Interview with Norma Jean Lutz

You are credited with writing over 50 novels, yet you began by writing feature articles and short stories. How did you transition from feature magazine writer to novelist?
I have over 50 published books to my name, but not all are novels. Many are nonfiction works, most published through Chelsea House Publishing, and all for mid-high readers. I was delighted to take part in their author biography series where I studied lives of past authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald among others. I was entranced to say the least.

The transition from smaller works to full-length novels was like turning around an ocean liner. Slow, slow, slow! Even while writing and selling magazine articles and short stories, my focus was ever on becoming a novelist. I wanted nothing less.

I had created a comfort zone of earning with the smaller works, and it was extremely difficult to release that bit of security to invest time writing a novel, but I just did it. I knew what I wanted and knew what it required to get there. It was a long journey and I experienced many brick walls and dead ends along the way. The world of publishing has never been easy.

On top of my yearly goals list was this statement: “I will hold my published book in my hand this year.” When it was time to create a new list for the following year, and no published book, I placed the very same statement at the top of the next year’s list. And the next, and the next, until it finally came to pass. I look back and am so thankful that I never quit. I never gave up.
You write for a young adult audience and your subject is based on historical events. How did you decide to mesh those two together, because it's worked out to be a pretty good union.
I did author eight novels for adults for Barbour Publishing, but those were written mainly because the opportunity to write for a certain genre presented itself. The door was open and I walked through, but I knew that was not where I wanted to camp.

My heart has always been, and still is, with young adults. My passion is to write for students, and I love hanging out with them as well. I’m an active sponsor in the youth group at my local church so I’m talking with and listening to junior high and high school students on a regular basis.

The opportunity to write historical novels for mid-grade readers came to me through Barbour Publishing via the American Adventure Series. The original series was comprised of 48 books of which I authored 16. (The marketing statement was: From Plymouth Rock to Pearl Harbor. The books covered that entire time period.) It turned out to be my adventure. I had such fun writing for this series and was loathe to see it end. I had no idea at the outset how much joy and delight I would derive from writing historical fiction.

I have since authored six teen contemporary romance, all of which are included in the Norma Jean Lutz Classic Collection. Well, sort of contemporary—they all take place in the 1980s and 1990s, predating cell phones and texting. Kids love them.
What was your favorite time era to write about?
My file cabinets are still jam-packed with file folders full of research that I conducted not only for the American Adventure Series (later the Sisters in Time), but also the four adult Tulsa Series novels (which take place in Tulsa in the early 1920s).

I have to admit that I was enthralled with each era I wrote about. I learned so much about America history that I never knew before. So I can’t say I any one was my favorite. I guess my favorite was the one I was working on at the time. I just felt so blessed to be able to bring these time periods to life for my readers. Plus the added blessing of weaving in the Christian theme.
Your name is intriguing. It has a poetic ring to it. Tell a little about your name and your family
This is a loaded question. During all my growing up years I hated my name. My biological father’s name was Norman. He was a ne’er-do-well who left the home when I was about 3. I was not the firstborn – my older sister received the lovely name of Carolyn Louise. I never understood why the firstborn was not saddled with the derivative of our no-account father’s name.

I hated the name Norma so much, that by the time I reached college age, I began insisting everyone call me by both names – Norma Jean. Much later, everyone knew that that was Marilyn Monroe’s birth name, so then it became a sort of joke and the stigma slowly began to fade. But the real freedom came when I learned that the name Norma means model or pattern. And Jean means gift of God. I then embraced my name and now strive to put that meaning into practice both in my daily life and in my writing. (But I still insist on being called Norma Jean! Some habits die hard.)

A step father came into the picture when I was six, and later two younger siblings arrived. Ours was a fairly quiet home in a quiet small Kansas town. However, the home was void of love or warmth. And few if any books. (What a tragedy!) God has more than made up for any lack either real or perceived.
An ongoing question writers often ponder is which is most important; experience or research. Can you weigh in on the debate?
All I can say in answer to that question is if I had had to rely on experience, my list of novels would have been really really short. I hadn’t been any place; I hadn’t done much of anything. But I loved to make up stories!

The “write-what-you-know” advice is – in my humble opinion – pretty thin. The most interesting thing about that statement is that few of us actually know what we know. We only begin to discover what we know as we plot our story and develop our characters. Then we find out what we didn’t know that we knew. (Does that make any sense to anyone but me?)

Add to that the fact that I get a natural high on research. At some point, I have to pull back the reins and stop researching or I would continue researching instead of writing my novel.
Literacy is an important issue in our world today. With so many "things" vying for the attention of our young people, how can parents encourage reading within their family unit?
I was reading aloud to my two children (son and daughter) before they could talk, and had them in the library before they could walk. I read to them constantly. They then were naturally readers and lovers of books.

My son’s home today is filled with overloaded bookshelves and his son is an avid book lover. My daughter’s three children are all early, eager readers. Both families read aloud to the children early on. Yes, they all have their electronic toys, gadgets, and devices, but still love to read.

I could write pages and pages on this subject. And I have. There’s only one way to encourage reading and that is to read. Reading aloud to a child creates a bonding time that exists in no other way. It’s a unique shared experience quite unlike watching a movie or a TV show.

If I could speak to young families everywhere, I would encourage them to turn off all the electronics and set aside a special block of time once or twice a week for a read-aloud-together time. It’s a given that children who love books are better students across the board. For who can name a field of study that doesn’t require reading?
Aside from being an accomplished author and writer, you consult and mentor other writers and aspiring novelists through your Be A Novelist program. Tell about it.
The passion within me to teach has--all throughout my career--been nearly as strong as the passion to write. I had only a couple of articles published when I asked permission to address my son’s sixth-grade English class. (And his teacher was kind enough to let me.)

I had struggled for so long to be published, I immediately wanted to teach others how to make it happen. Through the years, I created local workshops which I taught; I’ve spoken at writer’s conferences all across the country; and even founded and served as coordinator, an annual conference in the Tulsa area. We called it the Professionalism in Writing School, where we brought writers and editors together for a two-day conference. At times our attendance was close to 200. It was hard work, but I loved helping writers get their start.

During the 90s, I served as an instructor on staff for an international correspondence writing school. My tenure lasted nearly a decade. I carried the full load allowed for an instructor which meant my office was filled with file cabinets and file boxes under the desk holding student files. What an education. It was like holding the position of an editor. I loved all my students and was pretty much in seventh heaven throughout that entire time.

Now using the broad reach of the Internet I am using technology to encourage more writers than I ever did through physical writer’s conferences. While I teach writers in many capacities, I mainly focus on novelists – because that’s my first love. Be A Novelist offers a blog site, workshops (available on Kindle), and for those on my mail list, informational emails (that have to do with writing and the publishing industry). Information about my coaching services is also on the site.

Information-packed teaching videos are available on YouTube called The Writing Life.

Many writing course are available on the Internet offering practical helps, but those only go so far. If the wannabe novelist has no idea why he or she cannot finish the novel-in-progress, what good are all the practical tips? Coaching sessions dig down to the core to equip the novelist to come to terms with why that unfinished novel is in a box under the bed, or in a long-lost file in the bowels of the computer. Meanwhile the novelist suffers under the weight of guilt and condemnation, and nothing constructive is happening. Time is lost and opportunities are lost. It doesn’t have to be that way!

I know because I’ve been there; plus the fact that I’ve hung out with writers for over 30 years. I know writers. I know what stalls them out. I'm here to help.
Tell the story behind your newest book.
I had nursed a story idea for a very long time. The germ of the idea for the plot for Brought To You By The Color Drab was a story about a teen boy trapped in the ghetto who becomes a driver for a blind piano tuner. That idea clung to me for many long years. I knew that in order to write the novel, I needed to know more about an inner-city ghetto because my hometown was too small.

Since I had done a great deal of research about Cincinnati when writing novels for Barbour Publishing’s American Adventure Series, I chose that city. But I needed deeper research.

My idea was to locate a college in Cincinnati, and then retain a young college student who might agree to drive me around the city to aid in my research. When I selected Cincinnati Christian College (now University), I had no real agenda, but God did.

Enter: The Carmichael Family

I called the college and a courteous young lady answered. I explained that I was an author and needed help with researching her city, especially the inner city.

Her answer was, “My father pastors a church in the inner city and he would be more than happy to assist you.” Or something to that effect—I forget the exact words. For an author, this is like hitting the mother lode. What an exciting moment!

The young lady turned out to be Christy Carmichael (now Acheampong), who also proceeded to explain that there was lodging on the college campus used by visiting missionaries. She was sure I could stay there for a modest fee. And I did exactly that. (So much better than a hotel—for me that is.)

I began to put plans into motion to fly to Cincinnati. The year was 2004.

Christi, her parents James (Jamie), and Kathy, and her sister, Melissa, became my hosts during my stay. (Even Christi’s aunt Nancy was brought in on the scene.) I was a guest at their home for dinner. They drove me around the city and offered a great deal of background information that later showed up in the book. The entire visit was so beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Why it took from 2004 to 2017 for Race’s story to finally see the light of day, is a story too lengthy for this interview. Much had to do with my decision to become an indie author. I had stopped chasing agents and publishers and struck out on my own. I wanted to use my past titles as a proving ground, before bringing Race’s story out of the shadows and into the light. (Which is now, Brought To You By The Color Drab.) The strategy turned out to be a good one; albeit a lengthy one.

This then gives a brief glimpse of how the book came together. It’s never an isolated event, but involves many kind, caring, helpful individuals. Like the Carmichael family.

Race and I are both very thankful!
What motivated you to become an indie author?
All of my early career involved working with traditional publishers. I can honestly say not much of those experiences were enjoyable. Rather it involved a lot of heartache and disappointment. No space here for those details, but one example is when I saw a couple of book covers for historical fiction (that I had absolutely no say over) I was reduced to tears. They were that awful.

Then, about seven years ago, I was reading about well-known published authors who were taking the giant step away from their traditional publishers and over to becoming independent authors. They talked about their newfound freedom, and the ease of control over their own books.

I was enthralled with that concept. I spent almost two years just getting the rights back to my previously published novels, then started on my own indie journey.

It has not been an easy road—I learn something new every day—but it’s been a satisfying one. I love having the last say over my own creation.
Who are your favorite authors?
Because I’m primarily a young adult author, I keep up a steady diet of reading teen novels. My favorite teen novel authors consist of a long list. Here are a few.

Always and forever, my favorite is S.E. Hinton. Partly because she’s from my hometown of Tulsa, and partly because she was such a world-changer in the genre of teen fiction. She practically invented it. (Tex will always be my all-time favorite.)

I am also enamored with Cynthia Voigt. I have several of her books in my library and I read them over and over.

Love Gordon Korman, and Gary Paulsen (I’ve read Hatchet many times), and David Lubar, and Michael Northrop (Surrounded by Sharks is unbelievably well written), and the list goes on. But you get the idea.

I appreciate my fellow YA authors!
Published 2017-10-18.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Brought To You By The Color Drab
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 71,560. Language: English. Published: October 16, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Coming of age, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Adventure
Race Paloma's world violently turns upside-down after his older brother, Vince, is murdered in a drive-by. Without Vince's strong leadership, their once-powerful, hood-ruling pack unravels at the speed of light. The Deuce Dragons threaten takeover in their Cincinnati Over-The-Rhine hood.