Nickolas Butler wrote his first lengthy piece in fifth grade.
His teacher, Doug Smith, assigned the class to write historical fiction about the western migration across the United States.
“Mine was 120 pages long. I got very excited about it,” Butler said. “It was hand written.”
Butler credits his mother for making him sit in a chair and finish the project.
He also credits both her and his teachers for inspiring his love of the written word.
“It was very important to my mom that we be surrounded by books. It was very important to go to the library all the time,” Butler said. “The first thing I remember being enamored with was the Hardy Boys series. I simply can’t imagine my life without books and reading. It’s always been there.”
Butler, author of the novel “Shotgun Lovesongs,” will be among this year’s presenting authors at Waupaca BookFest 2015.
The book festival will be held Saturday, April 18, at the Waupaca Area Public Library.
Born in Pennsylvania, Butler grew up in Eau Claire.
Both of his parents were from the Midwest and did not want to raise their children on the East Coast, Butler said.
They considered Wausau and Eau Claire, and Butler describes his childhood growing in Eau Claire as happy and wonderful.
He always tells people he received a great education there and remembers his teachers giving him extra projects because he was a big reader.
“Nothing but great memories,” Butler said of those years. “A lot of my best friends are still guys I knew as a young boy.”
Butler remembers writing for both the middle and high school newspapers. He wrote movie reviews, tongue-in-cheek editorials and reactions to pop culture.
After high school, he went to DePaul University for his first year of college before transferring to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“A good portion of that decision was I was in love with a girl. We had a long-distance relationship and were trying to get to the same university,” Butler said.
The high school sweethearts decided to transfer to Madison and later married.
“I took mostly courses in English and political science, because I’m really not very good at anything else,” Butler said.
He did not take any creative writing courses as an undergraduate because he did not know there was such a department.
Butler graduated with a degree in English and for 10 years, worked at what he described as “odd” jobs.
That included being a coffee roaster, meat packer, innkeeper at two different bed and breakfasts and an author escort.
“I had no idea in college that I wanted to write a book,” he said. “It was just what I was good at. I just did what I wanted to do. I wasn’t thinking about writing a book.
Butler’s wife was in her final year of law school in Madison and they had their first child when he decided it was time to get serious about his writing.
“The first year I applied for grad school, I was rejected by everyone,” he said. “The second time, I got into the University of Iowa and I also got into Iowa State.”
Butler chose the University of Iowa because of its writing program.
His wife applied to law firms in Iowa and got a job in Minneapolis.
For two years, Butler drove back and forth each week.
In Iowa, he rented a room that had three pieces of furniture in it: half a bunkbed, a desk and a chair.
“I would get off the road and go to my room. I was one of the older people in class,” Butler said. “I was homesick for my family. I was thinking about what it meant to be from Wisconsin, particularly Eau Claire.”
In October 2010, Butler wrote the first chapter of what became “Shotgun Lovesongs.”
In the spring of 2011, he wrote much of the last 75 pages of it. He worked on the middle in 2012.
The novel is about a group of childhood friends from the fictional Little Wing, Wisconsin.
“Mostly the book is about home, homesickness, loneliness, love and friendship,” Butler said. “It was an emotional area I was writing from.”
After graduating from the University of Iowa with a master’s of fine arts in creative writing, Butler had a small financial fellowship that allowed him to spend several months working with his agent on editing the final draft of “Shotgun Lovesongs” before sending it to market.
About two years ago, his family moved south of Eau Claire. He continues to write.
“I’m always working on a variety of things, short stories, novels, screenplays. I try to stay busy,” he said.
His collection of short stories titled “Beneath the Bonfire” will be released in May.
Butler’s advice for those interested in writing is “to read a lot. Immerse yourself in books. It’s this lifelong passion that is going to be with you.”