Oline Cogdill

Each mystery writers’ conference has a different tone and approach and each offers its own unique chance for readers to meet their favorite authors.

I have fond memories of the Bouchercons, Malices, Sleuthfests and the other conferences I have attended.

There was the Bouchercon when I rode to the airport with . . . nope…can’t mention that. Or, there was the Malice at which . . . oh, no . . . better not say that incident either.

Let’s just say that I have never had a bad time at a mystery writers’ conference, and quite a few interesting ones. Which is why I keep going back year after year to as many conferences as I can.

But there are conferences I have never been able to attend. Whether it’s the time of year or the location, or whatever reason, I still have not attended a Left Coast Crime.

And it continues to be on my bucket list.

Left Coast Crime is an annual mystery convention sponsored by mystery fans, for mystery fans. It is held during the first quarter of the calendar year in Western North America, as defined by the Mountain Time Zone and all time zones westward to Hawaii, according to its website.

That means that it is always held in a really nifty place to visit.

Monterey, Calif., will be the site for the 2014 LCC, which will be March 20-23.

The 2015 LCC will be March 12-15 in Portland, Oregon.

What makes LCC different than the other conferences? I asked those authors who have attended the conference before, and here are some of their thoughts they sent in emails. Whether you are a writer or the all-important reader, we’d love to have your opinion of Left Coast Crime and other conferences you’ve attended.

Brad Parks, the author of the Faces of the Gone, Eyes of the Innocent, The Girl Next Door, and The Good Cop featuring reporter Carter Ross, might be a bit biased about Left Coast Crime.

His novel The Girl Next Door won this year’s Lefty Award for best humorous mystery, as voted on by attendees of the Left Coast Crime conference.

The 2013 conference was his second LCC and he’s now a fan. “Going the first time made me realize it was a conference I was going to want to hit time and again,” he said.

“People often say Bouchercon is like a high school reunion, because it’s old friends getting together at the same time every year. Because of the geography, Left Coast has even more of that feel. Let’s face it, sometimes people who live on the East Coast won’t go to a west coast Bouchercon – and vice versa. Distance isn’t as much of a deterrent with Left Coast, so there’s a real core there that’s going to be there every year.”

On the size:
“To me, LCC is just the right size. It’s a nice halfway point between Bouchercon and some of the smaller conferences out there. Don’t get me wrong, you absolutely can’t beat the Bouchercon bar. And I love the conference in general. But it can be hectic. And you always feel like you’re missing something you really wanted to see—or someone you really wanted to talk to. Not so with Left Coast. It’s big enough that you feel like there’s something always going on but small enough to still feel intimate.”

On the awards:
The awards “are a half-twist from the usual—recognizing humorous mysteries, historicals or westerns, sub-genres that aren’t always at the fore when award time comes. It gives the conference a slightly different flavor and you do tend to see panels that reflect that.”

Favorite anecdote:
“This year at Left Coast, Laura Lippman was the guest of honor. I’ve admired Laura from afar for a while—and, yeah, we’re Facebook friends­—but I had never really talked to her in depth. I remedied that on Friday night, when we were able to share a drink and have a wonderful conversation about craft – just the two of us (with only occasional interruptions from people coming up to tell Laura how great she is). That talk was a real highlight of my conference. Then we continued the dialogue on Saturday. I don’t know if we could have done that at a larger conference. Both of us would have been pulled in too many different directions.”

Why he’ll return:
Parks will be the Toastmaster at the 2014 LCC in Monterey. “So I can guarantee there will be at least some entertainment value there... even if it’s just watching me make an idiot out of myself,” he said, adding a happy face to his email.

Donna Andrews is the author of 14 novels in the Meg Langslow series. Her next installment Some Like It Hawk comes out in July.

Why she returns:
“I'm a repeat offender at LCC. I first went in 2000, and I think I've only missed one since, because of a schedule conflict.

On the size:
“It's smaller than Bouchercon and thus, like Malice, it's easier to connect with people there. Because of the smaller size, it's easier for the organizers to hold it in smaller cities in more scenic places. And for those of us on the East Coast, it's a great way to build some visibility with readers at the other side of the country.”

John Gilstrap is the author of such best-selling thrillers as Damage Control, No Mercy, Nathan's Run, and Scott Free. The 2013 conference was his second LCC.

The differences:
“One of the things that sets LCC apart . . . is the reliably engaging locales. The last one I went to was several years ago in the old, downtown part of Los Angeles where I'd never been, and it allowed me an excuse to re-establish contact with some of the movie folks out there. This year is was in Colorado Springs—I love the Rockies in winter—and next year it will be in Monterey. Can it get better than Monterey?

What’s similar:

“Fundamentally, I think panels are panels. I always enjoy attending them and I always enjoy being on them, but I don't see a fundamental difference in panels from one venue to another. What does change is the cross section of fans. Much as Sleuthfest tends to attract fans from the southeast, and Magna Cum Murder attracts fans largely from the midwest, LCC is a largely western-dominated base. As with each of these smaller conferences, one of the great benefits over, say, a Bouchercon, is the smallness. You get to meet more people.

Christine Goff is the author of the Birdwatcher's Mystery series. She said she tries to attend LCC every year.

Who goes:
“The conference attendance ranges from about 400 to 600, a real mix of fans and writers—and a conference where writers are also true fans of the mystery. There is no differentiation between attendees. The only folks you can ID readily—except for star authors—are the booksellers, who have bookseller on their name tags—sometimes. Everyone mingles more. The accessibility to authors seems higher. The cliques seem less in existence. Editors and agents mingle with authors, fans and aspiring writers, and everyone is talking about the books. They talk about the best books they’ve read, the books that have the buzz, books that ought to have the buzz. It’s friendly and fun and all about the mysteries. And its location changes every year.

The panels:
“The panels aren’t that dissimilar to panels at other conferences, though they seem to be more about the content of the books than about selling the titles. The panels tend to be a mix of well-known, midlist and unknown writers.

The friendly factor:
“The difference between LCC and something like Malice or Bouchercon is size, accessibility and camaraderie. Bouchercon and Malice both have a tone of business to them. Authors are there expecting to see their friends, their agents, their editors. At LCC, they are there to have fun, talk about mysteries, hang out with old friends and to meet new friends. There’s a great write up of this year’s LCC that sort of gives a sense of the con. It was written by author, Mark Stevens, http://www.tellurideinside.com/2013/03/tall-tales-left-coast-crime-conference.html
I really like the friendliness and sort of laid back approach of LCC. People come to see authors, talk books and to see the area where it’s held.

The location:
“The location . . . makes a difference, too. The ’con moves around place to place, so folks also attend to see the sights. This year it was in Colorado Springs, so there were before con and after con trips to places like the Royal Gorge and Pikes Peak. People who rented cars also got to see places like the Garden of the Gods and Manitou Springs. It’s a chance to see the sights. [For future LCC’s] we’re entertaining South Dakota, Vancouver (Canada), Arizona. We’ve been in L.A., Santa Fe, Seattle, El Paso, etc. It’s fun to see the authors from those areas in their home domain. Bouchercon moves around as well, which is good, but there are so many folks it’s hard to really see everyone.

Paul Levine writes the series about lawyer Jake Lassiter series and another series featuring lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord. And, yes, Levine is a lawyer himself. Levine has been to three LCC’s—Los Angeles, Santa Fe, and the 2013 in Colorado Springs.

“I think of it as a regional Bouchercon. Heavily populated by writers/readers west of the Mississippi,” he said.

What’s similar:
“I did a legal thriller panel and a Hollywood panel. Very similar formats as B-con, Thrillerfest, Sleuthfest, etc.”

What’s different:
Twist Phelan put together an interesting panel, the likes of which I hadn’t seen before. It was called “Ask the Sweethearts: Secrets of Living with a Writer.” Spouses and significant others giving away secrets. My lady, Marcia Silvers, was scheduled to be on it, but it was scheduled late Saturday afternoon, and we tried (unsuccessfully) to get the jump on a snowstorm and drove back to Denver through really bad conditions. (Sleuthfest seldom has drifting snow threatening writers’ lives). The shame is that Marcia was going to spill the beans about how excited she was when I dedicated 2012’s “Last Chance Lassiter’ to her…..then discovered three prior dedications to other women. As Jake Lassiter says, our past clings to us like mud on cleats.
(The irrepressible Twist put her husband of three days, Jack Chapple, on the panel. Now, I had questions for him!)

Why he goes:
“What I got out of LCC is pretty much the same as with the other conferences. I get to see Laura Lippman on the elliptical when we both work out early in the gym. I see friends from all over the country who I would not otherwise run into. We live solitary lives, do we not?
"You certainly don’t sell enough books at these conferences to make them commercial ventures. I think of them more as holidays. Panels are fun and there’s always time to gather in hotel bars with fellow writers, i.e, whiners, so we can complain about the business.”

Robin Burcell
is the author of the Kate Gillespie police procedurals and the Sydney Fitzpatrick forensic series; her latest is The Dark Hour.

Her first time at LCC was at Tucson, Arizona, several years ago. Last year, Burcell co-chaired the LCC in Sacramento, California. While she has missed a couple through the years, LCC is one of her "must go to" conferences.

What’s different:
The biggest thing that sets it apart is the more intimate feel of it. For someone who has never been to any conference, this is a great first to attend. You get a big conference feel without being at a big conference. It averages about 300 - 500 (depending on location.) For instance, Monterey, where it will be next year, usually has a higher attendance, just due to location. Colorado Springs was smaller, about 350, undoubtedly due to price of flights.

Why go:
“The best part in my opinion is that because of the size, it has a "friendlier" feel to it and one has more of a chance of running into authors and friends. At the same time, it's large enough to feel like one of the big cons with multiple tracks of panels and a variety of events to attend.”

Catriona McPherson writes the Dandy Gilver novels, such as After the Armistice Ball, set in the 1930s. During Left Coast Crime, her novel Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder won the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award given to mystery novels covering events before 1960. That novel also is up for an Agatha at this year’s Malice Domestic.

McPherson has been to LCC twice, Sacramento and Colorado Springs; three Bouchercons, San Francisco, St Louis and Cleveland; and one Malice.

“To be honest it's all a bit of a blur still. Bouchercon is wonderful but so huge that you can be there for all three days and not see someone; LCC is big enough to be lively. There are always at least two places you'd like to be but by Sunday you can be sure you've had a chance to catch up with everyone. As I make new friends every time it gets harder and harder. I've solved it by staying up until 2 a.m.

2013 Left Coast Crime Award Winners:

The Lefty has been awarded for the best humorous mystery novel since 1996: Brad Parks, The Girl Next Door (Minotaur)

The Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award (first awarded in 2004) is given to mystery novels covering events before 1960: Catriona McPherson, Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder (Minotaur)

The Rocky, for the best mystery novel set in the Left Coast Crime Geographical Region (first awarded in 2004): Craig Johnson, As the Crow Flies (Viking)

The Watson, for the mystery novel with the best sidekick (first awarded in 2011): Rochelle Staab, Bruja Brouhaha (Berkley Prime Crime)