I attended Left Coast Crime in Albuquerque last week. LCC is an annual mystery fan convention that travels around to locations west of the Mississippi. Authors sit on panels where they discuss all aspects of the mystery genre. I’ve been on panels, I’ve moderated panels, and I’ve been in the audience. And they’re always fun and interesting.
I drove from Denver and picked up my pal Barbara Nickless (who writes really terrific novels, although they’re suspense and not cozies) in Colorado Springs. Before I left home, I was putting addresses in my phone and was startled to get this message. Before I freaked out I remembered the hotel changed hands, so whew!
We stopped for lunch in Walsenburg, a small southern CO town, and the Spanish Peaks literally took my breath away. They are so stunning, and it was terribly windy, so I forgot to take a photo. Here’s a link to a Google search with a bunch you can eyeball. They really are photogenic. But apparently you have to actually point your camera at them. Who knew?
We got to the hotel around 4 pm and had time to freshen up and unpack before Sue, our CO friend who moved to NM a few years earlier, picked us up for a delightful dinner at a charming winery. It was such fun to be able to catch up with her!
The conference actually began on Thursday morning with Speed Dating. That’s where 144 fans sit around banquet tables and 20 pairs of authors move from table to table every four minutes giving their two-minute spiel about their book or themselves as a way to introduce them to new readers. I’ve always done speed dating as an author because I really love it, but I didn’t win the lottery this time.
But it was probably lucky because with this new hotel, everything was a tad wonky … including the elevators! Subtle foreshadowing, eh?
My room was on the 18th floor and when I went to go down to the conference activities, an older man with a cane was waiting for the elevator and said he’d been there for fifteen minutes. He’d already used the house phone to call down and tell them the elevator wasn’t working.
I waited for another five minutes or so, before calling down myself. Not because I didn’t believe him, but because I suspected he was nicer than I was. The front desk told me both engineering and security were on their way up to rescue us. By then a couple more people had come and after waiting around for a bit, decided to take the stairs.
After another ten minutes and another phone call, I decided to take the stairs to the 17th floor to see if those elevators were working, with the intention of coming back up to rescue my new bestie with the cane. I stepped into the stairwell, closed the door behind me, and read the sign on the door which basically said, “You are so screwed right now.”
I might be paraphrasing.
Because all the stairwell doors lock, I had to walk all. the. way. down. I’m hale and hardy—and even though I was carrying my big bag of giveaway swag AND my books to consign to the bookstore—I took a deep breath and set off. What other choice did I have?
When I got to the bottom, there was a set of doors with big signs that said, “Don’t even THINK of opening these doors.” Again, paraphrasing.
Not only did I *think* of opening them, I slammed them open with a vengeance—both hands, both doors—hoping an alarm would start blaring, but it didn’t. I found myself in the backstage area of the hotel. People tried to figure out where I came from and who I was as I marched through there, looking every bit like the President trying to ditch my Secret Service detail.
I did have a restrained, thoughtful conversation with the hotel manager after I toweled off. Can you imagine me doing speed dating after that?? Or if my new bestie with the cane got stuck in the stairwell?? Sheesh. What a way to start a conference!
But later I went to lunch with a new friend and walked past this building, which made me laugh. See the titles of the books?
Friday at Left Coast Crime was another fully-packed day, which began with the New Authors Breakfast. Everyone who had a book pubbed since the last LCC got up to give a short (like 1-min) description of it. It’s always fun and you come away with a terrific reading list.
I moderated the panel “How Cozy is Cozy” with Jenny Anderson, Colin Conway, Kelly Garrett/Emmeline Duncan, and Julie Hennrikus where we talked about the tropes in cozy mysteries and then explained how we broke the rules or adhered to them. Such a fun panel!
The rest of the day was filled with attending other panels, and dinner with friends. I blog with a group called Chicks on the Case, and six out of eight of us we there, so we took the opportunity to go out for a nice dinner. Going clockwise from the lower left is Ellen Byron, Jen Chow, Lisa Mathews, Cynthia Kuhn, me, and Leslie Karst. All marvelous writers and fantastic people.
Late that night, when all the programming was over, we Chicks had organized an Author-Reader Connection, inviting six people to meet with us for “Sips and Sweets.” We commandeered one of the empty panel rooms and got set up for a parTAY of booze and cookies! I really love that LCC started offering these opportunities for authors to meet readers. They’re free for participants and the authors can do whatever they want—as big or intimate an event as they want.
I love to host or co-host these, even though they are a ton of work, because I always meet new people. They become new readers, but 99% of the time they become friends as well.
Saturday was exciting because I got to meet some of my Cozy Mystery Crew peeps for the first time! I’ve known Ellen Byron for a long time, but met Raquel Reyes and Ann Goldfarb (who writes with her husband as JC Eaton) over lunch. We didn’t know when we took this photo that in a few short hours, Raquel would win a Lefty award!
I sat on the “Contradiction of Humor and Crime” panel with Susan Shea, Cynthia Kuhn, Rob Osler, and Kris Bock. During the Q&A, I had the audience pose for a picture, a move I blatantly stole from another author. After each panel, all the panelists go to the bookstore room and sign books. That’s always fun!
Again, lots of interesting panels were going on all afternoon, but I ditched out and regrouped in my room for a while. I’m an extrovert, but it seems I’m a bit out of practice the last couple of years. It doesn’t help that I get up at the crack of early and stay up waaaay past me bedtime! I just ran out of gas, plus I knew the banquet (and another late night) was coming up.
Authors can host banquet tables and readers sign up to sit at them. It’s a great way to get to chat with an author you’ve wanted to meet. I co-hosted with two of my Chicks on the Case cohorts, Cynthia Kuhn and Lisa Mathews. We decorate our table and shower our guests with swag, mostly related to our books or where we’re from. I always bring Colorado chocolate, and there are chicks galore!
After dinner they present the Lefty Awards. Here are all the nominated books this year (all fantastic). If you’re looking for a good mystery or thriller, this would be an excellent shopping list.
After the banquet, most of the work and all the stress of the awards is over, so the real party begins. It’s a chance for mingling in the bar, made more difficult this year because the bar was actually closed! But we made do, thanks to Leslie’s portable bar.
Sunday at a conference is fairly low-key. Lots of people have early flights and/or are exhausted and sleep in a bit so there aren’t as many people around. There are typically only panels in the morning. I ate some breakfast in my room then packed, which is much easier when you’re driving versus flying. When you fly, there’s always some sad Sophie’s Choice decision about which free book or swag items you have to leave behind so you can close up your suitcase.
But I made it to the “Critters and Crime” panel my friends Barb Nickless and Margaret Mizushima were on. They both write mysteries/suspense with K9s in them, and even though I’ve known them both for many years, I still learned something new about each of them. Again, if you want to read good books, pick up theirs.
Then it was time to collect payment for the books we sold in the bookstore and I was happy to see I’d sold out of all my books, except 2 copies of my writing book! That saves space in my luggage too.
Barb and I said our goodbyes to anyone we saw, then headed for Santa Fe. I never drive through Santa Fe without stopping at my favorite tamale factory and picking up a few dozen for the freezer. So yummy! And easy… just steam them for a bit. After we filled the cooler, we headed toward a fancier place and had a scrumptious lunch before hitting the road for reals. Oh, and when I looked at my Facebook memories, I saw it was the same day I talked my brother-in-law into bringing me tamales on his way home from Santa Fe eleven years ago! So funny!
I hope you enjoyed my little Left Coast Crime travelogue.
Next week I’ll be at Malice Domestic in Bethesda … wearing all the same clothes! It’s a very similar conference, except that it caters more toward cozies and traditional mysteries, and less of the thrillery side of things.
I’m afraid this might be the last year I can do both, though. They’re very labor intensive and quite hard physically. And I basically don’t get any writing done in April. My son and his fiancé live in Baltimore, which is just a stone’s throw from the conference, so while they live there, it probably tips the scale. I can easily fly into Baltimore where I can make him pick me up and take me to the conference. Then after the conference he’ll pick me up and I can hang out with them for a few days before coming home.
If you’ve never been to Left Coast Crime or Malice Domestic, you might want to look into them. Malice is always in Bethesda, but LCC moves around, typically west of the Mississippi. They post the locations a couple of years out, so find one close to you or in a place you’d like to visit and add in a little vacay for yourself. It’s so much fun and I get so starstruck meeting famous authors I’ve admired for so long.
The conference usually gives out branded tote bags filled with books and other freebies. My bag had four or five books I wanted to read, plus I picked up a couple more from the trade-in table. It always feels so decadent snagging a pile of new books!
Left Coast Crime San Diego 2020 was abruptly cancelled almost before it began just as the pandemic began. Most of us had barely arrived when we had to turn around and go home again. And LCC 2021 was virtual, hence the “Unconvention” logo bags.
It was such a joy to hobnob with my mystery peeps again in person, and you can bet I won’t take it for granted again!
Do you think a mystery conference would be something you’d enjoy? Who would be your dream author to meet and hang out with there?