|Bryan, Donna, Janet|
I'm partial to small conventions such as Left Coast Crime, partly because I'm one of the founders of this regional mystery convention that over the past 20 plus years has moved up and down the Pacific Coast (San Francisco, Pasadena, Monterey, Seattle, Portland, etc), around the western states (Scottsdale, Boulder, Santa Fe, Denver, etc), and even to the Left Coast of Great Britain (Bristol) and the Left coast of Hawaii (Waikoloa). Left Coast Crime is a fan convention, run by volunteers. Left Coast Crime brings together writers and readers and fans.
In 1991 I was sitting around with two other mystery fans, Bryan Barrett and Donna Rankin, lamenting the fact that to attend a mystery convention we had to wait for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, to come to our neck of the woods. We held a shared belief that the West Coast needed a mystery gathering for fans every year, not just the years when there wasn't a western Bouchercon. So we decided to hold a convention in San Francisco and call it Left Coast Crime. If we had any idea then what we know now about what goes into putting on a convention, I'm not sure we'd have done it. But I'm certainly glad we did. That first year we had about 200 attendees, in Monterey we had 1200 (!), and in Sacramento we plan to have about 500. That's a very nice size group.
LCC spent its first two years in San Francisco before moving South for two years to Anaheim and then veered a bit off the Left Coast to Scottsdale and Boulder and then back to the actual Left Coast for Seattle. There have been plenty other locations including Alaska (in February) and a large leap across the pond to the Left Coast of Great Britain and then even further west to the left coast of the big island of Hawaii. Some of the Guests of Honor have included Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, Sue Grafton, Elizabeth George, Tony Hillerman, Steven Saylor, Laurie King, Walter Mosley, S.J. Rozan, and Barry Eisler. This year the guests of honor include Jacqueline Winspear and John Lescroart.
The original intent of having a regional convention was to accommodate local writers and fans and to emphasize the uniqueness of the region, but many of the same writers and fans attend this regional convention from outside their own region. Check out the list of attendees at LCC Sacramento HERE. At the Convention, besides multi-track author/reader paneling, there are "fireside" chats, 15 minutes of fame, police lab visits and forensic lectures. The small nature of this convention creates a relaxed atmosphere that gives fans ample time to get together and chat about favorite books, meet new friends and visit with old ones.
And, if you think that this fan convention is run by professionals, you'd be wrong. Left Coast Crime is a fan convention put on by fans. Everyone is a volunteer. There's a new committee for every convention that dedicates 2-3 years of their time, energy and money to the convention. Each year it runs like a well-oiled machine each. There's now a Board that oversees the conventions, but it's really up to the individual committee to make all the decisions about guests of honor, programming, hotel and more.
There are many reasons fans and writers choose to attend conventions. I asked a cross section of attendees why they go to mystery conventions, and here are some of the responses I got.
"To get together with other fans and aficionados and talk and drink and socialize!"
"To find good books, to talk to other people about books, to find treasures."
"It's an opportunity to take a vacation built around an event."
"To rub elbows with famous writers I read and discover they're real people."
"To meet with and listen to other writers and hear about their successes and failures both in writing and getting published or produced."
"To listen to panels and find out what's new."
So let's say Left Coast Crime Sacramento is your first convention. Here are a few tips to make the most of your experience.
Stay at the convention hotel. You never know whom you'll meet in the elevator! And, if you're planning on buying a lot of books or having books signed, you won't have to lug the books as far.
Look at the program online and get a sense of which panels and special events you'll want to attend. There's multi-track paneling, so that will entail choices. If you don't check it out in advance, be sure to look at the program book in your bag.
Oh, yes, the bag! Left Coast Crime Sacramento has a fabulous book bag to carry everything you'll need. It comes with registration. A great perk!
Places to hang out: There's usually a hospitality suite with goodies and snacks, coffee and tea. It's a place to rest your weary bones and also a great place to chat with people. The lobby is another great place to meet other fans and writers—and there's always the bar that is populated with LCC registrants all day and into the wee hours of the night. Restaurants: I recommend eating lunch with a different person each day and not just the person you came with. Or make up a larger table.
Make friends with a first time author/attendee. That person might be the next Lefty or Edgar Winner or NY Times best seller.
Carry your program book to signing events and have it autographed. Chat with the unknown authors. They will be thrilled.
Attend different types of panels; expand your horizons. If you're a cozy reader, go listen to a hard-boiled or thriller talk.
There is a reason why certain authors and fans are honored. Don't miss the one-on-one interviews or special events honoring these writers and fans.
Don't skip the book room, even if not buying. This is a place where you can chat comfortably with knowledgeable booksellers and with authors who come in to sign for the dealers.
Pickup flyers, postcards and bookmarks to look at later or to jog your memory.
There will be a silent and live auction. Usually the auction items are in a room where you'll be able to see the items, books and baskets and have a chance to bid on them. Your name in a book? That's always a great auction item.
There are many special events you won't want to miss; most are part of the price of your registration: Opening Ceremonies, Awards Banquet, New Author Breakfast, Tours.
And, since Left Coast Crime is a fan convention, no matter if you're a reader, a fan, an author, a publicist or an editor, you always have the opportunity to volunteer at the convention. It's just another great way to meet new people and new books.
One thing is certain, if you like getting together with other people who enjoy what you enjoy–mysteries–you'll love Left Coast Crime in Sacramento. Jump right in! Sometimes the sheer numbers attending can be daunting, but remember you all have something in common. You love mysteries. Mystery conventions are a terrific place to meet other fans, learn about new writers and books, and begin lifetime friendships with other mystery readers and writers. Remember that the worst thing that could happen if you attend LCC Sacramento is that you could meet a bunch of people who like mysteries and the best thing is that you will have a great time and be introduced to a whole new world of mysteries.
See you in Sacramento: I'll be Mining for Murder!
This article originally appeared in Kings River Life on January 28, 2012.