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.


Local Literary Picks for “Cyber Monday”! (no short-term deals, only great, local books available all year!)

While these may not exactly be rock-bottom prices on consumer goods, I wanted to show everyone who may be in the midst of the early holiday-shopping frenzy where they might find some local books & journals for themselves and other bibliophiles in their lives!

Sheri Wright, poet and fine-art photographer, self-released her sixth collection The Feast of Erasure this year. You can purchase poetry books and photo prints directly.

Local poet and journalist, not to mention the progenitor of InKY (say thanks next time you see her!), Erin Keane has  two books Death-Defying Acts, a collection of gritty prose poems about complex carnival folk, and The Gravity Soundtrack, filled with poems inspired by (mostly American Rock) music.

Affrilachian poet Makalani Bandele‘s book Hell-Fightin’ is rife with jazz and history.

Sean Patrick Hill is the author of two poetry collections and a few hiking books. He has a new collection forthcoming in 2013, and you can find links to buy his book on his blog.

Lynelle Major Edwards is the president of Louisville Literary Arts (the local, non-profit organization behind InKY and The Writer’s Block festival) as well as the author of three full-length collections of poetry which you can read about and purchase here. Her blog also has a section outlining the wonderful organizations responsible for Keeping Louisville Literary!

Brian Leung is the author of the novels Take Me Home and World Famous Love Acts. Look for his work at Carmichael’s Books and other local bookstores.

Adam Day is the author of the poetry chapbook Badger Apocrypha,  which can be found at Carmichael’s as well. He is searching for a publisher for a newer, full-length collection of poems and writing a novel.

Kirby Gann is the author of three novels: The Barbarian Parade, Our Napoleon in Rags, and mostly recently Ghosting (click to read reviews including kudos from Publisher’s Weekly).

Typecast publishing is an up-and-coming small press that likes to make unique books by hand. Originating out of The Lumberyard magazine project with Fire Cracker Press (#10 available soon!), this Louisville, KY based publisher has had a huge impact on the local lit. scene and continues to volunteer time, etc. to The Writer’s Block festival, and other projects. They’ve so far published fiction and poetry which you can find for purchase on their website (I recommend M. Bartley Seigel’s collection of poems about the rust-belt, This is What They Say; he also heads a rag called PANK which isn’t local but I do HIGHLY recommend reading it).

Larkspur Press is a publisher of hand-made books whose letterpress shop is in Monterey, KY. They have published Fred Smock who currently teaches at Bellarmine, Richard Taylor formerely at Kentucky University, and UofL graduate and current KY poet-laureate Maureen Morehead among others. These hand-cut and bound books feature wood-block and linoleum block prints by artists such as Steve Armstrong and many others.

Sarabande Books is a non-profit literary press founded in 1994 in Louisville, KY. They focus on poetry, short fiction, and essay. You can search their catalog here.

Catch-up is headed up locally by Adam Day and Jeff Hipsher. They have recently released their third issue guest edited by Catherine Wagner, Sean Bishop, Hannah Gamble, and DA Powell.

You can read interviews with most of these authors and publishers here. Take a look; inform your holiday and other purchases. Remember, these folks work for a living. They don’t mark up their goods, and thus you won’t find any high-pressure sales, only fine literary art! This means two things: you’re putting money in the hands of the makers, and you can shop local books all year long! Also, whether you dig any of the books listed above or not, please BUY LOCAL and KEEP LOUISVILLE LITERARY!

(Full Disclosure: I am privileged to know some of these fine artists personally)