Thursday, June 15, 2017

What a difference a coast makes…

 
HALLIE EPHRON: Last weekend I had the great pleasure of being guest of honor (along with William Kent Krueger) at the California Crime Writers Conference. Culver City where planes are landing at LAX just outside your window.

At Logan (we got off 30 minutes early, arrived an hour early: how bizarre is that?) I was the only one who cracked up at the announcement from TSA on the loudspeaker: "Please return to security if you left an I-Pad and  eyeglasses..." which of course I heard as I-glasses... A writer's joke.

As the plane landed, the sun was shining and I could see ocean one way and mountains the other. Mountains I never knew were so close by, growing up there because the air was so much more polluted. Back in the 60s your plane descended into an impenetrable brown haze.
 
The fun started when I got picked up at the airport by TammyKaehler (now blond!). Not in a race car, sadly. Driving utterly sanely if a bit, um, fast.

What a conference! Two hundred and fifty authors, editors, agents, publicists, rubbing shoulders and sharing tips. They pull it off magnificently every other year. All overseen by an incredible board headed by the indomitable and uber-competent Rochelle Staab. From one control freak to another, I tip my hat.

The conference opened Friday night with a twist: an event dubbed MISCAST, held in the only appropriate place, a dark wood-paneled bar that needed smoke to feel authentic. Authors switched places and read each other’s work. Hardboiled writers read softboiled excerpts and vice versa. Glen ErikHamilton, Harley Jane Kozak, Matt Coyle, Elaine Ash, Jeri Westerson, KateCarlisle, SW Lauden, and Daryl Wood Gerber. It was a hoot!

I'm not sure if these guys were photographed before or after: John Edward Mullen, Dave Putnam, Matt Coyle, Beth Yarnall. In the bar.

I knew we weren’t in Kansas any more when (Matt Coyle, maybe... someone correct me if I've misremembered) read an excerpt from Foxe Tail (by Jerri Westerson writing as Haley Walsh), a bawdy mystery starring a gorgeous young gay man (think Tab Hunter) on the make in old timey Hollywood. To say it was blue would be an understatement. Got me thinking: Do we even write sex in New England?

Saturday and Sunday were packed with outstanding writing, marketing, and forensics panels and there was a crime scene room with an FBI expert. I came away determined to create my own podcasts (thanks Laura Brennan – dialing into DestinationMystery to hear some), and a new appreciation of swag (Thanks, Ellen Byron, Cajun Country Mysteries).

A real pleasure of this conference was the many screenwriters who are now writing crime novels. They are SO SMART about plot! Ellen Byron, Craig Faustus Buck, Wendall Thomas, and more… I could listen to you guys talk the ins and outs of the 3-act structure all day long.

All of which is to say once again, I pinch myself. Crime fiction writers are the best, most generous, hilarious, and smart people you could ever hang out with. I am so lucky!

Morning after the conference I went out to breakfast… don’t you love this place, Dinah’s Diner? (Me cracking up because here in Boston, the way we say Diner is Dinah.) A relic of the 60s. I could have hung out here with my high school friends, drinking coffee and, yes, smoking cigarettes. And the hash browns with my eggs were the kind I grew up with, shredded and crisp. Yum.

So when you think Los Angeles, do 60's diners or crispy hash browns, mountains or beaches, noir or California cozies come to mind?

79 comments:

  1. That conference sounds amazing, Hallie . . . a crime scene room??

    Some of the mountains are spectacular, but I think I’m much more inclined to think of noir rather than California cozies; must be from being married to a [now retired] Los Angeles police sergeant . . . .

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    1. Los Angeles police procedurals: A great tradition! Ellroy. Connelly. Wambaugh. I'm a huge fan, too.

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    2. Was the TV show Adam-12 a police procedural? Or are you referring to books only?

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  2. Oh, sounds fantastic, Hallie. I miss those crispy hash browns. Seems you only find them at Denny's now.

    When I think of LA the Courthouse comes to mind. At least I think it's the Courthouse. Probably the old Courthouse. The one that was in the opening of Dragnet. After that I'm out of the city and off to the beach, but now that I know about those diners...

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    1. Yes, it is THE reason to go to Denny's. You got me searching for the courthouse... I think, like everything else in LA it's been supplanted by a modern block of a building. Does anyone know?

      Oh, the beach! Malibu. Santa Monica Beach. Manhattan Beach. The hours I spent trying to body surf.

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    2. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article about the old courthouse: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Court_House_(Los_Angeles)
      Here's a link to the 1951 Dragnet opening credits--courthouse is at about 00:27:
      https://youtu.be/Hj-qhIGTXdU
      And here's a link to the old courthouse location on Google Maps--you can see it well in Street View:
      https://goo.gl/maps/AM1G8dRrcq22

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    3. That iconic building was the City Hall, which did include courthouse offices and well as P.D. and D.A. offices.

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    4. Thanks for the link Liz and the info, Rick

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  3. I went to CCWC four years ago in Pasadena (my birthplace) and loved it. And because I grew up in the LA area in the 60s, of course I think of crispy hash browns, even though my family never once went out to breakfast. Plus smoggy air you couldn't breathe in, Huntington Beach, wearing shorts and a wool coat on Thanksgiving, and eating as many avocados, oranges, and artichokes as I wanted. As for mysteries, I read my mother's books by Agatha Christie, Poe, and Arthur Conan Doyle in a back yard full of fruit trees and berry bushes. Sigh.

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    1. An aside: avocadoes were more expensive at the market in San Diego than they are in Boston. Our neighbor had an avocado tree in the backyard and what I remember is the ALL of its avocadoes -- literally scores of them -- ripened at the same time.

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    2. I remember the Huntington Library and Gardens in Pasadena or near Pasadena. Several relatives went to Occidential College in Pasadena.

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    3. Oxy (as we called it) is actually in Eagle Rock, but close! My best friend, our class valedictorian, went there (as did Obama for a while). Huntington is a big name in Pasadena. I was born in Huntington Hospital.

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    4. Hallie, interesting about San Diego! We went on a field trip in 4th grade to our teacher's parents' avocado ranch (I remember we got to wear PANTS to school, and I had a pair of red plaid ones that I adored). But I never realized they ripened all at the same time. Guacamole heaven.

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    5. Edith, I remember we walked to a brunch place in Eagle Rock from Oxy. I think Julia Child also grew up in Pasadena?

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  4. When it comes to California, I'm pretty sure Carmel is the farthest south I've ever gone along the coast. LA is unexplored territory for me, as my family connections were in the San Francisco area. My images of LA all come straight from the movies, and lean toward the dark deeds and shady dames of noir.

    Crispy hash browns? I don't think LA has a lock on those. Crispy is simply how they ought to be done. But you're right, line cooks seem to have lost the knack of it in most places.

    I just finished "You'll Never Know Dear," and enjoyed it thoroughly. Good work!

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    1. Thanks, Gigi!
      To clarify: Order hash browns here in New England and you get chunks of potato (and often onion) sautee/fried until crispish. In CA it's SHREDDED potatoes (a potato pancake without any binder) cooked into a crispy mass. Oddly much less greasy and so delicious.

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    2. In Switzerland, I think our hash browns would be called rosti ?

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    3. You can get crispy hash browns here in Texas at Denny's. I never knew if was an LA thing!

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  5. California? Everyone is so nice! Being in from the East Coast, and so suspicious, I kept wanting to ask "what do you want from me?"

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    1. I remember one of the first hikes I took in Yosemite I was shocked that hikers we met all greeted you with a friendly "Hello" and eye contact. I started doing it too, and it was lovely. I do it hiking here in New England and sometimes even walking in NYC and you know, people do respond.

      Dontcah think, people are super nice in Canada? And Ohio? Super-dooper nice.

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    2. Hank,

      This reminds me of the Monk tv show. Adrian Monk was suspicious of Gena Rowlands' character because she was kind to him. Mr. Monk thought she was nice to him because she wanted something from him.

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  6. Glad you had a great time at CCWC, Hallie!

    When I think of LA, I see palm trees and sunshine. It's also the land of great fictional PIs such as Philip Marlowe and Elvis Cole, as well as LA Noir. Not California cozy country for me.

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    1. The California fictional PIs that coe to mind tend to be Santa Barbara and further north... I wonder why that is?

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    2. WAIT WAIT! I did an event with James Ziskin - his Ellie Stone mysteries are set in LA in the 60s and they're terrific.

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    3. Yes, Hallie, the newest Ellie Stone mystery is set in 1962 L.A. but the first four books take place in NYC/small town NY State.

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  7. Sounds like a great conference, Hallie. All the posts I have seen from attendees were singing the praises of you and Kent as well. I love the idea of MISCAST and hope other conventions pick up on this. And as a fan of Jeri's Foxe books, I can only imagine how entertaining and embarrassing a live reading of that would be.

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    1. I love the idea of Miscast too! would be fun at the New England Crime bake...I've had the chance to spend a fair amount of time in Venice the last few years--that beachfront would make a wonderful setting. Wonder if it's been done?

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    2. Hallie,

      Yes, I have seen posts singing praises of you and Kent too.

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  8. Hallie,

    Looks like you had a great time at the conference. Wish I could have been there! Several author friends, whom I met at Malice Domestic in 2016, were at the same conference.

    When I think of Los Angeles, I think of smog. On one trip, I remember our surprise that there was No Smog in the air when we looked outside our window before the plane landed at LAX.

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    1. California is in the forefront in limiting emissions, wind and solar power, and its paid off handsomely in quality of life. Now if they could only make rain.

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  9. I love the LA area and visit about once a year -- I have family living out there. I love so many neighborhoods and areas. My daughter and I once stayed in an old motel where, sitting by the pool, we saw an aging actor who was ALWAYS on Murder She Wrote. Favorite LA food -- diners and delis, dim sum, and seafood at the beach.

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    1. which actor was always on Murder She Wrote? We once saw James Whitmore at Big Boy's Hamburgers.

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    2. Fish tacos on the Santa Monica pier with a pitcher of beer! Now you're talking...

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    3. I had great barbecued brisket. Maple Block Meat Co. in Culver City. FABULOUS biscuits. A little southern cooking in So Cal.

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  10. "So when you think Los Angeles, do 60's diners or crispy hash browns, mountains or beaches, noir or California cozies come to mind?"

    Ah southern California. I moved to Long Beach in 1984, and it was 1985 before I saw the mountains. I was on the board walk at Venice Beach, looked up, and there they were. It did something to my soul, my heart, being on an ocean beach and looking at snow capped mountains. And the Hollywood Sign.

    I remember the Northridge quake, flying out of my California Mission over/under duplex in Belmont Shore, looking out at the Pacific and wondering if this was the one that would produce the tsunami.

    I remember the wildfires, seeing ash fall like snow, tasting the air.

    I remember the Rodney King riots, the curfews at dark, the tanks on Ocean Boulevard, the DMV burning, my patient dissecting her aorta and dying in my arms. She'd just eaten a hot dog, kosher of course.

    I remember seeing another patient who lived across the street from Nicole Simpson, watching the helicopters follow OJ up the 405 and wondering what we had come to.

    Best of all I remember sitting on the patio at Mezzaluna with my friend Marie, looking at all the tourists snapping pictures of two old dykes eating spaghetti, and wondering if in future years those snap shots would find a place in their "We saw where Nicole ate the night before he killed her" album.

    I remember being the token honky director of nursing in a home care agency in South Central, never wearing blue or red, and parking my car next to a gang of homies, asking them to watch my car, telling them I was the visiting nurse for Mrs. Whoever. I felt protected always.

    I remember Catalina. (Ann sighs deeply)

    Somehow I forget the smog and the hash browns, but fondly I remember the noir everything, and I found Jim's book packed with familiarity, a beautiful blend of life and hope and hurt.

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    1. What a lovely comment, Ann. I do think you have a secret writer in there somewhere....

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    2. and before the Rodney King riots, the Watts Riots.

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    3. I missed the Watts Riots, had to enjoy those from afar, as in Texas.

      Hallie, what I lack in recall I make up.

      Deb, I try to keep that secret secret.

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  11. Sounds and looks like an amazing conference.

    I have to admit that "Los Angeles" conjures glittery Hollywood smashed against the "gangsta" image from an 80s rap video, all under blistering sun with a healthy dash of smog.

    Probably none of it is accurate! LOL

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Blistering? It was 90 degrees in Boston when it barely reached 70 in LA.

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  12. Rochelle, Tammy, Ellen, and Kate - you were hanging out with some of my favorite writer people! What a great post. I started a mystery series several years ago set in historic LA from the perspective of Alfred Hitchcock's personal assistant. This makes me want to revisit that manuscript. So glad you enjoyed your trip, Hallie!

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    1. REVISIT THAT STORY! Sounds like brilliant premise. Seriously.

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    2. Jenn, that series sounds amazing! Write it! I want to read it!

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    3. If you write it, we will read it

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  13. Sounds like a wonderful conference. I was off doing the Camp Pendleton Mud Run, or I would have at least popped by for the Friday night event.

    When I think of LA, I think of traffic, but I live here, so that probably isn't entirely fair.

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    1. It's fair. Completely fair. I pity anyone who has to commute. Most places, car is the only way to get there. Howevah! I Ubered everywhere. It's fabulous.

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  14. So glad you had a great time, Hallie! I know we all thoroughly enjoyed your presence and your knowledge.

    As a California native, my early ideas of LA were "big and sprawling and dirty," courtesy of my LA-born mother, who moved to Berkeley for college and never looked back. Of course, I had to follow her example and flee to LA for college (Pomona College, that is...any other Claremont alums here?). Since then, I've turned into a Southern Californian, and part of what I love about the place is all of the contrasts: beach to snowy mountains, seamy Hollywood side streets to glam Manhattan Beach or Beverly Hills boutiques, and more. I find it hilarious.

    I hope more of you can get out to the California Crime Writers Conference sometime! It's a great weekend of inspiration and fantastic people.

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    1. I second that! What a great reason to come to LA in... 2019!

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  15. It was great seeing you this weekend and your keynote speech was so inspiring!

    I've had a hot/cold relationship with LA my entire life, starting with the smog days we had as a kid where we couldn't have recess outside and the traffic now but then I love all the history of old Hollywood and the coastline. It's also funny when I take note of some of the odd things going on, such as the billboards for Emmy consideration. But I really love it. Along with those hash browns :)

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    1. And we used to dine in Beverly Hills just to be able to spot movie stars. Can you still do that? I had dinner with friends on Canon Drive and did not see a single face I recognized. Which of course means nothing since I recognize no one on the cover of People these days.

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    2. I used to take visitors to some little diner on Rodeo Drive, great place to star gaze.

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  16. Hallie, what a great conference! Some of my favorite writers there. And LA! I love LA. I'm not immune to the charms of the other west coast cities, but there has always been something about LA that pushes all my buttons in a way that San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland do not. (Although I loved my first trip to Portland in February.) Ocean and mountains, palm trees, bougainvillea, diners, boutiques, sixties ranch and Arts and Crafts... It's all just magic. I'm glad we don't have to fly into brown soup anymore! But even in those not far gone days, my heart would lift at the sight of the city as we dropped beneath the brown cloud.

    I do like my LA Noir, too, in film and books. (To Live and Die in LA, anyone?) but I think my favorite Hollywood movie is the rom com The Holiday, with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz.

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    1. The Holiday. Really? Going to find it now.
      Anyone remember Romy and Michele's High School Reunion? Valley girls.

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    2. Debs, I love The Holiday movie! With Jude Law and Jack Black also as major characters, it is one of my favorite movies. Add to that a minor role by Rufus Sewell, it's an awesome cast. Hallie, I think you will thoroughly enjoy it.

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    3. Hallie, this is one of my favorite movies, period. (Or full stop, as the Brits say.) Great cast, as Kathy says, and screenplay by Nancy Meyers. And the soundtrack is divine.

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  17. I grew up in southwestern L.A. Country (La Habra) and have many memories. But to answer the question, it's the beach I remember the most. My family went on summer weekends, later when in high school I and friends went. Huntington, Corona Del Mar, Laguna Beach. Transistor radios tuned into the local top-40 station (KRLA or KFWB). Later, reading Hammett and Chandler, I came to also think of L.A. as hard-boiled territory.

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    1. LOVE the beaches, too. Watching the surfers in Malibu. Prom night on the beach. Bioluminescent tide.

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    2. Don't forget the grunion run!

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  18. I really have to do more justice to California than visiting LAX or San Francisco airport on flights through there. With several people living in California I could visit, it's definitely on my bucket list to spend some time there. I think I probably imagine the ocean first when California comes to mind, but knowing from my Hawaii trips how magnificent mountains are, as well as oceans, I look forward to the mountain scenery of California, too.

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    1. My #1 piece of advice: DO NOT FLY INTO LAX. Getting in and out of there is a nightmare. Stupidest airport design ever. Guaranteed gridlock. It's so much more civilized to fly into Long Beach or Burbank, if you can.

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    2. Thanks, Hallie. I will remember that when I finally get to visit California.

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  19. I think California and remember how utterly different it was from Houston, Texas. In 1961 we moved to Anaheim and lived there a few months while Dad helped transition a company Exxon had purchased in Long Beach. I finished 6th grade at Katella Elementary School and the whole school experience was crazy. We went places every weekend to take advantage of being in California temporarily. I thought it was crazy that we lived in one town, went to the movies in another, the dentist in still another, etc. All the towns just rolled into one another. No matter where we went there were people. Even in the middle of the desert. You couldn't get away from them. It was a fun few months. Didn't experience any earthquakes (I had to live in Ohio for that) or movie star sightings. The Pacific was too cold to swim in but pretty. The mountains at Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake were wonderful. So many places to see and experience!

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    1. Pat I hope you go back! The sprawl, however, is truly amazing.

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  20. The conference sounds fantastic, Hallie!

    I love L.A. and am going next week! We lived there for a couple of years in the 90's and only went back east because our nieces and nephews were being born, and we wanted to see them more often.

    I loved vanilla blends at the Coffee Bean, and In 'n Out, of course. We would hike in the hills and bike on the beaches. The Getty had just opened, and that was amazing. My co-workers and I frequented a diner in Brentwood called the Early World, which we nicknamed the Worm, and I have no idea why. And the weather? On the west side the weather is perfect. I'm really getting excited for my trip!

    And I loved James Ziskin's latest, CAST THE FIRST STONE, which features his heroine, Ellie Stone, in L.A. in the 60s.

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    1. COFFEE! Can I just say, Californians think they invented the stuff. They're fussy fussy fussy... which is to say you can get a very good cup of coffee. The croissants? Feh. You'll have to go to Paris for that.

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    2. The vanilla blend is barely coffee. It's more like a frappe with a little coffee in it; that's how I like my coffee!

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    3. We're not fussy about coffee. We're specific. :) Personally, I am a tall, skinny mocha, decaf, soy. Don't judge. I've heard worse.

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  21. Hallie, we're STILL sending L.A. air kisses and hugs your way. You were incredible. So many people praised you, your speech, and your workshop. You're now a rock star here in the city of stars. I must add kudos to my co-chair, Sue Ann Jaffarian, who worked her ass off to make the weekend memorable.
    It was Glen Erik Hamilton that read the never-to-be-forgotten excerpt from FOXE TAIL. Blue? More like purple, if you know what I mean.
    Before I moved here, I pictured L.A. as palm trees, Rodeo Drive, and old Hollywood. Now that I've been here for 40!!! years, it's sunshine and award season.
    Loved. Every. Minute. xo

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  22. Halle, you're right, crime writers are a generous and interesting bunch and you're the top of them all. You gave so much to the conference and days later we're all still talking about it and how energized we were from your workshop and very entertaining keynote speech. Thank you. Thank you.

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