Memories Into Memoirs
Writers workshop returns to Las Vegas
Pick a memory, any memory. Climbing a tree at age 10. The fender-bender you tried to hide from your parents right after you got your license. Walking along a dirt road beside a field of wildflowers under a vivid, kaleidoscopic sunset. Whatever your memory, it’s more than just any old recollection. It’s the start of your memoir.
“You have to start with yourself. Pick a memory from your life that still resonates with you, and let that be your seed,” says Alice Winston Carney, co-founder of the Green River Writers Workshop. “Everybody has a story out of their life. Rather than trying to make something up and feeling like you don’t really know it, you start with something you’ve experienced. It gives you more of a grain of truth.”
This is just one of the kernels of writing wisdom that aspiring writers will receive at the Green River Writers Workshop, happening in Las Vegas, N.M. from July 18 through 21. In its sixth year, the workshop gives 15 writers a chance to immerse themselves in the craft under the guidance of three accomplished authors—Carney and her longtime friends, Gerald and Loretta Hausman.
It’s a rewarding, intense weekend designed to stimulate creativity and dish out useful advice.
“The first evening we’ll do a little writing, have a meet-and-greet, get to know each other,” says Carney. “Friday and Saturday are very full days of talking about writing and sharing our writing. Sunday is a little shorter, but meaningful. We’ll talk about publishing, how it's changing.”
Although the workshop's theme is “Turning Memory into Story,” Carney says the event also helps writers who aren’t interested in memoirs. “We talk poetry, historic memoir and fiction, using memoir as our seed,” she says. “If you can tell a memoir story, you can do any of the other types of writing.”
So once you’ve picked your memory, how do you turn it into a story?
“My approach,” Carney shares, “is to ask, ‘What is the lesson you learned out of that? How do you tell that to somebody else? How do you start it so someone wants to hear it?’ We have them think about the setting, the types of words you use to craft a really good sentence.”
Students include newbie writers with a dream and people who have been writing for years.
“It’s an interesting combination of people who are sophisticated in the writing world and some who say, ‘I just want to try this.’ The sophisticated people learn a whole lot from the ones just starting out.”
All the attendees are learning from true experts. Carney, a retired professor of communication studies at California State University, Sacramento, has been a published writer since 1975. She recently released her memoir, A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse. Gerald and Loretta Hausman have published 70 books between them, and 35 have won awards. They’ve written adult novels, history, poetry and children’s books, and are experienced in the fast-changing world of publishing.
Put them together and you have a dynamic teaching trio. “We all three share the teaching equally,” says Carney. “Our strengths are balanced out really well.”
It was important to Carney to hold the workshop in her hometown of Las Vegas, where she grew up and now has a ranch with her husband. She says the town has always had a magic that inspires.
“It’s almost like a 1950s town. It’s different from Santa Fe, from Albuquerque. Sitting on the edge of the Sangre de Cristos and great plains, it’s really beautiful and not built up. That influences and inspires the attendees a lot,” Carney explains.
How could it not? Breathtaking views of blue sky and pillowy clouds certainly do make an impression. Walking through the Historic Plaza Hotel, where the workshop is held, ignites an “Old West” thrill. Las Vegas itself, with its rich history and culture, helps the group create an intimate writing environment that sparks the imagination.
Hosting the workshop in Las Vegas is also Carney’s way of giving back to the community: “People stay in the hotel, eat in the restaurants, go to the bookstore.”
After the workshop, they go home enriched and inspired. They keep writing. Some former attendees have even been published. That makes Carney proud, but she says being published is not a measure of a writer’s success.
“To write well means to have one person respond to your writing. You touch another person. If one person feels better, or learns something because they read your writing, that would mean a lot to me to know that I had a positive impact.”
“Turning Memory into Story”
July 18 - 21
Historic Plaza Hotel
230 Plaza Park, Las Vegas
Cost: $300 (room and board not included)
Enrollment is limited to 15 people.