Left Coast was a fanboy's dream

Got home last night from New Mexico, where Kel and I attended Left Coast Crime, the annual mystery conference that this year filled La Fonda in Santa Fe.

Thanks again to the organizers for asking me to be Toastmaster for the event. I still feel bad that TSA confiscated those toasters I packed, and I was unable to supply any toast. But we seemed to make do with booze.

As Toastmaster, I was allowed to get up on stage before 400-plus people and make a complete ass of myself (as usual), and the conference paid my travel and lodging expenses, including a beautiful suite with a balcony and a fruit basket. Also, people kept buying me drinks. I had a very, very good time.

Some highlights:

--At the banquet, I sat with Martin Cruz Smith, one of my favorite authors. We talked about books and mutual friends and his wife was charming and I'm sure I was a drooling idiot the whole time. When I recognized him on stage for his Lifetime Achievement Award, I publicly professed my love for the man. A first for me.

--I shook hands with Brian Garfield, another favorite, and told him that his novel "Hopscotch" was one of the few I kept when we recently gave our personal library to charity and moved to the beach. He liked that.

--Laurie R. King lives here in Santa Cruz County, so I gave her a "howdy neighbor" at a terrific party we attended the first night. Katharine Neville (author of "The Eight") hosted a whole herd of us, including guest of honor Margaret Coel and Watson award winner Craig Johnson. Our pal Joe Badal drove us to the party, which allowed me to pour down all the wine I liked without endangering the general public. Thanks, Joe.

--I interviewed New Mexico author Steven Havill, another GOH, in front of a few hundred people, and we had a good time. Steven is a born storyteller who didn't need much prompting.

--Kel and I dined with one of our favorite people in the world, the ever-hilarious Bill Fitzhugh, who brought along his elegant 84-year-old mother and his wonderful sister (who lives in Albuquerque). Our dinner lasted hours, and I couldn't eat for laughing and telling stories. Fitzhugh did not shoot any spitwads at anyone this time because his mother made him behave.

--I was chatting in the lobby with Gar Anthony Haywood when film director Spike Lee happened by. (This sort of thing happens at La Fonda.) Gar had met Spike before, so he chatted with him briefly while I kept a stupid grin on my face. (I'm not saying Spike is a tiny man, but I'm glad Gar and I were sitting down.)

--Our after-hours poker games at these conferences are the funniest places on Earth, thanks to wisecrackers like Fitzhugh, Parnell Hall, Chris Goff and John Billheimer. I can't disclose specifics, but if any of those people ever again make a noise like a buzzing housefly, I will immediately wet my pants.

Feel free to share your own Left Coast highlights in the "comments" section.


Left Coast!

Leaving shortly for Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe! I am the Toastmaster at this year's conference, which I believe makes me some kind of superhero. I've packed my cape.

Left Coast is my favorite conference for mystery readers and writers. Just the right size (usually 400-500 people) and it's always held somewhere in the West, which makes it closer to home for me. We're delighted that it's in our beloved New Mexico this year, and Kel and I will get a quick visit with her family while we're there.

I'm doing panels on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, and I interview Guest of Honor Steven Havill as one of the main events on Friday. And, of course, at the Saturday banquet, I will be the Toastmaster.

Hope to see some of you there. I'll be the one in the cape.


Your favorite child

I often hear other authors say they couldn't name a favorite among their own books. Why, that would be like picking your favorite child, they say, and we love all our children equally (if for different reasons, perhaps).

I don't believe it. We're all trying to write the book we'd like to read, and some come closer than others to hitting the mark. Every novel is a disappointment in some way. The final product never lives up to the expectations we had when we started. But authors know which ones almost hit the bullseye.

Yes, it's a matter of personal taste. I like a rollicking tale full of laughs. One of my fans regularly urges me to stick with suspense and leave out the (eye roll, sigh) "funny stuff."

I'm happy to name a personal favorite among my 17 novels. It's "Bullets," which came out in 2003 to terrific reviews. It's my Vegas book, featuring a contract killer named Lily, a former homicide cop who's chasing her and a cast of hilarious (if deadly) bad guys. I just read it again, getting it ready for publication on Kindle (only $2.99!), and it still cracks me up.

Also freshly published on Kindle (and coming soon to other formats via Smashwords) is the fifth Bubba Mabry adventure, "Dirty Pool." I enjoyed reading this one again, too. Bubba goes up against his arch-nemesis, Texas private eye William Pool, in a race for a ransom. Fun stuff.

Check 'em out!


I knew it

Scientists find that people who are cheerful and optimistic tend to die younger.

Researchers in the Longevity Project studied 1,500 bright children who were around 10 years old when the study began in 1921. They found, over the subjects' lifetimes, that happy-go-lucky types took more risks with their health, trusting that everything would turn out fine.

Prudent, persistent types tended to live longer and be healthier, the researchers found.

Full story here.

(Thanks to Bill Crider for the link.)



Police in Southern California raided a marijuana-growing operation and discovered a four-foot-long alligator. The 55-pound reptile apparently was a deterrent to thieves.

A drug task force found nearly 2,300 pot plants in the home in Hemet. The gator was turned over to an animal sanctuary.

Full story here.


Split shift

Like many of my fellow authors, I'm busily publishing my backlist on Kindle and other e-book platforms. My workdays are split between writing the new novel and dipping into books I wrote years ago.

The latest novels to become available as e-books are WITCHY WOMAN and SHAKY GROUND, third and fourth in my seven-book Bubba Mabry series. Only $2.99 each. I'll have the fifth one in the series, DIRTY POOL, up on Kindle by the end of the week.

I'm one of those authors who rarely reads his own work after it's published. Typos or mistakes make me crazy; stuff I wrote years ago sometimes makes me cringe. But I actually enjoyed proofreading these Bubba books. Still funny and weird and fast-paced.

I found quirks and allusions that still pop up in my writing. This included one line that I'd used fifteen years ago (something about New Mexico's silvery sunlight and turquoise skies) that I was trying to wedge into my work-in-progress. No memory that I'd used it before. Thought I was being original.

Anyhow, I still love Bubba, after all these years. Now that e-books are shaking up publishing, maybe I'll even write another Bubba Mabry adventure one of these days...

For now, I'm halfway through the first draft of my new standalone, A BOX OF PANDORAS, and I'm having a ball.


You don't tug on Superman's sweater

Police in Watsonville, CA, are searching for several youths who pounced on a man and stole his Superman sweater. The cops caught one of the youths (and retrieved the purloined sweater) after the hoodlums' van crashed into a tree, but the rest ran off.

Full story here. No word on whether the assailants wielded kryptonite.