Robert Olen Butler is said to be one of the best American fiction writers that ever lived, and Mount St. Mary’s University was lucky enough to host a presentation by him Oct. 24 in the Delaplaine Fine Arts Center. Butler teaches at Florida State University and is this year’s F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award winner.
Butler, who also won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his novel, “A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain,” read a few of his short stories and answered some questions that students had during the presentation. He made the audience giggle over some of his earlier works from “Tabloid dreams,” a book of short and “short short” stories based on the titles of articles that he had seen in tabloids. One example is called “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot.”
The author is a large proponent of writing from the subconscious and believes that writing from the head is a great flaw that most writers have.
“Art does not come from the mind,” he stated.
The “dreamspace” is the place where great ideas come from. According to Butler, it is the “white hot center” of the writer and once a writer is able to delve into his or herself on that level, that writer will have an epiphany.
Being in this state helps writers connect to heavy and difficult memories, which lead to better writing.
Butler’s newest novel, “The Star of Istanbul,” is set during World War I and follows Christopher Marlowe Cobb, an American spy, aboard the Lusitania, where he meets a famous actress. Selene Bourgani is not all that she seems to be and appears to be working with German intelligence.
The espionage novel was available for purchase after the presentation and Butler was able to sign some students’ copies.