Creative Writing Retreat!


Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 25–26, 2024

Shocking Real Life Alumni Justine Cowan, author of the best-selling memoir The Secret Life of Dorothy Soames, recently scored a 6-figure book deal with HARPER COLLINS after a frenzied bidding war! This resulted in a stellar review in the New York Times, which in turn led to a competitive bid for the film rights of her amazing story. Paramount won out and bought the film rights, which means hopefully we’ll see the movie based on Cowan’s riveting story about how she discovered her mother was among the last of the survivors of the ghastly Foundlings orphanage now known as a blight on British history. Amazon bestowed her book with the “Best Biography of the Month” accolade.

SRL Alum Justine Cowan

Justine Cowan, a December, 2017, Shocking Real Life Writer’s Retreat student, left class and subsequently created a frenzy among potential literary agents for her book, The Secret Life of Dorothy Soames, ultimately landing super-agent Mollie Glick at Creative Artists Agency (which represents Hollywood elites like Laura Dern, Al Pacino and yours truly, Hollis Gillespie). CAA then took her book idea to the auction block, creating a BIDDING WAR that landed her a SIX FIGURE deal at HarperCollins!! For a first-time author!! THEN Justine sold the European rights to UK Publisher Sarah Savitt from Caspian Dennis at Abner! 

Here’s how they tout it: “The Secret Life of Dorothy Soames follows the touching journey American lawyer Justine Cowan makes as she pieces together her mother’s childhood alongside the history of the Foundling Hospital: from its idealistic beginnings, its role in the development of solitary confinement and human medical experimentation in the 18th century, to its closure after the Second World War. This was the environment that shaped a young girl then known as Dorothy Soames, who was left behind by a mother forced by stigma and shame to give up her child; who withstood years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a sadistic headmistress, dreaming of escape as German bombers circled the skies, unaware all along that her own mother was fighting to get her back.”

Rose Tomaszewska, senior commissioning editor at Savitt’s, said of OUR SRL STUDENT Justine Cowan: “This remarkable piece of writing reads like a novel — yet it’s more astonishing than fiction. Like Philomena or Educated, it tells one person’s story while illuminating a rarely seen side of humanity and history. This will be a major publication for Virago in 2021 and a book that readers will be excited and moved to discover.”


Click the button below to enroll in The Shocking Real Life Writing & Creativity Retreat with Hollis Gillespie on Feb. 25–26, 2023.

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Price: $465*. 100% Safe and Secure – We are PayPal verified. (SRL Alumni, enter the coupon code WRITEATLANTA to receive your $40 discount!) Click now and you’ll get an immediate email confirming your reservation and detailed info on the retreat location. Instant confirmation only available online. Scroll to end of post for full itinerary.

Okay, you have a fantastic idea for a book — but do you know how to begin, finish, and sell it? Or let’s say you’ve already finished a manuscript, but now you’re at an impasse trying to get the attention of agents and publishers. Whether you’re at the idea stage or in the home stretch, this weekend will show you how to navigate the competitive world of book publishing and get your project sold.

Fact: People who have enrolled in this retreat became bestsellers!

Christal Presley, author of 30 Days with my Father, became a best-seller after taking this workshop. She’s been featured on NPR, Atlanta Journal Constitution and others news outlets. Click here to see her on Fox News.

“[Hollis Gillespie’s] writing class is where my life was TOTALLY and COMPLETELY changed forever!”
Christal Presley

Lisa Baron, author of Life of the Party; a Political Press Tart Tells All, became an Amazon best-seller after taking this class. Recently she sold her film rights to NBC! Click here to see her feature in Atlantamagazine.

“I had two things working for me that I believe made the difference: determination and Hollis Gillespie’s kick-ass work shop! The workshop gave me the confidence I needed to continue following my dream of becoming a published author. She was key to helping me fine tune my proposal and her personal involvement in my journey has been invaluable.” Lisa BaronRachael Brownell, author of Mommy Doesn’t Drink Here Anymore, became a best-selling author after taking this class. She has been featured on the Today Show, Good Morning America and NPR
“I wanted to THANK YOU, Hollis, for your workshop. It played a crucial role in being able to complete and submit a successful book proposal.”
Rachael Brownell   At this retreat, you will learn to have fun creating your story! This workshop will break your block, help you determine what’s stalling you, and then stay focused until you finish your objective. This creative symposium will focus on generating fresh ideas, exciting twists, compelling formats and  transform your blocked story into a blockbuster story.

In this workshop we will address and CONQUER:

The Voice-in-Your-Head Block, when the more you write, the more certain you are no one in the world will find your story interesting.

The This-is-Not-Fun Block, when each word you write is as pleasant as pulling out your own organs (practically) and you wonder if all this is really worth it, anyway.

The Too-Many Ideas Block, when your head is such a tornado of brilliant, imperative angles and stories that you can’t make up your mind which to pick to put on paper.

The Cinder Block, when it just seems impossible to put words on paper. This kind of block can come out of the blue, but often it’s a result of a major life change, such as loss of a loved one, pet, marriage, etc. None of us escape these kinds of experiences, the trick it learning how to circumvent it in order to stay creative.

Warning: We are not in the business of hyping pipe dreams. The last thing we want to put you through is a litany of anemic sessions in which people sit around and bloviate about the difficulties of living creatively or getting a book deal. This Shocking Real-Life THANKSGIVING Writing and Creativity Retreat is an active network of workshops spanning an entire holiday weekend devoted to your ideas. If you have an idea for a book or for a means of living your life with intent and creativity — and especially if you have been sitting on this idea  — you owe it to yourself to enroll in this Shocking Real life creative writing retreat hosted by best selling humor writer Hollis Gillespie.

LOCATION: The retreat is conducted in an amazing historic downtown loft called Switchyards. Address: 151 Ted Turner Dr NW, Atlanta, GA 30303

(Check out the clip below to see what past participants have to say!)

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Reserve Your Spot Now!

Click the button below to enroll in The Shocking Real Life Writing & Creativity Retreat with Hollis Gillespie on Feb. 25–26, 2023.

Add to Cart

Cost: Just $465. Click now and you’ll get an immediate email confirming your reservation. Instant confirmation only available online.

(SRL Alumni, enter the coupon code WRITEATLANTA to receive your $40 discount!)

GIFT this retreat to someone you love! Let us know and you will receive a gorgeous gift certificate attached to your confirmation email (if I do say so my own damn self). Printable, and ready to put under a bow! WOW, how great will THAT?

Whether you’re at the idea stage or in the home stretch, this weekend will show you how to navigate the competitive world of book publishing and get your project sold. In this workshop, you’ll learn:

  • The marketability of your idea, and how to make it more so
  • How to pitch an agent for representation and write the perfect query
  • What publishers and agents are really looking for and what they hate
  • How to avoid the most common rookie mistakes
  • Which pages to send to a literary agent as a sample of your work (hint: It’s rarely the very first pages)
  • How publishing houses and literary agencies benefit the author
  • How to decipher the miasma of advances, royalties, subsidiary rights, foreign rights, and dramatic rights

This retreat comes with guaranteed inappropriate conversation and other basic essentials for unleashing creativity and unlocking buried memories.

The Shocking Real Life Creative Writers Conference Itinerary:

  • Initial individual assessment of attendees’ manuscripts and ideas for manuscripts. Here is your chance to work on the preliminary format, working title and points of an elevator pitch for your manuscript or manuscript idea. Anytime you pitch to an agent, you need to sum up your book in one sentence. It’s harder than it sounds, and believe it or not it often falls to this precise sentence to make or break an agent’s decision to take you on as a client.
  • Format your book, pitch an agent, learn to avoid rookie mistakes AS WELL AS learn the secrets that will put you ahead of 80 percent of the competition — it’s Hollis Gillespie’s sure-fire formula that has helped HUNDREDS of people get agent representation and/or book deals.
  • Material assessment. Choosing the pages to present to the agent. (Hint: It’s almost never the very first pages.) How to treat, clean, edit and prepare your pages for presentation to an editor. Writing exercises.
  • Sunday workshop: The Con Game: Keeping Confidence That Your Work Will Work, hosted by Pulitzer Prize nominee Charles McNair, whose first novel, Land O’Goshen (St. Martin’s Press) received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for fiction and critical acclaim from the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post, and other venerated publications. This workshop is a personal approach to helping writers who haven’t broken through to keep believing they will. Charles will discuss the little ways you can build and nourish confidence along the way, until the novel is ready to be born, or the big work. “This is a topic that really deeply matters to me, since I struggled 10 years before a first book was ready,” says Charles. His novel, Land O’ Goshen (St. Martin’s Press, 1994) received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for fiction and was critically acclaimed by The New York Times and Washington Post.
  • Each attendee will be assigned the contact info of a literary agent who is in the market for their type of material, and by the end of the weekend they will have a pitch letter formulated to attract that agent, a workable format for their manuscript plus 10 sample pages to include with their agent pitch.
  • Your goal, by the end of this, is to have completed a surmountable format for your creative goals, and if you’re a writer, to have a professionally written query package to pitch your book, which includes a completed pitch letter to a literary agent, and 10 professionally edited and treated sample pages to include with your query. Just give yourself this one weekend! Your life will change.

Shocking Real Life Alumni Success Stories! What past participants say about the Shocking Real-Life Writing Seminar

“I made contact (totally used your letter) with a friend’s agent at Writer’s House. It worked! Now he wants to see the proposal. They loved the idea. Thanks again! The class was great.” — Stephanie Davis, Editor, skirt! Magazine

    • “Hollis, thanks for being in touch so quickly. Your seminar rocked!! I want to be one of your successes. I’ll start with [the agent you suggested] and if a rejection, will just keep going. I did not even realize I was so on fire about getting this book out there, until I felt the full Hollis Effect!!” — Susan Campbell
    • “Hollis Gillespie’s writing workshop was the best I’ve ever attended. Hollis was extremely encouraging and helpful in both creative and procedural modes. And the yellow theme with the mimosas worked at a deep level of community which added to the enjoyment of the whole experience.” — David Ryback
    • “Hollis is a rule-breaker who will teach you things you won’t hear anywhere else. If you don’t care about political correctness and want to learn a proven tactic to get an agent’s attention, Hollis can show you the way.” — Debbie Unterman
    • “Hollis and crew were positive and upbeat. ‘Can’t’ wasn’t spoken. The environment and food were ‘quirky and fun,’ one of the underlying themes of the workshop and Hollis’s principles: build a support system of writers, share your work and contacts, and hit the send, send, send button on your computer made sense. The agent list was an added bonus.” — Lynn Hesse
    • “The Hollis Gillespie workshop was money well spent and the day went by very quickly! Hollis took time with each person to help them clarify details of the story that they’d like to tell, develop a creative title, found similar books to use as examples in a pitch letter and provided a list with a recommendation of an agent (or agents) to contact. Hollis gave concise, realistic feedback to each person. As an added bonus, Michael Alvear spoke and each offered excellent advice. I came home and began work immediately on my story! I’m impressed by Hollis and Michael’s philosophy of helping other writers. Thank you for offering this wonderful seminar to AtlantaWriters Club members.” — Sharon LeMaster
    • “It was a great experience and nice to sit around a table with others who are dealing with the same obstacles I am. I liked the advice given to ignore conventions and rules when querying agents and publishers which I will paraphrase: as long as it’s well written, go for it regardless of the ‘supposed’ hurdles or rules. Receiving a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean you’re work isn’t any good or you didn’t follow the rules. I liked having published authors talk about their personal experiences and paths to success using somewhat unconventional means. I spent part of yesterday putting the advice in practice and sent out several queries with an entirely different attitude.” — Kathy Lewis

Click the button below to enroll in The Shocking Real Life TWriting & Creativity Retreat with Hollis Gillespie on Feb. 25–26, 2023.

Add to Cart

Cost: Just $465. Click now and you’ll get an immediate email confirming your reservation. Instant confirmation only available online.