Monday, October 12, 2009

Another Writer I Admire



Jennie Helderman lives in Atlanta, Georgia but hails from Alabama. She and I are both members of writersandcritters(also known as wac), an online writers' critque group. The group is for women only and claims members from around the globe. I have known her for several years through our group, but a year ago I had the great pleasure of rooming with her at our wac conference just outside Washington, DC.

I'd admired Jennie before but left with a greater appreciation for this tiny dynamo who is a lot of fun to spend time with. Our third roomie was another southerner, whom I'd met in person previously. I felt so at home with both these gracious women, and our early morning coffee chats were highlights of the time spent delving deep into the crevices of writing and writers.

Jennie has written fiction and nonfiction, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for one of her short stories, and has completed a nonfiction book that details a seventeen year abusive marriage. She wrote a short piece in a writing class that interested the teacher so much that he suggested she expand it. One thing led to another, and she began interviewing the two main characters in her book. Ginger and Mike, their real names, told her their story over many a cup of coffee in small diners, separately.

With great skill and insight, Jennie pieced the story together like a warm winter quilt. She submitted it, chapter by chapter, to our critique group. There, the members told Jennie the things they liked and the ones they didn't. She wrote and rewrote, subbed the chapters again and again until she was satisfied. Jennie began looking for an agent/publisher when the book felt complete enough to show it to professional eyes.

Our wac conference gave her a golden opportunity since an agent would be one of our guest speakers. Jennie would give her pitch to the agent in front of all of us. Picture yourself sitting in front of an agent trying to convince her in a matter of minutes that your book is worthy of publication. And doing it in front of 20+ women who are hanging on every word you speak.

For the few days prior to the big event, I watched Jennie prepare for what might be the most important speech she'd ever give. She worked on it in every spare moment, continued committing it to memory. Finally, the big day arrived, and we had our morning coffee and chit-chat before the meetings began. On the outside, she appeared calm and confident, but I could imagine how her stomach must be churning with butterflies dancing their way around it.

After the agent spoke to the entire group, Jennie went to the front, sat on a chair and looked at the agent and began to speak. Her voice was strong, and she never faltered in her presentation. It was letter perfect, and when she finished, a collective sigh could be felt amongst her wac sisters. I'd like to tell you that the agent scooped up the book immediately, but she didn't.

That didn't stop our Jennie, as she continued to look for an agent or publisher, created a platform and a website, and as of today, a blog. She is a realist and she knows that the chances of her book being published are not huge, but she is also one of the most persistant people I know, and she'll keep trying until she's satisfied that she's left no stone unturned.

I have read the book and found it an amazing read. A story that sounds made up is true, a life that was controlled and abused emerged as a independent woman who helps other abused women. The story is riveting, and the writing excellent. Someone is going to agree with that and publish the book. I'll be first in line for an autographed copy.

We can all take a lesson from Jennie. Don't give up if you have a project you believe in. She continues to work on other projects, but Ginger's story is never folded up and put away, it's always in her marketing plan.
Read more about Jennie and her writing at http://www.jenniehelderman.com/

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