First off, Nashville is a great town. Coincidentally, I’d spent a long weekend there for the first time a month before last year’s Killer Nashville. I was with a bunch of college friends. We were a rock band back in the day, and one of our members, Jamie Rounds, is a songwriter/performer in Nashville, and we thought, let’s crash in on him. So I was already somewhat familiar with the scene before going to the conference, but all I can say is it just got better.
Here are my findings: Everyone who lives in Nashville is either a songwriter, a musician, or music freak, or all the above. It’s the only town in the world that has recorded songs playing at street corners. So, apparently, the municipal budget has a line item for public music.
Everyone is very friendly, in an open, honest, non-unctuous sort of way. The streets are clean, the architecture diverse, the bars lined up along Broadway appropriately gritty (think a scaled-down version of Austin’s 6th Street – just as raucous and great, but a bit more manageable) and the music is fantastic. There’s plenty of traditional, good ole country, but most of what I heard was more like country/rock or country/folk fusion, or just plain great sounds transcending genre.
The Country Music Hall of Fame knocked me out. Well worth the trip. And I usually have to be dragged to those kinds of places. If you don’t enjoy seeing Elvis’s pink Cadillac or listening to scratchy old recordings of Chet Atkins and Patsy Cline, you have a heart of stone.
The food in Nashville will not make you skinny, but it’s only for a few days, right? The wait staff in all the places I went were eager to explain the local cuisine, without hesitation or condescension. Which you can get when you’re a flagrant out-of-towner. Here, they help you through the process, as if bestowing the gentle gift of culinary enlightenment, which they are.
As it turned out, I was stuck in Nashville for a few extra days while Hurricane Irene was threatening to wipe out my life up north. The bartenders let me keep the Weather Channel going along with the ball games, and compared notes on past floods, storms and other acts of God.
Speaking of God, I’ve never seen so many churches, of every imaginable denomination and faith. I’m not a churchgoer myself, but the sheer plentitude made me feel like I ought to be. Some of my college friends made the effort, and report stimulating sermons and appropriately effervescent music.
Killer Nashville itself was equally worth the effort. The smaller regional conferences really have their charms. Killer Nashville most reminds me of Crimebake up here in New England. Everything is scaled down, so it’s more intimate. Writers like me get to be on more panels, we all get to talk more and the audience feels more comfortable asking questions.
Same with the bar scene and nightly, ad hoc dinner arrangements, always a key ingredient whenever writers, critics and serious fans get together. I suck at mingling and small talk, but it’s a lot easier in these small venues and I generally make more enduring contacts.
As with Crimebake, there’s a higher than average proportion of aspiring writers at Killer Nashville than at the big shows, where fans and readers predominate. I love the way serious readers engage with the genre, but it’s different and enjoyable to focus on the writing side of the equation. And we’re more likely to drift into the business side as well, and it’s good when your audience finds that equally engaging.
I spent some of my non-writing career as an event organizer and promoter, so I have a watchful eye on how these conferences are run. Frankly, they’re all amazing. I really marvel at the sophistication and determination of the people who do this year after year, for little reward beyond the knowledge that they pulled off a successful event under impossible circumstances. Killer Nashville is no different. My colleague Beth Terrell and company make it all look easy, but I know damn well it’s anything but.
I’m not a sentimental person, at heart more a misanthrope than extrovert (my wife will testify to this). But I’ve surprised myself by enjoying the mystery writers/readers/critics sub-culture quite a bit. And nowhere are its finer qualities more in evidence than at Killer Nashville.
Chris Knopf writes the Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mystery series and a new spinoff series about attorney Jackie Swaitkowski, of which Ice Cap is the first. Knopf has been writing himself out of trouble since he talked a teacher into accepting a short story in lieu of an essay, and an essay in lieu of a multiple choice exam. A college professor wrote a comment on a friend’s paper that would have also applied to him: “You write well, which is good because you have very little command of the subject matter.” To support his fiction habit he started working for PR firms. That evolved into a career as an advertising copywriter and later a creative director at Mintz & Hoke. His command of subject matter continues to be thin, but now more broadly based, having written technical papers for chemical engineering and bioscience companies, TV commercials for construction products and house stains, tire cleaners, banks and hospitals, radio spots for car dealers, yogurt and popsicles, and print ads for jet engines, medical insurance, valves, liquid chromatography, missiles, bicycles and casinos. To name a few. His preferred environment involves a lot of saltwater, having summered as a youth on the New Jersey shore, where he was also a lifeguard. He lives with his wife Mary Farrell and dog Samuel Beckett in Connecticut and Southampton, NY, where he writes on the front porch until it’s too cold to tap the keys.
(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (http://www.elizabethterrell.com/). To be a part of this series, contact Beth at email@example.com.)