Sunday, January 11, 2009

Meeting Michael Connelly (or How Killer Nashville Jumpstarted My Writing Efforts)

Today's article comes courtesy of guest blogger Pamela Schmalz. Pamela is an engineer turned lawyer. She uses her technical background in the practice of Environmental Law. She is at work on a legal thriller and plans to attend Killer Nashville 2009.

I had been nurturing the dream of being a novelist for over ten years, and for the past two years I had been working toward that dream: writing and meeting with a small critique group every three weeks or so. But juggling my day job, and the demands of a toddler, resulted in a less-than-satisfactory output of written words at my computer.

At the urging of my writing group, I kept up my efforts--whenever I believed that time allowed. And one day, a friend forwarded me an email about Killer Nashville.

I had seen other notices for writing conferences, and in fact secretly dreamed of attending the Edgar Awards in New York City--as a nominee in the Best First Novel by an American Author category. When I linked to the conference website, I learned that the Guest of Honor for Killer Nashville 2007 was none other than MICHAEL CONNELLY.

I emailed back to my friend, "Oh my gosh, Michael Connelly is my favorite author of all time."

"Sign up for the conference," she told me. "It just may be the impetus you need in your writing career."

First, I checked with my family, and then I went online and signed up before I could lose my nerve. In the back of my mind, I knew that if I quit my day job to write full time, attendance at such a conference might not fall within our budget again--at least, not until I became a successful author.

As the days passed, I wondered how many of my Michael Connelly books I could carry to the conference with me for signing. I decided that carrying more than a dozen books would paint me as a pathetic writing groupie, so I brought with me only his two latest, Echo Park and The Overlook.

When I awoke Saturday morning, I still couldn't believe that I would be meeting MICHAEL CONNELLY. What would he be like, I wondered. Would he look like a mere mortal, or would there be an otherworldly aura around him?

After lunch, I rushed to the room where Michael Connelly would be interviewed. I got a seat near the center of the room, four rows back, where I could watch him straight on. As the minutes ticked on, I eyed a seat in the very first row. Should I move to that seat? Might near proximity to my hero imbue me with writing talent? Might I be anointed with a droplet of his sweat? If, as Thomas Edison tells us, genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, could such a droplet help me and my writing?

I decided that such thoughts steered me away from the author-in-my-own-right category, and into the writer groupie category.

And then I saw him. He looked much like the photographs on the back of his novels. His hair was a little shorter, his face not as stern. Amazingly, surprisingly, he stood alone in the room while cameras and microphones were being set up. Occasionally, someone would approach him to converse quietly. Where was the mob? Where were the adoring fans?

This is it. Go talk to him, I told myself. Tell him what an inspiration he has been to you.

But I was paralyzed by awe, still eyeing the seat in the front row, occasionally darting my glance toward MICHAEL CONNELLY.

Get up and talk to him, my brain screamed. But an inner voice told me that I was not worthy, and the moment passed. The front-row seat was taken by a less timid soul, and Michael Connelly got up on stage, behind a table.

Damn, damn, damn. I missed my moment. But the interview was about to begin.

Connelly spoke with quiet confidence. He seemed...could it be?...somewhat nervous to be in front of us speaking about his books and about the craft of writing. He was, as the moderator had told us, a really nice guy.

After the interview, Connelly was signing books, and I quickly got in line. A woman in front of me had a disposable camera, and asked me to take her picture with him as her book was signed.

Damn, damn, damn. Why hadn't I thought of that? Another missed moment.

When I got to the front of the line, I got my two books signed, and managed to stammer out some words about how Connelly's writing had inspired me. I clutched my precious books to me as I walked away, already thinking of the more eloquent things I could have said.

But all was not lost. I had also signed up for dinner with Michael Connelly. Maybe I would have another chance to talk to him at dinner. Alas, Connelly's reserve and my shyness prevented any interchange beween us. Dinner came to an end, and I was getting ready to leave, when I remembered that I had opened a tab so that I could have a glass of wine with dinner. I darted back into the room where we had dined, and asked for my bill. As I was handed my credit card receipt, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone else settling his tab.

It was MICHAEL CONNELLY. Again, my brain screamed, talk to him. But the words would not come. I turned to my receipt, only to find that my pen would not work. And as Connelly handed his receipt to the waitress, I blurted, "Could I please use that pen?"

He handed the receipt to the waitress and the pen to me and moved away. I was frozen. There he goes, I thought. I signed my receipt and prepared to give it, and the pen, in their faux leather folio, back to the waitress.

When suddenly, desperately, I asked the waitress, "Can I keep this pen?"

I know this relegates me to the hopelessly desperate writer groupie category, but I don't care. I've got a pen used by Michael Connelly.

Pamela Schmalz

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Killer Nashville New Year

Let me be the first to wish you all a Killer New Year.

With the new year upon us, the Killer Nashville crew is revving up for 2009 conference. Making New Year's resolutions? I hope you'll start by resolving to attend Killer Nashville 2009. That's one resolution it will be easy to keep. All you have to do is go to the Killer Nashville website and register. We have an early bird special that lasts through February 28, and a special rate for full-time students and teachers. The conference will be held on August 14-16, 2009 at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs Hotel and Conference Center. I've already marked my calendar!

As you can see, we have a new Killer Nashville blog. We hope to use it to create a year-round community of writers and readers of mysteries, thrillers, suspense, and other crime fiction. (Readers and writers of true crime should find much to interest them as well.) We'd love to have blog articles from any previous attendee, presenter, or volunteer who is interested in participating--fans, aspiring authors, published writers, literary agents, law enforcement personnel, forensics experts, and anyone else who has been a part of the Killer Nashville experience. If you're interested in being a regular or occasional contributor, please let me know at Please check back often to see what's new--and feel free to leave comments!

Now, here's the latest Killer Nashville news:

The agent who will be joining us this year is Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency. You can check out the agency at They are truly a class act. We hope Maryglenn McCombs will also be joining us again. We've always had great experiences with Maryglenn and Oceanview. Two Killer Nashville attendees, Margaret Fenton and Scott Pearson (Dr. A. Scott Pearson), received publishing contracts as a result of pitches given at the conference. Both have books coming out from Oceanview this year (Scott's in February and Margaret's in June).

As you'll remember, we unveiled the first Silver Falchion Award in 2008. It was awarded to Don Bruns for Stuff to Die For. This year, in addition to the Falchion, we'll be awarding the first Claymore Dagger Award. This award will be given to the writer of the "best beginning"--the best first 50 pages of an unpublished crime fiction manuscript that is not under contract. The winner will be chosen from ten finalists, who will be (chosen through a blind judging process) by our partnering publisher, Avalon Books. The winner will receive an engraved award, and Avalon's acquiring editor will read the winning manuscript. They will consider it for publication if it meets their needs and follows their guidelines. The deadline for the entries is March 30, 2009. Further information can be found on the Killer Nashville website, or you can send your questions to me at

A tentative schedule will go up on the site soon. If you have suggestions for panel/presentation topics, please let me know ASAP. We plan to have multiple tracks again this year, so please think in terms of panels and presentations on writing, marketing, forensics, and fan interest. We would love to draw more fans as well as published and aspiring authors.

I look forward to hearing from you soon and to seeing you all in August.


Happy New Year!

Beth Terrell, Associate Producer, Killer Nashville