THE LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 EXPERIENCE

THE MAKING OF A MYSTERY CONVENTION

January 7, 2003

Article by Denise Baton

In order to cover this incredibly awe-inspiring event from the inside I asked the core member of volunteers to speak for themselves. You will find out about their experiences as described in their own words in italics below. At the end of this article is an interview with Helen Howerton, the Chairman of LEFT COAST CRIME 2003. Helen created a safe forum for communication which facilitated a collective consciousness of problem-solving mystery mavens. This means Left Coast Crime 13 is going to be one helluva mystery convention. Chairman, Helen Howerton is a business-savvy woman who knows how to keep the troops moving and sets the tone of serious play. The whole designing of the LEFT COAST CRIME 13 has been a creative and spontaneous process backed up with hard work and a coordination of all the administrative details. Helen would make for a kick-ass CEO as she is gifted at management, possesses great leadership skills and works to keeps a fair mind in all situations. Handling all those mystery personalities is no small job.

Luckily, Helen has had a secret weapon - Mary Krueger, Dawn Weiss and Kris Neri. They are the three muses who make up the programming committee that orchestrate and choreograph the convention events. This convention began with a bang when Mary, Dawn and Kris hosted a series of brainstorming sessions with every different kind of mystery personality that the L.A. area and thereabouts could provide. I was honored to be invited and was doubly honored to help out in my own small way in the making of LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 and because of that I had a birdís eye view. Itís no surprise to me that the programming of LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 is exceptionally provocative. I can promise you, if you attend, youíll be entertained and more informed and youíll meet some extremely interesting mystery personalities during your LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 experience. The programming committee has created activities, panels, and events that are guaranteed to satiate your mystery appetite.

Dawn Weiss, Mary Krueger & Kris Neri, The Programming Committee of Left Coast Crime 2003

 

Every year mystery lovers ponder the conventions. Which ones will they attend? How much do they cost? Who will be there? What will the panels consist of? How can they get involved?

Let me begin by saying that one of the best ways to get involved with a mystery convention is to volunteer. Whether you are a mystery writer or a mystery fan, volunteering is a way to be a part of the mystery convention experience. There are many different jobs for a volunteer and they all have their singular attributes. Itís absolutely hands down the perfect means to make friends in the mystery convention community, which by the way, is huge. Why is it so massive? Because there are thousands of things that need to be done in order to create a successful convention and that means man-hours. From day one to the last day of the convention, dedicated members of the mystery community give mind, body and soul, depending on the job that needs to be done, to serve the event.

And if you donít have time to volunteer you can have a very rewarding experience by donating to the charity auction. Thereís no limit to what you can give. Some people get very creative.

If youíre short on time but want to promote yourself, another way to create a presence at the LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 convention is to take out an ad in the program. You can promote any business (with a few exceptions) in the program because mystery lovers encompass every kind of person.

If youíre interested in volunteering, contact Sheila Lowe by email at (writechoice@prodigy.net) Volunteer Coordinator. Or if youíd like to donate to the charity auction contact Mary St. John (maryputnam@mail.com) Charity Auction Coordinator. It may be too late to place an ad but contact Paul Anik Ad Solicitor and Publisher Liaison at (psa@aniklaw.com) to be sure. He has the rates and the deadline dates.

First, before anything can be planned, organized or manned, a convention must have a steering committee. What is a steering committee? Thatís a group of people who make mind-boggling, creativity keg and fan phantasmagoric experiences out of air. They are nothing short of magicians as they create a reality out of few thousand good ideas. But, donít let me lead you astray, not every aspect of volunteer work is glamorous. Many of the duties are nose-to-the-grindstone, practical details that must be attended to in order for the convention experience to run smoothly.

Chairman, Helen Howerton, meets with the steering committee at the Hilton Pasadena.

 

 

 

How did the members of the steering committee of LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 come to be? I found the simplicity and purity of the origins of the steering committee to be almost poetic. Who better to host and plan a mystery convention than a book group?

Mary Akin, an Originating member of the Steering Committee and Co-Chair of the Awards Committee responsible for establishing criteria for both the Lefty and the new Arty award will tell you herself -

ďI have enjoyed being on the LCC2003 committee from the beginning. I belong to the Thursdays Are Murder book group that decided to submit a plan to host the convention in Pasadena. The beginning planning sessions began about four years ago and it's hard to believe the convention is finally upon us. Most of our book group members have attended previous Left Coast Crime Conventions and have enjoyed the experience. Since that time, the committee has expanded to include a number of people who through special interest or expertise have been asked to join us in organizing this event. It's our hope that those who come to Pasadena will have a great time meeting favorite authors, discussing favorite books and discovering new authors and mysteries to enjoy.

As one of the registrars, I retrieve the mail from the P.O. box and transmit the information from the registration forms to Suzanne Epstein who is keeping the computer database. I maintain a notebook of all the registration forms including those submitted at the Yahoo website. I pass the checks on to our finance people who do the banking. Through the database, Suzanne passes on information regarding registrants' interest in programming or volunteering to the appropriate committees. If one of us is out of town, the other one can keep the process moving along.

Iím also on the awards committee. Initially we established criteria for both the Lefty and the new Arty award and publicized those criteria through the website and the updates sent out by Chairperson Helen Howerton. We received submissions for both awards through Yahoo email and the P.O. box. At this time, we are finalizing the final five nominations for each award to be voted on during the next month by registered members of this convention.

Planning a convention like this is a big job and LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 is being carried out entirely by volunteers. We all have personal lives, jobs, family situations and unexpected events that intervene and make this something of a challenge to carry out. But I feel we also have a great deal of talent and special personal attributes that have helped us and will continue to help us overcome any difficulties that might yet come up.

See you in Pasadena!Ē

Mary Akin, Registration and Awards Committees

Besides the awards, another very exciting activity at LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 will be the charity auction. People donate different items for this part of the convention and some of the items are dreamed up, once again, pulled out of a creative hat, by the steering committee. I canít wait to see the detailed list of goodies myself. I personally know of one auction item that will be extremely desirable to any serious card carrying mystery fan. Iím not allowed to say just yet what it will be but I can tell you it involves a map. Iím putting away my dollars in hopes that I can have a chance at taking home that particular prize. Iíll be eyeing the auction items well ahead of auction time, I can promise you that, because I donít want to leave without a LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 memento.

I asked Mary St. John, AUCTION COORDINATOR, what she could tell us about the auction at LEFT COAST CRIME 2003.

ďLuckily, many nice people have offered donations and/or advice from their experience, etc., it's great!

I can certainly tell you about some of the items that have been promised. However, one of the suggestions from my veteran comrades was NOT to mention specific items (at least to the public), since we donít actually have them in hand just yet. Though we do have promises in writing.

In general, weíve gotten all kinds of pledges that range from signed, special-edition books and posters to breakfasts with authors to handwriting analysis, gift baskets, and manuscript critiques. But thatís not all. And of course, there will be chances to bid to have your name as a character in the next book (from a couple of our generous author-donors).

Weíve also had several offers of help for auctioneers, so I think itíll be a lively time. The event involves dessert too, so everyone gets a sweet deal! (Har har, couldnít resist.)

If anyone has suggestions Iíd love to hear them. Tell everyone coming to the convention to check out the auction because it shouldnít be missed. Itís going to be a truly animated affair.Ē

Mary St. John, Auction Coordinator

Now, we all know that the purpose of the convention is to make money. To that stated purpose, Dorothy Rellas is the one who has filed for a sales permit & non-tax status with the State of California.

All I had to do as a steering committee member of Left Coast Crime 2003 is dig out a bit of information, fill out a few forms and keep my fingers crossed that Letters of Determination arrived and a Seller's Permit was approved. Then I just sat back at meetings and prepared to yawn. Was I surprised! Instead of being bored, I was mesmerized.

I've attended many writers' conventions and conferences. If I ever thought about it, I assumed they just kind of came together--by magic. A few people contacted hotels and writers, decided on panels and contests and then issued the publicity. Writers and fans flocked to the events. That's not exactly how it works. Sitting in on the Left Coast Crime 2003 steering committee meetings, I discovered there are a few other steps involved.

Choosing the hotel comes first--one with plenty of rooms for panels, book signings and booksellers, rooms for banquets and smaller informal get-togethers. It helps if the venues are close together. No one likes to ride elevators from one place to the next. Oh, yes--there has to be food! Our board found the Hilton Hotel in Pasadena. Check one.

Next it was time to round up writers. In Southern California, there are many of them. However, for LCC, it's important they be mystery writers with schedules aligned to convention dates. A prominent guest is crucial. LCC has Robert Crais lined up. He writes great books--and he's a hunk, a truly fine man. Check two.

You'd think that would do it, but I haven't even mentioned menus, auctions, publicity, panels and special events. Will anyone come, especially publisher representatives and fans from the East Coast, which is three thousand miles away? The hostess planning a party for friends and relatives always has feelings of doubt. She's invited twenty, thirty people to her house-can she pull off the event successfully? Just imagine how the board feels with twenty or more times that number of people converging on the Hilton at the end of February. Gradually the chairmen worked their magic and reported progress at each meeting. Checks three through-oh, I lost track of the number.

With a little more than a month to go, the board has made everything come together. I've been fascinated listening and learning. But mostly I've been awed by the steering committee, all conscientious and hard-working. They've dedicated much of their lives in the last many months to making the 2003 Left Coast Crime convention the best one ever.

Dorothy also happens to be a member of the Short Mystery Fiction list and the author of short stories, HIT AND RUN, featured in FUTURES MAGAZINE and THEREíS SOMETHING ABOUT JULIE of the anthology HARDBROILED, not to mention PICK SIX AND YOUíRE DEAD of the SMALL CRIMES anthology. Thanks for sharing your experience Dorothy.

In order to make the money, attendees have to register and plunk down the fee. In that regard, I talked with Suzanne Epstein, Registration Co-chair and Publications Committee Co-chair and hereís what she had to say:

ďMy role on this committee is primarily layout. I ask potential panel participants to send bios and photos for inclusion in the program book. (This has also required me to scan or adjust photos using Photoshop). I will be laying out a book of somewhere between 48 and 60 pages to distribute at the convention. I also created the 4-page information/registration flyer that has been distributed to bookstores and other conventions. We will also be creating a small pocket program for use during the convention.

MY ADVICE: Early response to requests for information and photos allows time to make sure there are no problems. There will be a tremendous effort in the last weeks before the convention, so early response minimizes the chance of mistakes

REGISTRATION: My best advice is that the person coordinating the bios, photos, ads, and other copy for the Program Book have experience with layouts, scanning photos and doctoring them when necessary, formatting word documents, and finding a way to organize the hundreds of separate bits of information sent in. I set up the database with all the information we request when people register, including their desire to participate on a panel, to volunteer, their payment amount and method (check, PayPal), dealer names, T-shirt purchases and payments, and anything else that's important. I enter each new registration as it comes in. Periodically, I send updates to the Webmaster, the Chair (Helen), and the Programming Committee (Kris, Mary and Dawn). I also co-ordinate with Mary Akin, my co-chair, who keeps a parallel tally of everyone.

MY REQUEST: Ask everyone to print clearly, or register on-line. Illegible email addresses have been our biggest problem.Ē

Thanks Suzanne. I asked Paul Anik, Ad Solicitor and Publisher Liaison what an Ad Solicitor and Publisher Liaison did exactly.

ďBasically, I seek ads from publishers for the program book, and other promotional items and support.

Enjoyable Aspects? Communicating with the publishers and learning a bit about the advertising business. Also, surprising the authors when I am able to obtain support from their publishers that they did not think possible. Always getting some positive result for a charitable cause.

Troublesome aspects? When the provided email addresses are wrong, or when I don't receive any response to my email solicitations.

Essential Requirements: Keep asking each other if anyone needs help, and jump into the deep end of the pool with each of us when required. Understand that all of us are just volunteers and not professionals at this event.

Lesson Learned: Never give up. Itís always worth asking. Thank heavens for email!Ē

In fact, thereís still a chance for you to buy advertising in the LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 program. Contact Paul Anik today for the details. Paul was also kind enough to do all the legal corporate work for non-profit status so we could rest assured that Left Coast Crime 2003 was completely legit.

It probably comes as no surprise to you that there will be a great deal of book selling and book signing at LEFT COAST CRIME 2003. Who do you think is in charge of that rather significant job?

ďMaggie Mason here. I am the dealer room liaison for LCC 2003, and the biggest request I have is for people to come to LCC 2003 in lovely Pasadena, California and have a great time! Attending mystery conventions really enriched my life, and when I think of all the friends I have made who I would never have met otherwise, I realize how blessed I am. I coordinate with the dealers and learn which authors are attending the convention, set up the dealer room, and will report to the Left Coast Crime Executive committee with a status report after the convention.Ē

You may be wondering, how does one sign up for LEFT COAST CRIME 2003? Just go to www.leftcoastcrime2003.com and press on registration. And as youíve already guessed, a volunteer had to create that website.

ďThatís me, Jamie Wallace, LCC 2003 Webmaster and person responsible for contacting Wonder of Learning, our children's book donation charity. Basically, I'm in charge of getting all of the latest information about the conference, the attendees, the authors and programming out on the Internet so the hungry fans can lick their chops in anticipation of a meaty conference. Also, I volunteered to be the contact person with Wonder of Learning so we can coordinate book donations for the needy school children though out LA.

What aspects are most enjoyable for me? How helpful Helen and other committee members have been in supplying the needed information in a comprehensible way, all I have to do is cut and paste the text. I'm also having lots of fun figuring out what images to use to decorate the site. I love the logo design and enjoyed learning how to animate the blood drops.

Which areas are most troublesome? I am awful at alphabetization! And Iím constantly singing the ABC song to myself, much to the amusement of my 3-year-old. I anticipate some late nights tweaking the programming schedule page as the decisions are made and authors are assigned.

What would I like people to do to help me out? Be patient and kindly inform me if there is a typo. I am slightly dyslexic when I type and don't always catch the mistakes.

I want to tell people so sign up! And buy advertising. Oh, and volunteer. Okay?Ē

And last but not least, I interviewed Helen Howerton the Chairman of LEFT COAST CRIME 2003, Head of the Steering Committee and Hotel Liaison.

Denise: What aspects are most enjoyable for you as Chairman, etc.?

Helen: Seeing all the names of the terrific people signing up for the meeting!

Denise: Whatís most troublesome?

Helen: Just trying to keep track of everything...it's a big job.

Denise: What would you like to see more of?

Helen: Advertising would be terrific! We are looking for ads from writers and their publishers, of course. But anyone in the mystery world can buy advertising: booksellers, magazines, e-zines, consultants, editors, and mystery experts like forensic experts or private investigators. The list is unending. And we also need volunteers -- Sheila Lowe (writechoice@prodigy.net) is our Volunteer Coordinator, and she's always looking for more help! Also -- Mary St. John, you can email her at (maryputnam@mail.com) is in charge of our Charity Auction. We are in the process of soliciting donations of any kind for the Charity Auction, which will benefit Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic - Los Angeles Unit.

Denise: How many mystery conventions have you master minded? How do you see your role in these events?

Helen: This is my first mystery convention! I use the title, "Chairman," and I see myself just generally overseeing everything, running the committee meetings, and just being the overall "answer person."

Denise: Did you oversee other events before mystery conventions?

Helen: I have been involved in the meetings and convention business over the course of my employment career, but I'm not involved in anything else currently.

Denise: Are these events always charitable?

Helen: Yes, Left Coast Crime always has a charity sponsorship involved with it. My rule of thumb for all participants, even volunteers, is everybody pays. Itís in the proper spirit of giving and charity and that is the only way to be absolutely clear what weíre all about.

Denise: What is the charity this year?

Helen: Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic, Los Angeles Unit same as for the Charity Auction.

Denise: How do you select your team members? Where do they come from?

Helen: They were mostly from our core book reading group, which I've been involved with for the past four years. Others have joined as they've heard about it or were directly invited. Everyone is from the Southern California area.

Denise: Why mystery conventions?

Helen: Just enjoy meeting the authors and getting them to sign my books!

Denise: Who are your favorite authors and why?

Helen: Favorite authors -- Anne McMillan, Robin Paige, Lauren Haney, really, all the authors that write in the historical mystery genre are my favorites.

Denise: What would you say is special about LEFT COAST CRIME 2003?

Helen: It has a comfortable, "homey" atmosphere, small enough to get to know everyone, and large enough to attract a lot of big-name authors. Also, it's always on the West Coast, which makes it easy for us Californians to attend, in most cases.

Denise: Who is the guest of honor this year?

Helen: Robert Crais.

Denise: Who is the Toastmaster?

Helen: Jerrilyn Farmer.

Denise: How long does it take to plan a mystery conference?

Helen: We have been working on this since 1999!

Denise: Can you tell us what the different positions are within the organizing committee?

Helen: Oh, yes, Iíd love to. Youíve already addressed some of the following positions: Web Master, Hotel Liaison, Accounting/Finance, Programming, Registration, Publications/Program Book, Lefty Awards/Cover Art, Publicity and Promotions, Ad Sales, Dealers Room, Publisher Liaison, Guest of Honor Liaison, Authors Signing Room Coordinator, Hospitality/Green Room.

Denise: Do you have any positions that still need to be filled?

Helen: Weíll need "on site" help with registrations, room set-up and that sort of thing.

Denise: Name some of the new and unusual activities that we can expect for LEFT COAST CRIME 2003.

Helen: Programming has done extensive work on the panels and events! LA has such a wealth of culture that we have mined for the convention. Especially, since so many mystery stories are set here. We have some interesting ideas for examining cover art, something that allows for discussion of what makes a good cover for a mystery book, and samples will be shown. Maybe a K-9 parade.

Denise: A K-9 parade?

Helen: Well, we have to make sure that meets with the hotel regulations before we put that one down in stone. Dogs can be such prima donnas you know. Just kidding, I love dogs but weíre not so sure about the K-9 parade. Weíd like to do a lot of very new things that have never been done before and weíll know better which ones are feasible as we get closer to the date of the convention. Iím sure that weíll have a radio play for example.

Denise: Make sure you keep us posted. How the heck did you come up with all these ideas?

Helen: I leave that to my very capable Programming committee, three wonderful women: Mary, Dawn and Kris, who have incorporated the theme -- "Lights! Camera! Murder!" -- and built panels around the attending authors. We had a very impressive brainstorming session with invited mystery personalities and you just canít imagine the crazy ideas that were presented. Several of them were quite good and we created them as realities. Itís going to be quite exciting, I promise you that.

Denise: Would you do another LEFT COAST CRIME convention?

Helen: Probably not -- there's a lot of work involved.

Denise: How much will it cost to put up LEFT COAST CRIME 2003?

Helen: Hard to say at this point -- depends on how involved we get with our banquets and other meal functions as well as some of the activities weíre planning.

Denise: Do you have an accountant on board to help you with the number details?

Helen: Volunteer accountant, yes.

Denise: Tell us about the awards that will be given at LEFT COAST CRIME 2003. What is the LEFTY and why do you call it that? And tell us more about your cover art award.

Helen: Sure, the LEFTY Award is traditional at Left Coast Crime (hence the name), and it will be given for "the most humorous mystery novel published in 2002." The nominees are chosen and voted on by people attending LCC.

The cover art award is something new for us this year. Dawn and Mary Akin are working along the lines of "most eye-catching," "most descriptive," that sort of thing.

Denise: You have a publicity team meeting on Tuesday of this week and theyíre going to discuss goals, etc. What do you feel the goals should be for the publicity committee?

Helen: Well, we definitely need to keep getting the word out to the mystery book community! We want to pull in more authors and fans. Of course, we have a bunch of terrific authors, with Robert Crais and Jerrilyn Farmer as special guest authors. When you throw in authors, T. Jefferson Parker and Michael Connelly who are already registered, itís a pretty good bet weíre going to pull in fans. Certainly, even the famous, big-name authors understand that they have to pay to attend just like their fans do. Itís part of what makes this convention great. Everybody pays for the honor to be there. Plus, itís our intention that every author who is willing will be included on a panel and that means emerging novelists and up and coming authors get their chance in the limelight. Thing is, authors have to sign up in time for the panel positions to be created for them.

Denise: Are you going to promote LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 on the radio?

Helen: I wouldn't have a problem with that. I've done publicity for the companies I've worked for, and I did plenty for our Star Wars charity group! I probably spoke to 25 or 30 radio stations for that, myself.

Denise: Do you feel newspaper articles are good for this kind of promotion?

Helen: Sure, why not?

Denise: Are there any web magazine or sites you'd like to focus on in particular?

Helen: I'd put MYSTERICAL-E at the top of the list, obviously. Other than that, I think, the more publicity, the better.

Denise: Anything you want to add?

Helen: I'm just very happy that we have such an excellent work force digging in and making this project come to its fullest fruition. Every member of the subcommittees has an important assignment, and I'm so pleased that good folks are working with me.

Denise: How many people do you expect to attend LEFT COAST CRIME 2003?

Helen: Around 600.

Denise: That should be cozy. Tell us again, where do we go to sign up?

Helen: Just come visit us in cyberspace at www.leftcoastcrime2003.com Authors! Sign up now so we can announce your attendance on the site. We want your fans to know youíre going to be there.

Special thanks to all the volunteers and Helen Howerton, their fearless leader, for providing information for this article and for making LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 possible.

LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 will be held at the Hilton Pasadena February 27th through March 2nd. Register today by going to the site and signing up at http://www.leftcoastcrime2003.com .

So, to sum it all up, what are the highlights of LEFT COAST CRIME 2003? Besides the LEFTY AWARD for most humorous mystery novel published in the US in 2002, there is the ARTY AWARD for best cover on a humorous mystery novel published in the US in 2002.

And, no small detail, LEFT COAST CRIME 2003 will feature special author guest of honor, Robert Crais, creator of the ELVIS COLE SERIES.

Jerrilyn Farmer, creator of the Madeline Bean series is the illustrious TOASTMASTER.

Letís not forget the incredible fan guest of honor, Sue Feder, who founded THE HISTORICAL MYSTERY APPRECIATION SOCIETY. After all, fans are what the mystery convention is really all about.

Special events will include IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ELVIS COLE, PHILLIP MARLOWE AND MADELINE BEAN, a downtown literacy tour inspired by the detective novels of Robert Crais, Raymond Chandler and Jerrilyn Farmer.

And -

The very special event, a presentation of the renown classic radio play, SORRY WRONG NUMBER, by Edgar winner, Lucille Fletcher. This event is one of my favorites. This radio play first aired in 1943. Orson Welles was quoted as saying it was the greatest show of all time.

For more details about programming which include the LCC BOOK CLUB featuring Kris Neri, Gary Phillips and others, plus a panel featuring special FBI agent Jack Trimarco, not to mention an Authors Roundtable and much, much more, click on the url http://www.leftcoastcrime2003.com .

Donít wait another minute to register! What can you do to be a part besides register? Volunteer, or donate an item (or service, or gift certificate) to the charity auction, or take out an ad. In any case, donít miss it!

See you there, at -