This past fall, I had the pleasure of meeting Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs, at UW-Madison’s Weekend With Your Novel conference.
Nick is a talented and humble guy whose writing is truthful and poetic. He’s a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and an advocate for aspiring writers everywhere.
Nick was kind enough to chat with me about his work. Because I’m a big fan of his book.
And he’s giving a copy away to one lucky winner!
Me: Describe yourself in three words.
Nick: Father, husband, friend.
What three words do you wish described you?
Debonair, raconteur, smoldering.
Describe your book in one sentence.
“Shotgun Lovesongs” is a novel set in rural Wisconsin about the lifelong bonds of friendship, love, marriage, envy, and childhood.
Shotgun Lovesongs tells the story of five friends discovering all the ways they’ve each changed, and yet how much they’re still the same. It’s a poignant and poetic look at growing up, surviving the messy bits, and owning your own life – good and bad. What parts of your life have you “owned” and what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my family and the life we’ve built together, through some real challenges. I’m proud of my wife and her accomplishments, both professionally and in our community. I’m proud of my children, proud of the fact that I think they’re both kind-hearted and compassionate kids. I’m proud of my Mom, and her unflagging work ethic and generosity. Proud of my brother for being one of the best people I’ve ever met. My life has been extremely blessed. I feel very fortunate, every day.
“What parts of my life have I owned”? I think when I was about 27 or 28 I took stock of where I was, what I was doing, and just decided that I needed to work a lot harder at becoming a writer, at becoming the person I wanted to be.
Shotgun Lovesongs is written from five points of view. How did get into each character’s voice?
It was definitely a challenge. Some of the voices/POVs came very easily – Henry, Lee, and Kip. And I can remember finishing one of their chapters and having to transition towards Beth or Ronny, and just really taking about five minutes to close my eyes, and slip into another psyche, another character. And sometimes it was easier, and maybe I’d only need a minute or two. Other times I’d have to walk away from the computer and get a cup of coffee, sort of collect myself. But it was also a lot of fun because each character illuminates the others in the cast. If everything is working right, you should get a more complex portrait of a character.
Did you have a favorite voice to write in?
I’d say Lee, when it comes to “Shotgun Lovesongs”. He’s very observant, in some ways, he thinks about the world musically, lyrically.
As someone who works a full-time job and gets writing in as a “side-hustle,” I appreciated your story about working lots of odd jobs along the way. What were a few of them and how did you carve out time for writing?
There were so many…
When I was working at Star Liquor in Madison, I wrote after my shifts were done, around 10pm. I’d get home and still be wired, and just write short stories or poems. The thing is: when you’re trying to break through, you have to carve out time as aggressively as you can. This means sleeping less. Socializing less. Watching less TV. If you want something bad enough, you’ll figure out how to make it happen.
You’re a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. What tool or skill-set did you find most valuable from that experience?
Iowa was definitely a life-changing experience for me in so many ways. But I think the thing that really pushed me forward was the competition; just going to classes and being surrounded by some of the world’s best young writers. I’d look around and think, I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to read more and work harder.
I think it’s hard to improve your craft without exposure to great writing – either through reading or through teachers or peers. I don’t think you can do it by yourself.
Your book is a love story about Wisconsin. What’s your favorite thing about our state?
There’s a lot to love and I could literally go on for pages describing favorite cities, state parks, restaurants, sports teams, etc. But for me it comes down to family. I’m surrounded by family and that means everything to me. Family and friends.
Best piece of writing advice?
Read. Read all the time. Read poetry and non-fiction and fiction and plays and screenplays. Read foreign writers. Read everything. Challenge yourself. Don’t discard any writing – there is something to be learned in everything.
Set a deadline for yourself. Write down your goals. Work when other people are sleeping.
What books are you enjoying right now?
I’m about to finish Don Winslow’s “The Power of the Dog”, which is fantastic. Imagine George R.R. Martin writing an epic about The War on Drugs. Annie Dillard’s essays. I’m looking forward to reading Helen McDonald’s “H is for Hawk”. I’m rushing through both of Peter Geye’s novels, which are fantastic.
Tell us about your next project!
My second book, “Beneath the Bonfire” came out in May and is still in hardcover and my next novel, “The Faithlessness of Men” will be published in early 2017 by Ecco.
Thank you so much for chatting with me, Nick! I can’t wait to get Shotgun Lovesongs into another reader’s hands; it really was a book that stuck with me awhile after reading it. 🙂
Nickolas Butler was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He is the author of the internationally-best selling novel Shotgun Lovesongs and a collection of short stories entitled,Beneath the Bonfire. He is the winner of France’s prestigious PAGE Prix America, the 2014 Great Lakes Great Reads Award, the 2014 Midwest Independent Booksellers Award, the 2015 Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award, the 2015 UW-Whitewater Chancellor’s Regional Literary Award, and has been long-listed for the 2014 Flaherty Dunnan Award for First Novel and short-listed for France’s FNAC Prix. Along the way, he has worked as: a Burger King maintenance man, a tutor, a telemarketer, a hot-dog vendor, an innkeeper (twice), an office manager, a coffee roaster, a liquor store clerk, and an author escort. His itinerant work includes: potato harvester, grape picker, and Christmas tree axe-man.
He lives on sixteen acres of land in rural Wisconsin adjacent to a buffalo farm. He is married and has two children.
Want to win a free copy of Nick’s book?
Have you read Shotgun Lovesongs yet?
How do you aggressively make time to write, or read?