The Truth About Left Coast Crime

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 author said he didn't want to do any panels because he'd be there with his girlfriend and didn't want to participate. But could we put his name and picture in the brochure all the same?

* 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! 

23 thoughts on “The Truth About Left Coast Crime

  1. J.D. Rhoades

    “One writer said she couldn’t do anything public until after noon each day. We didn’t ask why.”

    Wait, this was an option? Why the hell hasn’t anyone ever told me?

    Best panel? Barry Eisler’s Sex and Booze in mystery panel at the first Thrillerfest in Phoenix. He made pitchers of Screaming Orgasms for the whole crowd, and passed into legend that very day.

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Omg, Louise. I don’t know how you kept from blasting some of those authors into the next century. What are people thinking?

    But except for that, I’m so sorry to have missed it. LCC is one of my absolute favorite cons – all that, Louise, and Hawaii! 🙁

    The timing was off by about four months this year, for me.

    Best panel I think I’ve ever attended was the Masters of Horror panel at World Horror Con in Toronto: David Morrell moderating F. Paul Wilson, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Landsdale, Michael Marshall Smith. To hear these giants of the genre talk about what really makes a career over the years was pure gold. I think about the things I learned in that panel all the time.

  3. Zoë Sharp

    Louise – hat’s off to you, my dear, for volunteering for such a thankless task. I can entirely believe that you and Judy are the unsung heroes of LCC ;-]

    My favourite panel to watch was the Liars’ Panel at ThrillerFest in NYC in ’07, moderated by Christine Kling, although I don’t think Lee Child has quite forgiven me for my contribution …

    And my favourite panel to be on was one chaired by Stuart MacBride at Harrogate in ’07. He organised it as a game show, with a missing words round and jailhouse carving for the contestants – we were all given a knife and a bar of soap and told to sculpt something useful during the course of the panel. That was a lot of fun.

  4. Louise Ure

    J.D., the “no panels until after noon” is not an option for you. I’ve seen what you can do to an early morning crowd on a Sunday.

    Alex, that David Morrell panel sounds fabulous. They’re some of my favorite writers.

    And Zoë, give knives to crime fiction writers? What was he thinking?

  5. Rae

    Sounds like it was great – congratulations on a job well done!

    The panel that comes to mind is Laura Lippman interviewing Dennis Lehane at the Chicago B’Con. Just a very fun, relaxed hour.

  6. Louise Ure

    Rae, those one-on-ones feel more like conversations and that’s great. (Rhys Bowen and Barry Eisler did the same at LCC and it was really good, too.)

    I hope your leg is healing well!

  7. Sandy

    Oh, for pity’s sake. Why do people have to be like that? You and Judy are to be commended for your tenacity and patience.My favorite panel? Just about every one with the likes of Craig Johnson, Jacqueline Winspear, Judy Greber, David Corbett, Tim Maleeny, Hallie Ephron, Cara Black, Cornelia Read, Louise Ure, Sheldon Siegel, David Hewson, D.P. Lyle, Tony Broadbent — well, I think you get the picture.

  8. pari

    Louise,There’s a special place in Heaven — a place with spectacular massages and marvelous red wines — where conference/convention organizers and volunteers get to go to.

    Bless you and all the people who made LCC such a success this year (I wish I could’ve gone).

    Like Sandy, I think the best panels have the likes of you, Judy, Jacqueline (I was on a panel with her once and adored it!), Craig and more. Lucky for all of us, there are a lot of wonderful panelists and only a few who’d be better off not in the public eye.

  9. Louise Ure

    Sandy, it sounds like we might see you at the Book Passage Mystery Conference in July! (And I just saw that Patty Smiley will be on the faculty this year, too! Hurray!)

  10. Laurie King

    You and Judy did an absolutely fantastic job of keeping us all in line, on task, and in the house, and for those authors who seem to imagine that arranging panels is a task done by a computer program, I apologize. And lest conference programming be thought a thankless task, let me say again to you two:Thank you.You ladies rock.Laurie

  11. Jonathan Hayes

    I have to say that from the panelists’ point of view, the thing worked like a dream – I was happily unaware of the behind the scenes mishegas.

    I must point out that Louise is conveniently forgetting to mention the vengeance she exacted on the debut authors: she forced us to pay a dollar every time we referred to our books as “my book”, instead of giving its full title…

  12. Louise Ure

    Pari, you’re right. The vast majority of the authors are kind, articulate, flexible folks who do great presentations. And let me not forget those who were the moderators! They made it all work.

    Laurie, you’re the reason it was a success, methinks. Sorry about loading you up with so many panels … you’re just too interesting for your own good.

  13. Louise Ure

    Jonathan, I count meeting you as one of the perks of LCC. Let’s do it again. And this time the drinks are on me. After all your forgetfulness about your book title on the panel, I can afford it.

  14. Cornelia Read

    Louise, you are a goddess for doing all this, and so is Judy. I so wish I could have been there this year. Thank you on behalf of all of us, even the non-attendees.

  15. Zoë Sharp


    “And Zoë, give knives to crime fiction writers? What was he thinking?”

    In mitigation, they were blunt table knives … except I always carry my own ;-]

  16. Kelli Stanley

    Louise, I am completely in awe of you and Judy and the incredible job (talk about herding cats) you did in pulling off some wonderful and truly unconventional convention programming!!

    And to top it all off, you still had the energy to sparkle and shine on every panel, and train a bunch of debuts into *always* remembering to mention the book title and protagonist. I thought of you at Authors on the Move whenever I felt tempted to say “this book”! You’re way tougher than Lou Gossett, Jr.! 😉

  17. neilplakcy

    Louise and Judy did a terrific job with the programming at LCC– and hats off, too to the moderators who came up with such interesting questions. The biggest hoot was the debut author panel Jonathan mentioned, with everyone in the audience hanging on every word trying to trip up the authors and get them to contribute a buck to buy Louise her cocktails.

  18. Tom

    Yes, it takes someone divine to handle these chores, or at least someone divinely afflicted.

    At the late lamented LA Writers Conference, there was a wonderful panel on minority authors and market breakthroughs. It was given by Leslie Esdaile Banks, Marcella Landres and Daniel Houston-Davila.

    Marcella pointed out that publishers had not yet seen fit to release the Hispanic equivalent of WAITING TO EXHALE, insisting instead on books beginning with tales of protagonists who first appear as shoeless children in dirt-floored hovels.

    She got my attention with that, and it changed how I wrote (and populated) my work.

  19. Louise Ure

    Kelli, I could take Lou Gossett Jr. with one hand tied behind my … shotgun. Glad you had such a good time. You were a veritable butterfly flitting between admirers in Hawaii!

    Neil, I appreciated the audience participation immensely. It make the difference between a bottle of local beer and a bottle of champagne. Such a good cause!

  20. Louise Ure

    Tom, the insight you got from that panel made the presenters job totally worthwhile. (As a side note, I do wish that I’d been able to sell a Braille version of The Fault Tree. That book is an anthem to the blind and all that they can do.)

  21. Tom

    No reason to think you can’t do it in the future, Louise. And those characters deserve more than one turn on the stage.


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