Go West! Some Thoughts on the Left Coast Crime Conference

A doll’s house done up as a crime scene, complete with miniature crime scene tape.
Crime fans have all the fun, including murderously good auctions with dead cool prizes!
I’m not a mystery convention junkie like some. Much of my decision to attend these annual events depends on book publication dates, vicinity, and how much cash is in my wallet. Since I live in Southern California, Left Coast Crime, the “western” convention, usually is the best fit for me (less time spent in airports, for sure!).

It’s been a couple days since I’ve returned from Left Coast Crime Sacramento 2012, and the suitcase is still not completely unpacked. I’m in recovery mode and I didn’t even experience a time change. With 600 attendees, many of them new to the convention scene, LCC 2012 was electric. (See the complete list of the Left Coast Crime Award winners.) A few highlights:

• Best bar in recent memory. First of all, I’m not much of a drinker, but regular conventioneers all know that friendships are formed and strengthened at the hotel bar. Apparently the hotel was amply warned beforehand that mystery writers and readers could really wreck havoc. Noisy, moving chairs around, patrons staying in the same spot for eight hours! We did it all and also had a nice view of J Street before the sun went down.

Robin Burcell and Donna Andrews
Robin Burcell and Donna Andrews
Easy, friendly vibe. Two published authors, retired police officer Robin Burcell and former businesswoman Cindy Sample, led a team of excellent worker bees. I’m a firm believer that organizational culture begins at the top, and the fact that LCC was so congenial reflects well on its planners as well as the special honorees and guests, Jacqueline Winspear, John Lescroart, Harley Jane Kozak, and James Rollins.

• Small is beautiful. Poisoned Pen Press (PPP), Perseverance Press, Oak Tree Books were just some of the small presses on the scene. Editors and publishers were not only supporting their authors, but also scouting for new talent. One publisher had sit-down meetings with ten authors whom she might sign! PPP was certainly the most raucous, with a dozen in its stable at the conference, but Oak Tree Books held its own with eight. Many were nominated for awards, and two, PPP’s Ann Parker, (Mercury’s Rise), and Midnight Ink’s Darrell James (Nazareth Child), actually won.

• Eureka! Discovering new writers. I’m a reader as much as I’m a writer. I told myself that I wouldn’t buy too many books, but I ended up with a suitcase-full as well as a list of who I needed to read. Who am I most excited about? A fellow panelist, Wayne Arthurson, an aboriginal Canadian journalist who loves Walter Mosley as much as I do; Johnny Shaw, who doing to California’s Imperial Valley what Daniel Woodrell has done to rural Missouri; and Catriona McPherson, a Scot who left academia to write about a woman detective in her homeland in the 1920s a la Jacqueline Winspear. And on a more personal interest level, a translated edition of Tomoyuki Hoshino’s Lonely Hearts Killer released by PM Press.

Darrell James, winner of the Eureka! award, flanked by the three other finalists (from left to right), Sally Carpenter, Tammy Kaehler and Rochelle Staab.
Darrell James, winner of the Eureka! award, flanked by the three other finalists (from left to right), Sally Carpenter, Tammy Kaehler and Rochelle Staab.

• The future of publishing? Nobody knows. There was a time in the not distant past that a line divided self-published e-book authors and writers published by large New York houses. For the most part (especially evidenced at the bar), that line is now gone. Publishing stories were generously swapped and shared. As my friend, Keith Raffel, murmured when the conference ended, nobody knows anything. Just keep your head down and keep writing (that’s my advice).

• Food, glorious food. Who knew that the food in Sacramento could be so good? (It’s the farm belt influence, my Sacramento friends tell me.) Designer Japanese sashimi, downhome Italian road house pasta, Fat City’s fresh banana cream pie (Fat is a Chinese family’s name), I had it all.

Kelli Stanley and Robin Burcell
Kelli Stanley and Robin Burcell
• Crybaby Naomi. As my father passed away in January, I’m a bit sensitive, and I tell you that the tears were flowing with Darrell James’s and Kelli Stanley’s acceptance speeches for their awards (best first novel and best mystery set in California, respectively). They both gave up some love to their dearly departed ones and we were right with them.

• Charm of Tomato City. Sacramento may not be sexy, but it is certainly interesting. The physical beauty of Sacramento City Cemetery belies the mystery and tragedy of the people buried within. I can’t wait to take my 2-year-old nephew to see the gigantic locomotives at the railroad museum. And when you leave downtown, you get the full picture of Sacramento’s ethnic diversity, as I was entertained by a high-school drum line team at a Chinese restaurant with elderly Japanese American women watching on. This was at a speaking engagement I was doing for a new local nonprofit on Sunday and by then, I was sold. It won’t be long before I come back to the Tomato City.

Conference photographs by Clark Lohr, cemetery photo by Naomi Hirahara.

Naomi Hirahara is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Mas Arai mystery series.  The fourth in the series, Blood Hina, was released in 2010.

See all posts by Naomi Hirahara on Criminal Element.


  1. Kelli Stanley

    Wonderful post on a wonderful conference, Naomi! LCC 2012 was sheer magic, all the way through. I definitely left part of my heart in Sacramento! 🙂

  2. Robin Burcell

    Thanks so much for attending and then finding the energy to write about it afterward! Like you, my suitcase still isn’t unpacked. I’ve yet to write my thank you notes (busy finishing up a deadline on the next book), but hope to get to them soon. It was a lovely conference because the people who came were great. Cindy and I were thrilled with the turnout, fans, authors, big presses, small presses and those navigating that new e-world. And of course we were grateful for the efforts of everyone who contributed in the various ways.

    A wonderful recap, Naomi! Many thanks!!!

  3. Cindy Sample

    Thank you, Naomi, for such a lovely description of LCC 2012 and Sacramento. Our capitol has much to offer and I’m glad you spent the time to check out some of the highlights. The vibe and energy levels at the hotel were great.I loved watching people network at the bar (although I was usually racing through it) And maybe next year I’ll have time to do more than wave in passing!

  4. darrell James

    Naomi- Award aside, it was one of the best run and most enjoyable conferences I’ve been to. And, as always, great to see you. Great fun! Darrell

  5. Marlyn

    Thank you, Naomi. What a thoughtful and charming recap!

  6. Joanne Dobson

    Thank you so much. I wish I’d been there!

  7. Leslie Kohler

    Hadn’t thought about the Tomato City label in years. I can still smell the cannery. Sacto has some of the best Asian food anywhere. So happy the conference was such a great hit with all of you attendees. Robin, keep scetching. Darrell, keep writing. Those are the best words of wisdom I can convey. To everybody else whom I don’t know, glad you kept the barkeepers hopping. Good for the economy of my birth city!

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