Thriller Writer Tj O'Connor

The Plot Thickens at Killer Nashville

Sep 6, 2023

What can I say about another of my fave book events during the year—Killer Nashville is a killer conference! (Pun intended). It is for all the right reasons, too. First, because my tribe is almost always in residence in full (more on that later). Second, Clay Stafford—grand poohbah and founder of Killer—puts on one hell of an event for both authors and fans. Third, I come home exhausted from all the above and on my drive back to Winchester, feel invigorated to fight the fight to find a larger fanbase and keep battling for sales and book deals and telling my stories. That’s not to say I ever consider actually quitting, mind you. But sometimes, every now and then, it does weigh heavy to have six books out and not achieve any real commercial success other than some great awards and a slowly growing fan base. But, Killer always pumps me back up and kicks me down the road home to battle the demons of doubt. 

Thank you, my tribe, and thank you, Clay. 

Killer is by far the best event I attend for networking and rekindling friendships. This was particularly important after the COVID drought. But, as I find with 98% of all authors I’ve met and come to know, my tribe picked up from where I last saw them like it was just yesterday. (Okay, for Bill Rapp and John DeDakis, it was only a couple of weeks ago). For a few others, it had been a couple of years since I’d actually pressed the flesh with them. Yet, in all that time, and before, they were staunch friends and supporters no matter their greater successes compared to my tiny piece of the author-world.  

Just a few nods to our tribe: 

Baron R. BirtcherBaron R. Birtcher, Delivering “The Tribe” address.

John DeDakis—independent editor and writing coach. A genuinely nice guy with great talents. A former journalist and all-around brilliant word-man. We may be doing some business together on my next book. Thanks for your kind words and time, John.

Baron R. Birtcher—award winning, bestselling author extraordinaire. First met Baron four or five years ago when Dick Belsky introduced me to the tribe. We’ve been friends ever since. A nicer, more inclusive guy you’ll never meet. Baron blurbed The Hemingway Deception without hesitation and gave me some great kudos. Move over Dos Equis man, Baron is truly the most interesting man in the world.

Bruce Robert CoffinMe and Bruce Robert Coffin

Bruce Robert Coffin—another of the tribe who embraced me with open arms years ago. Bruce has built a huge following with awards, bestsellers, and great novels to propel himself upwards to the top. Yet, with all that, he continues to be a huge supporter of those of us still fighting the fight. Bruce also blurbed The Hemingway Deception and did me proud. Thank you, brother.  

Brad Harper—both an amazing author and a ‘Father Christmas’ personality. He’s a man with a story and life adventure that we are all envious of. Brad can’t walk into the room and be lonely. He’s a master storyteller—on and off the page—and a genuinely kind and gregarious man. And, he once got arrested for stealing goats. Now, that’s a story for another time!

James L’EtoileJames L’Etoile- Silver Falchion for Best Detective

James L’Etoile—my brother from my long past of publishers and agents. James won the Silver Falchion at Killer for Best Investigator. Another of the genuinely friendly and engaging tribe. James is soft-spoken, cool, relaxed, and an amazing storyteller.

Jim Nesbitt—Good Ole Jim is a quiet, straight-speaking, and engaging author who is one of those quiet-wise-pointed guys. He writes hard-boiled mysteries and nails the Texas PI scene perfectly. It is always a pleasure seeing him, and while I don’t know him as well as some of the tribe, he always remembers me and what we last spoke about. Embarrassingly, I just nod my head and figure he’s right. Sorry, Jim—your memory is far better than mine!   

Bill Rapp—probably the author that I see most often during the year. Bill is a former CIA man and an excellent author of historical thrillers like The Turkish Triangle. We get together at least once or twice a year in Winchester for his book signings, at Christmas time at a local DC area holiday bizarre, and of course, Killer or other venues. A great story-worth guy who fits into the tribe like none other. See you soon, Bill… somewhere! 

Rich Zahradnik- Silver Falchion for Best Mystery and third place as Best Book of 2022Rich Zahradnik- Silver Falchion for Best Mystery and third place as Best Book of 2022

Rich Zahradnik—I only know through Killer but glad I do. Rich is a gregarious, fun-loving, and intriguing author from the journalism world. He’s an award winner-including two Silver Falchion awards this year for Best Mystery, and third place as Best Book of 2022 in the overall competition. Rich is a matter-of-fact guy who fills in the story gaps spreading around the bar table as authors compete for “this happened to me once . . .” cocktail hour. Congrats, Rich. More than well-deserved.

Mike Faricy—holy crap! Mike’s an old friend from the early Killer Nashville days. I learned this year he’s an award winner who has written more than 80 novels. He writes seven days a week, nearly all day and night. He’s a machine! He’s also a friendly, outgoing, and funny guy who writes novels with unusual characters with wild and quirky plots. Thanks for the advice and laughs, Mike. See you next year! I’m sure you will have published another 10 books.

Now, I’m sure I missed a tribe member or two. I’ll figure that out and perhaps dedicate a blog to just them… 

Creating Compelling ProtagonistsMy first panel, Creating Compelling Protagonists:
(L-R) Alana White, me, Susan Ouellette, Angela Greenman, and Lawrence Allan

Lastly, my exploits: I had three speaking gigs at Killer. Panels on: Creating A Compelling Protagonist and The Importance of POV. And a solo presentation on Sunday morning, Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Anti-terrorism. Here’s all three in a nutshell.  My panels were filled with brilliant and engaging fellow authors who nailed the topics for the audiences. The audiences were engaged and asked great questions. I sold a bunch of books just from my answers to a few questions on both panels. My talk on terrorism went extremely well—albeit to a very small audience. Small as in four people. Now, in fairness, Sunday morning after the awards banquet where the bar was overflowing and probably ran out of booze was never going to yield a standing-room-only crowd. But, the folks in my audience all raved about the talk and were upset more folks didn’t attend. Great comments and great discussions all around. I hope to repeat my performance next year. 

So, that’s Killer Nashville—a less-than-inexpensive three days with my tribe, great fans, new pals, and some much-needed advice and motivation. Thanks, Clay, for once again putting on a killer time. See you all around the bookstores and next year in Nashville.  

Creating Compelling ProtagonistsHeadline for my Terrorism Lecture

Author’s Note: No country music stars, bucking broncos, or barkeeps were injured in my creation of this post. I, on the other hand, am still recovering from no sleep, 20 hours on the road, fewer carbs than healthy, and that surging rush of motivation. I’ll survive.  


I first fell in love with writing while in grade school and over the years continued to dabble with characters and stories whenever life allowed. Lately, I've focused my energy on pursuing this dream—interrupted only by life as a security consultant and the demands of two Labrador retrievers.

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