by Lisa Black
Clay Stafford is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and filmmaker who created the Killer Nashville convention in 2006 to bring together forensic experts, writers, and fans in order to educate and empower aspiring and established writers. I was asked to be one of the Guests of Honor, a personal first (and best) for me that I still can’t wrap my head around—I didn’t even mind having to wait another year after the 2020 COVID cancellation. It gave me more time to humblebrag: “Oh yes, I’m going to be (ahem) a Guest of Honor….”
But first I wanted to see Nashville, a place I’d never been! Determined to see the replica of the Parthenon, I chose a neighboring hotel so I could go out and jog around its park every evening. Centennial Park has winding paths through large trees, main walks bordered with beautiful sandstone blocks, a small lake with hungry ducks, and pergolas strung with lights. There are always families, tourists, joggers, dog walkers around, and students from Vanderbilt University across the street. Best part (other than the Parthenon) are the swings placed randomly throughout the park, a two-person bench seat and a footboard you push with your toes to keep it in motion.
Built because Tennessee had always prided itself on its concern for education and thus a kinship with Ancient Greece, the Parthenon was constructed in 1897 as part of the 100th anniversary of statehood. There’s a small art museum on the first floor, and then you ascend to the second. That’s the real wow! moment.
The large hall is lovingly outfitted with columns, a decorative upper gallery, authentic motifs, and, of course, the 42 foot high statue of Athena. Originally white, now gilted, she has a huge shield in one hand (with a huge snake lurking inside it) and a full figure statue of Nike in the other palm that doesn’t look huge until you read the sign and realize this small figure is 6’4” on its own. Perspective, after all, is everything.
The next day I hiked up West End/Broadway to the heart of downtown, passing famous Hattie B’s Hot Chicken* place, the ‘Batman building,’ the state Capitol, Riverfront park and the pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River.
*The beloved local speciality Hot Chicken had to be Googled in advance. It turns out to be fried chicken with hot sauce on it. I’m a baby about hot stuff, so I passed on that but not Mike’s Ice Cream on 2nd Ave—to die for.
I also toured the Ryman Auditorium, the home of the grand Old Opry for 31 years, until it grew too run down and the Opry moved across the river. It sat vacant until an entertainment company renovated it back to health and prosperity. At my visit, crew and sound technicians were setting up for a Foreigner concert that evening (unfortunately not included with the tour!).
Then it was time to take an Uber for the first time and move to the convention hotel in cute Franklin, about 20 minutes south of Nashville. I was rather the junior GOH and stunned to be in the same company with J.T. Ellison, amazing author with 25 novels and an Emmy, and the long-esteemed Walter Mosley, author of the Easy Rawlings series. Trooper J.T. attended with one foot in a walking brace and a crutch after wrenching her ankle, and due to health concerns Walter could attend only through fun Zoom interviews and addresses. On top of all that, J.T. and I were presented with our own (very real) guitar!
Writers go to conventions for tips on marketing or publicity or writing query letters, where to find resources, specific information on a variety of topics—here I did a presentation on bloodstain pattern interpretation and what CSIs do. The on-site bookstore (usually a local independent) takes care of setting up and selling everyone’s books, from NYT bestsellers to self-pubbed items. A table in the hall holds all the giveaway items, the bookmarks and imprinted pens.
But mostly they’re a place where you can connect with other people who understand that sitting in a room by yourself putting words into blank space is hard. Things we don’t dare say to non-writers, who might look at us askance for such a whine. Our tribe.
Whatever profession you’re in, who do you look to for support? Where do you find your people?