Showing posts with label Left Coast Crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Left Coast Crime. Show all posts

17 April 2019

Meet Me In Vancouver

by Robert Lopresti

I had a great time the last weekend of March, celebrating Left Coast Crime in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Ran into some past and present SleuthSayers there: R.T. Lawton, Brian Thornton, and Thomas Pluck.  Also old friends like S.J. Rozan, Kate Thornton, Ilene Schneider, and Pam Beason.  Even better I got to make new friends: Dara Carr, Cynthia Kuhn, and T.K. Thorne, among others.

But enough name-dropping!  Let me talk about the highlights of this four-day gathering of 400+ mystery readers and writers.  Naturally that includes panels.

One thing that was new to me: the panels were only 45 minutes long.  That is short.  To my surprise, I thought they worked pretty well but it definitely throws the panelists and the audience into the lap of the moderator.  If that august personage decides to spend the first five minutes reading the bios straight from the convention program, and then five more explaining his/her understanding of the panel topic, and then decides her/his questions are clearly more interesting than those of the audience, well... it can be painful.  One writer was told by an attendee: "I went to your panel.  I wish I had heard you instead of the moderator."

To give you some idea of what goes on, here are just the panels I attended:
Editors
Humour
International Settings
Law Enforcement Professionals  
Liars' Panel 
Music
Religion
Researching the Perfect Crime
Setting as Character
Short Stories and Novellas
Writing Villains

I was happy to serve on the Ecology Panel with Sara J. Henry, Dave Butler, Mark Stevens, and Gregory Zeigler.  I had suggested that topic but I felt like a bit of a fraud, since the others had written serious tales about water theft, over-development, illegal marijuana growing, etc. while my book is a comic crime novel about the Mafia trying to save the planet.  Ah, well.  We had fun.

S.J. Rozan with annoying fan
The Lefty Award Banquet was a treat.  Each table of ten was hosted by two authors and I was lucky enough to grab S.J. Rozan as a partner.  Like good hosts we brought extra wine and some tchotchkes for our guests (organic seed packets for Greenfellas; chopsticks in honor of Rozan's Chinese-American detective Lydia Chin).  We must have had a good time because our table was the last to leave.

There are two other big events.  At Speed Dating pairs of authors rush from table to table, giving their elevator pitch to groups of readers.  I have been on both sides of this dating spectrum and I can tell you that it's more fun to listen to forty different speeches than to give the same one twenty times.  The other event is the New Author Breakfast where all those who were published in the last year get to give an even briefer explanation of their book.

But let's talk about some little events.  There was a series called One-Shots, in which authors got to talk for fifteen minutes about some topic.  At the Toronto Bouchercon I did one of these about how my library caught the thief who had robbed over one hundred libraries.  Only about four people showed up.  This is not surprising; the events were not well publicized and tucked far away from the main rooms.

So this year I was ready.  I printed up ten posters (8.5x11) announcing the subject and the location.  I left them on the swag table where writers leave book marks and other paraphernalia.

It worked.  All the posters vanished and about twenty people showed up.  So if any of you plan to do a one-shot at a convention, remember that it pays to advertise.

The next day there was supposed to be a one-shot about author events from the bookseller's point of view.  People showed up for it but, alas, the bookseller, was not able to attend the convention.

Terri talking books
But what luck!  My wife was there.  Terri has worked for a decade at the best bookstore between Vancouver and Seattle, a shop that holds more than 300 author events every year.  So she gallantly stepped in and gave the attendees a lot of helpful tips.  When she signed up for LCC she had no idea she was going to be one of the speakers.

Next year Left Coast Crime will be in San Diego.  I recommend it.  In two weeks I will be back with a collection of words of wisdom I gathered at the con.  Here is a sample.  Perhaps you can  guess which  famous writer declared: "Me and God talk.  We go way back."



29 March 2016

Generosity

by Melissa Yi

I knew when I went to Left Coast Crime I might pick up some terrific books and make new friends. But I was surprised to meet someone who not only made me admire his writing but made me say, Yep, that’s how I want to live.

See, I felt guilty about going to a writing conference. I felt like I should be working in the emergency room, or raising my kids, or staying at home and working on my manuscripts. 

When you have three careers, the guilt never ends.

But after my favourite panel of police officers-turned-writers, I met panelist David Putnam in the book room. I told him how much I enjoyed his talk (no lie. Cops tell great stories. I was haunted by one of his stories about being called to a domestic dispute with a river of blood). David handed me his book, The Disposables.

Then he and his wife Mary marched over to the book table and bought my book, Stockholm Syndrome.

My jaw dropped.

We just met. He gave me his book for free. And he was buying my book.

“Sure. I want to get you hooked, and then you’ll buy the rest of ’em.”

Right. But wasn’t he worrying about money, space in his suitcase, his to-be-read pile, or the conference fee?

Clearly not.
My only complaint is that I look short. I feel normal-sized.
“We spend money on conferences every year. It’s what we like to do.”

That made so much sense. Intellectually, I know that I’m allowed to go to conferences. Emotionally, I felt like I shouldn’t. It reminded me of an article saying that, if you look at how children turn out, it doesn’t matter so much whether a mother works full-time, part-time, or not at all outside the home. The best correlation with the kids’ well-being is if the mother doesn’t feel guilty about her choice, whatever it is.

I wanted to be like David and Mary. I wanted to enjoy myself and be generous. I was also fascinated to hear that they owned an organic avocado farm and that Mary is something like a rocket scientist as well as a writer herself.

I tore through The Disposables on my flight home. It’s the story of a Bruno Johnson, once a much-feared and respected cop, now a man willing to work outside the law to save the poor and neglected children our society no longer cares for. Fast-paced yet emotionally rich, packed with characters you care about, with a tight plot and an ending that felt right.

And I’m picky about thrillers. I don’t like unbelievable plot twists, cardboard characters like materialistic and treacherous bimbos, and/or info dumps about some technological hoo ha.
The Disposables felt real. Real grit, real heartbreak, and real redemption.

I closed the book feeling good about the journey I’d taken, both in the book and in my own mind. It was even better to know that the author and his wife are mighty cool people.

How about you? Does guilt stop you from achieving more? Or are you already more evolved, like David and Mary Putnam?

If you comment, you could win a signed copy of The Disposables. I’ll send it anywhere in the world. If you like it, please tell a friend and/or post a review.

And if you like crafts, Mary made a video on how to make book cover earrings! https://youtu.be/836Nrrp9ko0

26 January 2016

Left Coast Criminals

by Melissa Yi

Hey, I'm heading out for the second mystery convention of my life, Left Coast Crime! Whatever shall I do? Especially if I want to save money?


Well, I’ve got three travel tips for you budget-conscious sleuths already.

1.     Register early. You knew this. I blew that one, waffling about whether or not I would attend. So, late registration for me. $275 U.S. at a time when the Canadian dollar is plunging. Luckily, I had enough USD to cover it.

2.     Google your flight.
 I used a lot of different flight sites, but I found them frustrating. A lot of them want you to choose both departing and return flights together, without offering good options (one gave me a 13 hour layover. Are you kidding me?).
For example, I’m appearing at the PoisonedPen Bookshop's International Fiction Night featuring Jewish Noir night at 6:30, so I have to arrive in time on February 24th. And flying back to Montreal on a Sunday is not a popular option. Only Google let me choose arrival and departure times for both flights, sifting impartially through different airlines.

3.     Airbnb
I’ve almost always had a good, and occasionally above-and-beyond experiences through airbnb, where you stay in someone's home. Although of course staying at the hotel is a swanky and convenient experience, I like meeting people, and sometimes they offer me food! Plus, what the heck. If you sign up with this link, we both get a few bucks off: https://www.airbnb.ca/c/myuaninnes?s=4&i=1

Now you're going to ask me, why go to a con?
1.     You could sell a book, like Michael J. Cooper sold The Rabbi’s Knight.
Michele Lang, Michael J. Cooper, and Melissa Yi. Yes, that's Jewish Noir instead of The Rabbi's Knight. Collect 'em all!
 2.     You could hook new readers. I live in rural Ontario. I can pretty much guarantee that no one in Phoenix has ever seen one of my books, let alone bought one.
3.     You could make friends. Travis Richardson told me a lot of writers hang out by the bar. He’s bringing his whole family!
4.     You could sell a short story or two. Hey, that's how I got into Jewish Noir.
5.     You could get some story ideas. I feel creatively listless right now. Maybe a con will help.
6.     It’s a vacation. I don’t remember ever going to Phoenix. My parents did drag me on a cross-continental trip to California one summer when I was little, so it’s possible I did go and don’t remember it except as a blur from the back of a van.
7.     Fanboy and girl squees. For me, this translates to “Dana Stabenow will be there!” I'll also be on a panel with Chantelle Aimee, Fan Guest of Honor (uh huh. Can't say anything more than that).
8.   Kenneth Wishnia told you to.

 
Why NOT go to a con?
1.     No time
2.     No money
3.     No interest
4.     Guilt
For me, it’s number four. I feel like I shouldn’t spend money on my writing. I should just slave over my laptop, ratcheting up my word count, sending out my stories, and get magically discovered by readers while I continue to work, work, work. I could be helping patients in the emergency room. I could be getting my kids on or off the school bus. Plus, I try not to travel because of carbon emissions.

Other people don’t feel this guilty. Theoretically, I’m allowed to have a vacation. My hair stylist, Christina Peeters, said simply, “I work hard. I deserve it.” Kris Rusch talks about how essential it is for writers to do continuing education. And the money’s mostly already spent.

Soooooooo…what about you? Do you go to cons?
And if you’re going to this one, see you at Left Coast Crime!

 

17 June 2015

Opening bottles and books


by Robert Lopresti

She was the most interesting thing that barroom had seen in a long time.

Well, I had only been there an hour, but the look on the bartender's face told me had been waiting for a woman who looked like that for  a whole lot longer.  Maybe his whole life.

Her clothes were a little skimpy for March.  Nothing to shock the church ladies, if such existed in Portland, Oregon these days, but enough to get a man's attention.  I happened to be a man.

The only thing that spoiled her appearance was the thirty degree tilt to her frame that came from the heavy vinyl sack over one bare shoulder.  Since it said LEFT COAST CRIME I deduced that it was full of new mystery novels.She shifted the bag onto the floor and climbed onto a stool a few seats away from me.  The bartender came up with an eagerness he had not shown when I ordered my white wine.

"Martini," she said.

"Gin or vodka?" asked the barman.  He had a face like a burlap sack full of grapefruits.

"Steve," she replied.

He frowned -- much shifting of citrus- - and went down the aisle, presumably to consult his drinkology manual.

After a moment she turned my direction and gave me a careful lookover.  A more thorough one than the subject deserved, really.

She smiled and batted her long eyelashes.  Then she said: "Starting on the day Charlotte Mayhew murdered her husband -- October 23, 1985 -- she became very suspicious of cats."

I don't have the equipment to bat my eyelashes but I can blink.  I did so.  "Excuse me?"

"I said, 'Starting on the day...'"

"I heard you.  But why did you say it?"

The bartender had arrived with a drink - whether it was a Steve Martini I am not prepared to say.  She gave him a smile which threatened to turn him into a puddle on the duckboards.

"It is the opening line of a story by Jane Haddam," she explained.  "Crazy Cat Ladies."

"I remember," I said.  "I read it in Ellery Queen last month.  But why say it now?"

She turned that smile on me.  "It's a great opening line, isn't it?"

I nodded.

"I had an insight when I read it.  It occurred to me that an opening line is like a pickup line."

"How do you figure?"

"They have the same purpose, don't they?  To attract someone's attention.  Pique the curiosity.  Convince someone to spend some time with you.  In other words, to seduce."

At the other end of his dog run,  the bartender dropped something. It tinkled.

"I never thought of it that way," I admitted.  "So you're a mystery fan?"


"Death is my beat."

 "Michael Connelly.  The Poet."

She shrugged.  Her shoulders, specifically.  "It's one of the great romances, isn't it?  The writer and the reader?'

"Older than that," I said.  "The storyteller and the listener."

She nodded enthusiastically.  "But it's usually a fling, right?  Even the best book doesn't keep us forever."

"I suppose not.  But just like a love affair, one can change your life, and stick in your memory all your days."

She gave me her sleepy grin.  "You're a romantic."

"I'm too much of  a realist not to be."

A frown.  "What does that mean, exactly?"

"Beats me, but it sounds good."  I did a quick drag through the shallow river of my memory.  "I saw her entrance.  It would have been hard to miss."

Her eyebrows rose.  "Why, how sweet!  Lawrence Block, isn't it?"

I nodded.  "Eight million Ways To Die."

She finished her drink.  "Wanna go somewhere and discuss literature?"

I shook my head.  "I'm meeting my wife in a few minutes."

She sighed.  "Happy families are all alike."

"Anna Karenina," I said.  "Not mystery fiction."

"When I drink I get promiscuous."  The bartender was staring at her.  "In my reading, I mean.  Stout, please."

He nodded.  "Pale or dark?"

"Rex," we said together.

"Enjoy the rest of the conference," she told me as I paid my bill.

"You too--" I frowned.  "Your name isn't Velma, by any chance?"

She shook her head.  "Call me Ishmael."

"No, I don't think I will."

Note: In searching for more openers to put in here I discovered that Fran Rizer had had the same insight as my mysterious friend. 

19 March 2015

Beginnings

By Brian Thornton

"Mighty oaks from little acorns grow." 

                                                            - Fourteenth century English proverb










 "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."                                                                     

                                                                                       - Laozi, Tao Te Ching











"'The cat sat on the mat' is not the beginning of a story, but 'the cat sat on the dog’s mat' is."
                                                                                              - John LeCarre









Last week I had both the honor and the pleasure of attending Left Coast Crime just down I-5 in Portland, Oregon ("Crimelandia"). While I was there I crossed paths with many old friends, and made some new ones. Attended some panels. Moderated one on novellas.

Learned a lot.

Had some fun.

Experienced one of the luckiest days of my life (behind, of course, the day that my wife agreed to marry me and the one when my son was born). Cleaned up at poker (got cleaned OUT the next night) and won a signed, inscribed copy of Steven Saylor's latest book!

You know, like you do.

One guy I ran into at this year's LCC Vancouver native Sam Wiebe. We originally met at last year's Bouchercon, and I liked him, so I picked up a copy of his novel Last of the Independents.With this, his debut novel Sam has penned one of the truly unforgettable opening paragraphs in modern crime fiction. It is by turns profane (and potentially offensive) and uproariously funny, which in turn also renders it completely subversive.


If you're interested in reading it, take a look at the sample offered here. And then do yourself a favor and BUY HIS BOOK!


Talking with Sam and a host of other friends/authors in (would you believe it?) the event bar about favorite books and the ones that pack an opening gate wallop like Last of the Independents does got me to thinking about beginnings. Specifically, about openings, and about how a story opens.

With all of the current emphasis on pacing, plot, character and a whizz-bang ending, the need for a solid opening scene for today's attention-challenged literary audience sometimes gets short shrift. And while I can recall terrific ending lines from some of my favorite novels, ("And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." comes to mind.), I can recall a lot more great openers.

(Note that distinguished between "opener" and "opening line" here. More on that in a bit.)

Take this one, for example:

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard
wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Most people who read and write crime fiction recognize that opener right away. It is, of course, from The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler's first novel, which introduces his famous private detective, Phillip Marlowe.

Chandler had a way with openers. Take this other one from his short story "Red Wind":

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

Now that is what I call a "table-setter"!

Your opening paragraphs are your first, best and really, only chance to set the scene, establish character/tone/setting, and do it all quick, before your reader loses interest. Looking at The Big Sleep again, it's readily apparent that Chandler does all of this with two short paragraphs. The first one quoted above, in which he memorably establishes his protagonist's personality and voice, and in the next one, where he sets the scene:

The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn't seem to be really trying.

And just like that your scene is set, complete with a stained-glass window that serves as a ready-made metaphor for the book's action that is obvious, without hitting you over the head.

So good it's been imitated a million times since, up to and past the point of parody.

How about you? Feel free to scroll down to the comments section and use it weigh in with your favorite opening lines/paragraphs/scenes, and what makes the special for you!

18 March 2015

Quotelandia

by Robert Lopresti

Panel on short stories at Left Coast Crime: Travis Richardson, Bharti Kirchner, Deborah J. Ledford, Brian Thornton, What's-his-name.  Photo by Teresa Wong, used by permission.
 
I spent the weekend in Portland, Oregon, at Crimelandia, the 25th Left Coast Crime. A good time was had by all, or at least by me. And just as I did at Bouchercon in November, I took notes on some of the words of wisdom that the panelists distributed, as well as some of the nonsense.  You get to decide which is which.  Apologies for any misquotes or misattributions.


"Watching cartoons is really good for writing sex scenes."  - Linda Joffe Hull


"We are living in the golden age of nonfiction."  -Brian Thornton
 

"What really hurt is that this reader trusted Wikipedia more than me."  - Steven Saylor
 

"(My character) believes that what separates us from the rest of the animals is our ability to accessorize." - Heather Haven

"She was built like sadness." - Johnny Shaw


"You can't just have your character say the kidney was kidney-shaped.'-Terry Odell
 

"As we used to say in the navy, maintain rigid flexibility."  - Janet Dawson 

"When I read violence and it doesn't hurt that makes me angry.  Because that's the only violence that's dangerous."  -Josh Stallings.

"We're all twelve year old boys at heart." - Holly West


"No one in Britain has enough money to put twenty writers in a room long enough to write Seinfeld." - Catriona McPherson



"My true stories are more like independent films."  -Johnny Shaw
 

"I went on the FBI tour today and found out I'm on the watch list." - Linda Joffe Hall
 

"I grew up in the seventies and my parents were so high that they couldn't start a commune.  So they just invited people over."  - Jess Lourey
 

"When you're doing research, never skip the footnotes."  -Jeri Westerson 

 "You can stand on any street corner in Bangkok and have five novels in ten minutes."  - Tim Hallinan


"I call the info-dump 'As you know, Bob.' For example,  'As you know, Bob, as forensic psychologists, we can...'" -Andrew E. Kaufman

"I live in Colorado and I'm probably one of four people who doesn't have a concealed weapon permit."  - Terry Odell


"Helen's work is critically acclaimed, best-selling, and award-winning, which is just greedy." -  Catriona McPherson


"When I started writing I used alcohol.  It diminished my anxiety completely.  It diminished other things too."  - Tim Hallinan

"I don't put years in my books because things change."  - Andrew E. Kaufman

"You're always on the psychoanalysis couch when you're writing these books."  - Steven Saylor
 

"Research is like fishing.  You never know what you're going to catch."  -V.M. Giambanco
 

"Adverbs are the date that wouldn't leave."  -Brian Thornton
 

"I'm supposed to repeat all questions, so: Parnell Hall's room number is 618."  -Jess Lourey
 

"Don't touch a menopausal woman and don't give her a gun." -Terry Odell
 

"They're not very interesting people before the murder."  - Frederick Ramsay
 

"If you can't laugh at your life, it's going to be a long life."  - Heather Haven.

"Adolescence is essentially a country-western song."  -Tim Hallinan

"Fun fact: Chris is wearing a training bra, but not in the traditional manner." - Simon Wood

"Good writing is good writing." - Josh Stallings