My teaching semester began last Wednesday as I met my freshpeeps, and then I promptly loaded Mrs. M’s Kia and fled Mondoville for the Killer Nashville writer’s conference, in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, TN. The conference ran from Thursday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, giving writers of a wide range of experience the chance to network and learn from one another.
I was there as a stand-in for Lawrence Block, whose In Sunlight or in Shadow was up for a Silver Falchion Award for best anthology. As a contributor to the anthology, I was delighted to represent the work of so many fine authors. But I also wanted to earn my keep, so I volunteered to serve on some panels as needed. Apparently I was needed more than I had expected, as I found myself on five different panels — two each on Friday and Saturday, and one on Sunday to wrap things up. And of course, there were breakfasts, lunches, dinners (award and otherwise), chats in the hallways, hanging out in the bookstore, and, and, and… So, busy, busy, busy.
When I wasn’t pontificating on short stories, literary crime writing, or blogging and social media, I got the chance to meet some recently developed friends from SEMWA (Hi Maggie, Stacy, and Jaden!), made some new friends (Hi, Debra! Hello, Jason!) and talked to a lot of writers at different points in their careers, from long-time pros to self-publishers and folks looking to break into print. I also got to talk for a couple of minutes with Max Allan Collins, and had breakfast Sunday with Chris Grabenstein, author of successful series for kids and adults. He told me, “Someone asked me if I was famous. I said, ‘Only among 10-year-olds.'”
I also appeared on a panel with Kathryn Lane, whose Waking Up in Medellin won several awards at the banquet, including the overall book-of-the-year award. Kathryn herself is an interesting story — sort of the Joseph Conrad of the conference. English is not her first language, although you wouldn’t know it from conversation. Her speech has a bit of a lilt, but no discernible accent. She’s a fascinating person, and while I haven’t had a chance to read her work yet, if it’s half as interesting as she is, it’ll be a darned good read.
Another highlight for me came Thursday afternoon, in a long session with Steven James, where he discussed the “rules” of storytelling, and how to break them. I was impressed enough to pick up a copy of his writers’ guide Story Trumps Structure, and to talk to him about a possible Skype session with my fiction class in the spring term. If you get a chance to hear him talk, it’ll be worth your time.
I also bought a copy of Shaun Assael‘s work of investigative journalism, The Murder of Sonny Liston, which won a couple of non-fiction awards at the banquet. I’m about 70 pages in — it’s good stuff. (And of course, it gave me a chance to mention one of my favorite songs about boxing.)
But really, to mention every terrific person I met would be impossible — I’d be bound to overlook someone cool. I heard a number of people tell me that it was their first KN, but that it wouldn’t be their last. I understand.
As it happens, one of the sweetest moments of the whole business came at the end for me in a panel on writing “literary” crime and mystery fiction. When asked to talk a little about some of my recent work, I mentioned my story in In Sunlight. A woman in the audinece said, “You were in that?” I said that I was, and briefly described my story. The woman said, “I remember that one! It was beautiful.” Hard to imagine a better way to wrap the day and conference up, I think.
Except maybe this. As I headed back toward Mondoville, I saw the exit to the cemetery where my parents, grandparents, and cousin are buried. I pulled off the interstate for a few minutes, drove to the cemetery, and walked over to the family plot. “Hey, y’all,” I said. “I seem to be doing something pretty good.” And then I returned home.