Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler estimates he penned more than a million words before he published his debut novel, "The Alleys of Eden" in 1981.
"I wrote 12 terrible plays, 44 dreadful short stories and five god-awful novels before I ever published my first novel," he recalls. "One of my strongest qualities was self-deception."
This accomplished writer - who has also won two Pushcart Prizes, a Guggenheim Fellowship and two National Magazine Awards - will deliver the 2013 Ashley and Terry Ursrey Memorial Lecture on Oct. 11 at Trinity United Methodist Church.
A reception and book signing will follow Butler's talk.
Butler has published 12 novels and six volumes of short fiction. His collection of short stories, "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain," won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
That colorful collection of characters was inspired by Butler's military tour of duty in Vietnam from 1969-71.
He spoke with DO as he traveled from a speaking engagement in Alabama to Tallahassee, Fla., where he is a creative writing professor at Florida State University.
So much of your fiction is written in the first person. Why is that?
Butler: I was originally trained as an actor at Northwestern University, and I think writing in the first-person voice allowed me to tap into that training as it worked its way into my writing.
It became a way for me to access character, find a voice and tell a clear story from within a character.
How did your military service in Vietnam influence your writing?
It was a big turning point. I went to Vietnam thinking I would become a playwright, but I was given an unusual gift. The Army sent me to language school for a year, so I spoke fluent Vietnamese. Because I spoke the language, I had unique access to the culture.
I worked for five months in the countryside and was close with fishermen and farmers.
Then I worked in Saigon, where I roamed the steamy back alleys at night and crouched in the doorways with the people.
The Vietnamese are a warm and generous people, and they invited me into their lives. That really helped make me a fiction writer.
Do you prefer writing novels or short stories?
I love both. It's not a willful decision on my part. Whatever character emerges from my unconscious determines the natural shape and length of the story. The form follows the vision.
What are you planning to talk about in Savannah?
I'll do some reading from my work and talk about the artistic process. I'll do a Q&A with the audience. It's not a formal lecture, by any means.
You're 68 years old, yet still work 12 hours a day. What compels you to write?
There are all these voices in my head. I have a lot of characters inside me who want to tell their story. I just do their bidding.