Author drew inspiration from election, Boy Scouts for new novel

Nickolas Butler had to write.

Butler, who has authored three books, started to pursue writing professionally after his wife became pregnant with their first child. Up to that point, he’d worked a string of low-paying jobs.

Nickolas Butler

Butler’s second novel and third book overall, “The Hearts of Men,” was published in March. Butler will pay a visit to Scout & Morgan Books in Cambridge for a reading and signing from 6:30-8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 7.

The previously mentioned pregnancy made Butler question what he was good at and what he should be doing with his life.

“When my wife became pregnant with our first kid, I was working at a liquor store for eight bucks an hour,” Butler said.
Reading and writing had been passions of his since he was a child. His mother made sure their house was well stocked with books, and his teachers in Eau Claire, Wisconsin encouraged him.

“I was writing as early as middle school for my middle school newspaper,” Butler said. “Writing’s kind of always been in my life.”

Butler’s decision to chase a writing career paid off: He wound up getting accepted into the Iowa Writers Workshop, one of the most renowned graduate writing programs in the U.S. His first two books, the novel “Shotgun Lovesongs” and the short story collection “Beneath the Bonfire,” were conceived during his time at the workshop.

Interestingly, Butler didn’t study writing as an undergraduate.

“I didn’t know that creative writing was a major,” he said. 

“The Hearts of Men,” Butler’s latest novel, tells a story about two men whose lives intersect repeatedly on the grounds of Camp Chippewa, a Boy Scout camp in Wisconsin.

“It follows them over 60 years of American history,” Butler said.

The book is split into four sections. The reader gets to know the two main characters, Nelson and Jonathan, as boys and as men. Nelson becomes a veteran of Vietnam and goes on to be a scout leader at Camp Chippewa, where he and Jonathan met as adolescents. Jonathan becomes a successful businessperson, and his son and grandson eventually attend Camp Chippewa too.

Butler’s inspirations for the novel include events from his own years in Boy Scouts as a kid, a reading of William Golding’s novel “Lord of the Flies” and watching the early parts of the crowded and competitive Republican primary race while writing the book in 2015 and 2016. The book was completed before the major party nominees were determined, but Butler said he started to draw a parallel between the race and the events in “Lord of the Flies,” in which a group of boys stranded on an island revert to primitive behavior.

The outside influences filtered into the novel as Butler wrote it. “I was just writing the book I wanted to write,” he said, one that contrasted the code of honor observed by Boy Scouts with the fuzzier reality of adulthood, when he started to see some of his major thematic interests playing out in the news.

Butler’s reading and signing event is free and open to the public.

For more information on Scout & Morgan Books and their upcoming events, call 763-689-2474 or visit scoutandmorganbooks.com. For more information on Nickolas Butler and his writing, visit nickolasbutler.com.