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.