By Louise Ure
Over the months we’ve had lots of conversations about mystery conferences and conventions. Do you prefer the writer-focused or the reader-focused? Are they worth the money? How many do you attend per year? What’s the best part: the camaraderie in the bar or the insight from the panels?
But one thing we’ve never talked about is organizing the con.
I’m the Co-Chair of Programming, along with Jude Greber (Gillian Roberts) for Left Coast Crime in Kona, Hawaii next March. Hoo boy.
There are five great things about this project:
1. I LOVE Left Coast Crime cons.
They’re primarily reader-centric and that means a terrific blend of folks to gather to talk about crime fiction. And they’re small enough that you – whether you’re a reader or a writer – don’t feel lost or left out.
Left Coast Crime in Monterey was the very first con I attended, and it was the foundation for many friendships I now hold dear.
2. It’s in Hawaii.
How cool is that? A vacation and business conference all in one. This is one con I might actually be able to get my husband to attend.
3. It’s organized by an incredible team of volunteers headed by Bill and Toby Gottfried and Janet Rudolph.
These folks are so well organized and so energized by the Hawaiian location that it’s infectious. You’ve seen the kind of party they can throw — LCC in Monterey was my first taste of it. – but just wait until you see what they’ve put together for Hawaii.
4. Our Guests of Honor are just too cool.
Rhys Bowen, Barry Eisler, Lee Goldberg: they’re the yin and yang and yowza! of crime fiction writing. And you’ll be seeing a lot of them. Some of it comedic. Some of it serious. Some of it downright silly.
5. Sharing Programming responsibilities with Jude Greber is just plain fun.
What a great excuse to spend more time with her. The only thing that separates our houses is the Golden Gate Bridge. We call it our clothesline, and we hang out on opposite sides of it and kibbutz like 21st century versions of the characters from the 1930’s radio show The Goldbergs. “Yoo hoo! Anybody home?”
Now for the bad part:
1. I want to put every author on every panel.
Sure, she writes horror and suspense novels, but she’s also been a screenwriter. Here’s an incredible forensic specialist from Hawaii but he’s also written in the true crime genre. She’s a debut author, but also lives in Hawaii so she’s one of the locals we’d like to feature. He’s an Earl Derr Biggers expert but he also writes an historical series with a female protagonist.
It’s great fun mixing and matching the panelists, finding combinations and topics that haven’t been covered before. But it’s also a logistical nightmare. This one won’t arrive until Sunday. This one likes afternoon presentations. This one we already have scheduled for another topic at the same time.
It’s a five-and-a-half-day game of Concentration for the crime fiction set.
2. How do you keep it fresh?
Early on in our discussions, Bill and Toby began calling this The Unconventional Convention, and part of that means keeping it fresh and new. But how do you do that? Haven’t all the other cons already done all the panel options?
You do it by not starting with regular panel thinking. There will be small breakout sessions under the banyan trees. A special writer’s track offered to folks who’d like to perfect their skills and learn from the experts. Interactive panels led by readers – imagine that, readers! – instead of writers. Book discussion groups. Contests, trivia, prizes, games.
You can even enjoy an original play, Ghost of Honor Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan story “A House Without A Key,” directed and produced by Hal Glatzer.
Okay, I guess that with the help and ideas of all the volunteers, keeping it fresh is not so tough.
3. How do you program against all the incredible outings being offered?
Some of the other cons – Bristol, Denver, Anchorage – have done great jobs of offering side trips and exploration of local attractions.
But this is Hawaii.
I mean, a trip to the summit of Kilauea Volcano for an after dark light show? Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay and Puako Reef? Waipi’o Valley on horseback? A gourmet dinner and a night of astronomy atop Mauna Kea?
I might as well give in on this one and admit that some attendees are going to forsake a few of my ever-so-well-thought-out panels and events for some sightseeing. I would, too.
Overall, the job of Programming would be daunting except for a few factors I haven’t mentioned yet:
• It’s nothing compared to the attention to detail that Bill and Toby and the other committees are doing. They have the hard part and they make it look easy.
• The Programming Committee is made up of lots more folks than just Jude and me and they’re terrific. We’ll need to get the basic grid set before we call on many of them for help, but oh boy, will we ever be calling. This group knows how to put on a party.
• It’s a joy to sit back and say, “If I were designing the perfect convention, here’s what I’d do.”
That’s my question for you today, ‘Rati. If you were King of the World and designing your own ideal mystery convention, what would it look like? What panels and discussions would you like to see? Any other random thoughts on things that should be done?
And do come join us, ‘Rati. We’ll be at the Marriott Waikoloa Beach Resort on the Kona Coast, March 7 -12, 2009. There are still airline deals to be had, convention membership is only $225, and the room rates are really good for this beautiful resort.
We’re doing the program planning right now, folks. If you want to make a real splash at LCC next year, now’s the time to tell us you’ll be there!
It should be fun. Aloha!