A Writer’s Mentor/Interview with Author and Professor Dr. Virginia Carney

In 1992, when I was a welfare mom trying to finish my degree before my girls were old enough to feel the stigma of poverty, I met a professor who immediately felt like family. Later, it made sense. Not only was Professor Ginny Carney an inspiring and nurturing person,  her roots from Southern Appalachia were close to mine from Eastern Kentucky.

Before she moved  to Kentucky from Alaska to live near Berea College,while she attended graduate school, Dr. Carney became Ginny to me, a treasured friend and confidante who helped me believe that anything was possible.

Though I’ve not seen her in person in more than two decades, Ginny Carney remains a mentor and a dear friend.

January in National Mentoring Month, and I’m so pleased to have one of my favorites here today.  Thank you, Ginny!


Who mentored you and fostered a love of stories and literature?

Neither of my parents was a high school graduate, and they were probably never aware of what a strategic role they played in cultivating a love for words in their children; both my mother and father, however, were avid readers and would often tell stories, sing ballads, or recite long poems from memory. Although we were very poor, they always subscribed to a newspaper and a couple of magazines, and when I was about three, they found a way to “buy on time” a set of the Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia. I loved those books, and somehow, I learned to read from them by the time I was four years old. Since our family had no car and no electricity, reading introduced me to worlds far beyond Southern Appalachia, and I developed an insatiable appetite for books.

When did you know you wanted to mentor others? How did it begin? Was it through foster parenting or parenting?

I’ve never really thought of myself as a mentor, but for as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for learning—and I have always wanted to share that passion with others. By the time I was four years old, I already had three younger siblings, and playing “school” with them was excellent preparation for my years ahead as a mother/grandmother/great-grandmother.

 You enjoyed a second career after nursing. How did that come about? Was there a pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a professor?

My childhood dream was to become either a medical doctor or a registered nurse. Due to lack of financial resources, however, completing college was a much greater challenge than I had anticipated. After getting married in 1963, I did begin applying to nursing schools, but was stunned to discover that none of these programs accepted married women (a story in itself!).

I did eventually complete nursing and work for several years as a pediatric/NICU nurse, but adopting a sibling group of four (ages 2-6) in the late 1980s, eventually compelled me to think about a profession that would allow more time with my family. Subsequently, I enrolled at UAA, where Dr. Arlene Kuhner (Professor of English) became an incredible mentor/friend, encouraging me to be proud of my Cherokee/Appalachian heritage, and to incorporate that into my writing.  I completed an M.A. degree in English in 1990, was privileged to teach at UAA for three years prior to my acceptance into a PhD program, and I continued working in higher education until my retirement in 2016 at age 75.

 Do you have any advice on how emerging writers can find a mentor? Are there secrets you have learned in being a mentor?

Of course, it would be wonderful if every emerging writer had a trusted mentor of his/her own. Often, however, mentors are individuals who don’t necessarily think of themselves as mentors, but who, as a result of life’s experiences, have gained a wisdom, compassion for others, and encouraging spirit that they instinctively share with others—especially with those who may be going through similar experiences. Therefore, emerging writers (of all ages) often find that their greatest support comes from authors like you, Liz—writers whose stories they may have only read, but whose words light an inextinguishable flame of creativity and hope within them.

 Is there a story or two you would like to share that you’re most proud of?

Of the hundreds of narratives that I could share, this story of an elderly Ojibwe woman in Minnesota is one of my favorites:

After outliving three husbands and retiring as a Licensed Practical Nurse, 85-year-old Miss Lois said, “I’m bored! Maybe I’ll take a moccasin-making class at the tribal college!” So, she enrolled in that one class, and she so enjoyed being with young college students that she decided to enroll as a full-time student.

One of the classes she took was my American Indian Literature course—a course in which we read about and discussed a number of emotional topics, including the Indian boarding school era, which has resulted in PTSD for thousands of American Indian/Alaska Native students and their families. At first, Miss Lois only alluded to the sexual abuse she and other young children had experienced at the hands of their “teachers,” but one day, she began joking about a group of girls “ganging up on a priest and tying him up.” Her young classmates (who had never attended boarding schools themselves) did not laugh.  Instead, they voiced indignation that their elders had “put up with” the physical and sexual abuse inflicted on them in many American and Canadian boarding schools. At that point, Miss Lois, who always seemed full of laughter and fun, shocked her classmates by breaking down in tears, and she began pouring out things she had kept inside for almost 80 years.  During the next several classes, other students began openly sharing their stories of incest/sexual abuse, and Miss Lois became their trusted (and highly esteemed) confidante/mentor. She went on to graduate from college, touching untold numbers of lives with her stories in newspaper and television interviews, as a participant in numerous panel discussions, and in her handwritten memoirs.

Miss Lois died in 2013 at the age of 95.


#DVAM 2017/Does Talking About Domestic Violence Really Make a Difference?

While de-cluttering my bedroom recently, I found an old magazine that reprinted my first published article in 1993. First posted in Alaska Women Speak, later in The Radical, I wrote it about the epidemic of domestic violence.


How novel it seemed at the time to be writing about what was then considered to be a deeply personal matter. Pre-O.J.Simpson trial. Pre United States Surgeon stating that domestic violence was (then) a leading cause of injury to women in certain age brackets.

It was truly wonderful to be a part of making a positive difference. Along with the other domestic violence advocates, I got to give a series of presentations and trainings. Trainings for judges, police officers, and employers. Presentations for clergy and public assistance workers, concerned citizens, and eventually for doctors, once it was confirmed how many victims presented with mental and physical injuries that needed attention. No matter who our audience was, we encouraged people to get a little nosy. “Ask when you see injuries if you have a private moment with the possible victim. Address concerns in a non-judgmental way.” Easier said than done.

Below is from the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

Initiating this conversation can be difficult. Some tips to help:

Tell what you see “I noticed a bruise on your arm…”
Express concern “I am worried about you.”
Show support “No one deserves to be hurt.”
Refer them for help “I have the phone number to…”

If your friend begins to talk about the abuse:

Just Listen: Listening can be one of the best ways to help. Don’t imagine you will be the one person to “save” you friend. Instead, recognize that it takes a lot of strength and courage to live with an abusive partner, and understand your role as a support person.

Keep it Confidential: Don’t tell other people that they may not want or be ready to tell. If there is a direct threat of violence, tell them that you both need to tell someone right away.

Provide Information, Not Advice: Give them the phone number to the helpline (1.866.834.HELP) or to their local domestic violence resource center. Be careful about giving advice. They know best how to judge the risks they face.

Be There and Be Patient: Coping with abuse takes time. Your friend may not do what you expect them to do when you expect them to do it. If you think it is your responsibility to fix the problems, you may end up feeling frustrated. Instead, focus on building trust, and be patient.


This past year, I’ve had the chance to join domestic violence advocates in a number of community presentations since publishing my memoir.

Abuse in relationships is still far too common, and well over 1,000 women every year die because of it in the United States alone. Millions of kids are still being raised in homes witnessing domestic violence.

It’s natural to wonder Are we making a difference?

Then I had coffee with my friend Ruth. She used to manage the Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) shelter I worked at 20 years ago and we left our jobs around the same time. Now on blood thinners, Ruth bruises like a banana.

“Does anyone ask you about the bruising?” I asked.

“All the time,” she told me. She’s been asked by friends and strangers alike if she’s okay. “Even the groundskeepers downtown have asked me if I was safe.”

So Happy 30th Birthday to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and to all who’ve stuck their neck out to ensure we’re making progress.

I encourage you all to become a part of the conversation and part of the solution when opportunities arise. Or donate to or volunteer at your local shelter.

As a side, I’m grateful to my friends at AWAIC for honoring me for sharing my story. Without them, there would be no story.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Amazing Role of a Domestic Violence Advocate/Interview with Nicole Stanish

  “I don’t understand how you can do that work. It must be so depressing.”




You get used to hearing that sort of comment when working in the trenches of domestic violence (DV). I used to hear it a lot 20 years ago when I was a DV advocate, but now the question was posed to domestic violence advocate/program manager at Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) ,Nicole Stanish, whom I worked with during some DV Awareness Month events.

She answered graciously, but later I followed up with a few questions of my own. It took her nanoseconds to respond, a sure sign of someone who loves her job.

What led you to working with domestic violence victims?

When I was 12 I read a book about Covenant House and knew that one day I would be a social worker. When I was in college, working towards my social work degree, my professor gave us an assignment to write a paper on a social service agency and she suggested that I might like AWAIC. So I interviewed the Shelter Manager for my paper and she suggested I come to volunteer training, which I did, and then I fell in love with AWAIC and began volunteering a couple of nights a week. Later, when a position opened up I applied.

What do you like best about your job?

The best part of DV work is connecting with people. I enjoy hearing people’s stories, even though they can be sad, and offering them whatever strength, compassion and understanding that I can. We are all human and we all have our struggles and people benefit the most from having a non-judgmental person support them through a hard time.

What is the worst part?

The worst part of DV work is seeing someone who has so much potential continue to go back to her abuser, back to her addictions, lose her children, and continue to spiral farther down. It is hard to have high hopes for a person only to see them continue to get into worse and worse situations. I wish that there was a way for me to transfer all of my hope and faith into them to help them succeed.

 What are some things you want people to know about how they can help?

We all have the power to make a difference. We are all humans and have struggles and fall down. And we are all capable of compassion, understanding, and the ability to reach out to someone who is having a hard time and help them.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone. If you are fortunate enough to never have had it happen to you- do not judge those who are currently experiencing it. Domestic violence is very complex and very hard to break free from. If you know someone who is living with domestic violence, just be there for them. Let them know that they deserve all the good in the world and that you will always be a person that they can turn to. Don’t give up on them.

For more ideas on how you can get involved with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, click here. Thank you to Nicole Stanish for doing great work to impact change.



A Discarded Piece from PIECES of ME

What do you call the stuff an editor cuts from your book? Lost footage or wordage? Outtakes?

I was knee deep in the most recent edits when I realized one of the main characters was all but stripped away. A darling that author Anne Lamott would describe as being killed in the revision process.

My memoir is now present tense. It had been much too long and clunky, and needed to be shaved down. Still, it was about C.H. Rosenthal, or Hank as his friend knew him.

Never before or since had anyone had such a reassuring effect on me. Below is my old introduction to Hank.


C.H. Rosenthal

And then there was her husband. 

Heather’s second marriage was to a much older gentleman named Hank Rosenthal. Hank looked more mature that his sixty-two years indicated. He was in perfect physical condition but it appeared that each of his life experiences had been carefully mapped on his face, like a Norman Rockwell painting. His ears and nose were far too large for his square head.   Hank had retired a few years earlier from his job as chief lobbyist for Arco in Alaska.  He was as understated as his wife was gregarious, and he was happy to enjoy his behind- the-scenes role as her supporter.  He adored cooking and caring for his home. He loved his wife. And, as luck would have it, he learned to love me.

Hank became like a father to me after my first trip to Greece. I was thirty years old, but in his company, I felt like a safe and loved little girl.

Hank made Sunday dinners, and often invited me to join him and Heather at their home with any number of their family or friends. It wasn’t the food, but the soothing effect Hank’s presence had on me that motivated me to attend.  He would share stories from his childhood. He teased me mercilessly as if I were his own child. “Hi, Guy!” he said, greeting me with a sideways smile, “That extra weight you’ve put on looks great on you!” And he made me believe, if only for a moment, that everything would turn out fine eventually.

He didn’t always think so himself, Heather told me later. One night after Sunday dinner, he decided to share his worries with Heather.

“Liz is young,” he told his wife. “She can start over. Maybe what she really needs to do is move on. Find a nice guy. Get married. Have some more kids,”

Silence followed.

          “Fuck you, Rosenthal,” Heather told him, leaving Hank to finish the dishes alone.

          To my face, Hank continued to be reassuring.

          “Mother always told me not to worry,” he said. Worrying is really just borrowing tomorrow’s trouble.”

            He was right.  A dose of Hank was always good for helping me regain perspective. 


Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters will be published in five months. Hank helped me with a chapter in the first draft, but sadly passed away in October of 2003.

When Push Comes to Shove/How to Help When Someone You Love is Being Abused is on sale

IMG_0219Just over one in three women worldwide have experienced physical and sexual intimate partner violence, according to the World Health Organization.


The chances that you won’t know one of them are close to zero.

What you do and don’t say  can make all the difference.


When Push Comes to Shove  is now available on Kindle, Smashwords, and Nook for $2.99!



It’s time to start the conversation.

Domestic Violence, Our Civil War

 It’s the end of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

thumb3I scooted back home from Australia just in time to have the honor of being interviewed by Tom Randell at KSRM Radio about my upcoming e-book, When Push Comes to Shove. How to Help When Someone You Love is Being Abused.


It was such fun to re-connect with my old friend Tom, whom I knew from high school, that I’m afraid I got off track with this topic that impacts so many.

Let me share a snippet from my e-book:

The number of troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was listed as 6,488 as of October 2014.  The number of American women killed during the same time period totaled 11, 766.

People should be safe in relationships.

Do you know someone who’s being abused?

Have them call 1-800-799-SAFE.  And as soon as my e-book becomes available, I’ll post it here.

Thanks for stopping by.

What’s New With Me/ Do You Have a Title Suggestion?


I’ve just finished implementing more than 6,000 line edits on my memoir, so forgive me for being brief. I’m spent.

Before I leave to meet up with various friends I’ve made traveling, I thought I’d add my new prologue. I’ll be off the grid for a few weeks, pursuing one of my late-acquired passions, budget solo travel.

I’m traveling light, with a few books and a few clothes. I look forward to connecting with you from Australia at some point.

Here’s the beginning.  Thank you for stopping by, and if you have any ideas for a new title based on the words below, I’m all ears.





Sometimes I’m asked if I feel lucky. Usually, it’s after I’ve given a presentation about domestic violence, and in the context of “Aren’t you glad all the bad stuff happened when your kids were little?”

As though prebirth and early childhood experiences are any less impactful.

1463061_359063460944364_8229333032461965541_nThe truth is, I do feel lucky, but not because my kids were little when their father tried to kill me. I feel lucky because I survived, and so did they. I feel lucky because when he stole them years later and took them to Greece, I was still a young adult, with all the energy and optimism I needed to risk bringing them home. I feel lucky because I knew from my living through my own kidnapping how important it was to right this wrong, and was adept at developing a support network that would make doing so possible. I feel lucky that I recognized how much support the girls needed when they returned, and I often did my best to get it for them. And I feel lucky that my daughters have forgiven me for the decisions, large and small, that I’ve made that were not in their best interest.

But there are times when I don’t feel so lucky. When I take one of my daughters to the hospital for a trauma-related illness. When I am the only parent to hear their joys and sorrows. When I must reassure them, now in their late twenties, that I’m all right and I’m still here for them after they become panicked when I’ve taken too long to return a text or call. When I’m on a date and I’m asked anything about my marriage or how involved my kids’ dad is in their lives.

I never wanted to be one of those crime victims whose identity revolves around victimization. Then last year, I filled out a grant application and listed my passions. Budget travel in foreign countries. Writing. Volunteering with literacy projects. All directly connected to surviving my victimization.

I have my daughters. I have my passions. And, all things considered, I guess that makes me better off than lucky.

How STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON Helped This Alaskan Woman Writer Clarify her Truth

As the deadline looms to get my memoir on the catalogue for 2016-17 release, I’m flooded with doubt.

What should I omit for the sake of not offending people?

Who have I inadvertently omitted?

How will I drum up an email base of potential readers in the next may many months and increase my platform?

And as I’ve continue plugging along, enjoying the beautiful Alaskan summer, the answers have come indirectly.

It was watching the movie Straight Outta Compton and reading some of the related blistering social network frenzy that answered the first one. The film gives a pulsating lesson in history from the perspective of rap star Dr. Dre. It is magnificent in it’s re-telling of a few talented artists emerging from gang life in the late 80’s.

The controversy?

Several women who were intimately involved with Dr. Dre decades earlier recently got in touch. They shared their stories being victimized by him, suffering injuries, humiliation, and trauma that never resolved. Where were they in his version of truth?

Dr. Dre responded beautifully.

My take on the matter was he was not lying or attempting to gloss over the ugly reality of his violence against women back in the day. Women weren’t important to the men of rap. They weren’t on equal footing, not considered cherished partners, not given the respect that they deserved. They were objects for pleasure. And that they didn’t matter in the 80’s to the men of rap meant they matter much in the re-telling of the story. Just because something happens doesn’t mean  it’s a part of the story-teller’s journey. This I know after many classes and edits.

(These women’s stories are important, and they should share them when and how they see fit.)

The point was driven home to me a second time. While I was clearing my room’s clutter last week I found a file box that was shoved way back in my closet. I opened it. Letters, cards, all that I must have opened at some point, were piled in no particular order. Some were from 1985, when I found my biological father and left college friends in Washington to meet him and the rest of my Kentucky family.

Some were from 1992, when I graduated from college. “Congratulations. You’re life is finally about to get easier!” This, after living in the shelter, after restraining orders to keep me and my girls safe, after living off food stamps. Now, I was about to see the fruits of my labor.

I cringed, reading these, knowing I would have less than two years of semi-normal before my girls were kidnapped and taken to Greece.

blogThen, the kidnapping cards. From my clients at the battered women shelter. From friends. From community members who read about my little girls being snatched by their non-custodial father in the newspaper. The sad part? I don’t remember having read these beautiful expressions of concern. I was too engulfed in sadness. And since I didn’t remember them, I couldn’t include them in my present-tense story. (But I am truly grateful now!)

I also dated a wonderful man through much of the two year trauma, but he didn’t make any of story. My true focus was never him, it was finding my girls.

So what belongs in my story? It’s my truth. What happened that transformed my life. Not every fact. My journey and it’s aftermath. And inevitably, someone will object.

And platform? I’ve written a mini-book, When Push Comes to Shove, that’s available soon! It will answer your questions on how to help when someone you care about is being abused.

What’s helped you clarify your story?

Thanks for stopping by.

Eyes Wide Open:Seeing My Father in a Balanced Light Twenty Years After His Death

1985-meeting my dad and just some of my siblings.
1985-meeting my dad and just some of my siblings.

It had been thirty years to the day since I met my father, a fact I mused only when I boarded the plane to see our shared kin in early June.

I got to see my dad less than a handful of times before he died in 1995 after we were separated by a parental abduction in the late sixties. And in all that time, I’m pretty sure he’d said less than 400 words total to me. Then he was gone.

From our first meeting, I could tell my questions about him would remain unanswered.  My father was old. Worn. Tired.  Mostly silent.

Who are you? Who were your parents? Why so many marriages, so many kids, so much chaos? And why didn’t you look for me?

Dad, then on the verge of his seventieth birthday, was content to sit in the corner of the room, slumped in his chair, mouth slack, intermittently lost in thought or slumber. He filled in some gaps for me, like why he hit my mother so long ago, how sorry he was for it, and how no one has the right to hurt another person. He injected humor to conversations around him  whenever possible. There was a time after my father died that I gave in to a sense of hopelessness. Now I’ll never get to know him sort of thing. And then I got caught up in the chaos of my own making and lost track of my new family altogether.


Ten years ago, I committed to make the journey from Alaska to Kentucky to visit family on my dad’s side every other year, and I’ve held to it. And with each trip, I’ve had the chance to get to know my dad just a little bit more each time through his family’s eyes.  Conversations with his siblings. His first wife. With my siblings. And now, many trips later, I feel like I’m coming to know him.

I learned that my father was a different person between his first marriage and the second, and different still when he created a third family, so although I have six siblings by my dad, we all had different fathers.

And there are some interesting facts I’ve learned that helped shape him.

My dad was born almost 100 years ago in a small home in rural Kentucky to a teen mom and her husband. The oldest of the eleven children who survived toddler-hood,  he lived through some rough times, including the Depression, and likely absorbed a lot of the violence and unrest in the home as older children do.  I’ve learned that he married young the first time, and that fidelity in a marriage came to him later.

I’ve learned that despite being forced to quit school in the fifth grade, my father was whip-smart and hard-working, which helped him survive the rough terrain of marriage and remarriages, accepting his wives brood in to his life while subsequently losing track of the children from the just-ended union. I learned that my father served in World War II, and became a machinist for the government and a business owner.

ride with the aunties
My aunts in the front seat, story-telling during the hour-plus trip to Bee Spring from Louisville.

I’ve learned that my father’s father was no prince. On a visit to my grandfather’s grave, a complete stranger approached me at the cemetery and told me that he still remembers when my grandfather got mad at his farm pig and sewed his eyes shut to punish him.

If a man sewed the eyes of a pig shut for disobedience, what do you think he’d do to his oldest son?

I learned that my father was a respected brother and loyal son to his mother. I learned that he was committed to evolving over his life time, and became a faithful husband to his final wife, an involved church member, and a gentler version of his former self to his younger children.

We didn’t have much time together, but my dad left me a lot. I inherited his brown eyes and the ability to get a suntan in nanoseconds compared to my friends. I inherited a host of cousins and siblings and aunts and uncles. I’ve inherited dad’s quick temper, his dislike for holidays, and his belief in redemption.

I’ve got a few friends with missing loved ones who tell me they can’t relate to my need to connect with missing family. “Too much trouble. I’ve heard bad things about my missing family,” or “What good with knowing my missing family do me now that I’m grown?”

And while I can’t say it’s a good thing for every person to find their missing family members, I can say this; every time I return back to my small life in Alaska from visiting my dad’s side, I carry a little less baggage and bank a few more cherished memories with family.

My goal over the next couple of years is to connect with some of my mom’s extended family.

Who’s missing from your life? What’s stopping you from finding them? Leave a comment below.

Thanks always for dropping by.

Who Would Kill a Child? The Murder-Suicides of Domestic Violence

As I was leaving work today, one of my coworkers was glimpsing the news and shaking his head. “Second murder-suicide report in the last two weeks in Alaska,” he said, adding what’s on everyone’s else’s mind.

Gonzales, Young and children. (alaskapublic.org)

“Who in the world would kill a child?”

But  before you think this trend in an Alaska thing, a review of all murder suicides published in the Violence Policy Center’s studies titled American Roulette indicated that the bulk of murder suicides including those with children present are largely an extension of domestic violence. Their review of numerous murder-suicides answer the question that none of us can make sense of:

Who would kill a child?

* Mostly men. The Violence Policy Center notes that in 90 percent of the cases, the perpetrators are male.

* The perpetrator has access to a firearm. Very rarely is another percent of murder-suicides used another type of weapon.

* The perpetrator is under exceptional stress at the time, possibly because they fear their partner will abandon them, or they’ve suffered a long-term depression or a job loss.

Photo courtesy of Alaska Dispatch


I learned another interesting tidbit in this study. The greater the age gap between the perpetrator and the victim, the greater the likelihood of the murder/suicide.

In American Roulette, an analysis of murder suicides during the first half of 2011 revealed there were 313 events during those six months resulting in 691 deaths. Fifty-five of those were children under the age of eighteen.


Who would kill a child?

It turns out, those closest to the child’s mother are the likely culprits.

Do you know a family impacted by domestic violence?

Call the police if you suspect an incident is occurring.

Call child protective services if you know a child lives in a home where their parent is being abused.

And refer adult domestic violence victims to 1-800-799-SAFE.