27 March 2013

Left Coast Crime 2013

Left Coast Crime is an annual conference that gathers together writers, fans, agents, and editors, and runs for three-and-a-half days, with interviews and panels, and awards among other prizes the Rocky, for best mystery by a writer in the West---or west of the Mississippi. This year it was held in Colorado Springs.
LCC logo

I drove up from Santa Fe, not on the interstate but on Route 285, a road a friend of mine told me is called The Shotgun, because it runs straight as a bullet from Espanola up to Alamosa, just across the Colorado border, where you bump smack into the Rockies. It was a great ride, through wide-open ranch country, grazing beeves and horses, and lots of wildlife, pronghorn, mule deer, wild turkeys, and I even spotted a small herd of elk.

I got there Wednesday afternoon, and met up with Deborah Coonts, author of the Lucky O'Toole novels, and Chuck Greaves, nominated for a Rocky for his book HUSH MONEY. Deb took us out for dinner at the Broadmoor, a resort hotel dating back to the 19th century. Good time, good company.

The conference and the panels started Thursday, but we played hooky. Along with Chuck Rosenberg, who's written a legal thriller called DEATH ON A HIGH FLOOR, Deb got us out of the hotel to drive up to the Garden of the Gods, a spectacular geological formation with Pike's Peak looming in the background at 14,000 feet. Then through Manitou Springs, and a short detour into the canyons. (I should mention that these three writers happen to be lawyers, for what it's worth, but Chuck Rosenberg is the only one with a still-active practice.
Pike's Peak from Garden of the Gods

Okay, enough of that. You want to hear about the trade show, and who was there. Among others, Margaret Coel, Ann Parker, Linda Joffe Hull, Manny Ramos, and Janet Rudolph---I'm leaving a lot of people out, go to the LCC website for the complete list, along with a couple of lesser lights, Craig Johnson and Laura Lippman.

There were of course some conflicts with the panels and workshops, i.e., you had to triage when two things you wanted to see were scheduled opposite each other. So it happens. There was a really interesting discussion, to me, about social commentary or politics in mysteries, or in fiction, generally, whether it's the financial crash, or poisoning the environment, or Mormon polygamy, or the drug war in Mexico, or whatever. The consensus was to tread lightly, one of the guys mentioning Samuel Goldwyn's quote, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." Another cool one was about the anti-hero, and during the Q&A, one of the questions from the audience was whether you could have a female anti-hero, the guys on the panel all men, to which the moderator, Simon Wood, popped right back with Charlie Fox (this is a shameless plug on my part for Zoe Sharp, of course). Then we had one on humor, that Deb Coonts moderated. Chuck Greaves, Rochelle Staab (a later winner of the Watson, for best sidekick), Brad Parks (winner of the Lefty, for best comic mystery), and Harley Jane Kozak. Deb wasn't able to moderate them much: a very funny and good-natured bunch who stepped on each other's laugh lines without apology.

Deb's panel

Deb's posse, by the by, had now grown in include Sally Anne Rosenberg, Chuck's wife, Paul Levine and his girlfriend Marcia Silvers (another pair of ambulance-chasers), as well as Rochelle. We had lunch Friday with Beth Groundwater, one of the other Rocky nominees, and Thomas Perry, somebody I've been queer for ever since he published THE BUTCHER'S BOY, thirty years ago. A very genuine and gracious guy, in no way full of himself.

Deb's posse

Saturday morning led off with a panel about writing other cultures, Margaret Coel and Craig Johnson in the mix. Murder in Hollywood, both the movies and the town itself, Harley Jane and Paul Levine among the participants. After the lunch break, Twist Phelan interviewing Laura Lippman, an utter hoot. Then a legal thrillers panel, Chuck Rosenberg, who was the script consultant on L.A. LAW, as well as other shows, holding his own. I got to moderate a panel myself, with Tom Perry and Mark Sullivan, both of them big guns in their own right, but talking about the collaborations with, respectively, Clive Cussler and James Patterson. The most interesting thing they said was that in spite of the many books they've each written on their own, working with those other guys was very much a learning experience. Old dogs, new tricks. The final panel I looked in was the Rocky nominees.
Rockies - Craig, Darrell James, Beth, Chuck, Margaret

At the awards banquet, there was the added suspense of Lou Diamond Phillips being among the missing. A winter storm had blown in, a real whiteout, closing the interstate south, and Lou had been sitting on the tarmac in Albuquerque since seven in the morning, waiting for clearance for take-off. In the end, he made it, about eight o'clock that night, to a standing ovation for being such a mensch. He interviewed Craig, finally, long after both their usual bedtimes.
Robert Taylor, Craig J, LDP - LONGMIRE wrap party, Santa Fe

Sunday morning was the finish line. I did get to see one last, and also very funny, panel, moderated by Catriona McPherson (who'd won the Bruce Alexander memorial award for best historical), about first breaking into the business. By this point, most of us were running on fumes. This kind of rodeo is, to put it gently, an endurance contest.

My takeaway? Well worth the trip. I'd have to say, though, it wasn't so much the big-ticket events, as the stuff that kind of fell through the cracks. My time with Deb and her gang, first and foremost. My lunch with Tom Perry. All-too-brief conversations with Clark Lohr, about place, and mining disasters, and with Leo Maloney, a former black ops guy who hails from the Boston area, so it was cool to hear that home-grown accent again, and not least, a chance encounter with our own R.T. Lawton, at the last minute. In other words---a nod to the lawyerly crew I hung with---it was all about the sidebars.


  1. There must be a lawyer joke in there somewhere.

    Good to have insight into the conferences, David.

  2. Thanks for the report. I'd love to meet Thomas Perry. His book ISLAND is one I reread every few years and I love the Jane Whitefield books.

  3. I've attended only two conferences and been on only one panel, but found them fascinating and worthwhile.

    Thanks, David!


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