Tag Archives: writing process

“Read. Read Everything. Challenge Yourself.” Author Interview with Nickolas Butler

IMG_6763This 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! 

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Me: Describe yourself in three words. 

Nick: Father, husband, friend.

What three words do you wish described you? 

Debonair, raconteur, smoldering.

Ha! Nice.
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.

book-shotgun-lovesongsShotgun 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.

book-beneaththebonfireWhat 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. 🙂

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photo-nickolas-butlerNickolas 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.

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Want to win a free copy of Nick’s book? 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Have you read Shotgun Lovesongs yet?
How do you aggressively make time to write, or read?

 

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Why I Do What I Do

Many writers have been blogging about their writing process lately, and I got tagged by YA Fantasy author, Valerie Biel to do so. Valerie’s author of the young adult novel, Circle of Nine – Beltany—which is coming out this summer! Check it out!

For this blog hop, I’m channeling my inner “Dusty” from Twister, and sharing…

Well alright.

What am I working on?

I am working on a humorous non-fiction book called Oops Baby.

Oops BabyThat’d be me.

I’m writing it in the style of David Sedaris, with each chapter more of a humorous essay. All of them tie together in that they illustrate my attempts to fit in – “making pathetic look cool since 1985.”  I am in the deep edits phase and have a deadline for sending it out in July, which means I’m going a little crazy right now.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Humorous essays are pretty common in most humor books/comical memoirs. I guess mine varies because it’s like Anne of Green Gables meets Saturday Night Live, and Anne is tossed into bizarre situational scenes like making an entire glacial replica out of cake or finding an evil donkey in her bed.

#TrueStory

Why do I write what I do?

I firmly believe that everyone has a story. For years, I’ve wanted to share mine, but had always been told that since I’m not famous, who would care about me or what I had to say? So I started a fiction book. A paranormal YA book. When that didn’t work, I started a women’s fiction book. I made it about 35,000 words into that story before I gave up too. This cost me two years.

One year and one month ago, I quit my job and started writing a new book. My book. Now, with a new job, and just under half my chapters to finish editing, I feel like I’m on the right path.

How does my writing process work?

Coffee TimeI’m a social butterfly when I’m in my element. I like connecting with people and need the recognition and motivation to keep going, so what worked best for me when I was writing the first draft was Twitter sprints!

I loved doing timed writing sprints and congratulating the other writers participating with me. A group of us connected weekly, if not daily, and all championed each others’ work.

A big A-Ha moment in my writing process was learning I don’t have to write linearly. I can’t. I get stuck and then don’t know where to go with my story. What I did this time was write a long list of story ideas for each chapter, and each day I just picked one. Whatever inspired me most that day. Then when I finished the draft, I arranged them like a puzzle, and looked for what was missing.

Coffee Shop 1For editing, having a writers group has been priceless. I value and appreciate the honesty with which the women in my group generate critique. All of it comes from them wanting to help make each others’ writing the best possible, and that is a precious gift – to learn not just from what they say about my piece, but to each other, about all our works. I always leave with things to think about and ways to strengthen my writing.

I recently gained a new critique partner as well, and it is a joy beta reading for her and receiving her notes back to me. We write in the same genre, so of course it’s a hoot to help each other out!

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Tag! If they would like to participate, I’m going to tag the following writers, and they can share their writing process if they want to:

My amazing critique partner and fellow Wisconsinite, Deanne M. Schultz.

The sassy and sensual erotica author, Kitt Crescendo.

and the philosophical, world traveler, Liz, of Be Love Live.

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Why do you do what you do?

 

 

What Are You Writing About?

Rare sighting of the species Writer

Rare sighting of the species Writer

So Kait Nolan tagged me to do a blog update on my current work in progress. My first thought, cool! My second thought, that means I have tell people what I’m working on – SCARY!

However, this summer I’ve been challenging myself to get outside my comfort zone. A few examples of progress so far:

-I quit my job of 6 years to save my soul without any back up plan financially.

-I am currently preparing for an upcoming trip with my parents wherein I play tour guide – Bring. It. On.

-Spend more time writing and researching writing things. I am immersing myself in satirical writing, stalking people for writing sprints at the hashtag #wordmongering, I pitched to an agent for the first time, joined up with a local writers group, and now have a writing partner to check in with – or as I call him the Ledge Whisperer. *waves hi to Gene*

Here goes:

1. What is the name of your current WIP?

Oops Baby

2. Ready to do a cover reveal?

Not at all.

3. How many words are you into it?

A little over 33,000.

4. Goal word count by the end of the week?

45,000

5. Goal word count for the entire manuscript?

I’m thinking 50-60k would be normal for my genre.

6. What genre does your work in progress fall within?

Non-fiction: A collection of satirical essays.

7. When would you *like* to publish this project?

Before I Die.

8. Go to page 5 of your manuscript and pick a sentence at random to share with us!

My parents picked two days before Thanksgiving as the perfect time for me to get braces, and you can imagine how grateful I felt eating mashed potatoes and jello while everyone else went up for turkey dinner seconds.

9. Will this WIP turn into a series book? 

Um, no. But I have a second and third book planned that do include me and reoccurring characters, so sort of yes.

10. What has been the hardest challenge in working on this WIP?

Knowing some days I only write crap. That, and the fact my family all wants pseudonyms.

11. What has been your favorite part of working on this WIP?

The fact that my family all wants pseudonyms. They’re so funny.

Also, my word sprint crew is amazing! Shout outs to Diana Beebe, Debra Kristi, Tameri Etherton, Laura Irrgang, and Ryan King!

12. Any special treat planned for when you finish the final draft of your WIP?

 Dinner out with my honey sounds nice.

Instead of tagging just three people, I’d love for all of you to share what your WIP status is. Tell me about the book you’re writing or reading! If you’re published, share a link to your book page so we can find you! Let’s make the comments a get to know each other/build that ‘to read pile’ frenzy!

Happy writing and reading, Friends!

On the Job Training

All this immersion in writing and meeting other writers has changed my thinking process.  Time, for instance, has taken on a new meaning.  How do I prioritize my time to the best of my ability while at work, so when I come home I can focus on my writing?  How do use my time off and properly divide it amongst projects?  I now think about writing as a second job, and if I want writing to one day be my only job, I need to devote my time and energy to it.

And speaking of jobs, I’ve had a few interesting ones.  I’ll tell you I appreciate every one of them because I like to view the world as being full of experiences.  Everyone has a story to tell, every situation has something you can learn from in it.

Babysitting was my first job, as I’m sure was many a first job for the average teenage girl.  I was even properly trained in a hospital class, learned CPR and carried the number for poison control with me.  The first family I sat for was full of devil children.  They were very convincing sweethearts to start out with, and suddenly the nights would take a horrendous turn onto Evil Road.  Evil Road is where bad things happen for no reason.  For example, one minute the eight year old boy would be vacuuming the living room to help out his mother, and the next he’d be dumping his milk on the floor and stomping his sock feet in it.  Evil Road is where you think the four year old has gone to sleep,  but really she sneaked to her mom’s room and started watching Road House.  Evil Road is where the three year old fools you with her red hair into thinking she is cute and angelic, but really she’s allowed to run around the house like a banshee at all hours of the night.  What did I learn from this job?  Tone of voice.  I learned if you’re going to use the line, “Bryce, stop throwing soup cans at your sister!” you’d better say it with some gumption.

My next job was a little something I coined Cake Pan Dishwasher Extraordinaire!  Sure I was only “hired” cause my dad owned the place, and sure he wasn’t actually paying me on a regular basis, and sure I lost a fair amount of skin cells from the bleach water, but it didn’t matter, I was helping out my Pop.  It was quality time of undivided attention to me.  What did I learn in this job?  The art of dialogue.  I learned if you’re going to have it, it better be good, and two-sided, otherwise your readers may end up putting your story down cause they have “errands” to do.

With all the people skills I was learning, I moved up in the job world, actually getting one that required legal papers and didn’t pay me in cash.  I became a clerk at the local video store.  This is where I got most my training.  I got to know my characters, I mean customers, their likes and dislikes.  I did endless amounts of research, sometimes six films a day, every genre!  I also quickly learned that the video establishment I worked in and loved was haunted and my boss refused to talk about it.  What did this teach me?  Rising action and climax.  The closer I got to learning about the spirit world, the closer and creepier the spirit world got to me.

When I moved away for college, I had to find a job that would help support me and allow for study time.  I found two working in my college dormitory, one as a front desk assistant and one as a dorm housekeeper.  I now know that:

  1. Front desk pizzas can solve any problem, no matter how drunk you are.  😀
  2. College dormitory bathrooms are THE nastiest places on earth.

What did these jobs teach me?  Time management and editing is not beneath you.  If you’ve spent the whole day researching and writing and the only time to clean your bathroom is at 2 in the morning, so be it!  And if the supplies you are given to clean simply do not cut it to take out the stains and clumps of hair information dump of words, then you need to get new tools!

Moving onward and off campus, I joked that I worked “part time all the time” as I juggled full time student with three part time jobs.  I worked as a copy room slave in the English Department, a student worker in the Diversity Center, and as a clerk in a madhouse conglomeration of Gift Shop meets Rubber Stamping Store.  To enlighten you on each of these varying titles, I spent my time in the English Department photocopying lesson tools and handouts, marking grade rosters, and endlessly fixing the jammed copier.  I became quick friends with many of the faculty, who subsequently assisted my writing endeavors to take advanced classes without the prerequisite.  Igniting a dwindling flame of the past, I was one of the “re-founding” members of the Diversity Center, a place on campus where students could go to learn about the diversity organizations on campus.  I spent my winter break working alone in dusty old rooms, cleaning out storage areas and rearranging furniture to give the center life.  Finally, job number three, in which I clerked and did odd tasks the owner hated doing inside a stamping/gift shop store.  I did lots of things like  vacuum the whole place using the small tubular attachment that required you to hunch over and slide the nozzle back and forth until it sucked every fuzz off the carpet (that’s the way Master wanted it).  Once she made me work in the display window on one of the hottest days of summer using a pliers to chip off these old, now caramelized, strips that held tubes of twinkle lights in them.  I was sweating, grunting, and getting slivers of plastic flying at my eyeballs when I looked up to see someone take my picture from outside!  What did this menagerie of minimum wage paychecks teach me?  How to make connections and build a foundation, and how to craft the perfect antagonist!

Wow, I’ve really learned a lot about writing from my past jobs.  And I know I’ll never be done learning, which is a good thing.  What are you learning about your writing process?  What are you battling against?  What helps you?  What can I do to support you?  Tell me, I really want to know!  Good luck everyone and happy writing!

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