By Louise Ure
The blogs are all full of sun-kissed memories of Left Coast Crime in Hawaii. Hibiscus as big as a plate. Whales that cavort around your outrigger canoe. Panelists that left you breathless with their insight and good humor. Those things are all true, but they weren't the truth for me on Hawaii's Big Island last week.
You see, I was co-chair of Programming for the con with Judy Greber. And that means that we'd been working for almost two years to attract and assign interesting writers and readers to interesting panels.
We weren't responsible for any of the "event" kind of functions – the luau, the Desserts to Die For, the Awards Brunch – just everything else that happened between nine and five for a five and a half day period.
You ever try planning a bunch of activities for kids at a birthday party? Stretch that party over six days and invite another 320 kids with ADD and you've got some idea of what I'm talking about.
First you've got to come up with the panel ideas. Bill and Toby Gottfried, our uber-committee chairpersons, had billed this as "the Unconventional Convention" but, hey! No pressure! Really! Just make every panel discussion something no one has ever done before.
You've got to include the basics, of course, like Bad Guys in Crime Fiction and Debut Novels. But maybe there's a way to discuss those differently than has been done at other cons. Take "Setting" as an example: maybe we ask, "Does Geography Determine the Genre?" and get the fur flying that way.
Naturally, everyone wants to be on the Research Panel. Why is that? I think that would be the most boring part of any presentation I gave. Maybe these folks do more interesting research than I do.
And you also want to try some new stuff, like Kate Stine's look back at "The History of the Mystery." And the six Aussie readers recommending Australian crime fiction writers. And the panel "Things That Make Me Stop Reading" with fans and reviewers chiming in about their pet peeves and dislikes.
The panels I like best are the ones where authors are not talking about their own books, so we created a panel just like that: authors recommending other authors' books.
So you've finally got a list of potential panels and you begin to see the confirmations come in. Then the real work starts – reading reviews and author websites, combing through "panel preferences" and travel schedules, emails flying back and forth like an army of dull-tipped arrows – to find the right mix of names for each topic.
And you email the attendees to let them know when and where they'll speak.
And they reply.
* One reader wanted to be on panels, but was planning to go birding and see the volcano and go whale watching so would Wednesday afternoon between two and four be okay for all panel assignments?
* One writer said she couldn't do anything public until after noon each day. We didn't ask why.
* One woman complained that the author who had been assigned to the panel she wanted was nowhere near as competent as she to speak on the subject. Please move her into that slot.
* One was only available on Sunday. Another only on Tuesday. One was leaving before the Awards Brunch (could we reschedule it please?).
Get the picture?
I tried to calculate the number of hours Judy and I spent on Programming over the last two years but as the hundreds morphed into multiple thousands, I gave up.
Programming doesn't end there. Then you've got the last minute cancellations – a couple because of family emergencies, several more when the reality of their financial picture met them in the mirror. (It was not an auspicious year to be asking folks to fly to Hawaii. All told, the economy did impact us, but not to as great a degree as I would have predicted. Hats off to the organizing committee and the reputation of LCC in general for attracting as many folks as we did.)
And there were a couple of folks who paid their money, got panel assignments and planned on coming but just never showed up. Phooey on you guys. You made other folks pick up the pieces at the last minute and that's not nice.
I didn't get to the pool, the volcano, the beach or the whale watching boat.
So, my memories of LCC Hawaii?
Panels that were interesting enough and well enough distributed that there was a good crowd at each one. Spending time with Simon Wood who is the funniest man on the planet. Drinks with a female soldier named Brandy who showed me a whole new side of the American Armed Forces. Meeting Dr. Thomas Holland, the smartest (and sexiest) Indiana Jones clone I'll ever get close to. Lunches and dinners and last minute-piece-picking-up with Judy Greber, who is the funniest woman on the planet but doesn't know it.
And, oh yeah, that massage I treated myself to when the conference was over. I think it was worth all those thousands of hours.
P.S. Left Coast Crime in Sacramento in 2011? I'm not volunteering to do Programming.
A question for you, my 'Rati troops: what's the best panel you've ever seen or been on at a convention? And Happy St. Patrick's Day!