This is a story of persistence. Kristi DeMeester is an author after my own heart.
In late 2007, I decided I wanted a Masters degree in something I was actually interested in. Thankfully, my alma mater offered exactly that: a Masters in Professional Writing. I signed up for the GRE—bombing the math portion—filled out the applications, and found two people who were actually willing to write letters of recommendation. That next August, I was back on campus and exhausted. I was working full time, taking classes at night, and somehow still completing all of the required coursework.
I learned a lot about craft in my program but mostly spent the next year and a half learning how shitty my poor attempts at story were and that writing was work. All of those romantic visions I’d had of rain-dappled mornings seated in a beautiful office with a perfect cup of coffee at my side, my body still lithe as it was when I was twenty, quickly vanished in late night, bleary-eyed stare sessions at my laptop while I stuffed onion rings in my face.
In December of 2009, I marched across the stage in the same slacks I’d been teaching in all day, and then promptly did nothing with my writing. For all of the workshops I’d sat through and all of the reading I’d done about “showing instead of telling” or “scene rather than summary,” I realized I knew almost nothing about publishing or how to, you know, see my work in magazines.
For the next year, I kept writing stories. They were bad, and I knew it. I got a copy of Publisher’s Marketplace. I researched online. I found the forums at Absolute Write, which lead me to Duotrope, which lead me to markets where I could send my stories. In the fall of 2010, I sent off my first story. It was rejected from every single market. I kept writing. I sent off three more stories. They too were rejected. I found the magazine Shock Totem, and started participating in their monthly flash fiction contests. I never won or placed. I kept writing. I sent off two more stories. And then, it happened. A very small literary magazine accepted a flash piece, so I kept writing. I kept submitting.
After four years of constant submission and writing new stories and some acceptances but lots of rejections, I had a massive number of stories that had died a quiet death in a special folder on my laptop. They’re still there for those moments I need to laugh at myself. But there were other stories. Stories I was incredibly proud of. Stories that other people seemed to like as well. And so I started playing with what I had. Which stories did I truly love? How could they fit together? Slowly but surely, I started seeing themes emerge. Motherhood. The monstrousness of earth. How lovely some things can seem to be until you peer beneath the surface. And then Everything That’s Underneath was born.
Writing the stories in this collection was a lesson in writing as terrible effort. That for every minute I was flying along, high on what I imagined was my own brilliance, there were a thousand other moments of staggering, crushing doubt and fear and belief I was wasting my time. But night after night, I put my ass in the chair because I’d made a deal with myself. Those moments that were good were worth all of the other moments that came between. And the only way to have a body of work was to keep going, to keep writing, and to trust that the years in between would lead to better and better work. Everything That’s Underneath includes the stories I’m most proud of from the beginning of my career. Since then, there have been many more nights sitting down with my laptop and tapping at the keys until I have a story. Or a novel.
And I’ll keep going.
Kristi DeMeester is the author of Beneath, a novel published by Word Horde. Her short fiction has been reprinted or appeared in Ellen Datlow's The Best Horror of the Year Volume 9, Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volumes 1 and 3, in addition to publications such as Black Static, Apex, and several others. In her spare time, she alternates between telling people how to pronounce her last name and how to spell her first. This is her first short fiction collection.
This weekend is OryCon. I will be there as a dealer and as a panelist. Below is my schedule. If I’m not in a panel, I’m probably at my dealer’s table. Come on by to see me. I'll have my "stealth book" with me. :)
Friday, 17 Nov 2017
4pm: GM School
A primer on how to run a game for those who are interested, and even those who have never done it. How to keep your players involved & interested in coming back. What campaign to pick for your players.
5pm: Writing and Art for the RPG Industry
A how-to workshop on what it is like to work for the RPG industry.
Saturday, 18 Nov 2017
10am: I Quit My Job to Be a Writer! WHAT HAVE I DONE?
How do you stay focused when you're all by yourself and the realities of making a living via the written word come flooding in? Find techniques for forcing yourself to get words written and plots plotted, with time to get dressed and leave the house.
1:30pm: Reading with Jennifer Brozek
I will be reading from NEVER LET ME SLEEP and from FIVE MINUTE STORIES.
Sunday, 19 Nov 2017
11am: Pamper Your Muse
How to get your creative mind to talk to you. How writing prompts, mind maps, creative dates with yourself, tarot and storytelling cards can help you tap the muse.
While I am not an official participant of the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s Sci-Fi Authorfest 11, I will be there with Josh Vogt who is an official participant.
Happy Book Release day to Mario Acevedo and Hex Publishers!
Over at Hex Publishers, our favorite stories are those when things go bad. And bad in a big way.
In my critique group, one that I share with Josh Viola, we are a macabre, sadistic bunch. There’s seldom a story that we read where one of us doesn’t chime in with, “You know what would make this plot more interesting? If the mother takes an ax to her daughter-in-law.” And that story is supposed to be a romantic comedy. Our conversations draw upon what we’ve gleaned from coroners and medical examiners. We routinely rehash crime-scene investigations from Forensic Files. Blood spatter analysis is a favorite topic of conversation. While we love debating the dramatic potential of poisons, shivs, arson, and my favorite—suicide by autoerotic asphyxiation—what really gets us going is a discussion about the why. For example, at what point in a business relation does an executive decide that the only way to proceed forward is to murder his partner? Or that the best way to get rid of a romantic rival is by running her over with a Buick? Or when a husband decides he’s had enough of his wife and after offing her, buries her corpse in the basement and rents a steam cleaner to tidy up the house? Edger Allen Poe would not have raised an eyebrow to any of these criminal shenanigans.
For me, this where a story gets the most interesting, at the point when things go bad in a big way. One of the most compelling plot devices is irony, or to be more direct about it: the power of unintended consequences. We love the grist that backfires, or the finely tuned homicide that in itself becomes the trap. We writers give our characters only enough relief to give them hope and then plunge their heads back underwater. Few things turn the screws of a narrative like a good double-cross.
We preach love one another but lock our doors at night. Yet, if we are murdered, it will be most likely by someone from within our household. Till death do us part and allow me to accelerate the process. We pray for peace and a better world but revel in the vicarious thrill of violence because it lets us indulge in the mayhem from a safe distance.
Which gets to a deeper question: what is the human compulsion to do wrong? One of my go-to Scriptures is Job 5:7 Man was born to trouble just as surely as sparks fly upward. Would any of us be surprised that should we come back in a thousand years, people will still be leaving bloody handprints at the scenes of robbery, betrayal, and murder? And those tragedies will remain our favorite stories.
Mario Acevedo is the co-editor of Blood Business, Crime Stories from this World and Beyond, the forthcoming anthology from Hex Publishers (November 10, 2017), Josh Viola, Chief Editor and Publisher.