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Charlene Brown and Clover Valley Press: Publishing dreams

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There's some truth to the adage that everyone has a story to tell. The hard part, as many writers will attest, is getting the story down on paper. Once over that hurdle, the task of editing and finding a publisher await. With lots of hard work and good luck, the story may find its way into the hands of readers. What starts as a good idea for a book can suddenly seem like a monumental and overwhelming task.

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Charlene Brown, however, has made a second career of lowering the hurdles and turning aspiring women writers into published authors.

"I see my role as a helping professional," Brown said. "Everyone needs a good editor, and first-time authors need a partner with experience to make their book a success ... creating a work that you can be proud of and that reaches enough readers to make an impact."

Brown has published 10 books, by authors whose names are familiar to northern Minnesota readers: Joan Drury, Jen Wright, Julia Williams and poets such as Ellie Schoenfeld and Deborah Gordon Cooper, Duluth's poet laureate.

Brown, who also works full-time at the University of Minnesota Duluth library, holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in English literary studies. She has worked as an editor for newspapers, magazines and on a freelance basis for many years.

It was her desire to help a friend, and the inspiration of a friend's foray into publishing that influenced her decision to start her own company.

"My good friend, Jen Wright, wrote a mystery, and she asked me for advice about how to get it published. When she wasn't able to find a publisher, she was frustrated, and I wanted to help make her dream come true," Brown said.

Author and North Shore resident Jen Wright, who released her latest title early this year, "Dead Ahead: A Jo Spencer Mystery" recalled that when she first discussed her dream of being an author with Brown, something she said had been in the back of her mind for some time.

"She said, 'You know, I think you can do it,'" Wright said, and once she started writing, she completed her manuscript in just five weeks. Brown edited it and sent it to one publisher and then another. Both passed on the opportunity, but Brown was not willing to let that be the end of the conversation.

"Charlene said, 'I'm going to try to publish it,' and she did. I was her first effort,'" Wright said. The book, "Killer Storm: A Jo Spencer Mystery," came out in 2007. Wright's second book in the series came out in 2009.

In a few weeks, Brown and poets Cooper, Schoenfeld, Candace Ginsberg, Ann Floreen Niedringhaus and Anne Simpson will celebrate the release of "Bound Together: Like the Grasses," a title that came from a line in a Jane Kenyon poem: "These things happen... the soul's bliss and suffering are bound together like the grasses."

This is the women's second collaborative anthology, and it weaves together their joys, sorrows and transitions -- retirements, the birth of grandchildren, illnesses and the passing of loved ones, Cooper said, adding that after 16 years of meeting monthly as a writing group, the women have forged a bond and find inspiration in sharing their work and lives.

"We're extremely close," she said. Simpson echoed the sentiment, "We don't know exactly when our group began, but we can't remember when we weren't."

Both Cooper and Wright are generous with their praise of Brown's work and relationship to her writers.

"She is absolutely fabulous to work with. She's a very gentle soul with a huge heart ... very affirming," Cooper said, adding that Brown is always careful to ensure that writers are comfortable and feel a part of decisions made in the publishing process. Wright said she feels fortunate to have worked with Brown on each of her Jo Spencer mysteries.

Brown's description of her role and the praise of her authors reflect something beyond an interest in just selling books. The motto of Clover Valley Press is: "Publishing quality books by women of the Northland," and "the books have to fit that niche," Brown said, and because publishing is something she does in addition to her work at the library, she said she has to "care a lot about the story or the poetry and the author."

"I am so pleased with each book that goes out into the world," she said.

Brown said she especially would like to expand her list of lesbian mysteries, such as the Jo Spencer series, and submissions in this genre are especially welcome.

"Readers across the country are searching for that genre, and I enjoy it myself," she said. "I value so highly the early lesbian feminist publishers who took great risks to open doors to writers who were excluded ... I do this work to honor those who came before me, and for the sheer fun of it."

The book release event and public reading for "Bound Together: Like the Grasses" is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at Trepanier Hall, 212 W. Second St. in Duluth. The book will be available for $14.95 plus tax at the release party and through local bookstores, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com. For more information, call (218) 525-4552

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