Autumn brings a cornucopia of crisper air, falling
leaves, scattered pinecones, and the waning year as a
poignant reminder for reminiscing on the passing of
family and friends. How much more nostalgic the
harvest season becomes when our loved ones has an
autumn birthday or fall passage.
It’s still difficult for me to imagine that it’s been
over three years since the passing of Charlene Bowen,
a published RWA member and a cherished friend who had
Born on September 14, 1936, Charlene seriously pursued
a writing career beginning in midlife when the
youngest of her four children was almost grown. By
1984-85, Charlene stumbled onto a writing class taught
by the late Dorothy Grassman of Tacoma, WA. Although
she had previously written small pieces, taking this
class profoundly changed her life, for she found her
calling as a writer. There, Charlene wrote her first
book, “A Summer’s Love Dream,” which later was
published as her fourth book.
Charlene was reticent an unassuming, but known
throughout the Pacific Northwest. She was a member of
the now defunct Tacoma Chapter. She frequently
attended both the Seattle Chapter’s “Emerald City
Writer’s Conference” and the Peninsula Chapter
Conference, “Sleepless in Silverdale.” She also
expressed an interest in RCRW’s Reader’s Luncheon and
doubtless, in time, would have attended our annual
I first met Charlene at the 1992 Sleepless in
Silverdale Conference where we were roommates. A
lifelong friendship and mentoring began.
It was the second RWA out-of-state/regional conference
that I attended. We were initially introduced on the
telephone when the Silverdale conference committee
matched us as roommates. I carpooled with two other
RCRW members–who I shall remain ever
grateful–because without them, I would not have had
the means to attend the conference and meet Charlene
who was to become a very dear friend. We connected
immediately despite my superfluous and formal knock on
our hotel room door.
It was also a time of grieving for me. My father and
pets had just passed and they weighed heavily on my
mind. At one point, I broke down and sobbed in our
hotel room. Charlene was very comforting and to
distract me, she handed me several of her published
books–to keep! I was astonished by her generosity and
naturally felt bad about burdening her with my grief.
She thought differently and admirably knew how to cope
with a situation that had been thrust upon her without
warning. In fact, the incident probably brought us
closer in spirit.
Our love of writing drew us together and nourished
that connection. We understood and admired each other
in spite of a generation gap. Throughout the years, we
kept in touch the old fashioned way–be letters. We
became pen pals, confidants, and much more–kindred
spirits who mentored each other’s writings, cheered
our successes, and commiserated over those proverbial
We were always in each others thoughts. Non-judgmental
and unconditional in her friendship, supportive of my
writing, Charlene was a trusted friend, nurturing and
I always looked forward to to Charlene’s letters. As
soon as one arrived, embellished with pink rose
labels, I immediately put everything aside to devour
it. Her unique sense of humor had me smiling over the
amusing, endearing and even whimsical ways she
expressed herself. I particularly enjoyed her
handwritten notes in the margins of her letters,
decorated with teatime stickers.
When Charlene passed on March 18, 2003, she was in the
midst of upgrading her computer. In time, doubtless,
some of our age old letter writing would have evolved
into email, list serves, and perhaps eventually text
messaging. Despite the initial learning curve, I
believe that Charlene would have enjoyed the
convenience of the internet. Had she lived longer, we
would have been sending emails back and
forth–naturally thoughtfully written ones when our
cyber muses took letter flight.
A charter member of the Tacoma Chapter, Charlene
served as secretary and member-at-large. She was
considered one of its hardest workers, volunteering to
keep it and the special events programs running
smoothly. She also spoke at Washington state RWA
meetings and elsewhere on writing novels and
confession stories and contributed articles to her
chapter’s newsletter, “Love Notes.”
Altogether, Charlene published ten hardcover
contemporary romance novels with Avalon Books. They
garnered high reviews both in romance review friendly
websites and magazines and in literary journals and
Charlene was more of a seat-of-the-pants type of
writer, preferring to discover her characters and
plots as her story unfolded rather than using detailed
Charlene set most of her books in the Pacific
Northwest, namely Washington (Tacoma, Olympia,
Seattle, and Puget Sound) as well as her travels to
Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Except for the
large cities, most of her locations are fictitious
ones which she thoroughly enjoyed creating.
Charlene specialized in writing the sweet traditional
contemporary romance, including heartwarming romantic
comedy and westerns. Her characters are so realistic
and alive that the reader cares about and falls in
love with them. She cast her heroines as young women,
estranged from family or surviving on their own, often
as a guardian or surrogate parent. Her heroes are
usually a mix of the alpha, beta, and theta archetypes
–nice guys who are both vulnerable and compelling yet
successful in their livelihood.
Some of the themes that Charlene utilized in her books
are: cowboys, ranches, small towns, marriage of
convenience, boss/secretary, lawyers, the rich girl,
guardians, orphan children, fish out of water, next
door neighbors, estranged families, sheriffs,
teachers, reunions, and the aircraft industry
including female pilots and male flight engineers–the
latter which she drew upon from her husband’s career
as an Air Force Sergeant.
The first Charlene Bowen book I read was “The
Wandering Heart,” which was her first published book
but her third written. Its title intrigued me and the
others likewise called to my soul: “To Catch A
Rainbow,” “Reach For A Star,” “A Summer’s Love Dream,”
Where the Heart Waits,” “Lessons From the Heart,”
“Secrets of the Heart,” “The Knight Next Door,”
“Montana Sunrise,” and “Rancher’s Lady.”
Charlene’s novels are well crafted, engaging reads
which I keep in a special place of honor in a corner
bookcase. I appreciate her books because they exude a
gentle, peaceful calm that leaves the reader longing
for more. Her serene writing style combined with
sympathetic characters immediately hooks the reader.
Charlene was an extremely dedicated writer. She was
always working on a novel or submitting her writings
for publication or entry into a contest. She was a
writer in every sense of the word.
Charlene won Avalon’s Holiday Fiction Contest for her
manuscript that originally was titled “Shadows and
Secrets” which was published as “Secrets of the Heart”
in 1995. She also won a literary contest award from
Pacific Northwest Writers Association.
Additionally, Charlene finalled for the Robin Award in
the Laubach Literary Contest. With my encouragement,
she entered our own RCRW’s Golden Rose contest.
Although she didn’t place, she continued to submit her
work elsewhere in other contests.
Charlene published over 100+ confessional and
inspirational short stories, articles, essays, and
poems. Of late, she concentrated on writing romantic
suspense, contemporary westerns, and inspirational
contemporary and prairie romance (1800-1899).
Upon her passing, Charlene had completed several
unpublished manuscripts and was exploring publication
into the inspirational, suspense, and e-book markets
(including reissuing her back list). She was also
interested in writing for the young adult and
paranormal markets. Doubtless, she had more stories to
write which sadly will never be read.
I so looked forward to Charlene breaking out into
romance series or mass market paperback release, or
even trade paperback. She very much wanted to achieve
further publication and her writings would have been
so deserving of it.
Charlene’s influence on the romance industry was
subtle but pervasive. She was supportive of and
dedicated to the romance genre, encouraging of others
endeavors. She judged the RITA for the inspirational
category and regularly judged other RWA contests,
namely the Golden Heart and the Orange Rose. With
delight, she followed the career progress of those
entrants she judged.
I, myself, experienced first hand her perceptive
insights into the writing process and I value her
advice. With her knowledge and experience, Charlene
skillfully discerned when something was wrong with a
story and provided useful suggestions on how to fix
Charlene was a beautiful spirit. A devoted wife,
mother, and grandmother, she was also a true friend
and confidante, and a genuinely lovely person. It was
both a blessing and an honor to have known her. Those
of us who knew her, fondly remember her and miss her
Sometimes when I attend a writing event such as a
conference, workshop, or a luncheon–especially if it
has a rose theme, I wear the lovely rose pin that
Charlene gave me. During those times, I often say, “I
think I’ll take Charlene with me today.” Indeed, it’s
as if she accompanies me to the event. It’s a
bittersweet comfort as I imagine her by my side.
Naturally, I think what life would be like were
Charlene still alive happily writing and publishing.
Charlene is certainly with the angels and heavenly
muses, ethereally surrounded by fragrant roses–her
favorite flower. As she tends to her literary garden
above, complete with a rose quill for writing or
perhaps something more virtual and digital, may she
know that our friendship still lives on within my
heart. Adieu, dear friend, until we meet in spirit.
— Vonnie Alto
Portland, OR (11/16/06)
That was beautiful. I too will look for Charlene’s books. I’m so glad you and she did get to meet and become friends. I especially like that you “take Charlene with you” when you wear the rose pin.
Happy New Year,
What a wonderful legacy for Charlene to have left with the rest of us. I’d like to find some of her books.
Thank you for sharing!
Comments are closed.