Tuesday, July 26, 2011

7 Questions: Frank Bill

Interview by David Cranmer

What was the transition like going from working with an online editor, Neil Smith or Elaine Ash, to working with a big publishing house editor?

More room to breathe. Meaning I didn’t have to worry about word count. That always bothered me when writing something for an online journal. Granted I can write a tight flat to the point piece, but sometimes you leave out a few of the why’s or what’s. Things were just as tight with my editors at FSG. Only I had more room to hit all of the senses. And that’s what they wanted. They had the groundwork for everything, they just wanted more details. The other thing is I dig input, there is no better feeling than being on the same page with like-minded people. In a sense, your editors are your personal fans, they get what you’re doing and they want to help you make it as powerful as it can be.

How does an online writer go from an agent to a publisher and get into Playboy Magazine? How the hell did that happen?

My editors have said this more than once, it just shows how strong the writing is. On top of that, it’s a little luck, timing and a bit of talent. I wish I knew. Things happened so fast. Last year at this time, it was after the July 4th holiday, I agreed to the two book deal. It was an entire week of waiting and second guessing myself. I was fortunate to sign with my agent, Stacia Decker. What came after has been mind blowing. After the book deal, my editors asked me where I thought we could place an excerpt from the book once the edits were done. I mentioned a few places. Then my editors said, How about Playboy? I wasn’t thinking anything that big. Months and months later I get an email, in the heading it says Naked Ladies. It was the news. The editor at Playboy really liked what she had read. She is just as kick ass my editors at FSG or even Neil Smith or Lady D.

Let’s switch gears. You and I shared space in NEEDLE: A magazine of Noir. Your story, "Cold, Hard, Love," it dealt with an out-of-work husband and waitressing wife struggling to make ends meet and bare knuckles boxing. Where did this idea come from?

That story is actually a prequel to my novel, Donnybrook. Six to eight years ago, my father and I were drinking and talking, telling stories. And somehow we got on the subject of when he and my mother were married. And how she had this temper, which she does. I was a kid. We were living next to my grandparents on their farm. My mother and father had a disagreement about something and she attacked him. Raked her nails down his face or something. My father is very laid back. He got out the house, walked over to my grandparent’s farmhouse. My grandmother saw his face and said, "Good lord son, what happened to you?" He told her about the disagreement and she told him, "That girl always did have a temper on her." That was how I wrote the beginning. My father worked in a tobacco plant when I was growing up. Then it relocated and after ten years of employment he was out of a job. He had to start over. That was the back story. The boxing comes from me and my training in martial arts and eastern and western boxing since the age of 11.

Your stories deal with working class men and women, coon hunters, fishermen, dope runners, fist fighters and even law enforcement. They’re down trodden, vicious and depraved. But they’re also survivalists, getting by the only way they know how. Do you believe the generation behind you could survive in your world?

Most would not. An easy example, my mother and father were taught about the world around them. How to live and survive in it. They grew up hunting and fishing. Skinned and processed what they killed. My father was a marine who served in the Vietnam war. He fought in operation Allenbrook. Watched a lot of good men fall. My mother was raised on a farm. Dealt with an abusive father who beat her mother everyday for six long years. They’re survivalists. They know what it’s like to live with necessity. To do without. In today’s world, you don’t have that. If the world suddenly lost power, was cut off from water, food and transportation, there’d be a lot of dead people. Society now days is too focused on trends. Movie stars, gossip, video games and the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I get online. I network. But I do it in-between working, writing, taking care of my home and spending time with my wife.

When I was growing up, cartoons were on Saturday morning. The rest of the week I was outdoors, in the woods either hunting with my rabbit dog, climbing trees, building fires or fishing. Going to a movie was a rarity. So was eating out. I was entertained by family and friends, comic books and baseball cards. Those are the people I write about in a sense, only they’ve lost their moral compass. And yes, they’re survivalists. Getting by on the leftovers of society.

Your favorite short story? Favorite book? Favorite novella?

I have a lot of these. But as far my influence and flat out badass. Favorite short is a tie, "Samaritan" by Larry Brown and "Wittgenstein’s Lolita" by William Gay. Favorite book, Joe by Larry Brown. Novella, Poachers by Tom Franklin. Those guys raised the bar way high for me.

Music, what do you listen to?

Anything that tells a good story. Frames real people’s lives, where they come from and what they’re dealing with. Hank III, Hank Sr., Johnny Cash, Drive-By Truckers, Hayes Carll, Scott H. Biram, William Elliott Whitmore, Steve Earle, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ryan Bingham. Chris Knight or Son Volt. Really too many to name. I’m big on Delta Blues like Mississippi Fred McDowell. Americana, old jazz like Miles Davis, and roots music. If I’m working out I slide in some Slayer, Slipknot, Pantera, Rob Zombie or Grinderman.

What’s one of the most valued lessons you’ve learned in life?

Treat your enemies like your friends. That way you’ll always know what they’re up to.


Crimes in Southern Indiana Stories is available at Amazon.


  1. That was excellent, guys. A great Q & A session that felt as laid back as some of the music that Frank mentioned at the end. Well done.

    Good luck with everything, Frank!

  2. Thanks for having me. Really dug it! Time for a beer.

  3. Thanks for taking me to school today, Frank. You answered some questions I didn't know I had. Some about writing, but mostly about where the both of us came from. Steve Earle does tear it up some. I'm kinda looking good at Gangstagrass too.

  4. Totally absorbing. Have to say with AJ above that I had some of my own questions answered.

  5. Awesome. All the points in this chat are up to the mark and marvelous. I am pleased with the interview.

  6. That was a excellent though..I do want to know certain updates though. !!!good idea.