Photo credit: Dan Eccles
Describe your latest book.
I was thinking of a quote by our last president: "The point is you can’t be too greedy." He was talking about business, but I do feel this idea has long leaked into American politics and into society itself. That led me to thinking about Portland. I used to drive downtown and stop and count cranes. Cranes meaning new buildings going up and there were often 10-15 of them at the same time. An explosion of growth. Portland as a boomtown. I’ve rented an office in St. Johns for 13 years. In the last five years, four large apartment buildings have been built within two blocks of my office. Housing prices in the area have gone through the roof, as have rental prices. Old, beat-up houses are going for $300,000-$400,000. At the same time tent encampments are appearing. People living permanently in tents. I can see them from my office too.
I began thinking about all of that in terms of a struggling working-class family who have rented their North Portland house for 30 years and now the owner wants to cash out and sell. Can they survive gentrification and buy it? Can they navigate such rapid change? The Night Always Comes
came from the idea of getting left behind. I wanted it to be fast and intense because the growth is fast and intense. The change is happening jaw-droppingly fast. The main protagonist, Lynette, spends two days and two nights trying to convince her mother to buy their rental. We follow Lynette as she tries navigate the opportunism around her. Will she disappear and get swallowed by her past and the oncoming gentrification, or will she survive and get to stay in her neighborhood and in her house with her family?
What was your favorite book as a child?
My Side of the Mountain
by Jean Craighead George. I must have read it a dozen times. I didn’t have the guts the kid had, but I sure wanted to be him.
When did you know you were a writer?
I don’t know if I’ve ever thought I was. I have just always liked disappearing into stories. As a kid, part of me lived in Cannery Row with Mac and the boys
or in Springsteen’s early records. I used to disappear inside them for days on end. But eventually those worlds would give out, so I created my own. Both in stories and in writing songs. It’s just a bad habit of mine that I’ve never been able to quit.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I have a small office in St. Johns with just a desk and a couch. I have photos of Myrna Loy, Carole Lombard, and Gail Russell on the walls. I stare at them all day long. I also have a poster of the Pogues that I’ve had for 35 years, a shoe from my horse Jasper, a photo of Barry Gifford on horseback, and a photo of the boxer Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez, who helped inspire my novel Don't Skip Out on Me
. The office has three windows. Two look out over a bar called Slims and the other an old movie theater. It’s the greatest place ever.
The great Myrna Loy stares at me all day long.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Probably the genius of fiddle player Kevin Burke, the stories of Barry Gifford, and the voice of Candi Staton.
The legendary Kevin Burke.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
I can’t go a day without listening to an audiobook. I’m obsessed with them and have been for years.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
If I could hand out a book to every person I know it would be Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women
. I feel so lucky that I’ve found her work. She’s so beat-up and heartbreaking yet at peace with the situations she finds herself in. I wish I would have found her work earlier, but I’m so grateful to have found it at all.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I collect spaghetti western albums. I was so obsessed with them that for a long time I couldn’t listen to anything else. For years I’m talking. I drove my wife nuts; even my dog started to hate me.
A great series of LPs focusing on spaghetti western songs.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
Sadly, I’ve never had an interesting job and I try to block out every job I’ve had because they were all manual labor and not a lot of laughs. But I was a house painter for years and did almost paint a wild sex fiend’s house. He had secret shower rooms and a silver room with only a bed and pulleys and wall hooks to tie people up. He had a bedroom full of mirrors, a bathroom full of mirrors (even the ceiling), and a Japanese-inspired room with a huge bed and Samurai swords everywhere. He wanted me to paint every room in the place, but he worked from home so he’d be there every day. He scared me so I told him I couldn’t do it.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I have gone to visit Oxford, MS, to see where Larry Brown lived and drank, I visited Raymond Carver’s grave, I’ve been to Salinas where John Steinbeck lived, went to Missoula to see where James Welch lived his adult life, went to Knockanroe, County Leitrim, Ireland, to see where John McGahern lived, and I know he’s not literary but I went to New Orleans to see the hotel where trombonist Jack Teagarden died. I love the way Jack Teagarden sang. My goal is to visit Albany, NY, so I can see where William Kennedy lives. My dream would be to have a drink with him and talk about his novel Ironweed
and of course Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game
What scares you the most as a writer?
Jesus, well... I guess I wish I was smarter. Knowing you’re only you is always rough when thinking about writing.
Offer a favorite sentence from another writer.
"The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business" (John Steinbeck). The other I think about daily is by Mark Twain: "When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained." I have to say that to myself most every day as a sort of explanation of why the world is the way it is.
Describe a recurring dream.
For years I used to dream every night I was in a part of Reno that didn’t exist. I’d spend all night going from classic club to classic club. And inside the clubs were great old jazz bands from the era of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven. I got free drinks and everyone was always nice to me and I was always dressed up. For a guy who has such a dark mind, my dreams are usually heaven.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
As I said earlier, I can’t seem to go a day without listening to audiobooks. I love institution food, donuts, westerns and pulp novels from the 1930s. I used to be obsessed with The Young and the Restless
soap opera, and I can spend hours a day watching Willie Nelson videos on YouTube.
My favorite donut shop in Portland.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t spend more than you make and even if you can only save 20 bucks a month, save it.
Top Five Books I Buy and Give Away as Presents:
These are novels that I seem to always buy and give away as presents. They are the ones next to my bed and the ones I have special editions of. They are also the ones I wish I wrote and inspire me to keep trying. They’re also some of my best pals. In no particular order:
by William Kennedy
by Leonard Gardner
Manual for Cleaning Women
by Lucia Berlin
by Flannery O’Connor
A Kestrel for a Knave
by Barry Hines
The Death of Jim Loney
by James Welch
÷ ÷ ÷
Born and raised in Reno, Nevada, Willy Vlautin
is the author of six novels and is the founder of the bands Richmond Fontaine and The Delines. Vlautin started writing stories and songs at the age of 11 after receiving his first guitar. Inspired by songwriters and novelists like Paul Kelly, Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, William Kennedy, Barry Gifford, and John Steinbeck, Vlautin works diligently to tell working class stories in his novels and songs.
Vlautin has been the recipient of three Oregon Book Awards, The Nevada Silver Pen Award, and was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame and the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. He was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and was shortlisted for the Impac Award (International Dublin Literary Award). Two of his novels, The Motel Life
and Lean on Pete
, have been adapted as films. His novels have been translated into 11 languages. Vlautin teaches at Pacific University’s MFA in Writing program.
Vlautin lives near Portland, Oregon, with his wife, dog, cats, and horses. The Night Always Comes
is his latest book.