Get ready for Okahoma’s fourth DoubleR Author Tour! Writer Lutricia Clifton kicks off the fun with presentations in Cleveland on Monday, September 10. She will also be appearing in public libraries and schools in Bristow, Wagoner, Pawhuska, and the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Oklahoma City.
Clifton won the 2017 Oklahoma Book Award for her young adult novel Seeking Cassandra, which will be the featured title on her tour. Her first YA novel, Freaky Fast Frankie Joe, landed on multiple Notable and Best lists of YA titles, was on the Sequoyah Book Awards Masterlist, and was nominated for the Texas Bluebonnet Award. In addition to writing for young people, she also publishes adult mysteries under the name Lu Clifton. Her first two mysteries were also finalists for Oklahoma Book Awards in the Fiction category.
A native of Southeastern Oklahoma, Clifton had lived in four states by the time she was in third grade before the family finally put roots down in the Texas Panhandle. She has been a writer, editor, and teacher during her adult life.
We wanted to get to know more about this year’s featured YA author before the tour begins.
ODL: Congratulations on your Oklahoma Book Award, Lutricia! Or should we call you Lu?
Clifton: I answer to either, but I prefer Lu as it’s less formal—and much easier to spell!
ODL: Would you tell us about your Oklahoma and Choctaw connections? Although you were born in Oklahoma, you moved around a lot during those first years.
Clifton: I was born in Krebs, which is just east of McAlester, both of which are in Pittsburg County. My father’s family pioneered in the Sulphur Springs, Texas area but resettled in Pittsburg County in the early 1900s. My mother’s family migrated from northern Mississippi to Indian Territory in 1900. At the time, Pittsburg County was known as Tobuksy, IT. I was 18 months old when my mother and father separated; I lived primarily with her but remember being farmed out from time to time to my father, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and older siblings. Because we moved a lot, I never knew much about my roots, which is what led to my interest in tracing my genealogy. My mother’s Choctaw ancestry was through her maternal grandmother’s line.
ODL: Both Cassie in Seeking Cassandra and the main character in Freaky Fast Frankie Joe find themselves having to adjust to new environments, something you yourself had to do while growing up. How much has your own experience as a young person influenced your books for children and young adults?
Clifton: In retrospect, quite a bit. Aspiring writers are told to write what they know when it comes to character and plot—and I think we do that instinctively. The reason, of course, is that drawing on true life experiences enables us to realistically portray fictional characters and their situations. The main characters in my YA books are from broken homes, single-parent homes and blended families—which describes my childhood to a T. By recalling my unsettled childhood, I feel that I can accurately relate what my young characters are feeling and experiencing.
ODL: We like how the name of Cassie’s personal journal changes as she moves through the story and discovers more about herself. Did you keep a journal as a young girl? When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Clifton: I’m so glad you noticed the change in title throughout the book as it reflects Cassie’s change in attitude and growing maturity. I did not keep a journal growing up. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall ever hearing the term “journal” used. Diaries were popular with teenage girls, the kind that had tiny locks with tiny keys, and I did keep a diary once. But briefly. Probably because I kept losing the key. But there’s a difference between a diary and a journal, which is why I differentiate between the two early in the book. Today, journaling is an oft-used tool not only with writers but also in schools. It’s a great teaching tool that many English and writing teachers use, plus it’s a great way for students—both girls and boys—to deal with problems they’re facing, such as peer pressure, bullying, problems at home, and so on. I keep a rough journal (nothing fancy) on my bedside table and am known for waking at 2 AM to jot down ideas, make notes about edits I need to make in work produced the day before, and so on.
I wish I had known about journals growing up. I was a voracious reader as a YA and determined early that I wanted to become a fiction writer. A journal capturing my adventures bouncing around the country as a child and the many people I encountered would have made wonderful grist for the mill.
ODL: More and more fiction authors are writing books for both the children’s/young adult market and the adult market. You go back and forth between these two audiences. Talk about that experience. Are there similarities between the books you write for these two audiences? Do you have different goals depending on who will be reading the book?
Clifton: Because I don’t track what other writers are doing, I can only speak for myself. I do go back and forth between YA and adult fiction and try to have one of each in progress at all times. Writers need to take a break from a work in progress now and then, to let things gel. That way, you bring a fresh perspective to it when you begin a new edit. And what better way to use that time than to work on another book for a different audience?
As for similarities between books for these two audiences, I would say there’s not much in mine. The YA books are standalone books, meaning they are not series fiction; the characters complete their journey by the end of the book. In my adult mystery series, the protagonist, Sam Chitto, is a Choctaw Nation cop dealing with a complex and convoluted judicial system. There are at least 37 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma, so in addition to the usual jurisdictions you find in a state—federal, state, county, and municipal —you have 37 additional jurisdictional layers to deal with. That complexity can lead to injustice rather than justice being served—and it’s an ongoing problem, not a one-time thing.
Also, I don’t focus on goals when I’m writing for either YA or adults except to convey a character who is facing a difficult situation that either leads to a change in lifestyle or that needs to lead to a change for the better. I do, however, want all my books to have depth of meaning. By that I mean that the characters must deal with real and prevalent problems and there’s positive growth by the end of the book.
ODL: What’s currently in your typewriter (to use the old terminology)? Another Sam Chitto mystery or another YA adventure of discovery?
Clifton: Good grief, I used to own an old Royal portable typewriter and must say, I love my word processor (no more correction fluid)! Actually, at the moment I’m working on the fourth book in the Sam Chitto mystery series. The third book, The Horned Owl, released in April of this year, and I hope to have the fourth one in print in 2019. That said, I also have a YA dystopian trilogy in progress and want to get back to that soon. And yes, it, too, is an adventure of discovery, in so many ways!
ODL: Thanks so much for talking with us, Lu. We’re looking forward to your tour around the state!
Clifton: Yes, I am too!