Monday, June 15, 2015

Criminal Intent in Culver City

Last weekend I attended the California Crime Writers Conference, a biennial event put on by Sisters in Crime Los Angeles and the SoCal Mystery Writers of America. (See here for my blog about the 2013 CCWC in Pasadena.)

This year’s conference conveniently took place at a time Robin and I were going to be in Southern California anyway. My parents’ house in Santa Monica—where I lived from age nine to seventeen—was between tenants and we had driven down to do maintenance and repairs and go through the myriad boxes of memorabilia still stored at the old family home. But while Robin was busy repairing toilets, painting walls, and puttying windows I was able to escape to nearby Culver City for two days of fun and frolic with my fellow mystery writers.

The classes and panel discussions at these events are always a great way to recharge your batteries as a writer: They supply fresh tips on craft, remind you of ones you already knew but have forgotten, and provide inspiration to get back to work on that stubborn work-in-progress.

In addition, CCWC consistently brings in terrific keynote speakers. Charlaine Harris, whose Sookie Stackhouse novels have been made into the TV show True Blood, was the guest on Saturday, and we were all charmed by her Southern wisdom, wit, and powers of storytelling.

Charlaine Harris

Sunday’s speaker was British novelist Anne Perry, whose Victorian crime novels featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt are international bestsellers. She too had sage advice for the mystery writers at the conference, but I was surprised when—unlike Charlaine Harris, and all other speakers I’d seen at CCWC—she took no questions after her talk.

But then the woman next to me at lunch leaned over and whispered: “Did you know she was one of the girls in the Heavenly Creatures murder?” This 1994 film by Peter Jackson recounts the grisly killing by two teenage girls of one of the girl’s mother by bludgeoning her with a stocking-wrapped brick. I later read about the case online and sure enough, Perry was indeed one of the killers.

As noted in a Guaridan article about Anne Perry and the murder she committed,

[her] books grapple with questions of sin and repentence, the price of redemption and forgiveness. “It is vital for me to go on exploring moral matters,” [Perry] says. … “I [want] to explore what people will do when faced with experiences and inner conflicts that test them to the limit.”

Well, she clearly has the personal knowledge—unlike most crime novelists—to write about such things. But I can certainly understand why she doesn’t want to take questions from the audience after a talk.

l. to rt. Harris, moderator Craig Faustus Buck, and Perry,
discussing Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing

Much far more than the panels, classes and talks, however, what makes these conferences so invaluable is the networking. And I can tell you that my experience this year was a schmooze-fest.

I got to room with two friends from Hilo (one has a book, The Musubi Murder, coming out this summer). And I ended up meeting a whole passel of amazing authors (one of whom—Robert Rotstein—was my father’s constitutional law student back in the ’70s; and another—James W. Ziskin—with whom I spent the better part of the evening drinking bourbon and branch at the hotel bar).

Not only that, but I also got to have my picture taken with the Maltese Falcon. This replica—we all know the real one was broken apart at the end of the movie—was made from the same cast as the bird held by Bogie and Peter Lorre and was won at the CCWC auction by Holly West.

Holly was kind enough to let me pose with the Black Bird
and to take the picture for me

In line with the bourbon and falcon, I should mention that I won ten bucks in a poker game Saturday night with several other (your names are safe with me) conference-goers. Which paid for part of one of those bourbons at the hotel bar.

Finally, what was truly fabulous about this year’s CCWC was that I got to meet and hang out with another author with my new publisher, Crooked Lane Books—Ellen Byron. Her mystery novel, Plantation Shudders, is being released by CLB this August, so she was able to give me a heads-up as to what I can expect in the coming months with regard to my book. Craziness, I gather. (Thank you, Ellen! I’ll be in touch.)

So, thanks go out to Diane Vallere and SinC LA, Craig Faustus Buck and SoCal MWA, and all the volunteers who made this year’s CCWC such a great success!


  1. Sounds like quite the weekend!
    Great shot of you with that little MF.
    (Maltese Falcon, of course!)

  2. I saw this conference mentioned somewhere and wondered if you'd be able to get to it while you were down there. Sounds like fun. I knew the Anne Perry story, and so was not surprised at her no questions decision.

  3. Next stop: Left Coast Crime in Phoenix? :-)

  4. My new best conference friend, Leslie Karst. It was a pleasure getting to know you!

    1. C'├ętait un plaisir pour moi aussi, mon nouveau ami!