Author: Jennie Miller Helderman
Publisher: The Summers Bridge Press
Today, Norm Goldman Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest Jennie Miller author of As the sycamore grows.
Good day Jennie and thanks for participating in our interview
How did you get
started in writing and what is the most difficult thing for you about
being a writer?
In my family you were
expected to thread red worms onto a bream hook or tell stories. I did
both. Writing stories followed as naturally as telling them, from my
first play at age ten to profiles for an alumnae magazine at middle
age. But I didn’t think of myself as a writer. Maybe it was too
natural for me. Maybe it was that encounter with James Joyce in
English 101 that left me feeling I didn’t measure up. Either way, I
didn’t try to sell my work nor did I save clips, not even for the
story the New York Times published verbatim but without my byline.
When I finally claimed the title of writer, I valued my work more.
And that’s when I bumped head-on into the difficult part of
How did you decide you
were ready to write As the sycamore grows?
I jumped in with both feet without making a conscious decision that I was ready. My assignment was a 1500 word article due in two weeks, and I met that deadline. The problem? The story wouldn’t compact into the word count, nor into 2500 words. By that time, I had learned there was even more than what drew me in. That’s the way Sycamore unfolded, each new door revealing a deeper level. I listened, taped, made notes and photos until I’d filled a bookshelf with notebooks and then wrote more. I would spread the notebooks and photos all around me when I wrote, on my desk, circling my chair on the floor. One day it occurred to me that I’d built a nest. I stepped into it each time I returned to the computer.
Eventually the 1500 words
grew to 90,000 and the two weeks to five years. It was a journey of
discovery for me right up to the last chapters. Look what I learned
from Mike in the electrically-charged air of an empty store during a
What challenges or
obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you
overcome these challenges?
I told somebody else’s
story---two somebodies. Aside from the logistics involved, meetings,
time and miles, checking, cross-checking, etc., I felt a deep
obligation to tell it right. Mike had never dodged my questions.
Ginger had been totally honest, even about the darkest memories. I
don’t know that anyone has ever trusted me so completely, and that
weighed like a boulder on my shoulders. I had to honor their trust by
getting the story right. I gave it my best effort. Ginger tells me
she’s pleased, that I met the challenge. I haven’t heard from
Mike. We haven’t talked in a long time.
What were the most
surprising things you learned in writing As the sycamore
That eggs will keep for a
year in a bucket of fat. How to operate a chicken plucker. How to
slow the processing of a check by the bank. How people, and how many
people, live under the radar screen of the law and government.
Whom do you believe
will benefit from your book and why? As a follow up, why do you think
this is an important book at this time?
I hope any reader will find it a compelling story. As to who might gain from it, anyone who feels controlled by another or knows someone controlled or controlling. Ginger escaped and that gives hope to others. People can change, and that offers hope even to batterers.
But the book raises many
issues. I’ll tackle the timely one of the role of religion and
abuse. We read accounts in the news about horrific deeds done in
other lands in the name of religion but there are practices in U.S.
churches that foster or condone one person’s control of others. I
know the book has already generated discussion in some churches. I
hope it stirs up enough questions to bring about change. At the very
least, I ‘d like to see women be counselled to find safety, rather
than return to dangerous situations.
Can you tell us how you
found representation for your book? Did you pitch it to an agent, or
query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any
rejections? Did you self-publish?
Yes to all of the above. Technology leapfrogged over the publishing industry, then it was whammied by the recession. I see the industry in an upheaval and, at my age, I can’t wait for them to sort it out. Besides, the expectation today is for the author to do the marketing and promotion. If I’m going to do the work, I want the rewards. So, I formed my own company, Summers Bridgewater Press, Inc., and published As the Sycamore Grows. Work? Oh, yes, and risks. It’s too early to look for rewards, other than the satisfaction I feel.
How have you used the
Internet to boost your writing career and will there by any
unique ways you'll be marketing your book that is different from how
others authors market their books?
For someone who is
self-taught and menu-dependent, I have or intend to use the Internet
in every way possible. I know how to use links, tags, keywords,
widgets, plug-ins, and spiders but don’t have the first concept of
what they are. I have a website, a blog, and a good host. As to
different ways to market my book, sure, but I’m not ready to
divulge secrets yet. Only that one plan has to do with scissors.
Where can our readers find out more about you and As
The Sycamore Grows?
What is next for Jennie
Miller Helderman and is there anything else you wish to add that we
have not covered?
I have more stories running through my head than I’ll ever get to paper. I know a former Ku Klux Klansman I want to interview. There’s the story about the visionary artist who paints her dreams on her doublewide. The historical novel I set aside to write Sycamore. Lots of funeral stories. And now people are coming to me with their stories to tell.
What I’d like to add is
that I’d like readers to come away from Sycamore with a deep
feeling for the people in the book, and that includes Mike. Ginger
believes each of us holds some piece of humanity within us that
allows for change and thus for hope. I want the reader to see that
humanity in Ginger and Mike. And then in all of us.
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
And my thanks to you.