Friday, November 6, 2015

Level Best Books and New Beginnings by Susan Oleksiw

This weekend marks a major shift in the life of New England writers of short fiction. The new Level Best Books anthology, Red Dawn, will be launched at Crime Bake, November 6-8, a mystery conference in Dedham, MA. The four editors have worked diligently to keep the anthology alive and successful, but after seven years, it's time for them to put down their pens (or unplug their computers), and move on to other interests. But this is not the end of Level Best. The current editors are turning over the anthology to a new group, several of whom are known to the current and previous editors.

Kate Flora, Skye Alexander, and I co-founded Level Best Books in 2003, and settled the details over lunch at a restaurant in Gloucester. We were full of enthusiasm and ideas, and our optimism was infectious. After a wobbly first effort, the annual anthology took off. (Our first cover, remembered by no one else but me, was replaced but the design you see at left, thanks to Skye).

The Level Best Books anthologies quickly became one of the rare opportunities for writers to publish short crime fiction in a paper, and accessible, format. Skye moved to Texas and Ruth McCarty joined us. Together, we published seven anthologies, and shared the work on an eighth. We arranged panels and talks around the region, traveled to other states to reach writers from as wide an area as possible, in order to feel LBB was truly a New England publication. We were proud of including writers from all six New England states most of the time. Working on LBB anthologies was some of the best fun I've ever had as a writer, and we were always proud of the result. But this was work and we came to the end of the line. It was time to let go.

Less willing to walk away, Kate Flora talked about the anthology to other writers, and a group who had worked together for years stepped forward. The new editors, Mark Ammons, Kat Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler, went on to publish six more volumes, each one better than the previous. But they too reached the end of the line, and decided to move on. This year's issue will be their last. Red Dawn will be available for purchase at Crime Bake and beyond.

But, in what is now a tradition, they found a group interested in continuing the LBB anthologies, and soon there will be a third cast of editors.

The transition from the first to the second group of editors was remarkably seamless and layered with good will and optimism. The new editors modified the design, maintained the same commitment to a mix of new and established writers, and launched new efforts to conduct panels and use other promotions to get the word out about the writers and the anthologies. When they came to the point of knowing it was time to end, they graciously let us, the previous editors, know and set about finding a new team.

This weekend, at Crime Bake, I look forward to meeting some of the new editors, since I seem to be the only one of the eight previous editors who hasn't met any of the incoming ones. I'm looking forward to it, and also to seeing the Level Best Books anthologies continue to thrive as a place for New England writers to showcase their work.

The Crime Bake editors are also announcing the change in ownership today. You can read their news and who the new editors will be at the link below. If you're attending Crime Bake, you can even meet some of them.

A final word. When Kate and Skye and I talked over lunch that day in Gloucester, I had no idea how far LBB would travel. I only wanted to do an anthology of short fiction. Thanks to everyone who wrote and sent stories, and those who bought the books and passed them around, LBB now has a life of its own. So forgive my sentimentality and pride as I watch LBB enter another stage in its life.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Level Best is a great endeavor for New England Authors. I wish we could do something similar for the Middle States.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Stay tuned, Jacquie. I think the new editors have some surprises in store for other regions of the country. It's been a great experience, launching LBB and watching it grow.

Unknown said...

I remember writing a short story called "The Downeaster" for one of their books, I believe the second, and attending two of their meetings (and meeting Kate). My husband had a consulting gig in Boston, and we lived there for over a year. Loved Boston, and being a part of Northeastern SinC. Thrilled to see the anthology continue! Thank you, Susan, for all your work and helping to keep keep the short story genre alive.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Pat, I'm at Crime Bake now, so I can't pull out your story and tell you I remember it. I do remember the title, however. I'm glad you enjoyed your time in Boston. We too are thrilled that the anthology will continue, and I look forward to seeing the next issue. It's exciting to see LBB grow in this way.

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