Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Writers and Writing: Alice Winston Carney

Writer’s Block airs every Tuesday, at 9 a.m. MST on KFUN/KLVF, streaming live at

On the Air with Alice Carney

Alice Carney and the Writing Life

Author and workshop facilitator Alice Carney seems more comfortable talking about everything under the sun, but herself. In our interview on Tuesday she revealed an enthusiasm for the subject of writing and kind of glazed over her own accomplishments. Below are her written responses to the questions I asked on Writer’s Block. She is an experienced writer and a wonderful communicator. Perhaps that comes from her 20-plus years as a Dale Carnegie instructor.
WB: Let’s begin by you telling us a little about yourself.
AWC: I grew up in Las Vegas and graduated from Robertson High School and Highlands University. I live in Sacramento, Calif., and, now that my husband Jim and I are retired, we spend part of the year at our place in Sapello. I have been a Dale Carnegie instructor for over 20 years and taught in the Communications Department at Sacramento State University. My favorite course to teach was Rhetorical Criticism because I worked deeply with the students on their writing, getting them to question the words they choose to use and the ideas they professed.

WB: Tell us about A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse.
AWC: A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse is a collection of stories about growing up in Las Vegas in the period between the end of WWII and the Vietnam War. One of my English professors at Highlands, Dr. Mallory, said one day in class, “If you don’t write down what happens to you, it will go away.” The stories in Cowgirl are a way to keep an earlier Las Vegas, as seen through my eyes, from going away.

WB: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
AWC: I have always enjoyed the idea of writing. I was lucky to have good English literature and journalism teachers from junior high through high school and college. Our seventh grade English teacher Tom Clark had us write weekly book reports that were limited to 50 words. I think that exercise taught me how to edit and get rid of all those extra words that clog up writing. Mrs. Lancaster at Robertson was a great journalism instructor, she encouraged us, but also critiqued in a way to make us better writers. I wrote for and edited my college newspapers and wrote for newspapers in New York and California. I have always kept a journal. I belong to a writers group in Sacramento.

I like to write, to work on the process of getting ideas across, playing around with words and telling stories. Does that make me a Writer? I still don’t know.

WB: What prompted you to start the Green River Writers Workshop?
AWC: I had been working on some of the stories that ended up in Cowgirl for a number of years but was not sure where to go with them. I took an on-line memoir writing course through Gothem Writers’ Workshops and that helped my skill level. I learned to be less general and to be more specific (for instance, to write about Las Vegas so that it does not come across as any small town but as a unique place with unique people living in it).

Then six years ago I attended a week-long memoir writing workshop in Taos with Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones, a book I would recommend to anyone who is thinking about writing. That workshop was helpful on a general creative level, dealing with how to dig into your own experience and recreate it for the reader. There were 40 people at the workshop, most of them from out of New Mexico and no one except me from the other side of the mountains from Taos. I thought that Las Vegas would be a good place for a memoir writing workshop because there are so many stories to be told here. I literally had one of those flashes of insight: I could put on a writing workshop. My strength is in coaching and teaching and helping individuals and groups develop their ideas and skills, so I could do that part. I loved writing and had some experience, but not the deep publishing record that would be needed to give credibility to the workshop. I knew where to go for that.

I called my friends Gerry and Lorry Hausman who graduated from Highlands with me and now live in Florida. They are authors of over 75 books and have received national awards for several of those books. They are editors and publishers and gifted teachers. I asked them if they would like to come to Las Vegas the next summer and put on a memoir writing workshop with me. They did, and five years ago we held the first annual Green River Writers Workshop.

Since that first workshop we have also held workshops in Sacramento, Calif. and at the Fredericksburg Art School in Fredericksburg, Texas. We have people come from Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Silver City, New York, Colorado, Texas, Atlanta, Georgia, and this year we go international with Kenji Okuhira, a photo-journalist from Tokyo attending.

WB: Why did you select Las Vegas as the site?
AWC: Because we come here every summer, my family and friends are here, and because Las Vegas and northern New Mexico have such a rich cultural and creative history. I knew Las Vegas had an active writing and creative community from which to draw and I thought that the area would be an interesting destination point for writers from out of the area. You have a great bookstore in Tome on the Range and the Plaza Hotel has been supportive location for us.

WB: You keep it relatively small. Why is that?
AWC: We like the intimacy of a group that is 15 or less. We get to learn from each other through talking about writing and hearing each others work. Gerry and Lorry and I like the dynamic of a group this size.

WB: What do you want attendees to get out of the experience?
AWC: Our basic goal is for them to understand how to turn memory into story. In addition, our goal for beginning writers is confidence in their own voice, an awareness that their stories are interesting and should be written; the basic skills of good writing (for example, how to appeal to the reader, how to use active rather than passive verbs, what point of view works best). For experienced writers, to see them challenge themselves, take themselves to new levels. As with any creative work, with writing, there is always more to learn; when we stop leaning, we stop growing.

 The last day we focus on the rapidly changing and complex world of publishing. In addition to Gerry and Lorry’s and my experience, we will be bringing in Mina Yamashita, a writer,  book designer, and publisher to talk about  writing, designing and illustrating books in the digital age. 

Since our first workshop, several of the attendees have published books or are in the process of publishing. Joseph Baca (KFUN/KLVF owner) is one example.

Publication is not necessarily a goal for all members of the workshops, but for those who are looking in that direction, we offer expertise and guidance. We do believe that it is good to get your work out of your desk drawer (or off your computer) and into the light.

WB: There is an anthology of work by previous attendees. Let’s talk about that.
AWC: Green River Anthology, is a collection of the work of many of the workshop attendees over the past four years. We have had such good writing come out of the workshops, and we wanted that writing to be shared with a larger public. You will see a wide variety of writing styles and world views, poems as well as prose. We are proud of the level of writing in this anthology.

Several Las Vegans are included in the anthology: Petey Salman (my cousin), Maggie Romigh, Carol Ganyor, and Joseph Baca.

On Friday, July 20, from 5 to 6 we will be holding a reading and book signing of the anthology. It will be an enjoyable evening and a good way to learn more about your local writing community and support your local writers.

WB: What do you get from being a presenter?
AWC: Years ago, when I first started teaching, coaching, and running workshops, I thought about how lucky I was, because each time I work with a group of people and get to see them grow and develop their talents, I feel like I have fallen in love again. How many people get to fall in love several times a year?

WB: What is the one thing writers can do to improve their writing?
AWC: Write. As John McPhee said, "A writer writes." Read. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read good writers. Develop the reading habit. Hang around with writers. Join a writing group. Take a workshop. Write.

WB: Anything last thoughts?
AWC: Whatever your creative urge is, writing, painting, drawing, music, photography, just walking in the woods, honor it. Remember your stories and find a way to share them before they go away. By sharing your story, you could make a difference in another person’s life.

The book signing for the Green River Anthology will be Friday, July 20, 5 p.m. at Tome on the Range.

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