Frank Bill is the author of a collection of short stories, Crimes in Southern Indiana, and a newly released novel, Donnybrook. As his new novel proves, Frank Bill is a meteoric talent whose fine blend of 151 proof prose, unforgettable Thieves Guild collection of characters, and complex plotting worthy of Tarantino have Mr. Bill being likened to classic and contemporary masters alike, ranging from Jim Thompson to Daniel Woodrell. Noir Nation finds him more than worthy of the comparison. Frank Bill is an original breed of writer whose novel, Donnybrook, defies genre and brings the reader into a realm where the poetry of violence and the spirituality of survival are put forth in a wholly American way that only Mr. Bill can deliver. He took time away from his writing desk to talk to Noir Nation editor, Cort McMeel.
Interview with Frank Bill
Noir Nation: What was the book or short story that you first read that made you think, “I want to do this. I want to be a writer.” ?
Frank Bill: It was actually after I’d watched the movie Fight Club with my wife and noticed in the film credits that the movie was based upon a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. I couldn’t find the book so I ordered a copy. But I bought Invisible Monsters. Devoured the pages in one or two settings. The tone, style and language were unlike anything I’d ever read. It was like a book of one liners or phrases and thoughts you and your buddies had growing up and hanging out. Then I read Fight Club and Survivor and I told myself I could do this.
Noir Nation: In Donny Brook there are many different variations and shades of “evil” — to you, personally, of this rogues gallery of badasses and misfits which character was your personal favorite or the most “fun” for you to write, and why?
Frank Bill: Chainsaw Angus. In the first draft he was my guy to root for. I’m kinda of an anti-hero type. I mean 95% of books use the same ole format. I write about people that others do not. In doing this I created layers. A fighter. A blue collar worker. A self centered and self reliant male with survival skills. A man who’d do what he to do regardless of how it affected others. He has this breaking point. And when that’s met, look the fuck out.
Noir Nation: In the back of the novel you thank your martial arts and boxing teachers. Could you tell our readers at Noir Nation a little about your martial arts background?
Frank Bill: From age 11 to 17, I studied Tae Kwon Do. Earned a first degree black belt. From 18 to 26 I studied a closed door Chinese martial art. Then left that school in search of another. While doing this I trained in western boxing, dabbled in BJJ and then trained at a Muy Thai gym for about 6 months until I started studying NG Family Chinese Kung Fu for about two or three years.
Noir Nation: Are there codes of conduct or rituals that you draw from the discipline of martial arts and apply to the discipline of writing — if so, what?
Frank Bill: Dedication and time. I try to write every day, even if it’s only in my journal, a notebook or my moleskin. You know Kung Fu means hard work. And as a writer you only get out of it what you place into it.
Noir Nation: You clearly admire Oriental martial arts & the literature of the East, as you mention The I Ching in the novel. What is the one text such as The I Ching, Book of Five Rings, The Hagakure, etc, that inspires or influences you the most?
Frank Bill: The I-Ching, the book of changes. When I studied closed door Chinese Martial Arts, my teacher taught us about the elements and how they break down. How every person has a main element and pieces of all of them and these elements offer insight into a person’s character. They dictate a person’s every action and emotion.
Another book would be Tao The Ching by Lao Tzu. Which is a book of Taoists sayings and is looked at as a way of life or philosophy upon living. It’s not something one sits down and reads in a day but over the course of years.
Noir Nation: In Donny Brook there is violence and action beyond measure but you also have a Soothsayer (Purcell), a mysterious fight society in Mr. Fu’s tomb-cave, the promise of Angus rebirth and being unleashed on the world, and Johnny Cash’s foreboding song “The Man Comes Around” serving as the soundtrack at the end of the book. Should Donnybrook be seen on some level as the preface to a Frank Bill full on apocalyptic novel?
Frank Bill: I hate the term Apocalyptic. Its more about the values and jobs we’ve lost as a class of people but also how people react to this loss. How we survive.
Noir Nation: You write action like Bukowski writes boozing, to a distilled perfection. Which writer or film maker do you give a nod to (if any) in informing or inspiring this characteristic within your writing?
Frank Bill: Thanks, I appreciate the kind words, Cort. Action comes from Asian films, anything from the Hong Kong Martial Arts or Gangster films to the Korean films like the Old Boy Trilogy or The Man From Nowhere. Then there’s the Japanese films of Takashi Miike. Or you can jump over to Europe and catch guys like Xavier Gen. But then come back across the pond and pick up on the old Eastwood films from the 70’s. I’m a big movie buff.
Noir Nation: You mention Selby, Woodrell, Bukowski and Harry Crews as writing heroes. Can you tell us in one word for each the quality they inspire in you as a writer?
Frank Bill: Selby, Urban-loss. Woodrell rural-strife. Bukowski, boozer’s-road-atlas. Harry Crew, a raw-carnival ride.
Noir Nation: Donnybrook is definitely written by an aficionado of the fight game. What is the best fight televised or witnessed live in a bar/street/wedding etc that you’ve ever seen? Who were the combatants? (and please describe the action for our bloodlust addicted readers.)
Frank Bill: Anyone of the Micky Ward vs. Arturo Gatti fights. Those were all out slugfests, like a Rocky movie. And I couldn’t begin to describe the fights, they were like a roller coaster ride of flesh, knuckles and hurt.
Noir Nation: What makes a better Friday Night in your opinion? Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a bottle of bourbon or Any Which Way But Loose and a case of PBR?
Frank Bill: Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Makers Mark. That film still holds up today. An all time favorite.
Noir Nation: The soothsayer character Purcell mentions an endtimes coming. In one interview you talk about the old America of jobs and self-reliance disappearing. Is your fiction more concerned with on a micro level how your characters survive in these waning times or do you view your themes as more macro…in that you the artist are cataloging the final days of American Empire?
Frank Bill: Not cataloging the final days but asking questions. I mean to me it’s interesting to see how our kin suffered so we could have a better existence, only for us to watch others squander it away. As a culture, we’re more reliant on others to do things for us rather than to do them ourselves. The characters I write about are trying to get by in this type of environment, where times are changing and the only thing a person can do is survive.
Noir Nation: When you sit on your porch many years from now sipping on Peach moonshine what do you hope to have accomplished or wrought on the face of American fiction?
Frank Bill: Stories that hold the test time by being read and re-read and hopefully remembered.