We’ve got a special show for you this week: it’s the Wonder homage to fiction. With the Oregon Book Awards coming up on April 13, we spend the hour with the five finalists for the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction.

The group is made up of three debut novelists, two poets, and one past winner of the fiction prize. We’ve talked with three of them before, and we brought the other two into the studio to round out the cohort.

1:20 - Willy Vlautin is as skilled and prolific a polyglot as they come. His band Richmond Fontaine has released 10 studio albums; he’s penned four critically acclaimed novels including “Lean on Pete,” which won both the Oregon Book Awards’ fiction prize and Reader’s Choice Award in 2011; and Hollywood made a movie out of his first book, “The Motel Life.”

The theme through most his work is the plight of hard-knock, working class lives. “I was always brought up to believe all it takes is a couple bad breaks and you could be on the streets,” said Vlautin, explaining that his mother worked with a lot of homeless people and had an obsessive fear of becoming homeless herself. “I’m always scared about stuff like that, so I always write about the same sort of people because those are the sort of people that interest me and that’s who I am.”

In this conversation, he tells us about his newest book, “The Free,” that’s up for the book award, and what it is like to write bar songs for his new band, The Delines, who play Thursday, April 16 at Kelly’s Olympian in Portland. Check out this cool Oregon Art Beat piece about him.

11:35 - Cari Luna started writing her novel “The Revolution of Everyday” as a Dear John Letter to New York City. She was born there and lived there on and off until 2007, when she just couldn’t afford to stay any longer. Then, after she moved to Portland and got some distance, the book became a love letter as well. It’s about a group of squatters in New York City’s Lower East Side in the ‘90s.

“It’s primarily a book about people and their personal stories, and the squats I think of as a backdrop to the personal stories,” Luna said. “When I developed their relationships, I wasn’t thinking so much in terms of their political relationships as: what is it to put—because we’re all flawed people—flawed people in a high-pressure situation living closely together, and how do they bounce off each other and how do they help each other.”

You can listen to our full interview with Luna and her full reading here.

20:11 - Smith Henderson‘s “Fourth of July Creek” was one of the biggest debuts last summer and made it onto best books lists everywhere from the “Washington Post” to “Entertainment Weekly.” It was so successful, in fact, that Henderson quit his job, moved to Los Angeles, and has three new novels in the works.

Henderson told “Think Out Loud” host David Miller about how his harrowing tale of a social worker caught between the FBI and an anti-government survivalist in “Fourth of July Creek”  was inspired by his own experience as a social worker. “I wasn’t trained in this; I got this job because I got a humanities degree and seemed like a fairly compassionate, intelligent person,” he said. “And I was wrecked after a 36-hour weekend shift. You go home, drink five beers, and realize, ‘I’m not drunk,’ and go, ‘man, I’m not taking care of myself, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to.’”

Listen to the full conversation here.

32:00 - Amy Schutzer began writing poetry as a college student. Since then, she’s published numerable poems, a chapbook, and now two novels. Her newest, “Spheres of Disturbance,” tells the story of a mother’s battle with cancer from the viewpoints of five different characters, including the pet pig. It is the kind of book that had the Lambda Literary reviewer weeping openly for the beauty of it and the questions it raised.

“In the best scenarios, [cancer] brings a depth to relationships; it cuts through whatever hurts or whatever things haven’t been resolve,” Schutzer told “State of Wonder.” “Other times there’s a lot of anger; there’s a lot of denial. I purposely chose the various characters to be able to show the many sides to what it means to be dying and how people from this community are dealing with that.

41:10 - Since we last talked with poet Lindsay Hill about his wildly ambitious debut novel, “Sea of Hooks,” the book won the Pen Center USA Fiction Award, was a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize, and made a number of top 10 lists, from “New York” magazine to “Publishers Weekly” (in fact, “Publishers Weekly” named it the Most Underrated Book of 2013). He tells us about how the book took more than 20 years to write.

“There are roughly 1,000 microchapters in ‘Sea of Hooks,’ but there were 5,000 to choose from—the original uncut manuscript was almost 3,000 pages,” said Hill. “So I was able to choose and rewrite the sections to create hopefully that sense of urgency and compression in each one.”