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Critically-acclaimed novelist Willy Vlautin opens up about the joy and heartache of writing

Willy Vlautin can't help but break his own heart.

The award-winning novelist is promoting the release of his latest book, "Don't Skip Out on Me."

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Willy Vlautin signs a book for Kathy Willis at the Scappoose Public Library Wednesday evening, April 25.During a Q&A session with fans Wednesday evening at the Scappoose Public Library, Vlautin opened up about his writing process and the meandering story paths he often finds himself on.

"I always liked writing about the working class," Vlautin told readers.

He's known for portraying down-on-their-luck protagonists and weaving together story lines that explore struggle and the dimensions of the human spirit.

"Part of that is probably from John Steinbeck," Vlautin acknowledged. "When I was a kid, that's who everyone read. I really bought into him — hook, line and sinker."

Vlautin, who lives in Scappoose, also cited Clatskanie export Raymond Carver as largely influential.

"My mom was a single mom growing up, and she struggled," he said, noting much of the goal behind his second novel, "Northline," was to capture the life of a female character, "Allison," who tries to leave an abusive relationship and is prone to self-destruction.

"I think men and women are destructive in different ways," Vlautin told readers. "In my experience, women are more destructive to themselves."

Vlautin said "Northline" was an exploration of how a woman would process pain and shame.

As a writer, he began delving into the darkness and realism of American life at a young age.

"I started writing when I was 18," Vlautin said, "just because I was super into movies … I was a junkie for disappearing. For a while, I couldn't find what I needed out of a movie or a book, so I just started writing."SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Willy Vlautin, the award-winning Scappoose-based author, chats with readers during a Q&A session.

His first book, "Motel Life," was released in 2006. It received critical acclaim as did each of his publications.

His follow-up work, "Lean on Pete," was later adapted into a film, with accompanying soundtrack courtesy of Vlautin's former Portland-area band, Richmond Fontain. "Lean on Pete" is in theaters now.

In 2014, Vlautin released "The Free," which he called an exploration into the American condition of nursing.

"It was such a hard book to write," Vlautin said of "The Free." "I was wrecked when I finished it … So I wanted to write something easy, and carefree… and by page 10 I was like, 'Oh no, this is gonna be heavy,'" he said of embarking on the follow up, "Don't Skip Out on Me."

"It's about loneliness and isolation," Vlautin said of his newest book. In his latest work, Vlautin takes readers along the journey of 21-year-old Horace, raised by ranchers in Nevada, who dreams of getting out and making a name for himself as a boxer.

"He's 21 and he has this plan of going to Tucson, where he has some family," Vlautin noted. "It's about, can one person save another person?"

"Don't Skip Out on Me" was released this year on paperback and hard cover.

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