A Brief History of Killer Nashville by Founder Clay Stafford

Many thanks to the Williamson Herald and to Clay Stafford. Here is Clay’s account of the founding of Killer Nashville and its subsequent success.

Commentary: Ten years later… Writers’ dreams are still deadly passion for founder of Killer Nashville By Clay Stafford • For the Herald Williamson Herald 

Ten years ago, a friend and I were discussing how to best support writers of the mystery and thriller genre here in the Middle Tennessee area. We thought there should be a special event, maybe one that would provide writers a chance to learn more about the craft, meet people in the publishing industry, and have a little fun in the process.

Before moving to Franklin with my wife Jacqueline (a physician at Vanderbilt Franklin Women’s Center), I had designed university-level curricula based upon my past work experience as a writer, filmmaker, and academic. Doing the same thing for Killer Nashville, I looked at what I wished I had been taught about writing and publishing, and I divided it into four areas.

We had to connect authors with real information, with other authors, with new fans and with real people in the industry who could make a difference in their careers. We needed to discuss not only writing, but also publishing and promotion. We needed a conference of action, not talking. And the model seemed to work.

In its first year in 2006, the event had around 60 attendees at the Franklin Embassy Suites. The conference has since outgrown local venues and has moved to the Nashville Omni Hotel, the only hotel in the area that can hold us. Last year, authors William Kent Krueger and Lisa Jackson served as guests of honor and more than 500 people from around the world attended panel discussions, workshops, and presentations, including the popular crime scene staged by employees of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

As was our initial mission, Killer Nashville works year round making writers’ dreams come true. Our Silver Falchion Award honors authors of the best books readily available to a North American audience in any format within the past year. The Claymore Award is given to authors of unpublished manuscripts where nearly every winner and most of the finalists have found agent representation and a book (even a movie) deal.

We host the Killer Nashville Awards Presentation. We’ve brought in over $1.5 million into the local economy. We’ve started an international magazine. And beginning this fall, Diversion Books will release a new annual anthology series of original short stories starring only Killer Nashville attendees including Donald Bain, Jefferson Bass, Jeffery Deaver, Heywood Gould, Steven James, Mary Burton, Robert Dugoni, Anne Perry, and more.

The success stories are mind-boggling. Every day we hear from writers who say how the conference gave them the push they needed, or that it connected them with the right people. One author secured a book deal over cocktails at the hotel bar. Each one of these success stories reminds us of why we are here and who are our true stars: the pre-published author, the growing published author, those who are traditionally published or self-published, and the reader.

Killer Nashville – developed and located right here in Franklin as a part of American Blackguard, Inc., producer of One of the Miracles, the feature documentary on local legend Inge Meyring Smith, has been a family supporting local writers from the beginning. We never want to lose that no matter how international we grow. To learn more, visit

Clay Stafford: Founder of Killer Nashville but Also a Polymath

Every year, I remind my readers that the exciting Killer Nashville is rolling in again.  (This year the dates are October 29 to November 1.) I’ve attended many conferences of different kinds over the years, both good and useless but mainly boring, and when I describe KN as “exciting” I’m being perfectly honest: I know when something is fun and informational.

Today I thought my readers would like to know more about Clay Stafford, the founder of the conference.  After reading about his career and everything he’s done and everything he knows, I’ve decided that Clay is a polymath.  (Greek, polymathēs, πολυμαθής, “having learned much”). A polymath is not content to know a lot about one subject; he or she has broad knowledge about many areas of learning. As you can see from the following list of Clay’s attributes, he has a rich history of many kinds of experiences that make him an ideal leader for Killer Nashville with its interesting range of offerings.

  1. Writer: Clay lists “articles, poetry, essays, novel adaptations, TV series, feature films, nonfiction books, live theater, book & film reviews, and newspaper articles.”
  2. Editor. “…edited several PBS companion books that accompanied national series and is currently editing a mystery/thriller anthology with new stories from bestselling authors such as Jeffery Deaver, Jefferson Bass, Donald Bain, Heywood Gould, and Robert Dugoni.”
  3. Executive and marketer: “Has worked at Universal Studios, PBS, and now at American Blackguard [his own company]” on projects in “film, television, stage, music, events, publishing.”
  4. Educator and public speaker: First in his class, he received an MFA from the University of Miami. He has taught writing at U. M.  and the U. of Tennessee and presented talks for organizations here and abroad.
  5. Awards and public service: he has received numerous awards and worked hard for nonprofit groups.
  6. Actor: Before he became a director and producer, he acted too. Do any of these shows sound familiar? Days of Our Lives; Clue: Movies, Murder, and Mystery with Martin Mull.
  7. Reader, the voracious kind: he is capable of reading and reviewing one book a day.

There is much more about Clay’s experience, much too long to include here. As you read the above, it’s easy to imagine the other fields he knows a lot about and has experienced. For example, all the ins and out of writing a script for and filming a movie, a huge subject by itself. Now it’s a bit easier to imagine how Clay conceived the idea of Killer Nashville and why that conference is so rich in its offerings.

American Pharaoh Races This Afternoon for the Triple Crown


My thanks to Gene Kershner of the Buffalo News for this excellent May 15, 2015 analysis of the Triple Crown race this afternoon.

BALTIMORE – American Pharoah’s Kentucky Derby performance has inspired hope that this powerful 3-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile could break a Triple Crown drought that has survived for 37 years.

Saturday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course (4:30 p.m., Ch. 2), he’ll attempt to claim the second jewel of that crown in the 140th edition of the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes. But concerns over drawing the rail and running his fourth race in nine weeks has added to the drama surrounding the heavy favorite. Post time is 6:18 p.m.

With Firing Line, who placed second in the Derby, drawing a more favorable outside post position, and Pharoah’s stablemate Dortmund returning, it’s sure to offer viewers an action-packed race.

American Pharoah (4-5), owned by Zayat Stables, will take on a field of seven others, including three of the four horses that finished behind him in Louisville. In the last 14 years, only two horses that did not run in the Derby won the Preakness. Since 2003, five Derby winners have repeated in Baltimore.

After getting a dream trip from an outside post in the Derby, which was boosted by a moderate pace, American Pharoah will break from the rail, a post that has produced only two Preakness winners since 1960. He’ll be in the gate right next to Dortmund (7-2), which will add intrigue to race dynamics and projected pace scenario.

Bob Baffert, who trains both horses and is seeking his sixth Preakness win, was none too pleased with the results of the blind draw of the two inside post positions.

“We didn’t like the draw,” he said. “I just hate to see them next to each other like that. It’s something that you can’t change, so you just deal with it. I didn’t lose any sleep over it.”

Dortmund, the pace setter in the Derby and third-place finisher, will look to avenge his first loss in seven races. He comes to Baltimore hoping the shorter distance will aid his cause. The Preakness is run at 1 3/16 miles, one-half furlong less than the Derby distance. It was also revealed post-Derby that he suffered a bout of colic a week before, which may have hampered his performance.

The horse that received the most favorable draw was the Derby second-place finisher, Firing Line (4-1), who drew the far outside post, one that Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens is relishing.

“I’m very relaxed and confident,” Stevens said. “We got a great draw. I saw him on the track this morning and getting off the van yesterday, and he’s very relaxed and confident too. It’s a good spot to be in.”

Firing Line, who was ahead in the Derby at the sixteenth-pole (the Preakness distance), did not change leads in the stretch, a tactic that probably cost him the race. The shorter distance benefits the son of Line of David, who is probably the freshest of the horses coming out of the race in Louisville. His last prep was five weeks before the Run for the Roses.

With a possibility of rain, the two horses that would stand out on an off-track are American Pharoah, who won the Rebel at Oaklawn Park on a sloppy track, and Danzig Moon, a Malibu Moon colt trained by Mark Casse.

Casse said via telephone on Wednesday that he is unwavering on his decision to continue on the Triple Crown trail, even though Danzig Moon is an Ontario-bred and eligible in July for the Queen’s Plate, a $1 million restricted race.

“It was one of the questions” owner “Mr. Oxley and I discussed before deciding to run Danzig Moon in the Preakness,” Casse said. “There’s plenty of time, almost two months to the Plate. If you look at everything and his numbers, except for his race in Tampa, which we feel he had a legitimate excuse in Tampa, he’s done nothing but improve.”

Danzig Moon finished fifth in the Derby after being knocked around early, finishing over 6 lengths behind American Pharoah.

Casse wouldn’t be disappointed if there is some rain at Pimlico this afternoon.

“Most of the time, the sloppy track is an unknown, so that may give us an edge,” he said.

With a likely quicker pace scenario then was encountered in the Derby, Casse’s colt could be more of a factor coming late in the Preakness. When trainer Todd Pletcher decided not to run any of his possible contenders, especially Materiality, it was a double-edged sword according to Casse.

“Ideally I’d love to see a little quicker pace,” Casse said. “I was happy and disappointed that Materiality didn’t go in. I was happy that we don’t have to run against him, because to me I thought he ran a big race with all the issues he had in the Derby. But the disappointing part is that I thought he would add some pace to the pace scenario.”

The thought in this camp is that the race is best set up for Firing Line. He has the most favorable post position and ability to set a reasonable pace. He has a Hall of Famer in the irons in Stevens, who won this race two years ago aboard Oxbow at 15-1.

There’s no denying American Pharoah’s talent, but at the Derby he had to exert energy he hasn’t had to in previous races. He’ll be running his fourth race in nine weeks. He’ll likely not enjoy the dream trips he’s had for his last three races starting from the rail. That’s enough for me to try and beat him on top.

Marilyn Fisher: Have just finished watching American Pharaoh win the Triple Crown.  So glad I saw the race. A never-to-be forgotten thrill!

Finding Beauty and Innocence in Our Own Backyards

Laura's photo of the shy baby bunny who lives around their front porch  May 2015

This photo was taken by my younger daughter whose hobby is taking photos of the natural setting of her country home. This little bunny had been hiding himself in various places around her porch. At last he ventured out and her patience rewarded, she caught his image. Every time I look at this photo, I am reminded of all the little animals with which we are blessed: beautiful, innocent, and always in peril. There’s a quiet lesson here.

Clant Seay: The Fight to Get Justice for Walking Horses

I always like to mention people in the forefront of the struggle to put soring out of business. Today I’d like to mention Clant Seay, in his regular life a lawyer in Mississippi. He became outraged when he saw people making money off soring–specifically those who ran the 2015 Mississippi Charity Horse Show. Here is the petition he sponsored. Over 5000 people voted for the classes to be cancelled. Thank you Mr. Seay for allowing me to quote your petition and explanatory material.


Mr. Seay goes on to give some background.

“On March 26 – 28, 2015, one of the CRUELEST Horse Shows – the Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) performance or “BIG LICK” show is coming to the Mississippi State Fairgrounds.

The “Mississippi Charity Horse Show” will feature 59 “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horses classes. Sadly, four of the five “Horse Show Judges” have received Horse Protection Act Violation Citations for “Soring” Horses.

“Soring” is the illegal and cruel practice of using chemical and mechanical methods to create pain in a gaited show horse€™s front feet to exaggerate their animated step … The Horses are forced to perform the CRUEL and unnatural high stepping “Big Lick” gait.


Middle Tennessee State vet Dr. John Haffner, “ The fact is the big lick can only be accomplished by soring. When one soring technique becomes detectable, another one is developed. The big lick is a learned response to pain and if horses have not been sored, they do not learn it.”

Trainers deliberately TORTURE by “Soring” by applying harsh chemicals (including kerosene, diesel fuel, and WD-40) to the horse’s legs and hooves. The chemicals cause painful blistering so when the horses are shown wearing “CHAINS” on their front feet, it causes excruciating pain which forces the horse into a high-stepping gait.

“Big Lick” TWH also wear heavy built up “STACKED SHOES” weighing 10-15 lb per foot. Often, trainers will insert metal or objects between the pads and the horse’s foot to create pain which also causes the horse to step high.

“Big Lickers” also “train” horses not to react to pre-show inspections. One Trainer used a medieval like “Barbed Wire Harness” in the shape of a “Figure Eight” to fit over a horse’s head and ears so it would “learn” not to move during inspections. Other Trainers beat or shock the horses to “teach” them.


On September 10, 2014, The Tennessean newspaper reported over 50% of 389 Tennessee Walking Horses inspected by USDA vets at the 2014 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration (TWH Super Bowl) showed signs of soring. It said the apparent signs of soring disqualified 166 competitors during the event -€” 15.4 percent of all of the horses inspected.


In 2014, the Celebration’s largest sponsor, Regions Bank (16 states), withdrew its $25,000.00 corporate support of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. In 2012, Pepsi-Co (Pepsi Cola, Mountain Dew brands) withdrew its $25,000.00 corporate sponsorship of the event.


In 2014, over 70% of the U. S. House of Representatives and 60 United States Senators publicly announced support for a Federal Law to eliminate the “Big Lick” by removing pads and chains from Tennessee Walking Horses, and make horse soring a federal felony. Tragically, the law did not get a vote. Soring is now concentrated in the States of Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi.


Starting in 2012, the University of Tennessee ended the decades long tradition of exhibiting a”Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse at its annual Homecoming football game. The new tradition features a sound natural flat shod Tennessee Walking Horse performing the plantation gaits.




Please urge Horse Show Manager Mr. Robert Taylor to CANCEL the 59 “BIG LICK” Tennessee Walking Horse classes at the 2015 Mississippi Charity Horse Show, and to BAN them in the future.”

The petition was signed by over 5000 people.

Here’s what happened.