Monday, February 28, 2005

Left Coast Crime

I got home just before midnight yesterday from four days in El Paso where I attended the Left Coast Crime mystery writers convention.

El Paso is something of a depressing city, with an old and empty downtown with no one on the streets except for the homeless, and little in the buildings other than dollar stores and cheap Chinese take-out places.

The organizers of the convention, though, did a wonderful job of putting everything together, and the city’s hospitality couldn’t be questioned. I had a terrific time, although I’m utterly exhausted now. (Is it possible to overdose on Tecate?)

Just about everyone at the convention, it seemed, was a writer, with only a handful of fans. That was fine for me, since I go mostly to talk to other writers, but for the authors there that might have been something of a problem.

I participated on two panels, both of which went quite well and I think were very interesting for those in attendance.

The first discussed the process of reviewing, and included Carl Brookins, Betty Webb, N.S. Wikarski, with Steve Brewer as moderator. For the most part, we agreed on the main points, which is that reviewers are inundated with books and writers have to do something to make themselves standout.

The best way to do that seems to be to write something fresh, even if it’s just a new take on a familiar story. It’s also essential to have a strong opening, as everyone agreed that a book that stinks in the first few pages is unlikely to be read any further.

My other panel was on the Must-Read Thriller Novel, and included David Morrell, Lewis Perdue and Christopher Rice, with Barbara Peters (of Poisoned Pen) as moderator. We spent about half the time discussing what a thriller novel is and what makes for a good one (and a bad one).

The discussion then turned to specific authors, including many who are currently included on the International Thriller Writer’s (ITW) list of Must-Read Thrillers, which was the inspiration for the panel.

I was also fortunate to attend several other panels, including some interesting ones. I won’t give any more details, though, as my head hurts.

Name drop, did you say? Why certainly!

I had a chance to meet several writers whom I didn’t know, including Nathan Walpow, Joel Goldman, Harry Hunsicker, Lewis Perdue, Christopher Rice, Reed Coleman and S.J. Rozan. (Nathan, in fact, gave me the ARC of his terrific new book, which I finished on the plane ride home.)

I also was able to catch up with people I only knew somewhat from before, like Lee Goldberg, Victor Gischler, Jim Fusilli, Gary Phillips, Bill Fitzhugh and Steve Brewer.

There were also several old friends it was great to see…Barry Eisler, Joe Konrath, David Ellis, Denise Hamilton, David Morrell, Harley Jane Kozak and Jim Born.

Those are the ones I remember off the top of my head. There were dozens more.

That is really the cool thing about these conferences: you can meet and talk to so many great writers all in one place. You don’t have to be a reviewer or a writer either to join in the fun. Any of these people would love to have the chance to talk to fans and readers – that’s one of the main reasons they are there.

So for anyone who has an interest in reading mystery novels, I strongly encourage you to attend one of these conferences if you ever have the chance. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

The next big one coming up in Bouchercon, to be held this September in Chicago. If any fans who read this blog choose to attend, make sure you say hello and I promise to introduce you to your favorite writer in attendance. They'll be glad to meet you.