From Edith on an exciting mayoral election day here in Amesbury, MA on a decent-weather fall day.
I am thrilled to have as my guest today Susan Oleksiw, one of the editors of this year’s anthology Bloodroot: Best New England Crime Stories. Susan, with fellow editors Ang Pompano and Leslie Wheeler, formed Crime Spell Books, a new press, to release the annual collection, which had been dropped by its previous publisher. I’m glad they did and that Susan agreed to be interviewed for this post.
Take a look at this gorgeous cover!
Edith: Susan, you have come full circle in publishing the Best New England Crime Stories annual anthology. You were part of the team who founded Level Best Books about twenty years ago, with Undertow: Crime Stories by New England Writers being the first issue back in 2003 (which I still have in my bookcase). Give us a walnut-shell history of the anthology.
Susan: Edith, thank you for inviting me to the Wickeds and giving me a chance to talk about one of my favorite topics–putting together an anthology. Yes, I have come full circle, and it’s a wonderful feeling. I’ve learned a lot from working on anthologies, beginning with Level Best Books. Managing this kind of publication is a lot of work, and we, the Level Best Books co-founders, were delighted to be able to pass the anthology on to another group of writers. [Edith notes: Wicked Author Barb Ross was a co-editor in the second group, as was current co-editor Leslie Wheeler.]
They in turn passed it on to a third group. As the requirements expanded over the years, the anthology broadened its focus from New England writers to stories set in New England. The last editors decided to move on to full-length mysteries and set aside the annual anthology. Several of us were concerned about what this meant for the Al Blanchard award as well as New England writers. Crime Spell Books was the answer.
Edith: How do you, Leslie, and Ang divvy up the jobs of running a small publishing house? As one of the lucky ones whose story made the cut, to me it seemed you are primarily wearing the editorial hat.
Susan: The three of us are equally involved in selecting the stories. All three of us read and rate them, and then discuss them at length. Once we have our final list, Leslie and I work out the story order and then edit the complete ms. I set the book for Amazon, and Leslie and I read and proof the text. Ang does a lot of the work of maintaining contact with the writers.
Edith: Tell us about how you all selected the stories for Bloodroot – I’m sure it’s not easy. Were there stories you loved but just didn’t have room to include? Did anybody try to justify not quite meeting the submission guidelines?
Susan: The submission guidelines are pretty clear–a story by a writer who lives in New England. The story can be set anywhere and be about anything to do with crime. We didn’t have any submissions from writers not from New England, though some writers who had appeared in earlier anthologies raised objections about the requirements and we explained our purpose and goals.
For the selection process, we’ve developed what we feel is a fair system. Each of us reads all the stories and rates them 1, 2, or 3. The stories rated 1 by all three of us were a sure bet for the anthology. We then discussed the other stories that received two 1s, sometimes changing our minds and rating a story higher or lower.
Edith: How did the group pick the title? I see that the plant has a lovely flower and doesn’t seem to be poisonous, which frankly disappointed me – but only because I am always looking for new botanical toxins (she says with an evil grin…).
Susan: The plant bloodroot is common in the Berkshires, where Leslie has a vacation home. She knew about the plant and thought it would make a good title and cover, and she was right. If you’re looking for toxic plants, stay tuned. More to come, as they say.
Edith: My very first author signing was at the now shuttered Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, after my story “Obake for Lance” was included in Riptide: Crime Stories by New England Writers (2004). Traditionally, the anthology has been released at the New England Crime Bake conference, and the contributing authors who attend line up in chairs to sign their story as fans proceed down the line to get their copy signed – so fun for authors and fans alike! What are the plans for this year’s release?
Susan: I too look back at the Crime Bake signing as one of the highlights of the conference. We hope to continue that tradition at Crime Bake 2021, and plan to be there with books for sale and a scheduled time for signing. This is one of the few times when short fiction writers have the thrill of a book signing. If your readers are planning to attend Crime Bake this year, I hope they’ll buy a copy and get in line for the signing, which will be late in the morning on Saturday.
Edith: Where can eager readers who can’t be at Crime Bake buy the collection?
Susan: Bloodroot: Best New England Crime Stories 2021 is available now on Amazon. We haven’t yet released an e-book version but we will.
Edith: Is there already a plan for next year’s anthology? A name? When will submissions open?
Susan: We do plan to continue, but we haven’t yet chosen a name. We’re drawing up a list of poisonous plants to grace the cover, and perhaps give writers, like you, ideas for future crimes. Submissions will open on January 1, 2022.
Edith: Thank you for joining us! I’m delighted to have my story “Dark Corners,” in Bloodroot, which features Dot Henderson and Amelia Earhart solving a crime in 1926 Boston.
Readers: The stories in Bloodroot are in a wide range of subgenres of crime fiction. Do you like such a range or do you prefer stories in anthologies to fit into one subgenre such as traditional mystery or horror or PI? How often do you pick up an anthology to read?
Susan Oleksiw wears many hats in the mystery world. She is co-founder and co-editor of Crime Spell Books, which publishes Best New England Crime Stories. The first volume is Bloodroot, available in November 2021. She also writes three series. The Anita Ray series, set in South India, follows an Indian-American photographer. The Mellingham series set in a New England town features Chief of Police Joe Silva. In Below the Tree Line, Felicity O’Brien, farmer and healer, struggles to keep her land. Susan’s short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. She published A Reader’s Guide to the Classic British Mystery (1988) and co-edited The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing (1999). Susan received a PhD in Sanskrit from the University of Pennsylvania, and has lived and traveled widely in India. She lives and writes north of Boston. www.susanoleksiw.com