Frank Bill on Frank Miller, Grit-Lit, Crime, Noir, and His Debut Novel Donnybrook

Frank Bill will read with poet James Arthur (whose debut collection Charms Against Lightening is available from Copper Canyon Press) @ hotel 21c (700 W. Main St. Louisville, KY) on Monday, March 25th at 7:30pm. Being a Hoosier (transplanted to Louisville for several years now), I couldn’t resist (digitally) tracking down Frank Bill, an actual hunter, to discuss his debut novel Donnybrook, which if you haven’t heard is gaining more traction than a 4×4.


Brandon Stettenbenz: To start, let me address recent interviews, so I’m not making you repeat yourself. Rob Brunner of called Donnybrook “a blood-sodden, bone-crunch of a debut novel”…”unrepentantly, gleefully violent”. That’s a mouthful of action-packed vocabulary. Give us an excerpt that proves him right.

Frank Bill: Jarhead veered the barrel two feet away from Dote. Blew a hole in the wall. The shell hit the counter. Another fell into place. Dote’s ears rang as he reached for the gun barrel. Jarhead pushed into the counter. Butted the hot barrel through Dote’s hands. Stabbed it into Dote’s coral nose like a spear. Cartilage popped. Dote hollered, “Shit!” Tears fell from his blinking eyes. Jarhead said, “I ain’t asking.”

BS: What other fluids besides blood are pumping under the hood of Donnybrook?

FB: Working class survival. Crystal meth. Guns. Booze. Bare knuckles boxing. The human condition. And a lot of people that others like to pretend do not exist.

BS: In the same interview (, you spoke a bit about dialect and how you realized someone could “write where they are from”. I heard the same thing when Jen Woods spoke about reading Maurice Manning (a Kentucky-born poet) for the first time, and I think that maybe rural origins and culture are often considered inferior despite the intricate character of such cultures. What can you tell us about the difficulties you’ve encountered/overcome as a rural writer?

FB: I’ve not had any difficulties to overcome. I write about where I come from. What I see and hear and of course things I’ve done or stories I grew up around. The only thing I do not like are labels, like country noir, if anything, I like the term rural literature. Or grit-lit.

BS: Weren’t you actually doing readings out in Corydon, Indiana, with Kirby Gann (author of Ghosting) and others? I never heard of anything like that going on when I was growing up in Georgetown. Did you guys get a good turnout and or reaction to the readings out there?

FB: When a few of my short stories had gotten published way back in 2008 or 2009 two writers, Jed Ayres and Scott Phillips invited me to this reading series called Noir at the Bar in St. Louis, Missouri.

I made the four trek and read one of the Hill Clan stories. It was my first reading, and I read with Scott, Jed, and Anthony Neil Smith ( he was touring to promote his novel Hogdoggin’). The idea is people come to hear writers read, buy booze and if you’re a published author, this was long before my book deal, people will buy your book.

Basically, I did the same thing here in my hometown. I wanted to give back to those who are up and coming but also established, hence inviting Kirby Gann, who as you know can scribe the balls off of a bull. I also invited Jed Ayres (one of the best writers I know) to help promote his work and anthology Noir at the Bar 2 and David James Keaton (his first book of stories is out Fish Bites Cop).  The turnout was great for my area, around 40-50 people. 

BS: You mentioned that Fight Club [the film] set you on a literary track and you also mentioned reading comics growing up. While most people know what kinds of twisted carnage to expect from Palahniuk, I can also think of a few explicitly violent comic books (mostly Frank Miller to be honest). Do you think comic books have had any influence on your work?

FB: I read a lot of Frank Miller growing up. His contribution to Daredevil. The Ronin series. Sin City and The Dark Knight. I never read much fiction until I was around 29 or 30. But in high school I read a lot of nonfiction about serial murders. Ed Gein, The Zodiac, Henry Lee Lucas and Gary Heidnik.  

BS: Who are some fellow crime-fiction writers you either feel influenced by or just think we all should read?

FB: These authors have elements of crime, [some] even literary and noir, [but really] they’re just bad ass scribes: Jed Ayres, Scott Phillips, Roger Smith, Benjamin Whitmer,Anthony Neil Smith, Larry Brown, Ron Rash, Tom Franklin, Craig Clevenger, Eddie Little, Andrew Vachss, Alan Guthrie, Ray Banks, Todd Robinson, Jim Thompson, Megan Abbott, Craig Johnson, Daniel Woodrell, Bonnie Jo Campbell, James Carlos Blake, Chris Holbrook, Charles Bowden, Christa Faust, Richard Thomas and Will Christopher Baer.

Frank Bill is the author of a well-received collection of short crime fiction titled Crimes in Southern Indiana (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011). His debut novel, Donnybrook (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013) is currently garnering praise, press, and reviews nationally from, Revolver and others. Frank lives in Corydon, Indiana and works at a chemical plant as a forklift driver.


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