Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, has been praised as the best living American writer. During his prestigious career, he has taught graduate fiction at Florida State University-his version of literary boot camp. Now Janet Burroway, author of the classic text Writing Fiction introduces her edited transcripts of Butler's thought-provoking lectures.
From Where You Dream re-imagines the process of writing as emotional rather than intellectual, and tells writers how to achieve the dream space necessary for composing honest, inspired fiction. Proposing that fiction is the exploration of the human condition with yearning as its compass, Butler reinterprets the traditional tools of the craft using the dynamics of desire. He offers invaluable insights into the nature of voice and shows how to experience fiction as a sensual, cinematic series of takes and scenes. Offering a direct view into the mind and craft of a literary master, From Where You Dream is an invaluable tool for the novice and experienced writer alike.
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Starred Review. Pulitzer-winning novelist Butler (Had a Good Time, etc.) teaches a creative writing class at known as "boot camp" because of the intense creative demands he places on students. This series of lectures (edited by Burroway, a graduate of the class) deftly conveys the intensity of the class as Butler exhorts students to get out of their heads and into the world of the senses ("Artists are not intellectuals. We are sensualists...."), which he posits as the seat of the emotions. Butler's emphasis on sense memories recalls Method acting, and like Stanislavsky, Butler most highly values work with deep emotional connections and rich "organic coherence" at every level. Identify your character's yearning, he says: plot "represents the dynamics of desire." Butler has little to offer anyone hoping to write the sort of commercial fiction he regards as "non-literature." But in illuminating his approach to fiction, Butler can be equally hard on his own work, and discusses various issues by analyzing its faults—for instance, that good dialogue isn't expository, it has subtext. To illustrate his positive points, he draws on works ranging from Margaret Atwood's to the Old Testament. The book also features works by students and thoughtful class discussions of them, and closes with Butler's story "Open Arms," discussed in earlier sections. Butler shares his insights into—and passion for—the creation and experience of fiction with total openness, and seriously aspiring writers should receive this text/manifesto in the same light. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (Apr.)
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There's no doubt that Pulitzer Prize winner Butler, whose many fictional works include Had a Good Time [BKL My 1 04], knows how to write literary fiction, and it comes as no surprise that his approach to teaching fiction writing is intense, given the venturesome nature of his work. Butler taped his lectures, thus preserving their dynamism, and the edited result is a remarkably candid, clarifying, and profoundly demanding how-to. Butler's credo is, "Art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where we dream." Consequently, he teaches wanna-be fiction writers not how to brainstorm but how to "dreamstorm," and explains why fiction must be rooted in sensual experience, how cinematic techniques create narrative flow, and how "yearning" must be the driving force in every story. Butler's electrifying theories are backed by illuminating examples and startling practices (you'll never look at index cards in the same way again). Incisive and provocative, Butler's tutorials are a must for anyone even thinking about writing fiction, and readers, too, will benefit from his passionate exhortations. Donna Seaman
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