Frank Bill burst onto the southern noir scene in 2011 with his collection of short stories, Crimes In Southern Indiana. Yesterday, his first novel, Donnybrook, came out, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Please welcome Frank to the blog!
Frank, your first book, a short story collection called Crimes in Southern Indiana debuted to tons of praise, and your first novel, Donnybrook, just came out! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
No, I haven’t. I’d been working on nightshift for quite a few years and happened to checkout a movie with my wife called Fight Club. Saw in the credits that it was based on a book of the same title. Sought the book out but found one of the author’s other books, Invisible Monsters. Read the thing in one or two sittings. And I basically told myself I could write a book or become a writer and so I sat out to do that around 1999 or 2000. The big eye-opener for me was Larry Brown. After discovering his work, I saw that I could write about where I came from and what I knew; being raised by a war veteran father and factory working mother, my grandparent’s farm and all of the crazy dope heads I ran with. But I needed to have the chops to do that. Which took a lot of wasted pages. You have to have a voice.
With Donnybrook, you dive into the world of bare-knuckle brawling. What kind of research did you do for the book?
For the fighting part, nothing. As I’ve studied and cross-trained many different disciplines, Karate, Kung Fu, Western & Eastern Boxing and so on. But for the meth, I interviewed an ex-cook, cause I’d ran with some dopers in my younger years but never with a meth cook.
Southern noir has been around for a while, but it seems to have enjoyed a surge lately. Why do you think it’s become more popular in recent years?
I’m not sure that it’s more popular, guys like McCarthy and Woodrell have been writing great literature since they placed ink on the page with influence of noir. If anything, they laid the ground work or paved the routes for others. I think in a sense times have gotten tougher everywhere and put a squeeze on class. And from that class emerged some anger with voices that demanded to be heard. And for some (readers) it’s unique, as it’s not the same ole same ole, they’re seeing a world that they maybe didn’t know existed.
Is there anything that you personally consider off-limits in crime fiction, especially those stories or novels with the “noir” label?
No, as long as it’s done with style and respect to the craft of the subject matter. Not just writing gloom and doom for the sake of gloom and doom to shock others with no real point to the narrative.
Undoubtedly you’ve been an influence on more than a few authors since Crimes in Southern Indiana was released! What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Really too many to name, but here are a few: Larry Brown, Charles Bukowski, Andrew Vachss, Cormac McCarthy, Eddie Little, Craig Clevenger, Jerry Stahl, Dorothy Allison, Don Delillo, Tom Franklin, William Gay, Victor Lavalle, James Carlos Blake….
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
JOE by Larry Brown or the Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell.
What’s next for you?
A project I can’t announce yet and two more books from FSG. One is a follow up to Donnybrook and the other deals with one of the characters from Donnybrook.
Keep up with Frank: Website | Twitter
The Donnybrook is a three-day bare-knuckle tournament held on a thousand-acre plot out in the sticks of southern Indiana. Twenty fighters. One wire-fence ring. Fight until only one man is left standing while a rowdy festival of onlookers—drunk and high on whatever’s on offer—bet on the fighters.
Jarhead is a desperate man who’d do just about anything to feed his children. He’s also the toughest fighter in southeastern Kentucky, and he’s convinced that his ticket to a better life is one last fight with a cash prize so big it’ll solve all his problems.
Meanwhile, there’s Chainsaw Angus—an undefeated master fighter who isn’t too keen on getting his face punched anymore, so he and his sister, Liz, have started cooking meth. And they get in deep. So deep that Liz wants it all for herself, and she might just be ready to kill her brother for it. One more showdown to take place at the Donnybrook.
As we travel through the backwoods to get to the Donnybrook, we meet a cast of nasty, ruined characters driven to all sorts of evil, all in the name of getting their fix—drugs, violence, sex, money, honor. Donnybrook is exactly the fearless, explosive, amphetamine-fueled journey you’d expect from Frank Bill’s first novel . . . and then some.
Praise for DONNYBROOK:
“Frank Bill’s first novel, Donnybrook, is vivid in its violence, grim in its grimness. It reams the English language with a broken beer bottle and lets the blood drops
tell the story.”
—Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone
“With action like a belt across the face and vivid prose like a stroke up the neck, Frank Bill’s astonishing novel Donnybrook renders you punch-drunk. Here’s the writer to watch: mad, bad, and
dangerous to know.”
—Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me
“There are these guys, guys like Daniel Woodrell, Chuck Palahniuk, and Donald Ray Pollock, incredible writers who stand out in the silk-scarf literary world like a bulging bicep with a cell-block tattoo. Frank Bill is one of those guys.”
—Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire mysteries
“Bill portrays depravity and violence as few others can—or perhaps as few others dare to do . . . The plot builds relentlessly to the final round of the Donnybrook and gives the reader unexpected jolts all the way through . . . Bill is one hell of a storyteller.”
“Don’t poke this book with a stick or you’ll make it angry.”
—Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Once Upon a River
“Fun and fast . . . This book lands its best punches below the belt.”
“When it comes to grit-lit, there’s no one giving Donald Ray Pollock and Chuck Palahniuk a run for their money more than Frank Bill. His debut collection of short stories, Crimes in Southern Indiana, smashed readers with a right hook as powerful as the one pictured on the cover of his first novel, Donnybrook. You’ll notice that first has no glove. That’s how Bill writes: smack! smack! smack! without letting up. Wrack and ruin. Drugs, sex, blood. These pages aren’t for the timid.”
—David Abrams, The Quivering Pen
“If what you’re looking for in Buckwild is bar fights between drunk and mighty colorful rednecks, and don’t mind coupling that with an emotional gut-punch for yourself, you won’t do any better than Frank Bill’s forthcoming novel. The body count is likely to be somewhat higher, though.”
—Emily Temple, Flavorpill, “10 Books You Should Read Instead of Watching ‘Buckwild’”
“Frank Bill’s Donnybrook is Poe shooting heroin, Steinbeck freebasing cocaine, and Hemingway really drunk. It’s so great I felt I had been throat punched, kicked in the cojones and was going to spit blood.”
—Ray Wylie Hubbard
“Frank Bill is the kind of writer, and his characters the kind of fighters, who sneer at the rope-a-dope approach. In Donnybrook’s wild world of meth, bloody knuckles, flashing knives, and snapping teeth, you come out swinging—period.”
—Michael Koryta, author of The Prophet
“Now listen here: I’m a big old boy, and I don’t scare easy, but the world of Frank Bill’s imagination is one so damned terrifying that I felt the urge, maybe thirty pages in, to crawl underneath the nearest table and take to sucking my thumb in earnest. With a cast of characters as depraved and leather-hearted as these, with a landscape as bleak and blanched by despair as this, with a convergence of conflicts so hell bent on combustion, it’s a wicked wonder that this wonderfully wicked book doesn’t consume itself in flames the minute you open the first page and let the oxygen in.”
—Bruce Machart, author of The Wake of Forgiveness and Men in the Making
“Frank Bill’s prose rumbles and howls, as distinctly America as the exhaust note of a blown Chevy. Raw. Hard. True. There’s blood all over these pages. Where his first collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana, is a punch to the gut, Donnybrook is a shattering right-cross knockout.”
—Daniel Knauf, creator of the HBO series Carnivále