Helen grew up in a middle class, blue-collar Democrat household in Cleveland, Ohio. As an adult, she's lived in every region of the U.S.

When she was thirteen, Helen joined a Catholic lay institute led by a charismatic but abusive priest. Her faith shattered, she left the institute and her childhood faith when she was twenty-one. She attended Catholic schools through her M.A. at John Carroll University. At the University of Illinois, she studied English literature with a focus on modern American poetry and wrote her thesis on Theodore Roethke. She was awarded a PhD in 1973.

Lucky enough to both land professional jobs, she and her first husband left the Midwest for the Finger Lakes region where Helen taught at Ithaca College in the Applied Writing Program, an attempt to separate teaching writing from teaching literature. After a stint as a receptionist at J. C. Penny's in Utah, and the birth of a daughter in South Carolina, Helen moved to Albuquerque with her family. When her daughter was a baby she volunteered at Planned Parenthood, then worked at McDonnell-Douglas doing everything the engineers didn't do.

After her divorce, she moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico, for a job as a technical writer and editor at the national laboratory there. She translated complex scientific research for a lay audience in annual reports and award-winning presentations. She left the Lab to teach literature and technical writing at the University of New Mexico and work at Otowi Station Bookstore. She met her second husband in Los Alamos and they formed a family with their three children. After their youngest child headed for college, Helen and her husband left the high desert for the lush forest of the Pacific Northwest. They plan to stay in Portland, Oregon, for the rest of their lives.

A passionate advocate for independent booksellers, Helen put her love of books to work at two of Portland’s most venerable book stores, Annie Bloom’s Books and more recently, Powell’s Books. For many years, she attended weekly classes at The Pinewood Table, a writing group led by writers Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose. With their help, she has written and published narrative nonfiction and fiction (see Publication) and has completed a memoir, Thursday's Child, about the eight years she spent in the lay institute. Her works in progress are finding a small press who wants to publish her memoir and writing a collection of short stories.