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Business connections

The creation of Red Step Press is a story of connections.

Lindsy O'Brien met Aaron Brown on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus in 2003 when the two took the same creative writing class. Over the years their friendship morphed into a business that catapulted him to the title of book author and her to the ownership of an independent publishing company, Red Step Press.

O'Brien, who lives in Superior, had toyed with the idea of opening a publishing company for years. An employee of Barnes & Noble in Duluth for more than seven years, she had always been intrigued by the local books section. And she had watched the "mass exodus" of classmates after graduation.

"I want to make people feel like they can stay," O'Brien said. Even in a small town, she said, people can do the extraordinary.

Meanwhile, up on the Iron Range, Brown was turning out columns for the Hibbing Daily Tribune and local radio station KAXE as well as teaching at the community college.

A fifth-generation Iron Ranger, he wanted to write something lasting for his three sons.

"He told me about his book idea," O'Brien said, and that gave her the push she needed to open Red Step Press.

"The theme of my company is people who stay in small towns, small cities and make a difference," O'Brien said.

The part-time business, based in Duluth, consists of a computer and phone.

"You don't need to have an office," O'Brien said. "You don't need to have a book printer."

What you do need, she said, is a great project.

Oh, and about $200 to create the business -- file a tax number, tax ID and business name, then run a legal ad two times in the area newspaper. Plus plenty of on-the-job training.

"You learn what you have to learn to make it work," O'Brien said. Editing, marketing, distribution, finding a cover design, choosing a printing company, even designing a Web site were all part of the job description. Some weeks, O'Brien put in up to 60 hours on the project. These days, she spends about two hours a day boxing and sending books.

While most publishers get complete manuscripts ready for editing, O'Brien had a hand in determining what essays would be in the book. Her sister, Kelly, a UWS graduate, took pictures for the publication. Another UWS alum and graphic artist, Christie Culliton, created the front cover.

The result was "Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range," a compilation of essays of Brown.

"It's a really substantial book" with great depth, said Barton Sutter, author and UWS English professor. Pieces range from the personal to the historical, with an eye toward the humor in situations.

"I don't know how many voices of this type have been heard," Sutter said. "People need to see their own identity and their own history reflected back at them. That is one of the reasons why art exists."

For Brown, the book is about home.

"Beyond that, it's about being a young adult in a place with a rich history, a place that's on the brink of change," he said. "You have the option of staying. You can do what fits your life."

While pulling together old articles and penning new ones for the piece, he and his wife welcomed twin sons into the world.

"The result, I think, is better," Brown said. "It now reflects the busiest time of my life."

And his need to pass his legacy down to the next generation.

"You're part of a chain," he said. "Part of something that came before."

Three signed copies of "Overburden" sit in Brown's home, waiting to be passed to his sons -- Henry, Douglas and George. For everyone else, the wait for the book ended with its official release Tuesday. Copies are available at Barnes & Noble as well as most bookstores in Duluth and on the Iron Range. The marketing push continues with a book signing event from 5-7 p.m. Thursday at Howard Street Booksellers in Hibbing. A November event is also planned at Barnes & Noble in Duluth.

"It's been a long process, but it's really been a lot of fun," O'Brien said. And it helped to have an author who is a friend.

"We were both out for each other's best interests," she said. "I want him to be successful; he wants me to be successful."

Every connection along the way was important, O'Brien said, especially the many ties to UWS.

"I find good writers here," Sutter said, yet "in 20 years of teaching, only one of my students has gone on to publish a book."

At the same time, another launched a business.

"I think that's a wonderful story," Sutter said.