What: Author and musician Willy Vlautin

When: 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday

Where: Brooks Room, Downtown Bend Library, 601 NW Wall St.

Cost: free

Contact: deschuteslibrary.org or 541-312-1032

Can you fix someone who’s broken?

That question has been at the heart of many of acclaimed musician and author Willy Vlautin’s songs and novels, and it’s the central theme of his new book, “Don’t Skip Out on Me.”

Vlautin, who lives in Scappoose, is known for his moving portraits of downtrodden and marginalized people living at the fringes of American society. He will read from and discuss “Don’t Skip Out on Me” and also play a few songs when he visits Bend on Wednesday.

Vlautin says all his novels start as songs and a tune titled “Don’t Skip Out on Me” by his former band, Richmond Fontaine, was the starting point for his latest novel. The band has also produced an instrumental soundtrack to accompany the novel available using a download code provided with the book.

“Don’t Skip Out on Me” revolves around Horace Hopper, a young, half-Native American, half-Irish ranch hand who was abandoned by his parents as a child. Despite being taken in and treated like a son by ranch owners Mr. and Mrs. Reese, Horace doesn’t believe he is worthy of their love and feels like an outsider in the small, desolate Nevada town of Tonopah. Horace heads for Tuscon determined to reinvent and prove himself by becoming a championship boxer, while the elderly Mr. Reese struggles to maintain the ranch and the only way of life he knows.

“The book is kind of a study in loneliness and in a weird way, also a love story between this old man and Horace,” said Vlautin. “It’s so easy to break kids especially, and then I always wonder if you can fix them when they’re adults.”

Like the character Horace, Vlautin struggled with a sense of disconnection and isolation when he was growing up in Reno, Nevada. He retreated into books and music and kept a picture of one of his literary idols, John Steinbeck, on the wall in his bedroom. He also loved the writing of Raymond Carver and William Kennedy.

“He’s always been an inspiration and his characters and his books have been a great comfort to me,” Vlautin said of Steinbeck. “I related from an early age to his care about the working class and his care about people who’ve been displaced and are at the bottom of society.”

Despite his love of literature, Vlautin didn’t plan to become a novelist. He relocated to Portland in the mid 1990s to breathe new life into his music career, which had stalled in Reno. He says that move was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to him.

“I was going to move to a city on the West coast, and Portland seemed the least intimidating,” said Vlautin with a laugh. “It was the first time I’d been to an art city that had a lot of bands and a lot of weird kids like me from all over the country who were coming there to be artists and musicians or whatever.”

Vlautin formed the alt-country rock band Richmond Fontaine in 1994 and was the group’s songwriter, electric guitarist and vocalist until it disbanded (on friendly terms) in 2016. While the group didn’t find huge commercial success, it developed a loyal fan base in the U.S., Europe and Australia and released 11 studio albums and four live albums.

Vlautin had also been writing stories and novels for his own enjoyment since around the age of 20. But despite his success as a songwriter, he was too self-conscious and afraid to expose his literary manuscripts to the kind of criticism his band and music sometimes received. So he didn’t show his writing to anyone for around 15 years until an agent he met through his band told him to send her one of his novels. In 2006, “The Motel Life” became his first published novel.

In what may be the ultimate compliment for Vlautin, various reviewers have favorably compared his writing to his idol, Steinbeck. In an equally flattering comparison for a professional musician, Peter Murphy of The Irish Times recently called Vlautin “the literary version of Neil Young or a Tom Petty.”

Despite all his successes, the self-deprecating Vlautin frequently chalks his accomplishments up to luck. However, it takes more than luck to publish five critically acclaimed novels. “The Motel Life” was adapted into a film in 2013, and Vlautin’s third novel (and the only one set largely in Portland), “Lean on Pete,” won a 2010 Oregon Book Award. It has been made into a film starring Travis Fimmel, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi and Charlie Plummer and is scheduled for release on March 30. Vlautin has also formed a new band, The Delines, and he describes its music as “country soul.”