Today we are thrilled to welcome Lucinda Surber and Stan Ulrich, the dynamic duo behind the wonder that is Left Coast Crime, as well as that fabulous web resource for all things mystery, Stop, You’re Killing Me!
1. Can you tell us a bit about the history of Left Coast Crime (LCC), and how you came to be such an integral part of this wonderful convention?
Left Coast Crime began in 1991 as an alternative to other mystery conventions that tended to be held in the eastern or midwestern part of the country. The Left Coast Crime geographic region includes the parts of the US and Canada in the Mountain, Pacific, Alaska, and Hawai‘i Time Zones, though we did bend the rules in 2006 to include Bristol, on the left coast of England.
After retiring from full-time work, we had more time to concentrate on our website, Stop, You’re Killing Me!, and the 2007 Bouchercon in Anchorage caught our attention. We had a great time meeting other fans and authors attending in Baltimore the following year, where we got to know Bill & Toby Gottfried and Janet Rudolph, who introduced us to Left Coast Crime. Like most other volunteers, we were roped into becoming part of the group by innocently attending a planning meeting for the Santa Fe Left Coast Crime in 2011. We did the Program Book and managed the Awards for that convention, made a couple of suggestions for the future, and found ourselves elected to the Standing Committee as permanent Left Award administrators.
2. You’ve been listed in past LCC programs as being involved in numerous activities necessary to running of the convention, including co-chair, the Lefty Awards, volunteer coordinator, Author-Reader Connections, book signings, and the website. So it sounds like you’re pretty much LCC’s “Super Mom and Dad.” Can you give us a taste of what all it entails, putting on a convention of this size and caliber?
Short answer: We are both in totally over our heads! Stan often handles the duties of Registrar and Treasurer, and he’s also our data guru: a huge job for conventions, since all the name tags, menu tickets, panel tents, etc. feed out of the data monster. When we are responsible for the Program Book we have a great time sprinkling in art with local connections: Mimbres pottery designs for Santa Fe, Hawaiian carvings and tapa cloth for Honolulu, illustrations from a wonderful 1872 edition of Mark Twain’s Roughing It for Reno.
The flow of work for a convention is variable. There is the first flurry of finding a site, dealing with the hotel contract, and opening registration, and then things move along at a slower pace until late fall the year before the convention. First comes the Lefty Award nomination process, then the panels magically appear (we don’t do that part!), and everything explodes during the final three months. Luckily we are both very organized (except for my desk!) and have complementary skills. The week of the convention is non-stop: we rarely have time to eat, don’t get much sleep, complete our daily 10,000 steps by early afternoon inside the hotel, and have a wonderful time hanging out with our 600 best friends!
3. Other than taking place somewhere in the western half of North America, what factors play into choosing the location for Left Coast Crime?
We like to move the convention around as much as possible so that attendees can explore different locales and also find “under-served” regions. The most important factor is finding local Co-Chairs willing to scout out a hotel and build an active core committee. Stan & I would love to hold a convention in Deadwood, South Dakota (part of the LCC region), but no one has stepped forward yet. (Any takers?) LCC requires all events to take place in the hotel, so we are limited by the size of the convention space and the number of sleeping rooms.
4. Do you have any fun or bizarre stories about past LCCs (no names, or course!) that you’d care to share with us?
Hotel Food Sticker Shock: We were totally unprepared for the cost of food at hotels: $4.51 for one hard-boiled egg in Honolulu, $8.35 (US) for a cup of coffee in Vancouver.
Communicating with Event Managers is sometimes challenging:
- We had one event manager who responded “Absolutely!” to all of our questions and requests. We were horrified to learn that meant “I just heard what you said.” Instead of “Yes!”
- The final food orders (exact number of each menu item) are usually due 72 hours before the Banquet. One event manager told us 72 hours was 11 days before the Banquet because she only worked 8 hour days! We had to do a math intervention.
- At one convention we locked the Lefty Awards in our storage closet the day before the Banquet. In the evening none of our keys worked; they had only been validated for three days instead of five and the rekeying person had already left for the weekend. That was a very anxious hour until we finally found someone with a master master key!
5. You and Stan also run the terrific website, Stop, You’re Killing Me! Can you tell our readers about this site, and how it came to be?
Stop, You’re Killing Me! was created by Bonny Brown in 1998. My father, an inveterate mystery reader, introduced us to the site and we loved it, since we are compelled to read series books in order. Bonny had to give up maintaining the site in early 2006 because of health reasons and we offered to keep it going. We had no idea how much work it would be!
Her files were all in one folder, arranged by first name, so I spent month reorganizing everything while Stan started checking each page to correct errors and add missing titles. We kept the basic look of the site (though we switched out the gun logo for my Dead Fool graphic) and simplified the layout. We added new sections as we had time, indexes listing books by location, historical period, job of character, etc. We began adding reviews of books we loved the next year, and now feature 10 reviews a month with a diverse selection of authors. The reviews are my favorite part—I love being able to say that I can’t (fill in the blank) because I have to finish reading my book! The last few years I’ve been reviewing as many debut novels as I can; that’s the newest section.
We also added an Awards section, and have spent many pleasurable hours catching up on nominated books from years past. We now list over 5,200 authors, with chronological lists of their books (over 60,000 titles), both series (6,200+) and non-series. People still ask if we have read all the books on the site…
6. What was your first job/vocation related to the world of mysteries, and how did you end up on this career path?
We have no experience at all! Stan was a lawyer and I was a teacher (I still work part time providing math professional development for teachers). We both love to read. I started playing around with webpages in 1996, beginning with a page called Red Stuff [do check out Lucinda’s cool photos here–ed.], and yearly websites for my 4th grade classroom. Great fun and perfect preparation for Stop, You’re Killing Me! and Left Coast Crime.
But as we keep saying to potential volunteers: the only requirement is a passion for the genre and a willingness to donate your time.
7. If you could invite anyone from the past who was involved in the mystery community to come back from the dead and act as toastmaster at a future LCC, who would that be, and why?
That’s a hard one! We’d love to invite Sarah Caudwell, Edmund Crispin, or Donald Westlake since their books reveal a great sense of humor, a Toastmaster requirement. Can we class The Picture of Dorian Gray as a thriller? Oscar Wilde would certainly own the role of Toastmaster!
Readers: Are there any questions you’d like to ask Lucinda and Stan about LCC or Stop, You’re Killing Me!—or, what exactly is it about the color red….?