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Powell's Q&A

Willy Vlautin

Describe your latest book.
The Motel Life is a novel set in Reno, Nevada. It's about two brothers, Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan, who end up living on their own in a motel at an early age, 14 and 16. These are decent kids who end up bouncing around for the next nine years living from place to place and going from job to job. Then one night Jerry Lee, while driving home, accidentally hits a boy on a bike and kills him. This changes the brothers' lives forever, because instead of reporting it, Jerry Lee goes to his brother for help and the two decide to run.

  1. The Motel Life: A Novel (P.S.)
    $7.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
Carole Lombard plays this singer named Maggie King in the movie Swing High Swing Low. It's a movie that was made in the 1930s. Carole Lombard's about the best looking and funniest woman I've ever seen and she's the best in this one. Man, you should see her. If I could go back in time and then hop inside that movie and replace myself with Fred MacMurray then I'd seriously have it made. Plus Fred's character could really play the trumpet so I'd have that going for me.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
There was a great writer from Montana named James Welch. I stumbled upon his novel The Death of Jim Loney when I was in my twenties. I read all his other novels, but the one that has always haunted me is The Death of Jim Loney. Every line is written with such sadness and intensity. When I first read it, I didn't understand how a man could be so beaten and alone when he had a sister who loved him and a woman who wanted to be with him. It wasn't until I was older and more beat up myself that I began to understand the novel and the depth of isolation Jim Loney felt. In many ways it's the novel that made me want to write novels. It's just amazing.

How do you relax?
I'm not much of a scientist there. I go to the track, buy records, see movies, hide out, and drive around the desert. I don't think I've changed much my entire life. As a kid all I liked were records, and when I could drive I liked listening to them in the car, and when I had enough dough I went to places that made the music sound better. Music always sounds better in the desert.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
My girlfriend's father lent me The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I couldn't put it down. I started reading it one night, but after a few hours I was too tired to concentrate so I made myself stop and I went to bed. I woke me up in the middle of the night and the second my eyes opened I was excited as hell. I knew I could finish the book. It's really something, and there's nothing better than reading a book you can't put down.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
A few. I drove to Port Angeles, Washington, to see Raymond Carver's grave. I went to Monterrey and Salinas, California, to see where John Steinbeck lived and wrote. I also drove up to Ft. Belknap to see where James Welch lived his early life. I really want to go to Albany, New York, someday so I can see the world William Kennedy writes about. Then if I could only run into him there at some bar.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
I started wearing this work shoe called the Carolina Black Oxford when I was 21 or so. They were made for warehousemen, and at the time I had a job working at a warehouse but I never wore them there 'cause I didn't want to scuff them up. But I wore them and still wear them everywhere else. I wear them on the beach, in the snow, and in the woods. I won't get on a plane without wearing them. For years I thought they held my luck even though my luck was pretty bad for a lot of years. Then they discontinued them. I'd buy a new pair for myself every Christmas. I went back one Christmas and the guy at the counter said they discontinued them Jan. 1 of the last year. I was in shock and worried as hell. I went to all the stores around town. I started calling stores in Seattle, Eugene, Medford, but no one had any. Then, finally, I learned how to shop online and found e-Bay had a few here and there. So now I'm on e-Bay all the time. I figure if I can get six or seven pairs I can live until I'm sixty or so with at least a certain amount of guaranteed luck.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Well, I just had it. I was in Winnemucca, Nevada, and had huevos rancheros at this diner with my girlfriend. She read the paper and I played Keno. They had old people's music playing. If I would have hit on Keno then it would have been near perfect.

Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
Well, there's a lot of TV out there and I could list a handful that are probably better than this one, but my favorite has to be Matlock. My grandmother and I used to sit around and watch Matlock on this great TV she had. It was the size of a couch. She'd make us dinner and then we'd sit in front of it. It was a show geared toward old people and it really worked. Every time Ben Matlock would do something he shouldn't, my grandmother would just bust out laughing. He was smarter than all the young people, and had no spouse to deal with. His kid worked with him and she had no husband. Pure heaven. The most redeeming thing about Matlock was his first daughter. She was about as hot as a woman on Matlock ever got and I loved her. Then she got fired or quit and suddenly one episode it was another woman playing my gal. It was a real blow for the show and sad to say, besides the free dinner and watching my grandmother laugh, there wasn't much left about it to like.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

Five great books set in the West:

Winter in The Blood by James Welch
Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Sweet Promised Land by Robert Laxalt
Montana 1948 by Larry Watson
True Grit by Charles Portis spacer

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