Robert Olen Butler

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Robert Olen Butler

Post by all work and no play on May 4th 2008, 1:21 pm

Butler is an...interesting person. I had the occasion to meet him at a writers conference last year. He is boisterous, eccentric, opinionated, disagreeable... all the things you'd expect of an author. His methods of writing fiction have actually influenced me as a writer in various respects. He feels art is something that is subconsciously drawn, without a conscious stream of thought leading the path (in other words, "thinking" is out when writing fiction). He says once you get into that "white hot core" of your being, it is very frightening (in deed it is), but it's something you need to do daily as an author. "In the zone" he calls it. Same way a baseball star needs to be "in the zone," not thinking about it consciously to hit the ball out of the park. As soon as he is like "hey, I need to hit that ball, how's my stance, my swing?" he'll never hit that ball.

He is a creative writing teacher and an author of several books and short story collections. I rather like his short stories, though as a person he sometimes gets a little bit after-school special with all of his art-related blanket statements. For instance, he says choose your own adventure books aren't art. Well, I rightly don't think that's his call to make. Butler doesn't hold the be-all end-all definition of art in the palm of his hand. But I do enjoy his various applications of Buddhist teachings in his approach to writing. I try to look past his personality and sometimes TOO strong opinions towards art to see the purpose in his technique.

"A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain" was filled with a lot of good stories centering around Vietnamese families living in America after the war (Butler worked as a translator for the U.S. in the Vietnam war). I'd recommend it, his own voice is non-existent in the first-person stories, which shows his techniques do lead to effective literature.

all work and no play
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