With close to 1,000 attendees this year, the annual Left Coast Crime mystery writers’ convention returned to Monterey, Calif., for the first time in a decade. The four-day conference, held March 20-23 in the Portola Hotel and Spa and within hearing distance of the famous harbor seals, brought together fans and authors for a weekend of crime-themed fun. Conference attendance was capped at 800, with approximately 200 day passes sold, according to one of the organizers, Janet Rudolph. The convention was co-chaired by the inimitable Bill and Toby Gottfried, a husband and wife wonder team who have supported the crime fiction community for decades, along with Lucinda Surber and Stan Ulrich, another married duo best known for their award-winning website, Stop, You’re Killing Me.
Two author attendees lead a special pre-conference workshop all day Wednesday, where registrants could learn the tricks of the trade from Jan Burke and Jerrilyn Farmers. The panels kicked off on Thursday, with an opening reception in the evening. The Guests of Honor—American honoree Cara Black, international honoree Louise Penny, fan guest Sue Trowbridge, and Lifetime Achievement recipients Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini—participated in panels and interviews throughout the weekend.
Panels ranged from the technical side of the business—“Leap of Faith: Writers Who Took Alternative Paths to Publishing,” “Now What? Industry Experts on New Publishing Options,” and “Book Selling and Publishing: Chaos of Swimming Upstream—to taking advantage of the beautiful scenery with offerings like “Writing the California Detective,” with authors Gar Anthony Haywood, Naomi Hirahara, Karen Keskinen, and Kelli Stanley. There were, of course, panels on all things murder, including “Thrills & Chills: Medical & Psychological Thrillers,” “Murder Lite: Why Authors Write Humor into Mysteries,” and “Murder in Another Era: Historical Mysteries.”
In addition to teaching their various panels, Black and Penny, were individually interviewed throughout the weekend, with Penny in conversation with her publisher, Andrew Martin, and Black being interviewed by Penny, who stepped in at the last minute to replace author Deborah Crombie. In a special presentation, toastmaster Brad Parks interviewed Californian Sue Grafton, whose long-running Kinsey Millhone alphabet-themed series is nearing its conclusion with 2013’s W Is For Wasted. Black is best known for her New York Times bestselling series featuring Parisian private eye Aimee Leduc. The 14th installment, Murder in Pigalle, came out in early March from Soho Crime. Penny’s long-running, and multi-award-winning, series features Quebecois detective Armand Gamache in the Canadian village of Three Pines—fictional but chock full of dead people.
The conference culminated with the awards banquet on Saturday evening, hosted by toastmaster Parks. As with any good conference banquet, the closing ceremonies saw awards presented to the guests of honor, including another husband and wife duo, the powerhouse crime fiction couple Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, whose individual series—featuring Sharon McCone and the Nameless Detective, respectively—have thrilled readers since the 1970s. The other awards presented were all voted on by conference attendees, a fact that wasn’t lost on any of the winners, all of whom thanked their loyal fans. The Lefty Award for Best Humorous Novel went to toastmaster (and 2013 winner) Brad Parks for The Good Cop. Penny, picked up another accolade with her winning of The Calamari for her latest series installment, How the Light Gets In, an award that honors the best mystery set outside the United States. William Kent Krueger picked up the American version of the award, winning The Squid for best novel set stateside for his novel, Ordinary Grace. Catriona McPherson, who gave one of the most touching acceptance speeches of the night when she honored her recently deceased sister and credited her for her lifelong love of reading and writing, won the Bruce Alexander Memorial Mystery Award for her historical novel, Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses.
The convention moves north in 2015, with plans already in place for a criminally good time in Portland, Oregon, for an event nicknamed Crimelandia. It’s never too early to register and get information.