Reno-born writer Willy Vlautin's 2009 novel, "The Motel Life," about down-and-out brothers who are running from the law, opens as a film directed by Alan and Gabe Polsky (also brothers) on Friday, Nov. 15, at Pickford Film Center.
Vlautin is lead singer and songwriter for the Oregon band Richmond Fontaine, and many of his songs and books are about folks experiencing rough patches in their lives.
Vlautin, who lives in Scappoose, near Portland, answered questions about his life and his creativity via email.
For more about him go to willyvlautin.com, or find him or "The Motel Life" or the band Richmond Fontaine on Facebook. For details about the screening, go to pickfordfilmcenter.org.
Question: You've said that writing stories and songs is a way to ease your mind, get your dark side out, and that you don't really write to be published; you write because you need to write.
How are you dealing with the celebrity status that may be coming on strong in the near future, both as a writer and a musician?
Answer: Ha. Like Willie Nelson says, "Sad songs and waltzes aren't selling this year." For me, nothing much has changed and I don't really see it changing. Sadly, no gold teeth and diamond studded belts, I'm afraid. I wouldn't mind a Cadillac though.
I wish that would happen. I guess I do struggle sometimes deciding on a story that I know I would like and a story that I like but that other people might like as well.
Q: Do you consider yourself a private person?
A: I try to write both, but a lot of the time I just want to disappear into a world with Earl Hurley (from "The Motel Life") and drive around and drink beer and listen to him give me advice.
In general I try to make sure no matter what I'm writing that it sticks close to the bone with me. That way, regardless of what people think of it, if it gets beat up or left in a box to be recycled, I know I wrote it for a reason and that it always has got a pal in me.
Q: How have your relationships with your family and the places you have lived shaped your writing style and the characters in your books?
A: Everyone is shaped by their family and their environment. I chose early on that I wouldn't write about my family in any way I thought they could figure out.
Life's too hard, and my mom worked too hard for me to play around with writing about her or complaining about my home life with her in anyway.
I got lucky being born in Reno. A part of Reno has an edge to it, a sadness, loneliness to it, and I've always identified with that. I was just born to the right city, that's all. By the time I was 19 or so I'd fallen in love with it and could write about it all day.
Q: How do you conjure up your characters?
A: As far as stories I don't walk around with a notebook eavesdropping, but by just being alive you pick up stuff. Usually it's things that I can't forget about; a mom screaming at her kid in a car and it's so loud you can hear it 30 yards away, or an obese woman at the bus stop with a bloody nose; or a frazzled old man whose pants are falling down in a Safeway.
Those sad sorta things just stick with me; they always have.
Q: You've said you often feel close to your characters. Can you elaborate?
A: I work on the same story for years, and there's no guarantee it'll be published or if I even want it to be published.
So if I'm going to spend that sorta time with someone or some set of ideas, I wanted them to be a part of me - either something I'm trying to figure out or lay to rest, or a character that I wish I could be around in real life, or wish I could beat up in real life but I just can't. Those guys get pounded in my books.
Q: What has been your input in the making of the "The Motel Life?"
A: I didn't have any input; I just sold them the option and showed them around Reno. The Polsky Brothers were nice enough to film in Reno though, and that was my main concern. So I'm grateful for that.
They also flew me down for the days with Kris Kristofferson, so I feel pretty lucky about the whole thing. They spent a lot of money in Reno and helped the economy there and they stayed faithful to much of the book.
Q: How does the film compare with your book?
A: Most of all I think they tried the best they could and there's a lot to be said for that. So my experience was a good one. In general I figure you either sell them or don't, be involved or don't, but whatever your decision, stick by it.
I knew years ago I just wanted to play in Richmond Fontaine and write novels. The movie world is too tricky for me, so I have to stand by that and if I sell the option on one of my books I just have to make sure I think I'm selling it to the right person. After that I just let it go.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I have a new book called "The Free" coming out Feb. 4 with Harper Perennial. It's a book I worked on almost four years and about did me in. But I survived it and I'm really proud of it.
Hey, I'm going to be in Bellingham on Feb. 25 for a Chuckanut Radio Hour show with Village Books.