Clay Stafford and Killer Nashville

Please welcome Clay Stafford, the Renaissance man who has developed KILLER NASHVILLE with its Silver Falchion Award into an international conference.
Marni Graff: Clay, I know your varied background includes being heavily involved in writing, publishing, and filmmaking, including stints as a producer. Take us back to 2006 and the beginning, and how you conceived the origin of Killer Nashville.
Clay Stafford: I’ve always been involved in education, teaching high school and college students. I started another writing conference back in 1995 that is still going on, but it wasn’t meeting my needs. I wanted something genre focused, truly education, something where big fish came and taught us smaller fish, and something that was international in its scope. I didn’t want anything that lived in a bubble; I wanted literature of the world. As there was nothing similiar to this in the southeast, I thought we had a possible niche. My bets proved correct. There was a need and the industry noticed, for example The Writer Magazine has voted us the #1 writing conference in the U.S. for years, and every year we have attendees from all over the world. I’ve been amazed at the response and also filled with incredible gratitude at the support of the literary community.
MG: You’ve garnered impressive sponsors including the Mystery Writers of America, who continue that support as the conference has grown and expanded. How did you convince your sponsors to hop on the Killer Nashville bandwagon?
CS: I’ve been in the business for a long time and have been blessed to know a lot of people. When I shared my vision of what we could create, they were onboard. Again, I’m so grateful for the support of the literary, publishing, theatrical, and filmmaking communities.
MG: One of the hallmarks of Killer Nashville is its giving and sharing of information to any level of author, including new or aspiring writers, as well as shining a light on authors whose work may not be well known. Has that always been your focus?
CS: Always. I’m a reader first. Period. Nothing makes me happier than discovering a new writer and sharing that writer and/or their work with others. That aspect of Killer Nashville is simply a continuation of something that is innate within me.
MG: Drawing people to a great city like Nashville to explore seems like an attractive hook, especially when you leave visitors time to get a taste of all that Nashville has to offer. Can you give us an idea of how your attendance has grown?
CS: In 2006, our conference consisted of 72 individuals, including representatives from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, FBI, and other federal organizations (to provide first-hand info to attendees). This past year, over 500 individuals walked through our doors over the course of the weekend. We sold out one hotel completely and sold all of our blocks at two other neighboring hotels. We’ve grown exponentially. The first year we had attendees from around the U.S. In 2007, we added Canada, so I jokingly said, “We are becoming international,” which was my goal. Since then, however, we regularly have attendees from Japan, England, Ireland, Scotland, Austrailia, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and I’m sure I’ve left someone out, so I apologize. The vision in 2006 of creating an international conference has come true thanks to the word-of-mouth of attendees who have told their friends. I’m grateful.
MG: You encourage reading with the huge amount of books and supplies you donate to needy libraries and schools. Has that community outreach always been a part of your structure? How does the community support Killer Nashville?
CS: My personal view is that you should pay your bills, spend some money on yourself, and support the charities of your choice with every paycheck you get. Giving back to others in need, I think, is the ultimate sign of appreciation for all that has been given to you. Since its start, Killer Nashville has given back to the literary community, including helping to build a library in Africa, donating $85,000 worth of books to various libraries in need, and other such activities. Writers, I think, are the most powerful people on earth. Their influence is far-reaching. Reading changes live. Different perspectives change lives. Creating an international gathering place of ideas like Killer Nashville brings the world closer together and changes lives because we get to know each other around the globe a little better. Since the beginning with the advent of access via the Internet, community outreach and support has always been a part of Killer Nashville. Even our monthly magazine ( is a continuation of support for writers and the literary community and it’s free to all subscribers.
MG: Publishers Weekly has said you play “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers.” Has your vast experience in so many forms of media, including world-wide critiques and interviews, as well as producing shows for the top three Primetime Networks, PBS, and Emmy/Oscar winning movies, given you a nose for a project you’ll back?
CS: I was so flattered when Publishers Weekly took notice of our efforts. Part of our mission statement has always been to help pre-published writers become better writers, to help published writers grow audiences, to help bestselling authors reach even greater audiences. Our books recommendations, for example, through out social media and our Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award ( have boosted sales tremendously. We’ve done book blurbs for major publishers because of the weight the Killer Nashville brand carries. We’ve discovered new writers through our Killer Nashville Claymore Awards ( who literally shared with us a manuscript they’ve had in a drawer for years that, after we got it, we were able to help them get an agent, get published, and even get a movie deal. The success stories abound. I’ve, again, been in the business a long time in publishing and entertainment, I have a lot of connections, and I’ve always been happy to introduce a promising individual to someone I know whom I think could make a difference in their lives. Do we play an essential role in creating bestsellers? Yes, I’m so delighted to say. And we will continue to do so. Nothing makes me happier than seeing other people realize their dreams and I’ve always been so content to be a part of that.
MG: Your column for Writer’s Digest with Killer Writers has seen you “in conversation” with writers on a variety of topics, and gives a terrific look inside the mind and writing process of that author. Do you have a favorite conversation or two? Do you have a wish list of authors you want to interview?
CS: I love talking to people and hearing their stories, including writers. I really don’t think I can pull out a favorite as the thing about geniune stories and paths to success are so individual that it is literally comparing apples and oranges. They are all so different. So, no, I don’t have a favorite. In terms of a wish list, I tend to have conversations with people with whom I’ve probably just read their book and, like any fan, I have questions. I don’t want to jinx it, but everyone on my wish list – meaning everyone whose book I’ve just read and really loved – has always said yes to an interview. No one has turned me down yet. So, I guess I’m fortunate. And I don’t miss the blessing that I’m in a position where I can talk with these famous authors. Life has been good to me and, in turn, through efforts such as my Writer’s Digest column, I hope everyone else who has the dream can live the same kind of life they desire. I hope the information we share in the column helps people achieve that.
MG: People associate Clay Stafford with books, but I understand music is a love of yours, too, and you live in the perfect place for that. Please tell us about your work in the music industry.
                            Clay Stafford, Maureen Corrigan, Cindy Dees
CS: I was a music compositon and arrangement major in college (classical orchestra). I played in an orchestra. I fronted several pop/rock bands in my early years. As I moved into filmmaking, I composed scores for my film projects. I wrote pop songs. My two most recent projects are Clay Stafford Presents One of the Miracles ( and Clay Stafford Presents XO the Album ( Both are available to listen to for free on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, etc. As you say, people think of me regarding books, but in my daily life, I continue with filmmaking, composing, and other aspects of the entertainment industry as well as the publishing industry. I love the diversity of it all.
          MG: You are also going to be a Guest of Honor at Bouchercon ’24.
          CS: Yes. I was really flattered to have been asked. It is such an honor. I’m so
          looking forward to it.
MG: You have your entire family involved in Killer Nashville as it nears. What does “down time” for the Stafford family look like?
CS: I jokingly say our family travels in a pack. We’re really tight-knit. Yes, the family is involved extensively in the production of Killer Nashville. They love authors the same way I do. For downtime, we love to travel. My son set a goal that we, as a family, should visit all 50 states. We’re over half-way there. We have a house outside Nashville, but also a cabin on a small non-motorized lake in the middle of almost 200,000 acres of preserved mountain ranges that we go to get away and I go to write. Every chance we can get away to go to the cabin is a wonderful family time for us. In terms of downtime specifically for me, I love what I do. Starting from a child actor at ten to where I am now, I often say I’ve never had a real job. To me, creating is such fun. My idea of downtime is doing what I do everyday: creating and developing projects. Every day is a joy.
MG: Killer Nashville 2024 is open for registration NOW for August 22-25 ( Why should someone who’s not been before consider going this next year?
CS: We sell out every year. We help people get published. We help people learn. We help people make connections. We help people take their careers to the next level. We help authors connect to forensic experts who help the author increase the accuracy of the content of their books. We help people get agents. We help people find new friends, new connections, and lifelong resources. We’re all about helping people. We have grown the way we have because of word of mouth. The website ( is full of testimonials from people who have been. Killer Nashville is a transforming experience for those who have attended unlike any other writers’ conference that you’ve attended. Rather than me answering that question, it’s even better to find someone who has attended Killer Nashville before and ask them what they got out of it.
MG: Thanks for joining us. Clay. We hope many of us will see you next summer in Nashville!
      CS: Thank you, Marni, for taking the time to talk with me. I love what you and
     the team do with the Miss Demeanors blog. It’s an incredible service to the
     literary community.

Clay Stafford is an American bestselling and award-winning author, poet, screenwriter, and playwright; film and television producer, director, showrunner, actor; book, film, and stage reviewer as well as public speaker. He has sold nearly four million copies of his books and has had his work distributed in sixteen languages. He is founder and CEO of the annual Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference and a contributor to Writer’s Digest magazine with his online column, “Killer Writer” ( For more information visit, (


MIss Demeanors


Marni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney English Mysteries and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. Her story “Quiche Alain” appears in the Anthony-winning Malice Domestic Anthology, Murder Most Edible.  Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press, she’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Triangle SinC, Mavens of Mayhem SinC, the NC Writers Network, and the International Crime Writers Association.


  1. Clay, thank you for all that you do for the writing community! It’s a huge undertaking and it’s incredibly useful for so many writers. I’ve been a nominee twice, and it’s so very, very rewarding just to be on the list. Thank you for visiting and sharing.

  2. Clay,
    I’ve never been to KN but I admire all you do for the writing community. We need all the help we can get. Thank you for joining us today.

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