SCENE – Mollywood Blvd: author of a small town with a big heart | South Minn Scene

Chris Norbury of Owatonna has published his third novel in Matt Lanier’s trilogy. He is hosting a book launch party from 4-6 p.m. on Monday, February 28 at the Owatonna Country Club. Here Norbury holds his latest novel, “Dangerous Straits”. (Shayna Lewis/

From time to time, as a broadcaster, I have the opportunity to meet and interview very interesting people. I’ve had the pleasure of bringing author Chris Norbury to the morning show KOWZ 100.9 over the years to promote each of his novels. Norbury is an award-winning author who grew up in the Twin Cities and boasts a BS in music education from the University of Minnesota.

He and was a longtime resident of Owatonna who weaved many of his passions, as well as local ties, together in his series of detective thrillers including: Straight River, Castle Danger, and his most recent book, Dangerous Straits.

Norbury is a strong supporter of independent local bookstores and is involved with many groups, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Minnesota, to which he donates a portion of his book sales. When I asked him if he could sit down to answer more of my questions so we could dig a little deeper for our readers, he didn’t hesitate.

Child, what did you want to be when you were growing up?

First pitcher for the MN Twins, then architect, then musician.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I had no kind of “Aha!” developer. moment. After various careers including being a public school group manager, financial planner, wine consultant, and private investor (a sort of day trader), I was looking for another “hobby that was spiraling out of control.” (Like the music, investing, and wine that led to my previous jobs). I have always felt that I was a competent writer of emails, letters, basic essays, etc., and others had told me so. So when my wife said, “You should write a novel,” I thought, “Why not? It was around 2008.

How long does it take you to write a book?

Too long! (laughs) The average seems to be about three years

Do you have any interesting “quirks” when it comes to writing?

Most writers prefer to write early in the morning or late at night, and most like to write in solitude. I usually write between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. I also prefer to write in public places, especially cafes, so I guess those are oddities.

I usually write on my notebook, but I always use pen and paper when thinking of ideas or ways to solve a scene or plot problem.

Do you have any special traditions for celebrating the completion of a novel?

I drink champagne. The good things of France. If ever there was an excuse to party, it’s to finish a novel.

Lots of your book reference names and landmarks in Owatonna. How did you find inspiration for some of the names and places in your series of novels?

I’m a die-hard Minnesota lover, so I never imagined putting a novel anywhere else. We have a lot of geographic diversity – Lake Superior and 11,000 other lakes, rivers including the Mighty Mississippi, farmland, grasslands, dense forests, remote wilderness areas (the BWCAW), even mountains! At least that’s what the map says about the Sawtooth Mountains in the Arrowhead. It’s easy to get inspired when you have so many settings to choose from. Plus, readers love to read about places they know and have visited.

When it comes to character names, I use local names (mostly family names) of people I know or have met. This lends authenticity to the stories as they tend to match the ethnicity and heritage of the area. Also, I have fun making subtle little shout outs to friends using their last name. I even honored two friends who died before a book was published by using their names and giving them little sayings.

How many novels have you written? Which is your favourite?

My favorite? Wow, I guess that’s like choosing a favorite child. I’m equally proud of all three. Based on reviews and reader feedback I can get, I think Dangerous Straits may have a slight edge because I took a risk with the style, characters, and dialogue. I like to think my writing took a step forward with Dangerous Straights.

Tell me about your most recent novel, Dangerous Straits:

This is the third book in my series of Matt Lanier mystery thrillers. It begins with Matt barely surviving on the streets of Minneapolis, playing guitar for change and living in a homeless shelter. He’s still hiding from the villain, Smythe, who’s leading the plot Matt uncovered in Straight River. Matt discovers he has PTSD, hits rock bottom, then decides to give up his fight against Smythe. He will do anything to get enough money to buy a new identity on the black market so he can try to live a normal life again. But then, a ray of hope appears in the form of an unlikely ally. So Matt must choose between trying to stop Smythe one last time or living in fear for the rest of his life.

Do you hear your readers a lot? What kinds of things do they say?

It is difficult to quantify “a lot”. I occasionally receive emails, text messages, or comments on social media from readers who have enjoyed one of my books. I am also surprised by the number of people who see me in public and compliment me on my books. Most comments relate to locale settings. Others liked the fast pace of my stories, the plot twists, and the fact that Matt is a musician — not a macho thriller hero like a detective, secret agent, or old badass like Jack Reacher. And I guess I’m not famous enough for people to go out of their way to post long reviews on explaining why one of my books was so bad. But online reviews have been overwhelmingly positive – around 90% are 4 and 5 star reviews or ratings.

What’s the hardest part of being an author?

Put on my entrepreneur hat and sell my books. Business and creativity don’t mix, so it’s hard to excel in both areas. Ninety-nine percent of authors trying to make money selling books have to do their own marketing and selling. Only the upper echelon of writers have publishing-backed marketing teams to handle the business side.

What’s the most rewarding part?

Receiving an unsolicited compliment from a stranger who drove a long way to meet me (like an hour or more!) at a book signing or book festival, just to tell me how much he A LOVED one of my books.

You donate a portion of your book sales to Big Brothers of Southern Minnesota. Tell me about your involvement in the program.

I’ve wanted to be Big Brother since the mid-1990s, but the timing just wasn’t right. My wife and I lived in Chicagoland, and I felt like we wouldn’t be there all the time. I didn’t want to commit to the organization and leave a year or two later. So I put the Big Brother idea on hold. As soon as we moved to Owatonna and learned there was a BBBS chapter in town, I signed up. It was scary at first because I don’t have any kids of my own and haven’t interacted with kids much since I left teaching in 1984. I was lucky with my first little brother, Zach, and we stayed together until he got older. from the program. I was paired with my second Little, Ethan, for over six years. Then COVID happened, life got stressful and age started catching up with me. I didn’t have the mental and emotional energy I needed to be a good Big Brother, so I “retired” after twenty years. Now I call myself a “Big Brother Emeritus”.

When I published my first book, I approached the local BBBS chapter to do joint promotions. I would share my story and help recruit Bigs at my book signings and other appearances and give them a portion of my book sales in return for giving me BBBS bookmarks to distribute to customers and allowing me to sell books to some of their events like Bowl For Kids’ Sake.

How much were you able to give to the association?

At the end of 2021, I donated over $2,500 to BBBS of Southern MN from book sales, roundup donations, and voluntary offerings.

Where can people buy your books?

Go to your local bookstore first. If they don’t have it, they will order it for you. You can buy me autographed copies when I appear at bookstores, book festivals, and street fairs like Downtown Owatonna Thursday, Hopkins Mainstreet Day, or the Hopkins Raspberry Festival. I have an online store accessible through my website,, where you can purchase a signed copy directly from me, and I will ship it to you within the continental United States for free. Print versions and e-books are available at all major stores. online retailers. Lastly, I always have copies with me, so if you see me in town writing at a coffee shop or at the golf course, I’d be happy to sell you a copy.

You’re currently doing something of a book tour, starting with the February launch at Owatonna Country Club, followed by a book signing at Little Professors. For those you missed, will you be hosting other events in Owatonna?

My next event in Owatonna will be “Coffee and Conversation” at the Owatonna Public Library on April 9, from 10 a.m. to noon. I will give an informal presentation of my books and writing in general, with an emphasis on discussion and Q&A. Hopefully it will be like getting a group of friends together for Saturday morning coffee and having a fun, relaxed, and informative conversation.

Anything else coming our readers should know?

Check my website,, for my schedule. I’m adding events gradually, but I’ll be busy throughout 2022, especially with events in Southern MN and the Twin Cities.

And yes, I’m working on a new book – a mid-level adventure novel featuring a little brother and a big brother.

Molly Penny is a local radio personality and former MNSU. It was her love of pop culture that got her interested in doing a radio show for KOWZ 100.9, and she is now Director of Music and Promotions at KOWZ & KRUE Radio in Owatonna. She resides in Mankato with her cinephile husband and YouTube-obsessed children. Find her on Twitter at @mollyhoodUSA.

Lola R. McClure