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For this Tucson Festival of Books author, songwriting led to writing novels

For this Tucson Festival of Books author, songwriting led to writing novels

Author Willy Vlautin is getting just a little tired of the rain. He loves his home in the area of Portland, Oregon, but it has been raining for days and he’d like a break.

That’s one reason Vlautin, who is also a singer and songwriter, is looking forward to visiting Tucson for the 2020 Tucson Festival of Books.

“Tucson has always been one of my favorite places,” Vlautin said. “I’ve spent a lot of time there.”

He says that’s why, in his latest book, “Don’t Skip Out on Me,” he had the protagonist end up in Tucson. It gave him an excuse to come visit and think about Tucson as a character in his book.

Many know Vlautin as a singer and songwriter. Others know him as an author of several novels. Until recently there weren’t many who knew him as both.

He said he could be at a book event and those fans may not even know he plays the guitar until he plays a song related to one of his books. For others, Vlautin said, “I’ll be playing gigs and my books will be on the merchant table, and they’ll go ‘Man, he writes books.’ Now more people know I do both.”

Vlautin will do both at the festival on March 14 and 15. He will participate in the following panels:

  • “A New Kind of Western,” is at 10 a.m. March 14 in the Student Union Kachina Room, with other panelists Emily Nemens and Shannon Pufahl.
  • “Navigating Rough Terrain,” at 4 p.m. March 14 in the University of Arizona Library Special Collections, which also includes authors Philip Caputo and Karl Marlantes. They will talk about men searching for identity in belonging.
  • “Authors and Artists and Musicians, Oh My” at 11:30 a.m. March 15, in the Student Union Tucson Room, includes Vlautin and writer/musician Brian Jabas Smith and writer/artist Chris Rush.
  • At “Making Music,” at 4 p.m. March 15, in the UA Mall Tent, Vlautin will talk about how his music influences his writing with moderator James Reel.

The ideas for his books have all started with songs, Vlautin said.

“Some songs trigger an idea that won’t stop,” he said. His novel “Don’t Skip Out on Me,” started with a song of the same name. “I’ve always written in the folk tradition where (the songs) are story based. Some songs open up another world. This song did that.”

Vlautin was a songwriter long before he became a published novelist. He wrote books for fun from the age of 18 to 35, but he never had the confidence to show anyone until his band, Richmond Fontaine, started doing better, building his confidence. He was being interviewed by a journalist who was also a novelist. The interviewer asked if Vlautin wrote fiction and introduced him to an agent. He showed her the book, “The Motel Life,” and it was published as his first novel. “Don’t Skip Out on Me” is his fifth published novel and more will come.

He now writes music and plays with the group The Delines. Their music leans heavily on “country soul ballads” according to Vlautin. The band does really well in Europe and is becoming more well-known in the United States.

However, he feels he is more suited to writing books. With being in a band, “such a big part is performing,” he explained. “I’ve always been a workhorse so I like the grunt work of a novel more than I like the grunt work of sitting in a van and unloading gear and playing gigs. Working on a novel is my favorite thing.”

Fortunately for his fans, he’ll continue writing both books and songs.

Contact Johanna Eubank at

Online producer

Johanna Eubank is a digital producer for the Arizona Daily Star and She has been with the Star in various capacities since 1991.

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