Thoughts on the 2011 Breathe Conference

It’s hard to believe the Breathe Conference is already over. I’ve been part of the planning committee for the last year, and in two short days the conference is done(!). I’d planned to give a fairly detailed report here, but something unforeseen happened: I got sick, really sick.

It’s typical for me to get “the common cold” at least once each fall or winter. This year it happened to be on the weekend of Breathe and it was unusually brutal. As a result I was only at Breathe on Friday and was heavily medicated. I have a few things to share however, so, here we go…

Hugh Cook on Writing Short Stories

Hugh Cook is a Canadian writer who spoke at a handful of writing workshops this year. Last here he was the conference’s key note speaker. I was able to attend his workshop on writing short stories. After hearing him speak last year I read his collection, Cracked Wheat and Other Stories, (which I highly recommend) and was blown away by his ability to place me into the small Canadian towns he was writing about.

In yesterday’s post we talked about how Ray Bradbury stresses the importance of creating fiction out of pieces of reality. Cook, during his presentation, echoed some of the same ideas. Cook specifically said that storytellers should “extrapolate [their] own experiences.” He quoted Flannery O’Conner’s as saying that in our “habit of being” we need to live our lives as writers – always thinking story.  He said that “writing is a calling, a vocation, a full-time thing.”

Another point he stressed was that writers must “do their research.” He said that we should seek interviews, use the internet, read on the topic we’re writing on, and most importantly do “field research;” go out and experience whatever it is we hope to write about.

Cynthia Beach on Creating the Best First Line

Another workshop I was able to attend was one given by Cynthia Beach. She discussed various ways to improve the first line of our stories in order to “hook” readers. She cited numerous examples of good first lines and also had us work on our own first lines right there in the workshop. I worked with the first line of the goblin project and found her workshop to be incredibly helpful. She encouraged us to focus on the grammar, length, specifics (details), and theme of our first lines.

My biggest takeaway from her workshop was that I need to open the goblin project with a scene, and not back story. I should “start with action, and feather in the back story.” As she discussed this idea I looked through the goblin project – I’m pretty sure the first two pages are back story…yuck.

(My pal over at Part Time Novel has a related post called 5 Opening Sentences of Books you Must Read.)

My own workshop, and overview of the publishing process

This year I gave a workshop I’ve never given before; a brief overview of the publishing process. What happens after a book is turned into a publisher? What happens in that time (usually 9-14 months) in between manuscript submission and book release? These are the questions I tried to answer.

I also tried to introduce attendees to all of the different people that somehow touch a book before it is released and give brief descriptions of their roles. From inventory managers to acquisition editors there are usually twenty or more people that might somehow affect a book before it is finally published. This is a good thing. It’s the value of working with a professional publisher versus self-publishing.

Despite my cold the workshop went really well. I lost my voice as a result of talking and coughing so much, but I think the folks who attended learned some valuable information about the publishing business. I received nothing but compliments, and for that I’m thankful.


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the 2011 Breathe Conference

  1. Pingback: You are indeed a writer. « Tell Better Stories

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