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Mother Daughter Writing Team, Dene Hellman & Ann O'Dell

PILOT TRIBUNE - Mother-daughter team create empowering book - Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Mother-daughter team create empowering book

Wednesday, October 16, 2019 By DANA LARSEN Pilot-Tribune Editor

 Ann O’Dell, a nationally-known psychic advisor and radio host from Early with a hippie vibe, and her mother Dene Hellman, a 90-year-old seasoned writer and editor living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, each contribute stories to “Soliloquy,” newly available through Barnes & Noble. 

 “It’s about women who have gone through tough times, and come out on the other side. A lot of it is based on my life and mom’s life. One story about a child lost in a field - that’s my son,” Ann says. 

“At the same time, this is not an autobiography, so that gives us the freedom to make characters more glamorous and much more cool,” she laughs.

Other stories are inspired by people she has met through doing intuitive readings. “I have a lot of interesting people cross my path.”

 The underlying theme is empowered choices within imperfect life situations. 

“What we wanted to share is that a person can come out on the other side when they least expect it,” Ann says.

Stories within the volume touch on womanhood, the complexities of family and friendship, abuse situations, alternative lifestyles, aging.

“My mother wrote about experiences from child molestation, to being older and respected - one of her stories is called ’50 Shades of Ordinary’,” Ann relates.

Ann’s contributions include, “Psychic in a Redneck Town” and “Child in the Corn.”

While it touches on serious subjects, it is also intentionally easy reading. “I think it’s a fun book,” Ann says.

The mother and daughter team was born “two books ago.”

“After my stepdad died, my mother was going through a crisis. She found it hard to be open about her feelings at that time, but she was able to communicate through poetry,” Ann says.

Putting their work together, they created “Swirls on a Green Plate” and a second volume, “An Explosion of Toads.”

They realized that poetry has a limited reading audience, and that they had stories to be told in another way.

“I come from kind of an Italiano family - I call it my Lutheran Jew family,” Ann says. “There were always stories being told at the dinner table, always exaggerated between my sisters and I, and sometimes with wine glasses flying.”

Dene’s younger years were spent as an actress in a theater guild. “This was one way of getting in tune with the drama mom, not letting her forget a strong part of who she is. She is also an editor, more educated in this than I am, very much insisting on keeping everything proper and straight. I’m a ‘let it all hang out’ kind of writer, so something having my sentences edited was frustrating to me, while at the same time I appreciated what she was doing. I can say that in the process, plates have been thrown.”

Sometimes, two generations of women who are much alike can make for storms in a relationship. “In a way it’s easier to work together by email than it would be in the same house - that was a strategic decision,” Ann says. “We find the relationship even better from a distance - and we don’t have to fight at the dinner table.”

In the beginning, Ann would write a story and email it, Dene would reply with one of her own, and gradually, it became clear that a book was do-able. “It seemed like our writing styles are different, but they sort of complement each other,” Ann says. “It’s been said that mom is the maple tree and I’m the ribbon that dances around her. I just like to say she’s my anchor.”

The women feel their new book will appeal especially to women who have gone through difficult times, from single moms to those who have lived in poverty.

“One character is a girl who was raised in a drug household, given baths between batches of drug-making in the tub. She grows up still not right, but takes in all the wounded animals in her area and finds healing. Sometimes in tragic situations, beauty can come out. You hear of animal hoarders - I believe they were good souls, trying to rescue the world. I had to stick up for them a little bit,” Ann says.

Midwest native Dene has published five books in addition to the poetry volumes with her daughter, including a memoir, a novel, a book of short stories and a volume of contemporary comment.

“Older ladies laugh that my mom has far too much sex in her books,” Ann chuckles. “She used to be an Audrey Hepburn look-alike, and at 90, I think she transfers her sexiness to the keyboard. In words, now she’s young forever.”

Her mother is passing the writing baton in a way with the collaborative effort, Ann feels.

And while it is easy to get published these days, it isn’t easy to make a career of it.

“I want to write, but the hard part is the marketing. Unless you’re willing to get out there and do hardcore marketing of yourself, it’s hard to get noticed. I feel like I’m wearing a pink tutu and a bronze bra holding my book over my head, walking through a wrestling arena screaming ‘Look at me!’ That part is hard for me,” Ann says.

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