Willy Vlautin lives by his art. As he puts it, "I do OK."

Willy Vlautin lives by his art. As he puts it, "I do OK."

Vlautin's first published novel, "The Motel Life," has been made into a movie that is scheduled to open at the Bijou Metro in Eugene on Nov. 29.

Vlautin's fourth book, "The Free," comes out in February. In between were "Northline" and more famously, "Lean on Pete," which was published in 2010; within a few months, it had won two Oregon Book Awards, the Ken Kesey Award for best novel and the reader's choice award.

Besides being a novelist, Vlautin's the 45-year-old songwriter and frontman for Richmond Fontaine, an alternative country band. It was recently inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

Vlautin tours, primarily in Europe, when he's not at home in the Portland area.

Vlautin composes songs kind of like the books he writes — a bit melancholy, because they shine a light on the struggles of a lot of people who have a hard time just keeping their lives together.

That's the theme of "The Motel Life." It's the story of two brothers, emotionally abandoned by the adults in their lives, who hold down menial jobs and get drunk on weekends, but who stick together. They try to make life work, through thick — and a lot of thin.

Vlautin attended the University of Oregon from 1986 to 1988 and eventually settled in Portland "to get into the real working band" scene. He lives near Scappoose with his "girlfriend, a couple of horses and dogs and cats."

Although he also grew up in Reno, Nev., with a brother and a single mom, "The Motel Life" is not autobiographical.

"My mom worked the same job, as a secretary, for 30 years, so that was pretty stable," Vlautin said. "My dad lived a couple miles away with his new family — he 'upgraded.' But he paid his child support and stuff."

At the same time, the brothers in the book — and the movie — are closer than he and his brother were in real life as they grew up.

"I wrote the novel where two brothers don't fight; they always take care of each other," he said. "I wanted to make sure they didn't butt heads. That was my gift to myself."

Both of his parents are dead, so what they might think of "The Motel Life" is just a guess.

"My mom wasn't fond of the arts," he said, "but I think my dad would have liked the movie."

He's happy that the movie script "follows the book fairly closely, although they did a few things to juice it up."

Vlautin began writing novels just for the fun of it.

"Most writers I know are MFA (master of fine arts) kind of guys," he said. "I didn't come up that way. I wrote four or five and stuck them under my bed for years."

While in London on a tour with the band a few years ago, "A guy I know introduced me to his agent, who said I could send him something." And that was the beginning of Vlautin's literary success.

"The Motel Life" was published in 2005. It got a good review in The New York Times' book section.