I’m off to the Left Coast Crime Conference 2016 in Phoenix this weekend, three days with my fellow fictional crime aficionados. During the excitement of registering on Thursday morning, meeting and greeting old friends, I will be given a conference tote bag that probably weighs 20 or 30 pounds. It’s like Christmas morning unpacking that tote bag.
I’ll find a thick conference program that outlines each day’s events and panels. The panels are your chance to see and hear an author you admire interact with three other panelists and a moderator, fielding questions about their craft, their process, or their plot and characters. Authors on panels are expected to be informative and entertaining and open a window into the life of a working crime writer.
For example one hour-long panel: 5 Shades of Violence: How much should you have in a mystery? David B. Schlosser (Moderator) with Lisa Alber, Brett Battles, Glen Erik Hamilton, and Lori Rader-Day. They span the gamut from a little violence to a lot. Here’s the panel I’m on: Murder is My Business: The pros, cops as protagonists. Robin Burcell (Moderator) Matthew Iden, Janey Mack, Lisa Preston, and myself. We all write what is known as police procedurals, that is fiction where the story is told through the point of view law enforcement of one kind or another.
The tote bag will also contain free books from an author or a publisher promoting an author’s new work. The books range from cozies to hard-boiled and lots in between. Graphic violence, sex, and world view determine how these books are classified: with cozies the violence and sex take place off screen and the mood is light. With hard-boiled fiction the murders are bloody, the sex is steamy, and the characters can be amoral, and definitely the mood is dark and the world view jaded. We all like something different.
In a drift at the bottom of the tote bag are postcards and bookmarks. Editors and proofreaders advertise their services as well, as well as publishers. Bookmarks can be the traditional narrow strip. Authors with a number of titles choose a larger, wider format. Book marks can also be found in the hospitality room where people meet to take a breather and grab a cup of coffee between panels. It’s a great place to strike up a conversation with somebody you don’t know. Most everyone is there to network and meet someone new.
Not everyone who goes to writers conferences is an author. Readers and fans come as well for a chance to follow an author they like to the signing table to buy a book and have a moment’s conversation. Authors come to meet publishers and agents. One agent tells the story of being followed into a bathroom and having a manuscript slid under the stall door. This is not the way to get the attention of an agent.
Each conference I attend features an hour-long interview in a ballroom with a notable author. This year Tammy Kaeler (who writes about murder in the world of auto racing) will interview Ann Cleves, Gregg Hurwitz, Catriona McPherson, and Chantelle Aimee Osman. If any of these names are unfamiliar to you, they are well known in this world and worth checking out.
The author/reader breakfast is fun. Each author pitches about their work for two-minutes moving from table to table around the ballroom filled with readers and other authors. It moves fast—just enough to intrigue a reader with the general nature of an author’s work. Perhaps a mention of a particular location or type of crime is enough to make you remember an author’s name and check it out when you get home.
These conferences are open to anyone. They move at a breathless pace and when you’re overwhelmed there’s the hospitality room or the hotel lobby to slow down and catch your breath. You often find other authors doing the same thing. Many authors are extroverted introverts like myself. There’s a crank we can turn in the middle of the back to turn on the glittering, outgoing personality for a time, but by nature we need the solitude and meditative silence to polish the crime stories we all love.
Think you’d like to attend? Ask me about the next one. Maybe we can go together.