Behind the Scenes at Left Coast Crime

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a mystery convention? Shaking your head no? That was my initial response in March, 2009, when Robin Burcell asked me to co-chair LCC 2012 in Sacramento. I don’t know whether it was a lack of caffeine or too many piña coladas but I said yes, and raced off to share the good news with my agent. She immediately responded with something unprintable which boiled down to “Are you nuts?”
Cindy & Robin Take One for the TeamChairing a convention provides unique insights and mass quantities of emails. For instance, it took at least 250 emails before we discovered that dessert choices for a banquet should not be democratically decided by committee. This, of course, forced Robin and me to submit to a dessert tasting. A tough job, we know, but those carbs kept us fueled for weeks, and just in time to begin the huge task of preparing the program which means moving panelists around a huge matrix in order to provide the best panels for them as well as the attendees. Our program chairs, Marlyn Beebe and Elaine Yamaguchi, worked night and day, and despite a deluge of 2:00 AM emails, maintained their sense of humor.
Determining the price of a convention is always a challenge.  Initial registrants lucked in with an early bird fee of $150 and the price gradually increased to the 2012 rate of $225. It might surprise people to know that the meals that were included (2 breakfasts, one reception and an awards banquet) ran $168 per person. Then there are the free book bags, books, cool LCC promo items and program books.
You don’t need to be a math whiz to see that the bottom line for a convention can easily turn into something resembling the national debt (minus a few zeros.) Fortunately sponsors such as the MWA, the Sacramento and NorCal chapters of Sisters in Crime, and HarperCollins stepped in to share some of the expenses. A number of publishers graciously donated a truckload of books to fill the book bags to overflowing and to ensure shoulder dislocations among the weak.
Cindy and a Rapt AudienceI could go on and on (we all know my babbling skills are excellent) but the bottom line is that running a convention is like strategizing a military campaign. And the real bottom line is represented by the incredible group of people who were willing to put in thousands of unpaid hours to make this a wonderful event. Shout outs go to Sue Trowbridge, our webmaster; Noemi Levine, Treasurer and Fan GOH; Toby Gottfried, official book snarer; Janet Rudolph, publicity chair and master tweeter; Verna Dreisbach, who brought in ad revenue; and Vallery Feldman, who skillfully displayed the ads in the program. A personal thanks to Volunteer chairs, Pat and Larry Morin who worked through the duration of LCC, and without whose assistance, I’d be locked up in a padded cell. Stan Ulrich and Lucinda Surber not only handled awards, signs, and room monitors, but also took care of everything I forgot.
The financial benefactor of our convention was the Sacramento Library Adult Literacy Program. Library Director Rivkah Sass provided a stirring tale of the people benefited by this wonderful program. Jean Utley’s auction committee wrapped and tied ribbons for 75 donated silent auction items. Between those items, the raffle for the beautiful quilt created by Pam Dehnke and Vallery Feldman, and excellent auctioneering by Donna Andrews and Harley Jane Kozak, almost $8,000 was raised for this program.
Running a convention means you’re exposed to the good, the bad and the annoying. What never ceased to amaze me was the number of volunteers who not only paid the registration fee but also worked tirelessly and cheerfully. Putting on a convention is a labor of love and these folks, and there are many, will hold a place in my heart forever.
Cindy and Robin Are All Smiles at the Awards BanquetI’ll always be grateful I had this opportunity to work with Robin, to make new friends, to create a congenial networking atmosphere for mystery authors and fans, and to leave everyone with wonderful memories.
Plus I lost 4 lbs. in 4 days running up and down those darn stairs. Heck of a fitness program!
Some folks say e-books will make conventions disappear but based on our 600 attendees, I disagree.
The bigger, burning question is whether you attend conventions and if so, what do you get out of them? And if by chance you’re interested in chairing one, please let me know. I have a bridge I’m looking to sell.


  1. Nice write up, Cindy. I can’t help but notice, however, that we look a bit perkier in the photo where we’re about to taste-test desserts, as opposed to the last night of the conference right after the banquet… 😉

  2. Hey Cindy,
    It was a great conference, lots of kudos from attendees and it set a high bar for Capitol Crimes and Sacramento as hosts. Thanks to you and Robin for months of hard work!

  3. I’ve participated in 10-12 LCC and I think this was the BEST. I had a wonderful time from the Sacramento Authors’ panel Thursday thru Banquet and Sunday morning good bye. Helping to staff the reception desk gave me an opportunity to say hi to old and new friends, the Welcome folks to my hometown and support the mystery community that I love. Thanks Cindy and Robin for not listening to me when I say, “You’re out of your mind to bring LCC to Sacramento. But you proved me wrong.

    • You had it right the first time, Pat. We were out of our minds! Thank goodness we had everyone at Capitol Crimes to keep us smiling and provide us with goodies from the hospitality suite!

  4. Thanks for all you did, Cindy and Robin. Yes, you were out of your minds, and I am so glad you were. It was the best LCC I’ve ever attended.

  5. This conference attendee (and volunteer) is forever in your debt for making LLC 2012 an incredible experience. Also, you definitely picked the right dessert.

  6. So sorry I missed it. I was so looking forward to it but got sick and couldn’t drag my butt over to Sacramento. Sounds like I missed a great one! Thanks for all your hard work.

  7. This year’s LCC was really great – high energy (gee, who set the pace there?), lots of new interactions among writers, and a happy, congenial crowd at the bar day and night. Sacramento showed off itss restaurants and attractions well. But as you said, the volunteers were what made it sparkle, starting with you and Robin, Pat and Larry, and the others you rightly singled out. THANK YOU all!

    • Thanks, Susan. I kept zipping past that crowded bar full of happy people and finally had a chance to relax after the banquet and enjoy the fun! And with all the rain keeping people inside, that was one happy bar and hotel! We love the Sheraton.

  8. Sigh. I’m so sorry I missed this particular convention. Curses on the timing of having two conventions on the same weekend!!!

    Very fun write up and after just running the hospitality suite for B-Con in 2010, I can only imagine how much more harrowing running an entire convention would be. There are not enough pina coladas in the world…

  9. This one one of the best events I’ve ever been lucky enough to attend. I think you two made it special with your organizational skills, care, foresightedness, and winning style! I met wonderful people, made connections, and learned a thing or two. Thanks for throwing a great party!

  10. by the way, I meant this WAS one of the best events I’ve been lucky enough to attend. I need more coffee!

  11. Cindy, this was my first LCC, and it was fantastic. I think you’ve set the bar very high for my future conferences! You and Robin and all the other coordinators did a phenomenal job. I really enjoyed meeting more fellow writers and learning all kinds of new things. Congratulations.

    • Thanks, Jenny. Your first convention is so important and I’m thrilled that it was a success. And thanks for jumping in there at the registration desk. Now you’re one of the gang!

  12. Thanks for an awesome Left Coast! Come check out the wonderful mystery author video interviews Kings River Life did while there–some have already been posted, more go up tonight and still more to come
    Lorie Ham

    • I thought I was the only person who managed to be on 3 floors simultaneously, but you seemed to be everywhere as well. Great author interviews, Lorie. Thanks fo sharing them with everyone.

  13. I keep hoping I will be in a position to attend one of these. Meantime, I can enjoy them vicariously, long distance.

  14. I agree with the others–this was an absolutely wonderufl LCC. You two seemed to be everywhere. My knees were happy when I finally figured out I could take the elevator from the banquet area to the first floor and then to the regular elevators and vice versa. Everything was great–and the hospitality room was a wonderful place to sit, visit and eat chcolate. Thank you Cindy and Robin and all the other volunteers.

  15. sara hyman says:

    I really enjoyed LCC this year. It’s always fun to go to a conference where you can alctually meet and talk to the various participants and not just see them at panels. I met lots of really nice people (like you, Cindy) and had a really good time, whether going to panels or volunteering. Thanks for the great weekend in Sacramento

  16. jean utley says:

    I was thrilled to be associated with the best group of volunteers ever, and I’m thrilled we raised nearly $8000 for the literacy program. The donations were awesome and the donors unbelievably generous. I had a wonderful time, seeing old friends and meeting authors whose books I adore. ThankYOU all for your generosity!

  17. vallery feldman says:

    Great write up. Everyone looked as though they were having a great time. I look forward every year to LCC. if e-books and other social media make conventions disappear, that’s not a world i want to live in. The dessert was delicious. I came home with a lot of actual books to read.

  18. I have to agree with the consensus here — it was a wonderful conference, and I’m so glad that I attended! You guys did a fabulous job from beginning to end!

  19. You and your team did a superb job, Cindy. LCC 2012 was excellent! Thank you for all of your hard work, which paid off handsomely for those of us who were fortunate enough to be there.

  20. Cindy: This is an excellent commentary. I’ve attended and moderated at dozens of conferences, large and small, through the years, but this is the first written feedback I’ve seen by an organizer. And you make so clear the highlights, wonders and vicissitudes of the job. I never realized that duties came to the point of tasting desserts! (A pleasant, ful-filling task, I’d bet.) And 600 participants! More than Malice, Crime Bake, Bloody Words which I’d traditionally attended.Wish I could have gone to yours–but at the time, too far away from Vt, alas.

    • Hi Nancy. It’s nice to receive comments from authors who have attended other conferences. Another interesting tidbit is that at the time I naively agreed to be co-chair, I had attended only one previous convention. (I was such an innocent). But the memories of everyone’s happy faces and the unhesitating commitment by the volunteers are something I will treasurer forever.

  21. I have been in charge of many conferences; but I remember the first. It was a five state conference with about 600 attendees, held in the State of Idaho. I was big on getting the word out, professional advertising, great keynotes and speakers, and lodging options. My cubicle colleague kept asking me about meals – and I kept putting those off since I had the budget figured into the registration & it only required plugging in the food. Finally, he said, “I’m arranging the meals” for which I was grateful. My keynoter bombed with American Indian jokes (I had no clue). Workshops went well. Lodging was fine. However, when the evals came in they read, “the best food ever;” “the jaz concert at the winery was superb;” “I’ll always remember the trout tour,” “the Musicians were grand,” etc. etc. and a few positives about workshops and nothing about the horrible keynoter that almost created a boo through the audience. My colleague arranged Idaho trout and Idaho baked potatoes served at the local winery with strolling musicians and jazz on the green for the main and final dinner. In between were lunch boxes with exquisite wraps and Idaho treats, full breakfasts and continental breakfasts served with elegance and fresh fruit, breads and rolls. My colleague taught me a lesson that contributed to the success of every conference after: food is a “matter of consequence.”.

    • Hi DK. Thanks for your advice. I totally agree. Years ago I learned that “feeding the client” is foremost. We had ample quantities of food, the best hospitality suite ever with healthy and unhealthy snacks. Comments from some of the attendees were that the awards night dinner was the best banquet food they’d ever eaten. I can’t thank the Sacramento Sheraton enough for their fabulous food and service. And if you’re wondering, we went with the chocolate cake. Yum yum.

  22. Cindy, you and Donna did an outstanding job — ESPECIALLY with the desserts. I had to be physically restrained from wandering around from table to table, stealing the uneaten ones.

    Another great thing you did was pick a hotel with a big, open, inviting bar space, which encouraged really easy mingling. In some hotels, you feel you need to get wasted just to enter the dark, cavelike atmosphere, and that you may not make it out alive.

    And the panels! The food! I even had a great vegan alternative meal!

    You and Robin must’ve been taking your meds because you looked happy the entire weekend. Every time I looked at you two (and you were everywhere) you were smiling.

    I haven’t had that much fun (as we used to say in Nebraska) since the pigs ate Grandpa.

    • Ha ha. One thing is for sure. When you grow up on a farm, you appreciate a great bar! And that was the first thing we noticed about the Sheraton. Plus the nice folks that work there. They really got a kick out of our gang and the staff is suffering “mystery convention” withdrawal. And we all loved your speech. We’re voting you into the Toastmaster Hall of Fame!

  23. The comments say it all. You went over and above in co-chairing the conference. Now I feel even more like a lowlife for asking you to blurb my book while you were preparing for LCC. Thanks a million. Wish I could have made the conference!

  24. This was my first LCC and I’m sure it won’t be my last. I thought the conference was very well organized and I loved the hotel.

    Coming from the romance world this was my first opportunity to see how mystery writers ‘do their thing.’ You all do it very well! By the time I’d left I’d made many new friends.

    Congratulations on a job well done!

  25. My hat goes off to you, Cindy. I recently attended a Nancy Drew Sleuths Convention, and although not as large as Left Coast Crime, I could see how hard the organizers were working. It’s a thankless task, and I hope your attendees appreciated all the hard work that goes into a well-organized convention. It sounded like a lot of fun!

    Nancy 🙂

  26. I did three years with the New Orleans Popular Fiction Conference back in the 90’s. Now I hide. LOL! But I’m sure you were awesome!

    • Thanks, Pauline. Now where were you 3 years ago? I feel like I’ve learned so much that I could chair a fundraising dinner without blinking any eyelashes. Perhaps I should keep that to myself, though.

  27. Congratulations Cindy Sample! Much appreciation and thanks to you, Robin Burcell, Sisters In Crime, and all the people mentioned who made LEFT COAST CRIME 2012 a KILLER event for SACRAMENTO, CA! While we were “Mining For Murder,” I was also “Mining for Writers” to introduce them to the California Writers Club. The Sacramento area is rich with writers and authors and how wonderful to showcase so many of them on panels. Amazing authors, fabulous fans, superb Sheraton, fantastic food, delicious desserts…just some of the reasons for loving LCC! Thanks again!

Speak Your Mind