Brin-Jonathan Butler

How did you become a writer?

My first memory is of the sound my father's finger tips pounding away at an old type writer before dawn up in the country. It stirred me out of a dream. I had an early romance with the mystery and dark magic of his private struggle filling blank pages yet not being able to finish the book. It was never a stain I had much interest in mopping up. The spike broke off in the vein pretty early for me with this racket and with my old man.   

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Italo Calvino, George Orwell, Van Gogh's letters, J.D. Salinger, Lydia Davis, Margarite Duras, Robert Hughes, Cervantes, Richard Ben Cramer, Steinbeck, Gogol, DBC Pierre, Jimmy Cannon, Mark Kram Sr., Hunter S. Thompson, Kundera, Kerouac, Michael Herr, Hemingway, Kafka, Patricia Highsmith

When and where do you write? 

I write at four in the morning wherever I happen to be located, preferably in the company of my cat Raul here in Spanish Harlem. I come from generations of Dutch farmers and don't think I look at a blank page much different than they looked at untended, fertile soil. 

What are you working on now? 

A profile of an aging fighter looking for redemption with a heavyweight title shot. Maybe another book down the road. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

Nearly every morning, but that makes a couple thousand words a little sweeter by the time you're done. Maybe you get to keep 500 of them as a bonus. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Van Gogh's: “What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.” Having written a million words before I sold even one, these words kept me afloat. 

What’s your advice to new writers?

People are always remembered for what they gave, never what they had. Funny how that is, huh? Well, unfortunately we don't always make it that easy, but try to find something in your audience that makes us worth letting all your stars out. 

Brin-Jonathan Butler has had his work published in ESPN The Magazine, Esquire, Harper's, The Paris Review, Salon, and Vice. His Cuban memoir, The Domino Diaries, was short-listed for the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing and was a Boston Globe Best of 2015.