Monday, February 28, 2011

Red Writing Hood

Water gives life. It also takes it away.

Write a short piece - fiction or non-fiction - inspired by one or both of these statements.

Word maximum is 600.

Come back and link up here with us Friday.

RemembeRED - Room

Your assignment this week was to write a piece - 750 words maximum - that brought us to a particular room important in your life. We want to feel like we're there with you.

Please try to visit as many linkups as you can and show comment love. We are building a fabulous community here, and we need your help.

Thank you!

Now let's link up!

Guest Post - Author Bonnie Jo Campbell

This week's guest at The Red Dress Club is Bonnie Jo Campbell.

I discovered her writing through a friend of mine, Jeremy Harbottle, who did a review of her book, American Salvage over at my book blog.

Admittedly my first reason for grabbing her book was because she is local to me in Michigan.  She lives and writes about Southwest Michigan where I spent five years in college living locally and five more years commuting to for my Masters work.

She has been the finalist for and won numerous awards for her writing in both fiction and short stories.

We are so ecstatic that she has taken the time to be interviewed for The Red Dress Club!  Please give a lovely welcome to Bonnie Jo Campbell!

1) You are applauded for your "real" characters.  How do you create such compelling characters?  Every story is different, and every character is different.  Often I start with a character from real life , while at other times I invent the character that the story needs, or the character that would rise up naturally from the landscape or cityscape I’m investigating. The main thing is that I really like people, and I enjoy talking to people and figuring out what makes them tick in real life, and that helps me in stories.  I generally don’t describe a character physically in much detail, but nobody seems to mind.

2) How is your process for writing short stories different than the approach you take to writing a novel? It’s the same.  That’s what makes writing a novel so difficult—it’s just a lot more of the same. I have some difficulty holding an entire novel in my head, keeping all the bits and pieces aligned so that they work together.  The risk in writing a novel is much greater, of course. If I write a weak short story, well, that’s a few hundred hours down the drain. If I write a lousy novel, that’s years of my life gone.

3)Obviously your life experiences have helped shape your writing, but what kinds of other research did you have to do for American Salvage? I had to do meth-related research, by asking folks who had more experience than I did and by looking online.  Every story had its own requirements.  In “The Yard Man” I had to figure out why sort of snake the protagonist had seen.  I had to create a snake that could have been a native Midwestern snake, but also could have been some member of a more exotic species. I made the snake six foot long because that would allow it to be a milk snake or a corn snake (that’s the maximum length for those snakes).   For “Boar Taint” I had to research theories about the phenomenon of boar taint, the smell of boar meat, and I found that there’s considerable controversy about whether meat pigs need to be castrated.

4)Did you find that in order to write about your community, you had to somehow separate yourself from it?  Was it difficult to be so honest about a community you so clearly love?  Gosh, no.  I couldn’t possibly separate myself from my community.  I figure that what I say is acceptable if and only if it is honest and fair and generous.  Staying in my community forces me to be honest, fair, and generous. There are plenty of issues I won’t write about any time soon, ones that are too personal to folks around me.

5) Do you consider yourself a regionalist writer?  Why or why not? Sure, I like to be considered a Michigan writer or a Midwestern writer, in the sense that I have something special to say about my place.  I hope that doesn’t stop me from being of interest to folks who live in other places.  Faulkner was a southern writer, after all.

6) What are you reading right now? I’m reading “Light Lifting” by Alexander MacLeod. It’s a collection of short stories that are so intense that I feel I’ve lived all the lives he’s writing about.

7) What advice would you give to novice writers (that is not already on your website)? Let yourself be obsessed with the subject matter of a story. Train yourself to be obsessed with subject matter. Don’t try to understand the material; rather, you should try to know the material the way you might know a friend.  Be a fan of the material the way you might be a fan of a famous person or a band. Writing is a slow process for me—most of my stories take years to write—and so I need to remain interested in order to finish.   

Good luck!  Bonnie

If you would like to learn more about Bonnie and her work or find some of her writing tips,, please visit her website and read her blog

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Writing Partners

If you are interested in being matched with a writing partner, please respond here by Tuesday - if you have NOT already responded on our Twitter Party Recap post.

We'd like to get the list ASAP so we can start matching.

If you don't respond by Tuesday we will put you on a list and match you as others respond.

Here is a list of some of the things a writing partner can do:

1) Discuss ideas before you write

2) Read your piece before you post it

3) Point out typos, incorrect word usage, check your grammar

4) Help refine your piece

5) Point out areas in the piece needing improvement

6) Help figure out how to accomplish improvements

7) Provide encouragement

This should be a symbiotic relationship, one we hope this will be a great success for all of you!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekend linkup

It's time to link up a favorite post you've written.

Try to comment on as many as you can. It's a great way to meet new bloggers and find some great writers.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Red Writing Hood - For Sale

This week's assignment was to write a humorous ad, a la Craigslist or eBay, where you're selling things after a breakup.

Please try to visit as many linkups as you can. Please turn off word verification, as it will definitely hurt the number of people who will leave comments.

Link up!!

Remembe{red}: A Room of Your Own

The week's memoir assignment asks you to think of the setting of your life.

Settings are so significant in stories--especially our own, true stories.  How we create setting can make or break the feeling we are trying convey in our story.

Think of a room from your past.  It can be any type of room at all.

Take a mental picture of that room.

What happened there?  What is it like?  What is the atmosphere there?  What are the smells, the sounds, the sights?  How does it feel?

Now reveal that snapshot to your reader.

Take us to that room.

And try to do it in 750 words or less.

Link up will be Tuesday!

Happy Remembering!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Twitter Party Recap

Wow, tonight's Twitter party was a bit of a whirlwind.
Cheryl, Katie, and I are always thrilled to see familiar faces alongside many new ones.

We talked about the Red Writing Hood prompt and many of you are excited about tackling it, while others are intimidated by bringing the funny. Though many of us have a difficult time with humor, the general consensus seemed to be that we'd give it a go and see where it takes us.

We clarified the way our prompts work now.
The Red Writing Hood prompt is posted on Tuesdays and links up on Friday.
The Remembe(red) prompt is posted on Fridays and links up on Tuesdays.
Repeat after me... ;)

We talked about how difficult it is to visit the other posts that are linked up, but it feels great to get comments. So, we encourage you to visit and comment on as many as you possibly can when you link up. It is that give and take that makes a community like ours strong. It's also a great idea to start at the end and work your way up so that we can distribute those comments. We know that it takes time, but we exist here for one another.

We talked about avoiding wordiness, since we lose our readers when we bury them in excessive words. We also discussed the importance of not burying the lede and using shorter paragraphs.

We spoke, again, about turning off word verification. Many readers will not comment if they have to jump through hoops to do so. If you use word verification and don't know how to turn it off, ask around, you'd be surprised by how many people can help. It was suggested that word verification kills puppies. And unicorns.

The idea of shaking things up and not writing in chronological order came up. Moving things around often makes for a much more interesting piece.

We asked if any of you would be interested in having a writing partner, someone to help you with anything from proofreading for typos to heavier content editing and we got an incredibly positive response. If you didn't attend the twitter party and would like a partner, leave a comment and I'll add you to the list.

And all of that is probably about fifty percent of what we talked about.

So, here's where you come in. Cheryl, Katie, and I need your help with a couple of things:

1. If you attended, please share in the comments what your biggest take away was. What resonated with you and left you thinking?

2. Whether you attended or not, tell us what you'd like to discuss in coming weeks. What, specifically, would you find helpful?

Thanks to everyone who attended, even if only for a few minutes. We always have so much fun.

(If you are not on Twitter and are curious about it, just ask one of us and we'll happily walk you through it.)


We'll be talking all things writing tonight at 8 Eastern, 5 Pacific. Use hashtag #TRDC and join in.

You can also go over to and enter in TRDC. You can then follow the discussion and not have to manually enter in the hashtag every time.

Also, if you have any questions you'd like to ask or points you'd like to discuss, bring 'em.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Featured Blogger - Mandy from Mandyland

Today's featured blogger is Mandy from In Mandyland.

1. Tell us about yourself: I always have a hard time with this question. What do I say that’s not going to come across like a personal ad? Do I mention that I love long walks on the beach? What about candlelight and wine?

I’m a 35-year-old wife and mother of two who lives on the Central Coast of California. I don’t mind saying I’m 35, because, while I’m still in denial, a part of me is in awe that I’m an adult. My children are four and 18 months. They have red hair and blue eyes even though my husband and I both have brown hair and brown eyes. Cue mailman jokes.

I’m pretty much who I appear to be on my blog. Just with more recipe disasters and not quite as organized. And shorter. People always say I'm shorter than they expect. I have a pretty good sense of the absurd and choose to look at life as a cosmic comic adventure. One of the greatest compliments I’ve received was from my husband when he said, “You can really laugh at yourself.”

Self-deprecating humor? I’ve got it down.

2. Give us a 30-second elevator pitch about your blog: I like to say there’s a little something for everyone In Mandyland. I write about my life, which is chaotic and varied and filled with amazing people who don’t mind if I blog about them. I’ve been called a humor blogger, a mommy blogger and a food blogger. I was once called a garden blogger until someone actually read one of my gardening posts and realized that I kill virtually everything in my garden.

3. What are you doing when you are not blogging?: I’m usually doing things that I’ll later blog about. I work part-time, have two kids, a husband and a dog that keep me busy. I garden, can, craft, knit, sew, pretend I know how to cook, dabble in photography, camp, meet with friends, read, watch movies, throw popcorn at reality TV, tweet like a mad woman, play video games and sometimes, when the moon is full, make jewelry – none of it very impressive.

And just so you don’t think I’m trying to be Martha Stewart, please realize that I never do two things at once. This means that the kids eat dinners of Kraft mac and cheese on the nights that I’m obsessed by a sewing project. And when I’m reading a really good book? Pizza is on speed dial.

4. Who is your favorite literary character?: I had such a huge crush on Atticus Finch when I was younger. Okay. Who am I kidding? I still have a huge crush on him. What’s not to love? He’s smart, he’s dedicated, he stands up for his beliefs and values but isn’t so idealistic as to be unrealistic. I could (and have) read To Kill A Mockingbird so many times, I’m going to need a new copy soon. And every time I finish the book, I give a little sigh and swoon. Well, I don’t really swoon, but I do close my eyes for a moment and smile.

My husband knows all about my secret crush. For some reason, he’s not too worried.

5. What brought you to TRDC and what is your biggest goal in writing?: I kept seeing The Red Dress Club button on some of my favorite blogs. I was a little (a lot) intimidated by the writing the first time I looked through a link up. But then, one night, after drinking a glass (or two) of wine, I decided to jump in with both feet. I’m so glad I did!

My biggest goal in writing is, of course, to be published. Who doesn’t want that? I’ve been held back by a bit of fear, a dash of insecurity and a smidge of procrastination. What I love about TRDC is that it makes me less afraid. It pushes me to write on a deadline. The prompts challenge me and make me a better writer. And, best of all, it’s boosted my fragile ego to the point that I now walk around the house telling everyone to call me Mommy, the Greatest Author of All Time.

No one is listening. Yet.

6. If you could only save one post in a fire, what would it be and why?: That’s the Kobayashi Maru of blogging! (Trekki alert.) But if I absolutely had to, I’d cheat and save two posts – my children’s birth stories. I blogged them immediately after I came home from the hospital and put as much detail as my muddled, sleep-deprived brain could remember. I’m so glad I did! Now, when I re-read them, I’m taken right back to those days, with all the thoughts and emotions that were tumbling through my head at the time.

Joseph's birth story

Elizabeth's birth story

Monday, February 21, 2011

Remembe(red) - Kate Hopper/Memory

Kate Hopper guest-prompted for our memoir linkup this week. She asked us to write about a memory, to really mine it and write about what the memory meant to us.

We also have some new bling for you to display with your memoir posts. We're calling it Remembe(red).

Try to visit as many linkups as you can. Comments are always appreciated.

Okay - link up!

Red Writing Hood

We're going to switch it up just a little for this week's prompt.

The past few prompts have really brought the sad out of us, real or imagined. We think it's time to lighten things up around here. To have some fun.

So this week, we're asking you to let yourself go and get in touch with your funny.

The prompt is based on one from Absolute Write.

I don't know if you've ever seen the eBay or Craig's List ads by people selling things from someone with whom they've had a big argument or a breakup. But they can be hilarious.

We want you to imagine you've just had a fight with a friend, a co-worker, husband, significant other, child - you get the picture. You're mad. It's time for revenge.

What would you sell?

Write a humorous listing for eBay or Craig's List. Talk about the history of the items, why they must go.

Then come back and link up with us here Friday.

Remember, have FUN with this! You know you have it in you!

One last thing: Word limit is 600.

Guest Post - Roy Black

Today's guest post comes from someone I have always considered to be a mentor to me.  

When I was a fledgling student teacher, he was there with words of wisdom.  He opened his classroom to me during my grad work.  He encouraged me to work on my own writing skills by getting involved in The National Writing Project.

Almost a decade after meeting him, he is still the guy I go to first when I am questioning my teaching, my career, or my writing.

Plus he knows more about grammar and The Great Gatsby than anyone I have ever met.  And that equals cool to me.

I am so happy and honored to share my friend and co-worker, Roy Black, with you all today. 

Process vs. Product
“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
            —Henry David Thoreau

I spend way too much time worrying about The Product of my writing—the finished piece of writing.

An embarrassing number of half-written works of genius reside on the hard drive of my laptop.  There’s the treatment for a five-act-play which gives an alternate telling of The Great Gatsby, the beginnings of a novel that stemmed from an idea that I had while lying in the Emergency Room after a recent automobile accident, various poetic ventures that won’t (and probably shouldn’t) see the light of day, various musings of my brilliant but scattered brain—OH YEAH!  There’s also the one about how ever since I was diagnosed when I was 35 with Attention Deficit Disorder, it upsets me when people flippantly use it as an excuse for their non-clinically-diagnosed lack of focus.  I’d forgotten about that one.

If the end result, The Product, is the reason for a writer to write, I am a horrible writer.  It’s not that I don’t write, it’s that I don’t finish.  I start new—and brilliant—pieces of writing at an impressive rate.  Most of them have yet to cross the finish line.

I write often.  I often write profusely.  I write in various formats.  I write creative nonfiction.  I write memoirs.  I write my notes at staff meetings as a series of Haiku; I end up taking better notes that way, and focus more intensely on what is being said.  What I don’t do much is publish, or even try to.  Heck, lately, I don’t even finish much of what I write.

And I have no problem with that.

No, really.

“What?” you say, “a writer who doesn’t care that he doesn’t finish? Preposterous!  What’s the purpose of writing if not to finish something, publish it, and gain wealth and notoriety?”

Admittedly, those are all very good questions.  Should my writing eventually gain me wealth and notoriety, I will enjoy that tremendously.  Do I have aspirations in that direction, someday? Of course.  It’s just not my reason to write right now.  At some point, I will move toward completing much of what I’ve started; at that time, I will have many high-quality pieces of writing waiting to be brought to fruition. But right now, I am having fun with some might derisively call “just writing.”

The Process of writing is why I write, at least most of the time.  Taking words and seeing how well they play together: sometimes immediately, sometimes with some coaxing.  Capturing ideas before they run away, never to return.  Recording—perhaps for no one but myself—whatever my mind can conjure up.

If The Product of my writing is the destination, The Process is the path.  And I enjoy the path.

The tools are starting to change; lately my writing fills fewer and fewer yellow note-pads and more and more hard-drive space.  The Process, however, remains the same.  Thoughts become words, words travel to my fingers, words are recorded—on paper or otherwise.  Sometimes, the words come out brilliantly and perfectly arranged.  At other times, they need significant polish.  Tragically, there are times when the thoughts run away before they can be accurately put into words.  Perhaps they will return, and perhaps when they do they will be diminished somehow, mere shadows of the original thoughts that got away.  Not to worry; other just-as-wonderful thoughts will come, and those will be recorded—or maybe not.  THAT is what I love most about writing.

Everyone loves a freshly-painted room, but few really enjoy painting a room.  Every writer loves the moment when they can sit back and admire a writing-well-written, but many writers fail to appreciate and simply enjoy the act of writing.

I love the path.  I love The Process.  If The Product is the destination, and The Process is the path, and the need to finish something and share it with the world is a rain-storm of doubt and pressure and procrastination and guilt—then I am the little boy jumping in the puddles that form around me as I wander playfully on the path.

And, as E.E. Cummings once wrote, “the world is puddle-wonderful.”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writing Tips or Things That Make Me Go ACK!

You guys are amazing. Seriously.

The participation on our prompts has really blown us away. We are so honored you're sharing your words with us. Your posts have moved us to tears and laughter, have made us think, have stayed with us long after we've closed your page.

I try to get to every post. And if I missed yours this week, please leave me a note in the comments and I will be sure to come visit.

And since I read so many posts, there are a few things I want to bring to your attention.

1. Spellcheck. I've seen a lot of typos, and while in the grand scheme of things it's not a huge deal, I think it takes away from the overall impact of your piece. I know how busy we all are, but it takes only a minute to re-read your post and fix any errors.

2. Word usage. Specifically, its and it's. I cringe when they're not used properly. "It's" is ONLY a contraction for it is: "It's a beautiful day." "Its" is used for possession, just like you would say his or her: "Its teeth were long." Please be mindful of this.

3. Tense. Pick one and stick with it. Past tense is the most common. Again, read through and make sure you're consistent with whatever tense you choose.

4. Concrit. There are posts that won't touch you. They might confuse you, or maybe the writing isn't your cup of tea. Try to find something positive, maybe a line you particularly liked, or move on. It's fine if you have something constructive to say - by all means, share your thoughts. But if you don't, you don't have to comment. Remember we are all finding our way, trying new things. These are our babies we're putting out there.

5. No one is perfect. I'm offering these tips to help all of us, not to be a grammar police. Even though I sorta am. ;)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Weekend linkup

It's time to link up one of your favorite posts. It's a great way to meet new bloggers and read some fantastic writing.

Try to visit as many as you can, or at least the linkup before and after yours.

Red Writing Hood - Memoir Prompt

This week's memoir assignment is from this week's guest post author, Kate Hopper.

If you didn't read her post about how to create creative nonfiction, go read that first.

Here is her assignment for you:

Writing Prompt: Memory and Reflection
Our memories are powerful—whether they actually happened the way we remember them isn’t as important as what we remember and why. So something I would like you to try this week is to hone in on a memory and then interrogate it. One way to incorporate more reflection in your writing is to constantly be asking yourself questions.

This is a writing exercise in two parts:

Part I
Make a list of some of your most vivid childhood (or more recent) memories. (Maybe it’s an image of your father or mother doing something they did regularly; maybe it’s a visit to a grandmother’s house.)

Jot down a few memories and then pick one and write it down in as much detail as possible. (Take 10-15 minutes to do that…)

Part II
Now I want you to investigate what this memory means to you. Ask yourself the following questions: Why has this stuck with me? What did this mean to me at the time? Why did I (or someone else in the scene) react the way I (they) did? How does it feel to look back on it? How does it still affect me (or not)? (Take 10-15 minutes to do that.)

I look forward to hearing how this exercise goes for you!

Link up will be Tuesday!  Happy remembering and writing!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Red Writing Hood - Found

Your assignment this week was to write about finding a lost article of clothing in the back of a drawer or closet. You were to let us know how the item was found, what it is, and why it's so meaningful to you or your character.

Please visit as many linkups as you can. Your concrit is appreciated.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Twitter Party Recap

We had quite a lively chat Wednesday night. Thank you to everyone who joined. For those of you who couldn't make it, here's what you missed:

1) We talked A LOT about memoir. Some worry about not having a compelling enough story to tell. Others say it's difficult to be emotionally vulnerable - and to find the right words to capture the moment. Making the experience be as important to the reader as it was to the writer is another challenge. Others say getting it out, all those memories, no matter how painful they might be, is a relief. Also, it's tough for some of us to remember details about our past. Two suggested books to help with memoir were Natalie Goldberg's "Old Friend from Far Away" and "Writing Life Stories" by Bill Roorbach.

2) There was much discussion on boundaries when writing personal or memoir posts on our blogs. Respect for the feelings of family members seemed to be the No. 1 reason for setting limits on what is written. Also, there's concern on how much to reveal, to "go there." It's tough for many of us to tell the whole truth in that venue.

3) Not all of us have had what we would consider "memoir-worthy" lives. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary is a huge challenge. Anne Lamott is a master at it. Also, her book Bird by Bird is a must-read on writing.

4) The posts that stuck with readers from this week's memoir linkup were the ones that made us feel. The ones that took us to the moment with them.

5) It was asked whether it's tougher to be funny or poignant. We were split, though it was opined the poignant posts seem to elicit more reaction from readers. Some think it's easier to be funny, to hide behind it, then to reveal our inner selves. Poignant can be scary. Funny is tough because not all humor translates well into print, and there's the fear that it's not actually THAT funny.

6) Is it easier to put emotion into a fictional character than when writing non-fiction? Some of us say yes, because it is easier than telling the truth about oneself. There is the also fear readers will think the writer is projecting.

7) A lot of us were inspired by this week's fiction/non-fiction prompt. This should be a great linkup Friday. We're excited to see what you come up with!


Reminder: our twitter party is TONIGHT at 8 Eastern, 5 Pacific. Use hashtag #TRDC to chat with us about writing and our Red Writing Hood prompt for Friday. Use and plug in our hashtag. That way, you can follow along and don't have to manually enter the hashtag when you tweet.

Please follow @mommy_pants, @itsmoments and @ksluiter on twitter as we don't tweet as @TheRedDressClub for the party.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Featured Blogger - Rathi (Ratz!) from What can I say

Today's featured blogger is Rathi, better known around these parts as Ratz, from What can I say. Rathi has been with us almost from the beginning and we're thrilled to learn more about her.

1. Tell us about yourself: I will be hitting 23 soon and I just cannot wait to get over it. I find it hard to describe myself but if I really have to, I’d go with “I am a bit of every possible emotion/adjective/noun that exists on this earth”. I am a student. I am bit nerdy and perfectionist when it is the right subject else I am just above average. I cannot stay at home for long for the fear of going crazy or bringing others to the verge of killing me. I love to explore and discover new places and someday I’ll travel without having to settle. I’d tell you that I have a crush on laughter. This thing I know for sure, one day I will adopt a baby girl and I will name her Zest. One day, I want to work with the UNDP and the UNICEF. And, I am on my way to make that happen... one step at a time. And, you guys know me by Ratz but it is actually Rathi and I am from New Delhi, India.

2. Give us a 30-second elevator pitch about your blog: You will find the most irrelevant things here. What Can I Say! was a desperate attempt to speak up rather than dying of brain death, to release my voice into the universe, believing someone would listen. My blog reflects my moods and swings. Hmmp... But mostly, it has become a place where I could be my best self- the person which I intend and try to be. You will find happy things, sad things, and some of my darkest secrets that once scared me to death. Now, they are just words from my past - a sign that I am working to get over them. In all, this blog is a bit of me, if I were words.

3. What are you doing when you are not blogging?: Mostly I'm at the library - the one place which gives me solitude whenever I want it. I am preparing to take an entrance for MSW. I also read a lot while trying to learn to write better. On good hair days, I will be out roaming around the roads of Connaught Place looking at buildings and people being "the single girl living in a big old city". I enjoy doing that and I enjoy visiting places I have never been to before.

4. Who is your favorite literary character?: There are two actually.

The first is apparent - the ever beautiful and fiery Scarlett O’ Hara because I used to have a Rhett Butler in my life. But, mostly because I learnt so many things from this character when I needed it the most. She will be my favourite for this: Tomorrow I'll think of some way . . . after all, tomorrow is another day...

My current favourite is Fanny Price for saying Run mad as often as you choose but do not faint.

5. What brought you to TRDC and what is your biggest goal in writing?:

I think I was browsing through a blog and that’s where I saw the TRDC button... I think TRDC was the only best thing that happened to me in 2010. I cannot tell how much I have evolved since I first began. I have learnt to appreciate and learn from criticism (which I was really bad at before) and I have learnt to keep the cuss words as they are in my stories. ;-)

My biggest goal in writing is to carry on with it and not lose it at any cost, not for anyone. I would want to use this power for my future dreams when I work with UNICEF or UNDP. And, if I let myself wildly loose, I would love to write for Oprah.

6. If you could only save one post in a fire, what would it be and why?:

I keep a copy of all my posts for situations like these but if I had to, I will save Fall on me Like the Sunshine. Because, it is my virtual rebirth story.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Red Writing Hood and Memoir Linkup

Busy day today!

Before we get down to business, I encourage you, if you haven't already, to read yesterday's interview with author Kate Hopper. She gave great advice on writing - and blogging.

Okay, on to business. First, we have for you this week's prompt:

Write a piece - 600 word limit - about finding a forgotten item of clothing in the back of a drawer or closet. Let us know how the item was found, what it is, and why it's so meaningful to you or your character.

Link up with us Friday!

Second, it's our first memoir linkup. The assignment was: after you have died, your daughter/son will be given the gift of seeing a single five-minute period of your life through your eyes, feeling and experiencing those moments as you did when they occurred. What five minutes would you have him/her see?

Guest Post - Author Kate Hopper

Last week we were so excited to announce to you that we are starting a second weekly writing prompt that will have to do with memoir writing.  Today, I am beyond excited to bring you a guest post by someone who not only practices writing memoir-style writing, but also teaches it.

When Kate agreed to write us a little something about the ins and outs of creative nonfiction, I could hardly contain my excitement!

Kate Hopper is a Minneapolis-based writer, editor and teacher. Her writing has appeared in a number of journals and magazines, including Brevity, Literary Mama, Mamazine, and The New York Times online. She is working on two books: Ready for Air, a memoir about learning to live with uncertainty in the wake of her daughter's premature birth; and Mother Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. She teaches Mother Words online and at The Loft Literary Center, coordinates the annual Mother Words reading, and leads an annual writing retreat for mothers. She’s an editor at Literary Mama and blogs at Mother Words: Mothers Who Write.

Creative Nonfiction and Blogging: Taking Your Posts to the Next Level
Kate Hopper

Thanks so much for having me here at the Red Dress Club today! I’m going to be talking about creative nonfiction and how blogging fits into that genre.

Maybe you have been blogging for a couple of years, but your posts feel stale. Maybe you are new to blogging and want to get off on the right foot. Understanding some of the basics of strong creative nonfiction writing will help you improve your blog writing and help you move beyond capturing moments and into creating stories.

Okay, before I discuss what makes strong creative nonfiction, I want you to stop and think about what makes certain blogs and blog posts stand out for you. What are the characteristics of the blogs that make you pause or nod your head? (Please feel free to post these in the comments.)

For me, strong blog posts have the following characteristics:
§  They are well written.
§  They tell a story.
§  They reveal something thought provoking. (And for me this often has to do with the author being honest and searching for meaning in her posts.)
§  I can relate to it in some way.

All of the characteristics I’ve listed above are characteristics of strong blog posts, but they’re also characteristics of effective creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is the umbrella term under which you can put memoir, personal essays, collage, literary journalism, and lyric essays. It’s writing that uses the techniques of poetry and fiction—lyrical language, metaphor, character development, plot, scene, dialogue—to tell a story based on actual events and your memories of those events.

I’ve been writing creative nonfiction for a little over a decade now, and one of the things I love about the genre is its versatility. It’s an open genre and there are always new sub-genres popping up and demanding a little space under that umbrella. 

I think blogs and blog posts are one of these forms. So, if you’re a blogger, I think it’s helpful to place what you’re doing inside this genre and also understand where it fits next to some of the other creative nonfiction forms.

So I’ll take a step back from blogs and talk for a minute about some of the characteristics of effective creative nonfiction (adapted from Bret Lott’s “Toward a Definition of Creative Nonfiction”:

    • There is reflection. The author is self-aware, is telling a story and reflecting on it or, if not reflecting, than at least s/he is self-conscious about it. Reflection is the author making sense of what she’s experiencing; it’s her thinking on the page, trying to process and make sense of the raw experiences of her life. The author is struggling for honesty, searching for meaning. I love this intimacy.

    • There is an apparent subject and a deeper subject (Or as memoirist Vivian Gornick said, there is a situation and a real story.)

    • There is attention to craft (language, character, dialogue, place, metaphor, etc.). I want concrete sensory details; I want to be able to see and hear the characters you’re writing about; I want to have a sense of place, etc.

    • There is a timelessness of meaning—there is something universal there.

So these four things are vital in writing effective creative nonfiction. Now you might be thinking, Oh my God, how would I do all that in a blog post? And in every blog post? And of course you can’t. Blog posts are a little different; they can be short memoirs/essays, but often they aren’t because of the immediacy of blogs. You’re blogging your life as you live it, so often there isn’t enough distance from the material to reflect on it and make sense of it.

The other thing that makes blog posts different is that your readers—ideally—are reading regularly so they are accumulating your story; it doesn’t all happen in one post. So I think expectations are different for a blog because ideally you (and your readers) are in it for the long haul. The story—and perhaps the meaning—emerges more slowly, over many posts.

So blogs are different than a straight memoir or personal essay, and I wouldn’t expect anyone to write mini-essays for each post. (I certainly don’t do that. On my blog I post an occasional short essay-ish piece, but I also interview authors, check in on the progress of my writing, review motherhood literature, and post about upcoming classes and retreats. What kind of posts you’re writing and how often you post depends on what kind of blog you have and what the purpose of your blog is.)

But regardless of your purpose for writing a blog, you can use the techniques of creative nonfiction (reflection, attention to craft—character, place, dialogue, etc.—a situation and a story, and universals) to help you deepen your writing and make your posts more deliberate.

I hope this has got you thinking. I want to invite you to post what makes a blog post (or any writing) successful for you in the comments. And please check back. I will be providing the weekly Red Dress Club writing prompt. It will be an exercise on memory and reflection, which will hopefully help you move beyond the surface of “this is my immediate life” to a more reflective, contemplative level where you are making connections and searching out meaning in your writing. 


Thank you, Kate for this educationally inspiring post!  And I know we are definitely looking forward to that prompt!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekend linkup

Time to link up a favorite post! Try to visit as many link-ups as you can (if you're not already completely worn out from our AMAZING turnout Friday). It's a great way to meet new bloggers and read some terrific writing!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Red Writing Hood - The World Shifted

This week's prompt asked you to begin your piece with the words, "I could never have imagined" and end it with "Then the whole world shifted."

Try to visit as many as you can. If you'd like constructive criticism, please indicate it. If you are leaving concrit, please be respectful.

We are trying out a new linky system. So bear with us. Link up!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Without further ado, our latest announcement!

In an attempt to keep growing here at the Red Dress Club and in an effort to continue to challenge you all, Cheryl, Katie, and I have spent a great deal of time brainstorming ways to make the Red Dress Club even better.

And we are so excited to finally share our newest endeavor with you.

Beginning on Tuesday, we will have a new day of writing…another day for you to bring your stories to life and link up.

We will continue with Fridays as we always have, but we’re going to offer another prompt…a prompt that challenges you to focus on writing memoir.

We’ll share the memoir prompts with you on Fridays and ask you to come back on Tuesdays to share your stories with us.

So, what exactly, is memoir?

What makes memoir different from journaling or writing in a diary? What makes it different than an everyday blog post?

Defined most simply, you could say that memoir is a narrative that is written from your own personal experiences.

But, really, it’s not that simple.

A memoir isn’t just a commentary of what has happened. It’s broader than that…much more reflective than that. When writing memoir, you should share your thoughts, feelings, and insights into your experiences.

The challenge is to take the ordinariness of your past and write it in such a way that it becomes meaningful and rich.

Here’s an example of an ordinary journal entry…
It was early morning when we got home. The driveway was still muddy after our trip to Grandma’s.

And this is memoir…
“The last stars were clicking out just as we pulled up in our yard. The old Impala’s tires had left deep muddy grooves in the yard in front of our house when we’d backed our for Grandma’s days earlier. Those were what we plunged back into coming home.”
-- The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr

We want to hear your stories. We want you to push yourself to turn an ordinary memory into a rich and reflective piece.

Here are just a handful of very basic tips for writing memoir:
  • Write in the first person.
  • Tell the good and the bad.
  • Engage the senses…tap into sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.
  • Your pieces should be crafted, just as carefully as if you were writing fiction.
  • Create scenes that pull your reader in.
  • Don’t just tell us what happened. Show us.

Okay, okay, I hear you all saying, “get to the prompt already!”

This week, we want you to imagine that after you have died and your daughter/son will be given the gift of seeing a single five-minute period of your life through your eyes, feeling and experiencing those moments as you did when they occurred. What five minutes would you have him/her see? Tell us about them in the finest detail.

Let’s have a maximum word count of 700 words for this post.

Come back on Tuesday and link up your posts.
We truly can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Happy remembering!

Twitter Party Recap

If you joined us for our Wednesday night twitter party, you know it got a bit rowdy. A little off-topic at times.

But that's how it is when you're at a place where you feel comfortable, right? Like a book club where you spend five minutes talking about the book and the rest of the time talking about Important Stuff and drinking wine.

We did talk about some interesting stuff.

1)The prompt has a set beginning and a set ending - and a word limit. For some, this feels confining. For others it's freeing: they don't have to worry about how to start or finish it. The word limit is to force writers to be concise, to get in and out of their story. I also mentioned my creepy, slightly inappropriate 8th grade science teacher who used to tell us to make our essays like a girl's skirt: long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting. Also, the word limit makes it easier on those of us who try to read everyone's linkups!

2) Do we brainstorm first and just write? It seems like most of us just write, but some let ideas roll around in their minds for a couple days.

3) Some prompts lead to an obvious idea. Some want to push beyond the obvious and stretch themselves. We applaud this! Katie advises to write what you know. I countered with "Write what you DON'T know, too." Both are correct. Writing what you know helps you be genuine. We don't recommend writing about brain surgery, for instance, if you haven't researched it. But you can imagine situations and characters that you have no first-hand experience in, and, in making them human, they will be genuine.

4)Fiction vs. non-fiction. Each of us has our comfort zone. We encourage you to try something different. It will only help you grow.

5) Concrit. We have a lot of conversations on this topic. Some of you really want constructive criticism, but maybe aren't comfortable giving it. When you read a linkup, ask yourself what you liked about it and what you didn't, what worked for you, what didn't. Then tell the writer that, in a respectful, helpful way. For instance "This was great!" is nice to hear, but WHY was it great? Was it the dialogue, the description, a certain line that hit you? Conversely, if you didn't like it, don't comment "This sucked!" You can point out maybe a certain line that didn't work, or dialogue that didn't seem realistic. Remember the writer is putting herself out there - be kind.

7) Writer's envy. We all have it. You read someone's work and you want to stick a hot fork in your eye because they said what you wanted to say - only they did it SO MUCH BETTER! Thing is, you can't let this paralyze you. Or intimidate you. We are all working, learning, growing. All of you have your unique voice. And your own truth. When you read someone you admire, think about what it is that you like about their writing. Try to write something (not for publication, for yourself) taking on that writer's voice. Then see what works for you, and what doesn't.

8) The sex scene. Yes, we went there! And there were some tweets that made me laugh out loud! For those of us who have family members and IRL people who read our blogs, this can be a tricky thing. Some of us are afraid of sounding like a bad romance novel. It's a personal decision whether your blog is an appropriate place to share the, er, intimate details. Also, if it's non-fiction? Probably TMI!

9) There was a request for resources for finding agents, submitting a query letter and other topics directly relating to getting published. We will work hard to bring this information to you.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Featured Blogger -- Carrie from Views from Nature

Today's featured blogger is Carrie from Views from Nature.

1. Tell us about yourself:

I'm married with 2 girls (ages 2 1/2 and 4 1/2). We also have a menagerie of sorts in our house: 2 kittens, a leopard gecko, dwarf aquatic frogs, fire bellied toads, and numerous goldfish. Our house is in constant chaos from kid-related insanity and half done renovations. I thankfully get to escape this all and go to my full time job everyday ;) I'm trying to rediscover my writing passion and realizing it's not as easy as it was when I was younger.

2. Give us a 30-second elevator pitch about your blog:

Views From Nature is all about me: my writing, my views, me me me! It's where I share my creative attempts and my progress towards completing an actual novel. I try to keep my family on the edges of this blog (they have their own space elsewhere) but occasionally they will sneak in.

3. When you’re not blogging...what are you doing?

I'm working, I'm chasing my kids, I'm cuddling with kittens, I'm attempting to de-stress with yoga. Mostly I'm sinking into my couch with exhaustion.

4. Who is your favorite literary character and why?:

Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With The Wind. This is one of my favorite books and movies. I could watch/read it over and over. I love her passion, I love her energy, I love her clothes! She's clever, she's beautiful, and she's relentless.

5. What brought you to the Red Dress Club and what is your biggest goal with your writing?

I saw a post linking up to it on someone's blog and it reminded me of my earlier creative writing when I was a teen and then a young adult. I thought I'd give the prompt that week a go (I believe it was to do with an inanimate object) and I was hooked. I think I have only missed one or two prompts since then. My biggest goal is to take at least one of the 2 novels that have begun to grow and develop from the prompts into an actual publishable novel. I'd like to finish (first draft) by my birthday in August. We'll see how that goes.

6. If you could save one post in a fire, which would it be and why?:

Argh! Just one?? Really? Okay, after much angst I would choose Promise. This was my jumping off point for Elle's story and it seems to be the novel I'm most enjoying developing. Also, this particular piece is a re-creation of a short story I did as a teenager. I quite enjoyed ramping up the emotions with my more mature, adult perspective.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Red Writing Hood

Your assignment for this week's prompt is to write a piece that begins with the line, "I could never have imagined" and ends with the line, "Then the whole world shifted." We're going to stick with the 600-word limit this week.

Also, don't forget about our twitter party Wednesday. One note: we're going to try a different time: 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 p.m. Pacific. Unfortunately, not all of you are polite enough to live in the same time zone as Nichole and me. We realize this might cause issues for some of you but it might help out others. Let's give it a shot and see how it goes. Looking forward to seeing you there!

For those who'd like to join in and follow along, try TweetChat. You go to the site, sign in via Twitter, and just enter the hashtag #TRDC. Then you don't have to enter it in manually and you can see the stream. Also, please follow us at @mommy_pants, @itsmoments and @ksluiter since we don't always tweet as @TheRedDressClub.

Now go have fun with the prompt - link up Friday!

Not So Guest Post: Show, Don't Tell

We are writers.

We tell stories.

We want our readers to get so hooked, they feel sad when the writing is over.

But how do we do that?

I wrote a post about good writing a couple weeks ago, and there was some interest that I expand each point into a blog post of it's own.  I felt the best place to do that--to write about writing--was here, amongst writers.

My first post then is about SHOWING instead of telling.

Quite a few of you already do this. 

The idea is that you use imagery and sensory words instead of telling words. Find verbs that are descriptive rather than explanatory.  Tell HOW something is being done.  Show us the scene.

What's that?  You would like an example?  Well Ok.

So I hate Wal-Mart and about a month ago I had a crappy experience there (surprise, surprise).  I chose to blog about it.  But I didn't want to just go on a rant about Wal-Mart and it's crappy customer service, I wanted you to FEEL like you were there with me.

So I wrote about what I saw, smelled, heard, felt (both with touch and with my emotions), saw, and tasted (ok, I didn't really taste anything in this post, but you get the idea).

I took you to Wal-Mart with me.

When you are creating a scene--be it fiction or memoir--you want your reader there with you.  This will get your reader invested in the action.

I tend to close my eyes and visualize everything about the scene.  I start with each sense:

What do I see?
What do I smell?
What do I hear?
What do I feel with my hands/feet/etc?
What do I feel in my heart?
What do I think?
What do I taste?

I don't always use EVERY one of these questions because then my post would get long and ridiculous and boring.  No one wants to read ALL description.

I just pick the things that are absolutely necessary for you to "see" the scene and for you to "feel" what I need you to feel.

I write mostly memoir-ish pieces.  I can remember these things.  But when I do dabble in fiction, I have to become part of the scene to do this.  If I don't put myself in it?  It is not believable.

If you SHOW, your readers will feel connected.  If they feel connected, they will return for more of that connection.

Other writers 'round these parts who do SHOW don't tell well?

And those are just off the top of my head...MANY of you do this well!

No matter what kind of writing you do--fiction or non--you want your reader to FEEL what you are trying to convey.

Stories that show are far more likely to stick in someone's memory and stay in their heart.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Weekend linkup

It's time to link up a favorite post. Try to visit as many other linkups as possible - at least the one before you and after you. It's a great way to meet new bloggers and read some really great writing!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Red Writing Hood - Laugh/Cry

This week's prompt was to write a short piece in which a character told a joke and a character cried. The piece has to be maximum 600 words and must be able to be read aloud in no more than 3 minutes. It is from an NPR contest called Three-Minute Fiction.

Remember to visit as many other linkups as you can. We will no longer be picking our featured blogger randomly from those who participate Friday. Instead, we will reward those of you who support this community by commenting on the other linkups.

We understand that as we grow, it's not possible for all of you to visit every one, but there are those of you who make the effort to visit many of them and we'd like to thank you.

Okay then. Link up!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Twitter Party Recap

Thank you to all who participated in this week's chat.

Here are some of the topics we addressed:

1) Where do you find your inspiration? Often from real life. Also when doing mundane things: commuting, taking a shower, running, people watching, listening to music. Even when daydreaming.Some of us need a "fire under their butts" to get them going. Many of keep a notebook or even use an iPhone to jot down scenes that pop into our heads or conversations we overhear.

2). Fiction vs. non-fiction writing. This was an interesting topic, because each writer seems to have her own comfort zone without much cross-over - although a few brave souls are venturing out of their comfort zone and into fiction. @gonnakillhim quoted @annrants as saying "she loves writing fiction because she never knows who will walk thru the door." A discussion point was whether those of us who write both fiction and non-fiction use the same process for both.

3) Making compelling characters. Becoming the characters - in your writing them - is important. Your characters also should be flawed, complex, believable. Some find it exhausting to become the character. Characters can come to life not just on the page, but also in our heads.

4) This week's prompt is to have a character tell a joke and a character cry. There is concern over how to wrap up the story in just 600 words. Some other concerns are trying not to make it contrived or forced. And a fear the joke won't be "funny."

5) It is hard to write funny for many of us. Some of us do it through dialogue. Others struggle with making it seem natural and wonder whether it's universally funny. Also, there was a plea for a sarcasm font. If only!

6) Screenplay. Several people see their novels or writing unfolding like a screenplay. They visualize entire scenes. An interesting way to see action happen.

As always, we are thankful for all of you who stopped by and hope you find the chat useful. We appreciate any comments you'd like to leave us below.

Don't forget to link up Friday!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Featured Blogger - Angelia from Living, Loving, Laughing

Today's featured blogger is Angelia from Living, Loving, Laughing.

1. Tell us about yourself: Mom, step-mom, wife, friend, travel agent, amateur photographer, heart writer, giver, taker, amazed and blessed by the people that love me. Early in life, I took the hard road, made a ton of mistakes. I struggled through the dark pain of abuse, when I found the light again. I learned about myself. I learned about a savior. And I learned that it's okay to be happy.

2. Give us a 30-second elevator pitch about your blog: Living, Loving, Laughing is all about my life. Living life to the fullest. Celebrating each day with joy. Loving myself, my family, and all the fur kids. Newly married with three girls and three dogs in a family blender. Life is never dull. Past or present happenings, I write to entertain and record. I blog for the mirth of writing, sharing my life, and learning to flourish in all I do. That's my word of the year - flourish. This year is all about growing into my photography business and taking time to learn new things. I write about it all.

3. Who is your favorite literary character and why?: Frodo from Lord of the Rings. He accepted his duty with honor and integrity. He faced battles with courage and faith. His unwavering loyalty to complete the task, no matter how big with a spirit no one could taint. I'm scared like him, but willing to not turn back on my adventures.

4. What kind of tree would you carve your initials on and why?: A redwood along the central coast of California, right off Highway 1 in the Big Sur National Park. Why? So I could go there and do it (okay, I would just use my finger, no defacing here). It's my favorite place in the world. There is magic on that coast and in those trees.

5. What animal does your husband look like and why?: A Saint Bernard. He is big, lovable, endearing, and a rescuer at heart. He will do anything for anyone with a big happy smile. Plus, he wouldn't mind having a nip of whiskey around his neck. Heh.

6. If you could save one post in a fire, which would it be and why?: I don't even have to think about this one. It would be I'm a Creep. I'm a Weirdo. The story of meeting my husband. It made the front page of Wordpress. It warms my heart to read it. It never fails to make me smile. I would NOT want to lose this post and the all memories and comment love with it.