Thanks to Level Best. . .

As we discussed earlier this week, Crime Bake has been part of our writing lives for a long time. In fact, I’ve been to every Crime Bake save the first one. So I have been there when the Level Best anthologies have had their debuts. That first year I was there with my friend Regina, who bought a copy and ran around, having everyone sign it. We were both at the beginning of our journey as writers, and decided that a Level Best story was a goal.

That was in 2003. The next year Regina was in the hospital, fighting the cancer that took her life in 2005. I stopped by on my way home from Crime Bake, catching her up on stories, and telling her about my pitch (which she had made me promise I would do). I think I bought her a copy of the Level Best anthology, but I can’t remember. I hope that I did.

After Regina died, I was inspired to write a short story about a part of her life. I submitted it to the Al Blanchard contest, and won an honorable mention. It was rejected by Level Best, but I still remember the nice note I got from Ruth McCarty. I thought maybe I was done with short stories, and went back to toiling on my novel

Then I heard the voice. A woman was telling me her story, about the husband who wouldn’t friend her on Facebook. And her fake profile. And his death. I wrote it down, in first person. I worked on it, and got it down to 1000 words, submitting it to Level Best. This story was accepted, and “Tag, You’re Dead” was published 2010’s Thin Ice.

The next year I pulled out the story I had written about Regina, and edited it again. I renamed it “Her Wish” and submitted it. This time it was accepted, and it appeared in 2011’s Dead Calm. And, again, I went back to the novel. The same novel.

In 2012 a serial killing stage manager appeared in my subconscious. I was tempted to add her to the novel, but instead I wrote a short story, introducing her to the world. Again, it came in at under 1000 words, and the world met Adele Lane in “The Pendulum Swings Until It Doesn’t” in Blood Moon last fall.

I cannot tell you what a thrill it is when you are first published. And being included in a Level Best Anthology adds layers to the thrill. You are in the company of wonderful writers, signing at Crime Bake. Your holiday shopping is done (everyone gets a book), and when people ask how it is going with your writing, you can honestly say “well”.

Barb is one of the current editors of Level Best Books. I honestly don’t know how she, Mark Ammons, Kat Fast and Leslie Wheeler do it. But I am so grateful they do. They have given many people the joy of publication, and countless readers hours of enjoyment. Though not in Stone Cold, I am thrilled for my friends who are (including Barb and Edith), and I can’t wait to dive in.

13 Thoughts

  1. Julie, I had no idea of your backstory on those Level Best stories. Thank you so much for sharing that. I’ve submitted to the anthology every year except the first year (sometimes two story submissions per year), and my story this is year is only the third that was accepted. It’s a huge thrill and an honor. I’m going to go back and reread all of yours now, too!

  2. Julie, it’s touching that you can take the real experience with someone and honor them with a short story. So many people touch our lives – sometimes negatively, sometimes positively. While it’s great to “get even” with someone by shaping a character with them in mind and then killing them off in the murder mystery, how much nicer it is to shape a work around someone who has been a positive influence in your life. As I say to my volunteers – “Atta Girl!”

    1. Regina was a force with a fascinating story. Every time something good happens in my writing life I suspect she has a hand in it. Thanks for your kind comment.

  3. Julie, thanks for mentioning my note. I saw your talent for telling an a story and wanted to encourage you to keep writing and submitting. I’m so happy you did. “Tag You’re Dead” is a great story!

      1. Over the years I also received very kind notes from Ruth and from Kate Flora that accompanied my rejections from Level Best. The kind that ran to, “You’re a good writer. Keep writing!” The kind that kept me writing!

  4. Thanks, guys. Level Best was my first publisher, too. The new editors are just carrying on the tradition of the old. Kate Flora has said it, but it is true. Nothing compares to opening that envelope and finding a new voice.

    Now that I’ve seen it from the inside, I know if you make it through the first couple of rounds of rejections, the reasons you don’t make the book have a lot more to do with the mix of stories needed the than with the quality of your writing.

    We still take time (well, really Mark does) to write a few notes and encourage people to resubmit every year.

  5. I was ecstatic when I discovered Blood Moon. I had fallen off from reading short stories, but when I saw this one I knew I would be reunited with one of my former favorite story forms. It took a bunch of terrific writers to do that for me. Thank you, all.

Comments are closed.