horror review every week, posting the reviews on Fridays. I gathered a large list of horror movies from suggestions queried from horror Facebook groups and Twitter followers and my own personal horror expert. I also just select them at random as I see them or come across them on TV or in RedBox. My reviews are relatively high level, just giving the impression of whether I consider them worth watching or not.

What are some of your personal favorites of the movies you reviewed lately?
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon; Silent Night, Deadly Night; Afflicted; The Conjuring; As Above So Below; American Mary.

What can you reveal to the readers about your second novel that’s coming out in 2015?

Ode To Master is very different from Savages. Rather than post-apocalyptic, it is straight horror, also of a darker and more twisted vein. Beatrix had the world by the balls until she woke up in a cage. Now he controls her world, and she must only learn how to survive and please her Master.

What was the inspiration behind Ode To Master? How did you develop the ideas for this novel and what outside influence did you draw upon while constructing the storyline?
Ode to Master actually sparked in my head when 50 Shades Of Gray got popular (I have never actually read it). With a (to my understanding) largely inaccurate portrayal of BDSM in the mainstream, I found myself thinking about submission. I wanted to examine submission purely, without sexuality. I also wanted to break down the psychology of captivity and survival. I decided to experiment with a blended narrative, a combination of first and second person. The story began as simply a fifteen page snippet, a glimpse into a mind worn down by isolation and torture. Then I worked to grow it into the entire story that became the book.

How much research did you undertake on the psychology of submission? Describe the process by which you began preparing Ode To Master?
I actually discussed the concept with friends of mine who are active D/s. I took their ideas of submission and stripped the sexual aspect out of it. I also did some light internet research on the diagnostic criteria of Stockholm Syndrome. From there, I just let my mind construct its own interpretation of what I thought it would mean in that situation.

When Ode To Master is released, how well do you imagine it will do? What ideas do you think you/’ll pursue for future novels?
I think Ode to Master will have a more targeted audience and less of a general appeal than Savages. I hope it will also do well, but I do think it will be in a smaller market. I have just embarked on a new book, just the first couple pages started. The premise is a woman becomes fed up with online dating and snaps. Hopefully, this story grows and develops into my next book.

Are there any allegories about online dating or overuse of the internet you intend to convey with this new book project?
I am sure there will be commentary on the disconnected aspect of our online lives. I definitely intend to examine the unrealistic expectations it gives us. Perhaps this will be juxtaposed against the hands on fallout of her break.

What unrealistic expectations are you referring to when it comes to interacting with people on the internet?

As far as the internet is concerned, we are able to present a selective version of ourselves. Only photos we want to show, only details we want to include. This can lead to expecting an entirely different person that who he/she is in person. As far as dating in general, people get seduced by romantic comedy notions that we will find the one and know right away and it will just happen. Combine the two of these together and that’s a lot of high expectations set very far from reality.

Chrstina Bergling on Facebook

-Dave Wolff

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