Left Coast Crime report

by Alex

Since no one else here has reported on Left Coast Crime, I guess I’ll step up and start in, in the hope that others will chime in and we’ll all get some kind of vicarious conference thrills and tips.

I’ll set the stage: Denver is a fairly good-sized city in a great bowl of plains, surrounded by a ring of very high snowy mountains. Gorgeous. The airport is quite a ways away from downtown, where the Adams Mark is – a 45-minute car ride through a lot of open plain.

Downtown is very funky – there’s a Gold Rush feel to it and an instant sense of eccentricity – in the layout of the streets (narrow and veering wildly all over the place, coming to strange triangles everywhere), in the buildings (many of which are built in strange triangles to fit the strange triangular intersections), and the overall dress is Wild West: lots of cowboy hats and boots and fur vests. The people – well, the people were a trip. As in San Francisco (another Gold Rush town – think about it), Denverites cultivate their eccentricities. One of the first things I saw when we got off the freeway downtown was a homeless guy perched on a bridge with a sign that read: SPACESHIP BROKE DOWN – NEED MONEY FOR PARTS. And from the look of him, he wasn’t kidding.

One thing I really liked about the people, though, is that they were extremely friendly. Well, let me be more specific. It’s definitely a cruising town. But not aggressively so – people are just REALLY friendly. I loved it. I have been locked like a troll in my study, trying to finish this book, and it was very nice to go out on the Denver streets and be looked over so appreciatively. I have a feeling Denver is a great place to be if you’re single. In fact, I’m making a note of it in case I’m ever single again.

The hotel was right in the middle of downtown, where they have a glassed-in pedestrian mall (which I never got to) and a trolley, which a bunch of us used to good advantage on Thursday night to get to a spectacularly good restaurant whose name escapes me, but was possibly the most Feng Shui-ed commercial space I have ever been in in my life (and remember, I’m from California). There was even a crystal hanging above every table. (It did not, however, prevent a heated political argument that in old days would no doubt have turned into a bar brawl.)

The hotel was potentially perfect for a book conference, as it had five bars, one of which was a huge expanse of low tables and comfortable green plush lounge chairs that should have been a perfect congregating center. But in fact it was difficult to find other LCCers in the hotel; there were two towers with two separate bar areas, which divided an already small conference, and there was another conference of high school volleyball players (female) who for some reason were all camped out in the lobby and lounge for an entire evening, which I think put a damper on more adult socializing. It was an interesting complication for a scene, though, and went into the file.

Now that I’ve been doing this conference thing for going on two years (yeah, I can hear the pros out there laughing) here are a few general and LCC- specific conference tips that I’ve picked up, and I hope others will jump in and add to the list.

First, ANY conference in the winter is going to be dicey. Apparently outside of California they have this thing called “weather” which plays all kinds of havoc with travel plans. Also it makes certain conference locations cold, even snowy. Though the weather in Denver was mild for the season (try telling that to the homeless, of whom there were many more than just the stranded alien downtown), I was as usual woefully underpacked for the freezing nights. I actually own no real sweaters of my own and will either have to shop or raid Michael’s closet next time I go to anything in the winter, which is thankfully almost over, which means of course I will totally forget about the potential usefulness of sweaters and, oh, scarves, until I am on the plane for my next winter conference.

The other thing about winter conferences is that you (well, I…) don’t play as hard because there are so many sick people around you that you tend to go to bed earlier and eat more leafy green vegetables, which is not a bad thing, actually.

Second, if you’re an author, ALWAYS hit the local bookstores. On Friday Pari and I rented a car and drove around to 8 Denver bookstores to meet managers and sign stock. It took about four and a half hours (Friday traffic and Denver is much more spread out than you would think). We got to visit both Denver Tattered Covers, which are absolute cathedrals of books, each in their own way, one in a great old downtown building and another in a grand old theater – and the completely charming Murder By the Book, in a house in a funky little walking area – as well as make the rounds of the B&Ns and Borders. You get much more of a sense of the town driving around (renting a Garmin GPS helps!) and you are establishing a relationship with another book market. Plus we had a flat-out great time together.

Third, specifically for LCC – I’ve been to two LCCs now and for some reason the hospitality suite is the place to be. It wasn’t as packed as it was last year in Seattle, but I still had some of my best con experiences just sitting around drinking coffee, stealing coconuts from the catering decorations, and getting to know a whole raft of new people. I really think you might have the most fun and useful conference experience just planting yourself in the hospitality suite and never leaving.

Fourth – always try to hit the forensics panels. You will always get your money’s worth in the forensics panels. Jan Burke did a stellar job assembling experts, and it’s always gold to hear her and Doug Lyle talk about their work – you can get a year’s worth of research in in an afternoon. And I love hearing forensics and law enforcement experts from the specific region – you get a much better sense of the whole region in general.

Oh, and fifth – never assume that your fellow authors share your political views merely because they’re authors, even if there is a crystal hanging above your copper – coated table. On the other hand, I now feel Cornelia Read is my soul sister for life.

There were so many other Rati at LCC – I expect at least SOME report on the con from everyone. We were there and it’s our job to report here for those who couldn’t make it, and I had to leave halfway through the banquet to catch a plane.

And for those who didn’t make it to Denver – any conference tips you’d like to share?

27 thoughts on “Left Coast Crime report

  1. billie

    Alex, you do such a fine job of setting the scene – I feel like I was there too!

    I’m having a serious urge to do a big cross-country road trip, so the part about you and Pari driving to all those bookstores made me smile.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Billie, I love road trips, too. One of my favorite things to do – my sister and I went all the way across the country two years ago and it was some of the most fun we’ve ever had (and fun is something we’ve had a lot of…)

    I think I will drive to Romantic Times so I can do some drop-ins along the way.

    I don’t mind flying at all but there is nothing more relaxing than a long, leisurely drive.

  3. JT Ellison

    Denver was great. I got to meet so many people from so many sources… it was especially cool to meet some of the old Murderati brethren — Jeff Cohen, Deni Dietz and Simon Wood. Simon is a hoot, and not what I was expecting at all. Don’t know what I was expecting, actually, but he was just so damn wry. He made me laugh.

    My biggest problem was the damn surgery the Tuesday prior to the conference, which meant I wasn’t at my best. I loved all the parts I did get to participate in — the Debut Authors breakfast was wonderful, the Endless Conversation I had with Pari, Jeanne Stein and Michelle Gagnon was fascinating, and I must say, if you have a chance to be moderated by either Chris Grabenstein or Don Bruns, leap at the chance. Both are great! Chris, Neil Placky and I had a lot of fun comparing our research sources (and chapstick. Burt’s Bees. Classy!)

    Met the amazing Christa Faust, hung with our gorgeous Alex, was charmed to death by Louise, who is truly one of the classiest women I’ve ever had the honor to sneak outside with. Michelle Gagnon needs to be awarded the fashion plate of the weekend award, especially in her little black wig. Jason Starr exuded New York cool in spades. Harry and Allison Hunsicker are always such a pleasure to talk with. I ran into Jane Cleland and Donna Andrews no less than ten times — those escalators were better than the bar for catching folks.

    Finally met Lori Armstrong and Karen Olsen too, though I somehow managed to miss Elaine Veits. I ended up resting in my room after every hour of face time, so it’s not that surprising, but I was sorry to miss my chance. There was a large Killer Year contingent to play with, and I met one of my idols, David Corbett — and made him blush with my fawning. It’s always fun to hear the sex and violence panel, and this installment was no different. Tasha Alexander stole the show. See, those Victorians knew what they were doing.

    Rue Morgue’s Tom & Enid were lovely folks, and very accommodating to all my bizarre requests. Thanks to both of you for all your hard work — managing all those books would drive anyone nuts.

    Jan Burke did a great job with the Forensics track, and I wish I could have seen more of those panels. I was so honored to be able to participate on one, which drew an interesting question that I’m researching and will report on another time.

    My only complaint is the panels were over much too quickly. When you get such an amazing group of authors and readers together, they should last two hours, not 45 minutes. Compliments to the planners, things were pretty smooth.

    I know I’m missing a million names, like Julia Pomeroy, the always tall and lovely Twist, Ken Isaacson, Les Klinger. Had lunch with Cornelia Read, Jeff Buick, Tahsa, David Corbett and my patient (very, very patient) husband before we ran off to the airport, and it was a lovely and poignent capper to a great weekend.

    I met Andi Schecter at long last.

    Bruce and Troy Cook were a riot, Rick Mofina, and Beverly Graves Meyers their ever-charming selves.

    Kelli Stanley is an absolute doll, and I see why she and CJ, among others, are rocking the ITW debut authors for 2008.

    I got a chance to talk to Fran, and DA Davenport, and Becky Lejeune (who looks much different with her mini Princess Leia buns that with her hair down — I turned her life upside down in the character panel.

    My big problem was I wasn’t feeling up to meeting a lot of new people. I had to sit down or fall down so many times that I’m afraid I rushed off from a bunch of conversations so I didn’t embarrass myself by fainting. So word to the wise, perhaps don’t travel immediately following surgery.

  4. JT Ellison

    Sorry, didn’t realize how long that was…

    Oh, and I had lunch with Tim Maleeney and the below-mentioned folks, which saw my first foray into both soybeans and kung pow. Don’t ask…

    Also had one of the best times I’ve ever had at a con sitting in a bar outside the hotel with hubby, Marcus Sakey, Jamie Lavish, Tasha Alexander and Christa Faust, watching Tasha learn to smoke a cigar. It was worth the trip to Denver just to have some downtime with good friends.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    JT, thanks for all those details – I love triangulating off other people’s reports.

    You were a total trouper – I was terrified you were going to pass out on Thursday.

    But all through the con so many people were dropping from the altitude sickness. It finally caught up to me on Saturday. I was so dizzy and weak I could barely stand up. That was unexpected…

  6. Will Bereswill

    I certainly wish I could have been there. I had to be in Los Angeles for my day job. Next year I’ll plan it out better.

    I recently (November 07)saw Jan Burke and Doug Lyles in St. Louis at Fornesics U. That was hosted by our local Sisters in Crime. They were great.

    Thanks, Alex and JT for the reporting.

  7. Bill Cameron

    Alex, fab wrap-up, and some great tips. Did you notice the Cameron Church right up the street from Murder by the Book? Just saying…

    And I STILL owe you a beer! Bal’more, perhaps?

  8. Louise Ure

    I haven’t even unpacked yet. Does that tell you how wiped out I was after Denver? But I had a great time, maze-like hotel and all.

    Some of my favorite bits:

    • Driving to Boulder to say farewell to Cynthia Nye and the High Crimes bookstore with Rhys, Steve Hockensmith, Peter May, CJ Lyons and Mario Acevedo

    • Finally meeting the 2000 Year Old Librarian, outside smoking at dawn

    • Getting lost on the way to my Murder By The Book signing because Eric Stone and I were gabbing too much and got lost.

    • Time spent (so well!) with Seattle’s Fran Fuller

    • Dinner across the table from Adrian Muller, Maddee James and David Corbett. The seating made it look like Beauty and Her Two Russian Bodyguards.

    And oh yeah, the panels, the new friends from Boise, seeing my old high school pal Eddie, simultaneously celebrating the Andi/Cornelia birthday, the book room!, Karen Olson (with whom I most assuredly agree politically). I could go on for days. I had a great time.

  9. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Louise, I laughed out loud at the image of Maddee and the Russian bodyguards AND at the idea of you meeting Doris Ann outside at dawn as you both stumbled out for a smoke.

    Okay, you didn’t say “stumbled.”

    I love hearing these vignettes – it puts the con in 3-D.

  10. Bill Cameron

    Always looking for an excuse to buy a lovely lass a beer. And the sooner the better, though the next time I pop up for air might be in B’mer. Bawlmoor. Ballymore. . . . er, Maryland.

  11. Will Bereswill

    I’m an Environmental Engineer for a big beer company by day, author by night. I’m not sure how that’s all going to work out after my book is out there, but I’m going to try like hell to make it work. I guess I won’t be sleeping much.

    LA is a short trip for me. My previous trip was to China.

  12. Sophie

    i had an entirely marvelous time…and alex, i was keeping my mouth shut (possibly the influence of the giant crystal???) but I was absolutely on the same political page as you, baby –

    can’t wait to hang out next time!- Sophie

  13. Cornelia Read

    This was so fun to read, Alex–like having a really great flashback. I also totally adored the crystal restaurant–which was called Vesta. I only know that because I still have the matchbook in my conference backpack. And yes, political blood sisters fuh-evah, as they say in Boston.

    Damn, the whole thing was just amazingly fun. Can’t wait for bawlmer…

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Now that’s an occupation, Will! Hope your book is set in the world of big beer companies – talk about a platform!

    Sophie, it’s probably a good thing you didn’t chime in. Three women ranting is, well, practically a coven! 😉

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hah, speak of the devil and lo… Cornelia.

    VESTA! I thought people were saying Vespa. So not the car, the Roman goddess of the hearth. Makes much more sense for a restaurant.

    I think we’re all going to be jonesing far before Bawlmer.

  16. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Right! Thrillerfest!

    Actually there are a bunch of cons in between at which most of this group will meet. I think it’s just that for whatever reason this year’s B’Con is seeming larger and wilder by the day.

    Still sick, Pari? That’s a bad cold. Traveling through it never helps. Hope you’re taking it easy this weekend.

  17. Fran

    My first conference ever and you guys all made it so wonderful! I’m a Gemini astrology-wise, and I really did want to be twins, if not triplets, so I could do everything and meet everyone and still have some down time. Sea level to mile high is disconcerting at times. I thought you all handled it fabulously!

    Thank you, each and every one of you, for your great panels and your generous gift of time. You made a newbie feel incredibly welcome!

  18. Allison Brennan

    Jealous, again. I read Lori’s report earlier this week and now this and I wish I could have been there. Wahhhhhh . . . .

    I rarely, if ever, talk about religion or politics. I have pretty solid opinions about most things, but it’s not worth making enemies or getting in huge philosophical arguments about (fill-in-the-blank) and, frankly, I don’t care as much as I used to. (Sad, I know.) Considering part of my last job in the legislature was to bring the republicans and democrats together to agree on the same computer system, I learned diplomacy quickly 🙂 (And yes, we got one computer system that everyone agreed on, amazing, eh? It was my swan song . . . )


  19. Zoe Sharp

    Damn, Alex, now I’m even more jealous that I missed LCC. We went to Denver and Colorado Springs for the first time on the tour last year. But it was a whirlwind stop, so we were in and out of CO the same day. And didn’t *that* confuse them at the rental car desk!

    I think I put my feet in my mouth enough with my earlier dos and don’ts for conventional behaviour, so I’ll keep quiet on that subject. And I hadn’t even *thought* of adding politics to the mix … 😉

    But can I just say on the subject of forensics panels that anyone who has a writing-related forensic or medical query should check out Doug Lyle’s website:


    where you can post questions that would normally get you locked up. Doug, gentleman that he is, gets back to you like a swinging door with all the relevant info …

  20. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Fran, so glad you had a great time. Your comments made me realize – I really think LCC is a perfect first timer’s conference – not so big to be overwhelming and SO friendly, always. It’s casual and also more genre-inclusive than some of the other small-to-mid sized conferences.

  21. Fleur Bradley

    Great report on LCC, Alex. For me, it seemed too short, but that’s probably because it took me so long to figure out how to get around the hotel…

    My favorite panels were the endless conversation one. Kind of freestyling for authors, lots of fun.


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