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Gainesville native pens fictional tale of a Southern woman

Book releases this week with signing in city

POSTED: May 29, 2014 1:00 a.m.

A natural Southern lady herself, Helen M. Martin spent many years reading avidly and teaching just the same before writing about a woman in the South.

Martin grew up in Gainesville, went to school at Brenau University and stayed around as a teacher and assistant principal for 40 years in the Gainesville City School system. Now in her retirement, she turned her writing hobby into a labor of love with her novel, “From the Dust of Death.”

The story focuses on Grace Lively, a Southern woman living after the Civil War as a penal caretaker for prisoners in a convict-leasing system. The novel follows Lively and the convicts as they fight, change and try to survive the system.

Martin will celebrate the release of the book with a signing from 2-4 p.m. Saturday at the Hunt Tower Atrium on Main Street.

While Martin will share her imagination with readers, she talked about her novel with The Times.

Question: How did you learn about the convict lease system and caretakers that are the basis for “From the Dust of Death?”

Answer: When I was in college, I was taking a course called “The History of the New South.” I read a quip in one of the textbooks, when I was a student at Brenau University. That summer, when Brenau didn’t offer summer classes, I went to the University of Georgia for summer school and I spent all of my extra moments researching it. I started writing bits and pieces on vacation. The ideas grew, and I worked on it a little bit here and there. And when I retired, I decided to get this thing finished up.

Q: Why did you feel the need to tell Grace Lively’s story?

A: While I have seen over time that life changed in the black and white communities, I have not seen as much progress as I had hoped would happen. I wanted to tell her story to show that as early as that time period, there was someone (who) wanted communication between the groups and people who knew what would happen in the future. I thought she was a progressive in that community. I had never seen that difference that existed then between groups of children that I have taught over the years.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors or inspirations?

A: I have two. John Grisham on the lighter side, and James Michener. I collect his first editions, and I have almost all of their books. I love Eugenia Price, and I have hand-signed books from Michener and Price. And I just love reading, that’s really it. I also love Pearl S. Buck. She wrote under a pen name sometimes because she wrote so much. I love her background; she had a lovely childhood and a fabulous life.

Q: What are your favorite works that you’ve completed?

A: I’ve written lots of poems and mini-stories. When I was teaching I had the children write a book, and we bound those books and entered them in contests, and had a top 100 book. I love to inspire children; I wrote right along with them and put my poems and stories up in the halls with them. It’s always been a part of me.

Q: What has been the most exciting part of writing “From the Dust of Death” and getting it published?

A: It’s been the encouragement I’ve gotten from everyone who assisted me when the project was finished, and just knowing that I have reached a milestone. My story was completed and I told the story I wanted to tell. Sammy Lively was based on a grandfather I had in the Civil War; some of the names are family names.


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