Join Jennie Helderman, author of the nonfiction narrative, As the Sycamore Grows (Summers Bridgewater Press), as she virtually tours the blogosphere in May 2011 on her second virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book!
About Jennie Helderman
Jennie Helderman broke the glass ceiling at age ten by becoming the first girl page in the Alabama State Legislature. That surge of girl power wouldn’t be the last time she saw a need to put women’s issues at the forefront. Years later, after she helped set up a crisis-call center in an old house, a cry for help at the other end of the phone line resounded in her head. That call was the catalyst; eventually, the empty bedrooms upstairs served as the community’s first shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
From there, Helderman began work with women’s issues and leadership, community development, public relations and communications, beginning in Gadsden, Alabama, and reaching to national levels. She has championed women’s and children’s issues and worked with child abuse victims. From 2000 until her term expired in 2006, she presided over the six-member board of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, which serves 520,000 clients each month and oversees all family abuse issues in the state.
A 2007 Pushcart Prize nominee, Helderman coauthored two nonfiction books, Christmas Trivia and Hanukkah Trivia and writes profiles for magazines. Previously she chaired the editorial board of the 120,000 circulation alumnae magazine of Kappa Kappa Gamma, The Key.
Helderman is married to a retired newspaper publisher; is the mother of two and grandmother of three; and has recently moved from Alabama to Atlanta. Her website address is www.jenniehelderman.com.
About As the Sycamore Grows
As the Sycamore Grows is a true story about abuse, loss, redemption and hope.
Think about Sleeping with the Enemy out in the woods when the enemy totes a Bible and packs a .38. Mike slapped and shoved, but his primary tools were isolation and economic abuse. Until he discovered the power of the Lord as another means of control. Ginger was brought up to pray and obey, but she escaped the isolation and poverty of the cabin hidden behind a padlocked gate.
Both Ginger and Mike speak, as do family, friends, in-laws and exes. Thus Ginger is revealed as a flawed heroine, a rebellious teenager who abandoned her baby. Mike ran away to escape his father’s fists and yet, years later, he glimpsed himself in his father’s casket.
From south Texas to a Foxfire lifestyle in Tennessee, they spiraled downward into poverty by Mike’s choice, and abuse enforced by religion and a gun.
Undergirding the abuse is loss: the alienation of families, the spiritual void from betrayal of church, and the death of the son Ginger abandoned. This boy’s suicide as a teenager, symbolized by the sycamore tree, became the wedge that allowed Ginger to break free and ultimately to work toward ending the legacy of abuse.
Read the Excerpt!
A noise. Ginger awoke, listened. The hum of a motor, the scrunch of tires creeping along the road outside the cabin. She reached over to her husband’s side of the bed. Empty. Where he was heading in the thin light of dawn, she didn’t know. Mike McNeil didn’t offer explanations for his comings and goings. She knew better than to ask.
She rolled back onto her pillow, wide awake now. She could see the black handle of Mike’s .38 at the edge of the closet shelf. Mike seldom strapped the gun to his belt anymore. He had made his point. She wouldn’t take it again and he knew it.
The light was still too dim to see the photos fastened with thumb tacks to the rough-sawn boards next to the closet. It didn’t matter. She pictured them in her mind. She and Mike had squeezed into the metal kiosk at a truck stop that day and posed fast, before their quarter ran out. Mike had just trimmed his beard. A good memory.
Birds chirped outside.
Time to rise. She rolled out of bed.
In the boys’ room, she stood over her sons and smiled. Casey’s feet hung off the foot of his bed. He’d hit a growing spell the day he turned thirteen. She kissed his forehead, then his brother’s.
“Wake up, both of you. Casey, I’m going to put a brick on your head or you’ll outgrow everything you own.” She laughed and gave twelve-year-old Jody a nudge.
In the next room, she built a fire in the woodstove to chase off the morning chill. Atop the stove, water for coffee heated in a blue enamel pot while the last of the oatmeal cooked in a dented stewer. The boys would have the oatmeal. She wasn’t hungry.
She laced up her boots and trudged up the hill to milk the cow while they ate breakfast.
An ordinary morning at the cabin in the woods where she lived with Mike and their two sons.
Nothing different or ominous, nothing to suggest that before noon on September 29, 2000, Ginger would make her escape.
She forced a needle through pigskin for a rifle pad while each boy pulled on his one pair of jeans. Better pick beans today before the sun gets up in the sky. Summer didn’t like to let go here at the bottom of Tennessee, and this day would be hot by noon. She twisted her hair through her fingers, wishing she could pull it up off her neck. Or cut it.
Casey crossed the kitchen in two steps, gathered his homework under one arm, and dashed out the door. Knees, elbows and perpetual motion, he disappeared up the hill. Jody lumbered in from the bedroom and fumbled with his papers, a scowl on his face.
Still my little freckle-faced boy.
Jody and Casey had entered school for the first time this year, a small church school just across the state line in Alabama. She’d hoped they would like a regular school but so far it was a split decision. It was early, just three weeks into the school year. Plenty of time yet to adjust.
She gave Jody a quick squeeze before hurrying both boys toward her old Honda. They had ten miles to drive to school.
Mike spotted the blue of Ginger’s car in the distance as he returned home. He checked his watch and calculated when she would be back. At the cabin, he opened his Bible to Revelations and read until time to go. He tromped down their dirt road to the blacktop where he ducked into the trees to watch for her car. Leaning against a pine, he lit a Winston Gold, then another as soon as it burned to the filter.
The last time she left, he had watched her. He could see to the bottom of the hill where, that time, she’d stopped for a few minutes, backed up the road, then stopped again. She was trying to pick up a signal on that car phone, way out here.
He was on to her.
Ginger slowed to turn between two scrub oaks onto their road when she returned from the school. The galvanized metal gate stood open. Mike didn’t always padlock it now like he once did. He’d made that point, too.
This time her tires crunched against the road as she headed the quarter mile toward the honeysuckle vines and briars that hid the cabin. Mike didn’t want anybody in his business. If somehow anybody slipped past the padlock and wandered up the road, they could pass within thirty yards of the cabin and never know it was there.
They’d built the cabin back in 1996, when they had to vacate the rental house in a hurry. She and Mike sawed and hammered while the boys, young as they were, toted and hauled. Five hundred square feet divided into two rooms, board and batten sides, a tin roof. No electricity, no phone, by design.
Mike’s car sat in tall grass just off the road. She parked beside him and called his name when she got out of the car. No answer.
Backtracking down the road, Ginger walked to Trent’s tree, a young sycamore she had named in memory of her oldest son. She had first planted an apple tree for Trent, but ants made a bed at its base. When she poisoned the ants, she killed the tree. The sycamore was a sapling that came up in the compost pile. A smile spread across her face. The sycamore was thriving. She’d kept a close watch on it.
She hurried to the garden. Time to pick beans.
Watch the Trailer!
Here’s what critics are saying about As the Sycamore Grows!
“Jennie Helderman has taken a heart-breaking issue and boiled it down to human beings, of flesh and blood and lost days and fearful nights. It opens the door on a too-common human story, and closes you in with it.”
— Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Most They Ever Had, All Over But the Shouting, Ava’s Man, and The Prince of Frogtown.
“Rarely has a story of a woman’s courageous fight for freedom been told in such an eloquent and moving way. And, even more unusual, we get an open view into the twisted mentality of a man who was able, like so many abusers, to convince the outside world that he was normal. A hard book to put down.”
— Lundy Bancroft, author of “Why Does He Do That?” and co-author of “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”
“This is a page turner! A powerful portrayal of mind control!
—Patricia Evans, author of Controlling People
“This story grabs hold of your heart and squeezes it dry. It is a tale so touching, so emotionally overwhelming, women will cringe and thank God they never had to walk in Ginger’s shoes, and men will wish they could have met Ginger’s husband in a dark alley. I applaud author Jennie Helderman’s gift for writing, I marvel at Ginger’s courage for sharing it.”
— Jedwin Smith, two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, author of Our Brother’s Keepers and Fatal Treasure
“The book is a cautionary tale about the myriad ways in which a bully can dominate, intimidate, and control a weaker individual. It is both a warning sign and call to action to any reader who sees herself or someone she loves in its pages. And that is its real value.”
“I VERY highly recommend this book! It is beautifully written. It will absolutely hook you from the very beginning and it grips you until the very end. At first, when we enter Ginger’s story it’s later in her story, and I wondered to myself why we were going to bounce around and not just tell the story straight through, but it works well the way the author does it! Afterwards I realized that I really liked the way the author put it together. I appreciate that Jennie Helderman advocates for women and children, and I am glad that she shared this inspiring story!”
“I hired two publicists, one who is the walking Rolodex of Atlanta book promotion, and the other, an equally well-connected man in Los Angeles, to handle national promotion. Both were major investments of money but worth every penny.”
“I better enjoy research because it’s essential for me as a writer, even if I’m writing fiction. A reader will buy into my story as long as I’m authentic. If the protagonist is a NASCAR driver, I have to know where Talladega is. Or, if I say the house at 809 Maple in Baycross is really a brothel, I better find out if someone lives in a house at that address, else I’m inviting a law suit.”
Jennie Helderman’s AS THE SYCAMORE GROWS VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ‘10 will officially begin on May 2and end on May 27 ’11. Please contact Dorothy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in hosting and/or reviewing her book or click here to use the form. Thank you!
If you would like to book your own virtual book tour with us, click here to find out how!
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